“Information is not knowledge.”
- Albert Einstein
“Seize opportunities, for they pass like clouds”
- Ali ibn Abi Talib
“Be the change you wish to see in the world”
A. Blood And Oil
You can’t understand the Middle East without understanding Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Following my friend Ali’s recommendation (thank you), I read Blood and Oil: Mohammed Bin Salman’s Ruthless Quest for Global Power.
The book is by WSJ journalists, Bradley Hope (co-author of Billion Dollar Whale) and Justin Scheck and covers the period from 2014 to today. It’s a fly on the wall account of what has happened in the country.
The book is nuanced and doesn’t make any judgement on MBS, rather it does a good job of highlighting where he came from, what his motivations are and where he is taking the region and the world.
One of the heuristics, the authors use is that when MBS hits any obstacles and he has already been through a lot, he defaults towards three drivers: be aggressive, be abrupt and be surprising.
Most of us probably didn’t hear of MBS until the Ritz-Carlton incident in November 2017, but groundwork for this was laid much much earlier, when in 2015 MBS was appointed Deputy Crown Prince.
This was huge departure from the normal succession, since it pushed aside Salman’s (the current king) brother - Muqrin bin Abdulaziz.
Note - bin just means son of. So Mohammed bin Salman, is Mohammed son of Salman.
The book outlines the picture of MBS as someone who understands the problems in his country, who has seen them first hand, he understands what needs to be changed and is working to modernise the country and break its dependence on oil.
Of course this is easier said then done, but MBS believes that he is a) doing the right thing b) only he is capable of getting things done and c) time is on his side.
Today MBS is not only one of the biggest oil producers in the world, but also one of the biggest tech investors in the world, and by all accounts he will be on the scene for another 30-50 years.
The book also sheds a lot of light on the behind scene events in both the Jamal Khashoggi murder and Saad Hariri (Lebanese PM) kidnapping.
If you can’t be bothered to read all +300 pages, then listen to this episode of The Hidden Forces podcast with the authors.
By the way, if you loved Fauda, then check out Tehran on Apple+.
B. Total Meditation
Deepak (now 73) is an interesting character because through his thirties he was trained as a doctor and practiced as an endocrinologist, and served as Chief of Staff at the New England Memorial Hospital.
But in the 1980’s he had the realisation that maybe just treating patients using medicines was not the best approach. That took him down the road of understanding Eastern medicine and the connection between mind and body.
I read a few of his books before the interview. The main message of this book is probably most similar to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.
Which is the importance of being present. Of being in flow.
That is the goal of meditation, to train the mind to not be wandering but to be here now. Just like you may go to the gym (or run or cycle) to train and strengthen your body, you meditate to train your mind.
But meditation is just observing and noticing, and though I took a few transcendental meditation classes, I’m not great at sitting down and instead do walking meditation.
The other key benefit of meditation has to do with the Vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, interfaces with the parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and digestive tract and is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system in the human body and comprises sensory and motor fibers.
Having a ”low vagal tone” means that the vagus nerve is impaired in its functioning— a well-known cause of stress. This can subsequently lead to conditions such as anxiety, depression, gut problems, and inflammation.
Stimulating the vagus nerve can increase vagal tone, and thus have a significant positive effect on the functioning of your body.
Some of you may have heard of the Iceman - Wim Hof, he was on the Joe Rogan show talking about the benefits of proper breathing in 2016.
C. A Few Things Worth Checking Out:
1. Ray Dalio & Bridgewater on Perspectives on Gold
2. Fascinating Invest Like the Best podcast on Why Companies that Reduce Friction Win. Great discussion on the Increasing Returns to scale.
3. Learnt a bunch about Technology Investing (and some recent ideas) from Beeneet Kothari at Tekne Capital (ex Duquesne and PointState Capital).
4. One of the books I have been enjoying listening to is William Dalrymple’s “The Anarchy”, it’s a story of the East India Company, which at the time was the largest, most powerful company in the world and in the 1800’s had a larger private army than the British army.
William Dalrymple has also written a lot of other great books on the Indian sub-continent and I really enjoyed Jolly Swagman podcast with him.
5. Blast from the past: Michael Jackson performance of Billie Jean where the audience is moved to tears by his performance.
D. The Fourth Turning (continued)
My friend, Alan Brazil, sent me Franklin Roosevelt’s acceptance speech for the democratic presidential nomination in 1936 in response to last week’s discussion on the Fourth Turning.
“Governments can err, presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted on different scales.
Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.
There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.
In this world of our in other lands, there are some people, who, in times past, have lived and fought for freedom, and seem to have grown too weary to carry on the fight. They have sold their heritage of freedom for the illusion of a living. They have yielded their democracy.
I believe in my heart that only our success can stir their ancient hope. They begin to know that here in America we are waging a great and successful war. It is not alone a war against want and destitution and economic demoralization. It is more than that; it is a war for the survival of democracy. We are fighting to save a great and precious form of government for ourselves and for the world.
I accept the commission you have tendered me. I join with you. I am enlisted for the duration of the war."
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Thank you for reading.