Monday, August 23, 2010

The Millenium Trilogy (Book Review)

It had been a long time since I had read fiction at any length having being busy with work and myriad such excuses. So when I had made up my mind that enough is enough, I went around, asked and looked for a good read. Given the history of my reading habits, I knew nothing short of great would get me interested. And then I found Stieg Larsson of The Millenium Trilogy fame and his lead protagonist Lisbeth Salander.

At the very outset I will admit that I have been bowled over completely by the contemporary and adult storyline, that involves themes like hacking, espionage, secret service, sex, activist journalism, and a potpourri of themes without losing the actual thread of the story.

Lisbeth Salander is one awe-inspiring woman, inherently moral and very much the sociopath in the everyday sense of the word. But she's much like John Nash, in that they share the common belief that if I can think, I can do pretty much everything. Remember that John Nash defeated schizophrenia by thinking and analyzing. Lisbeth Salander destroys the secret behind the all powerful sapo, the most clandestine of operations in the Swedish secret service. While some reviewers frown upon the use of violence by her as illegal, I like the fact that an individual is able to defend her own space when the system has not only ditched her, but also has systematically exploited her for its own needs and ends. Her individualism stands out almost in  an Ayn Rand way - remorseless and unrelenting. And it is probably the same when she bonds with people she likes and respects - complete and without inhibition.

The other main character is that of Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist who lives to make that next expose that will bring down the most corrupt, whether it be humongous corporations or secret within sapo. He also lives to make love to strong women. And he does both with nuance and flair, treating them like the art that they really are.

The book left me flipping pages as fast as I my eyes could travel and my brain could process. Besides the storyline of murder, mystery and intrigue, the book trio also paints such beautiful colors and bleak shades of gray of the Swedish people, culture and countryside, that by the end you feel that you know it all. And did I add that all topics are dealt in such detail so as to leave the layman spellbound and the connoisseur impressed.

My recommendation: If you haven't read the trilogy, your should. Period. 

I am also eagerly waiting the Hollywood version of the trilogy - hopefully they pick a good team and do justice.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Purchasing Power Parity

We have on varied and multiple occasions breathed long and vocal sighs when we hear the large dollar/pound/euro salaries and benefits that our very close and dear friends earn when they work in developed countries like USA, UK, Netherlands, Australia, etc (at least I do this purposefully on every occassion :)) What we tend to dismiss with the wave of our hand or the flick of our finger is their living expenses based on a certain minimum lifestyle in such countries. Obviously this applies to people who have stayed back for some duration like for say 4-5 years and not the other set of friends who were there on a short stay (how they behave is beyond of the scope of discussion in a blog post!) And this is where we should think of Purchasing Power Parity or more commonly known as PPP.

PPP: In simple terms it is difference in cost of a Big Mac at McDonalds in your native country vs. in the foreign country you are comparing to. Or you could say it is the cost of a meal/ movie/ party/ car/ house/ etc. in the countries you are putting in the comparison bucket. Again always look at averages across items, and across geographical regions within each country. So the coffee your NRI friend buys for $4 you can very well buy for ₹25 here - its like saying that the value of $4 is the same as the value of ₹25.

Are there any standard measures: Not really. Over the years various economists and organizations have tried to do something in this direction without much success or recognition. Although the Big Mac Index has some popularity in this matter - it was first popularized by The Economist. It essentially tracks the price of a Big Mac produced and sold across 120 countries that have a McDonald's outlet. Since this burger is a standardized product it is very loosely indicative of PPP or currency under/over valuation. Again, it is not a serious economic indicator, as in no country would probably base its economic policy on this. But it comes in handy when you want to write a post like this !

Why should I be bothered: Well, we probably wouldn't even use it in our day-to-day life unless you are economic policy advisor to the Government of India. But it helps to look at things in perspective, and realize errors in leading media articles like this on TOI today. I usually am wary of our media - half the time their content and the journalistic quality is such crap such that I cringe to pick up the morning newspaper. Some have gone so bad that their editorials come out as incoherent jingoistic babble in favor of the babus and netas. But this particular piece takes the cake pretty near the bottom. Aren't newspapers supposed to raise awareness about issues that people are concerned with ?? And not mislead the junta ??

Oh, by the way, my favorite newspaper is "Bangalore Mirror" - flawless and entertaining in their coverage of storm drains, petty theft, celebrity sightings, and your sex problems! What more can you ask for ??