The Palimpsest of Sawbones Surio

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

Life in Pictures – II

with 4 comments

Another weekend comes and goes… Actually, I am not in the best of spirits, but still decided to post something here. Thoughts that follow may not make for funny or thoughtful reading. There, you’ve been warned!

Finding that Holmes was too absorbed for conversation I had tossed aside the barren paper, and leaning back in my chair I fell into a brown study. Suddenly my companion’s voice broke in upon my thoughts:
“You are right, Watson,” said he. “It does seem a most preposterous way of settling a dispute.”
“Most preposterous!” I exclaimed, and then suddenly realizing how he had echoed the inmost thought of my soul, I sat up in my chair and stared at him in blank amazement. […]
“Do you mean to say that you read my train of thoughts from my features?”
“Your features and especially your eyes. Perhaps you cannot yourself recall how your reverie commenced?”
“No, I cannot.”
“Then I will tell you. After throwing down your paper, which was the action which drew my attention to you, you sat for half a minute with a vacant expression. Then your eyes fixed themselves upon your newly framed picture of General Gordon, and I saw by the alteration in your face that a train of thought had been started. […]
You were recalling the incidents of Beecher’s career. I was well aware that you could not do this without thinking of the mission which he undertook on behalf of the North at the time of the Civil War, for I remember your expressing your passionate indignation at the way in which he was received by the more turbulent of our people. You felt so strongly about it that I knew you could not think of Beecher without thinking of that also. When a moment later I saw your eyes wander away from the picture, I suspected that your mind had now turned to the Civil War, and when I observed that your lips set, your eyes sparkled, and your hands clenched I was positive that you were indeed thinking of the gallantry which was shown by both sides in that desperate struggle. But then, again, your face grew sadder; you shook your head. You were dwelling upon the sadness and horror and useless waste of life. Your hand stole towards your own old wound and a smile quivered on your lips, which showed me that the ridiculous side of this method of settling international questions had forced itself upon your mind. At this point I agreed with you that it was preposterous and was glad to find that all my deductions had been correct.”

–– Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box


An excellent piece to demonstrate, how there’s no controlling how the mind jumps through hoops, or switches gear instantaneously. You may read the full conversation in the link provided. This conversation occurs right at the beginning of the story. So, my train of thought went somewhat like that in the last few days:

First there was this excellent post on Monevator about inflation that I read! Some highlights (emphasis mine):

If you could know with any degree of certainty that high inflation is on the way (or, equally, that it’s definitely not) then you could capitalize on it by buying or shorting government bonds.
For that very reason, tens of trillions of dollars is wagered in the government bond market worldwide, utterly dwarfing the equity market. This bond market sucks up the brainpower of thousands of smart people who are paid a small fortune to guess the direction of interest rates.

If you think you know better than this vast voting machine because, for example, you read on a blog that Mexicans are having a stand-off due to a tortilla shortage, then please get over yourself(*).
Fears of high inflation can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as workers push for higher wages and consumers and companies start stockpiling.

Alternatively, the prospect of higher interest rates to come to tame the inflation can curb spending and borrowing, and stop companies investing in expansion – even before rates have moved by very much.
UK QE can be blamed for the weaker pound, but it hasn’t driven the oil price. And for its part the US has so far seen very little domestic inflation, despite its own massive QE operations and super-low interest rates.

History, as ever, remembers the winners. Still, that’s more than most bloggers, who seem to remember neither the winners nor the losers, but rather just that morning’s headlines.

Instead of being a hawk or a dove on inflation, as private investors we should play chicken to protect our wealth. This means having a healthy fear of the consequences of inflation, but not going crazy at every headline (that just makes you a headless chicken).

(*) That would be me most of the times! :-(
Thank you, “The Investor” I said, and thought no more about it. As (bad) luck would have it, in the next few days most discussions I had on the ERE forums seemed to highlight the fact that inflation was present in the US (also pushed up petrol prices, as I recall from the conversation), and was a noticeable enough phenomenon! Over here, inflation has been a bug bear over the last 4-6 monts, and shows no signs of abating. The latest Govt. pastime seems to be unloading one scam after another over for the World’s entertainment! Our stock market had some prolonged ups and downs lately (yes, yes, ordinarily the market tends to do that, but inflation and poor governance are not ordinary events!), which has provided enough grist to the mill for the damned media. One main reason was the FII pullout due to the instability of inflation and governance combined (That’s one theory – many more abound, but that one’s found more traction). I had held my peace over inflation for several months (as Monevator says good bloggers ought to) before raising it on my blog lately. And then the things that I (or for that matter, Monevator) hadn’t accounted for, like the US inflation with oil included in the upswing, and the sudden see-saw on the Indian market is highlighted to you rather sharply (Now with this new info, go back and re-read Monevator’s post and re-assurances – you’ll be a tad worried (just a tad, mind you), just like me).

It set me wondering, when was the last time these combinations went into freefall, Surio? Not so far off, the answer came: Remember the Argentine economic crisis brought about by inflation and poor governance? And don’t forget that capital flight was part of that equation too! And it seems it hasn’t left them completely either! (Sorry, Monevator, but I hope this doesn’t count as latest headlines :-()
And there’s more Surio, said another tiny voice, now warming up (Damn you, voices!!! :x)! Don’t forget Zimbabwe too! And that was a prime case of bad governance! Hoo Boy. That slipped my mood down a few notches.

And then, there was an impressively titled report from the WWF with much fanfare. Are they living in this same planet as the rest of us? Are they aware the kind of uphill struggle humankind is up against in this switch to renewables. Here’s a some quick visuals for the time challenged (Yes, the title of that post is also impressive! :-|) That was just the science part of it. Then as another commenter (impressive title there too, notice a trend here? :-?) had already taken note that there was a pronounced use of the “Imperial We” throughout the report. Sample these:

“We must introduce legally binding minimum efficiency standards world-wide”

“We need strict energy-efficiency criteria for all new buildings.”

“Developing countries must phase-out the inefficient uses of traditional biomass.”

“We need to massively expand our capacity for generating electricity from renewable resources.”

“We need urgent investment into smart grids.”

“We also need efficient grid management.”

“We need to consider the rights of communities and indigenous people.”

“We need to carefully analyze, country by country, what land and water is available for bioenergy.”

“We should limit growth in areas that depend on liquid fuels.”

One needn’t have more than a rudimentary understanding of European and American colonialism and its legions of missionaries, technocrats, investors, philosophers, explorers, and engineers who have in the past carried out the latest fantasy of world improvement in order to see where this might all be going. Despite the emphasis on equity, the belief that “a sustainable energy future must be a fair one, in which the equal right of every person to benefit from the world’s energy resources is recognized” (56), what is imagined in The Scenario is in fact an expansion of European and American globalism to an unprecedented level of design specification. We might refer to it as hyper-globalism, Plan B on steroids in which “we” provide the central intelligence needed to make “country by country” analyses, or to provide the “efficient grid management.” Indeed the report looks forward to a time in which not only is electricity shared within the world’s 10 regions, but eventually between them (150, note 32)

Yes, that’s all we need…. :-| More puppet strings on everyone, everywhere! And then just when I didn’t need more bad news about collective myopia, this piece of slightly old news floats past me!

Bill Gates’ inane comments were just a little bit too much (I had tried hard to forget it, but this week’s mood just got me wound up straight away!). How about telling Americans to use only as much energy as an average European, Mr. Gates? And while we are there, how about telling the Europeans to use only as much energy as the average Asian, Mr. Gates…. Sheesh, that “Imperial We” again! Our ways are the aspirational ones, so naturally there’s no “reverse gear”, right? (Tony Blair’s an old pro on reverse gears Bill; ask him for pointers! :-()

OK, all things said, I’ve come to the topic of this weekend’s cartoon strip! This strip reflects how I am feeling right about now!


Bill Watterson just about nailed it here. Assumed fair use. Leave a comment if you want it removed.




Actually, I am sorry if this was all very drippy and negative. I sometimes wish I had a Blackadder streak in me…

(Blackadder enters the room and kicks the cat right off the floor.)
Baldrick: Oh sir, poor little Mildred the cat, what’s she ever done to you?
Blackadder: It is the way of the world Baldrick, the abused always kick downwards: I’m annoyed, and so I kick the cat, the cat (mouse squeaks) pounces on the mouse, and finally the mouse…
Baldrick: Ahhhh!
Blackadder: …bites you on the behind.
Baldrick: And what do I do?
Blackadder: Nothing, you are last in God’s great chain Baldrick. Unless of course there’s an earwig around here that you’d like to victimize.

That would be so easy. Step one: Find a cat! Step two: All is well! Hrm… Perhaps, I am Baldrick, and I don’t realise it still! :-| And just to reassure you all, I swear I wasn’t doing something like this strip either!

assumed fair use...etc....


Ironically, that Holmes story ends with this rather grim soliloquy:

“What is the meaning of it, Watson?” said Holmes solemnly as he laid down the paper. “What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.”

Indeed! What is the meaning of it all, folks? — GDP/GOP/ROI/PPP/TLA/TLA/TLA!

You know what? I’m Sorry! Just close this tab/window and enjoy the rest of your weekend! Let’s hope I shake off the blues by next week. I hope!

PS:Stop press!

And bless my dear DW! She reminds me that Valentine’s day is upon us. So, here’s a bonus strip that shares that thought, to say goodbyeeeee from me!

Fair use...etc.... See Last Panel. Nuff said! Happy Valentine's day to everyone!

Written by Surio

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Tale of two cities: Then and Now

with 2 comments

Dear readers. I would like to place two contrasting stories before you in this post. Chronologically, they are almost two generations apart. There is a unifying theme in both stories. In both cases, “nature” was the taskmaster that issued a series of challenges to humankind. How did we fare? We’ll find out.

Story I: Floods in Australia.

I came upon one woman’s account of the aftermath of the recent floods in Brisbane in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Firstly, two days after the hatches were battened down in Brisbane, her family went shopping for essentials, only to find that the Supermarket had shut its doors. I quote the circumstances:

[…] sales assistants who seemed close to tears and a handful of angry men remonstrating with security guards. It later emerged that this Coles was one of almost 30 across Brisbane that had been temporarily closed after shelves were stripped, staff abused and fellow shoppers assaulted.

Why did that happen? Denise wryly puts it with journalistic flourish:

[…] if there’s one thing uglier than cars and furniture being tossed around in murky brown water, it’s the furious, spit-flecked faces of the affluent hungry.

Well, I never!

Sample eyewitness accounts:

  1. A push in the milk aisle and a shove near the bread racks, eventually led to fistfights of a ferocity that left the manager no option but to summon the police.
  2. Two women were fighting over a loaf of bread and were warned that if they didn’t desist, the shop would be shut, leaving people with naught!
  3. Her husband was charged for 1.2 kg for a handful of snow peas (last ones left)!

Adding to the unfolding farce was this observation: Unhappy men on mobile phones were clearly being instructed not to dare come home empty-handed. The author herself was not too perturbed though. She had, “Plan-B” in her own words:

I started counting chickens […] sixteen of them. […] we would have at least two weeks’ worth of roast dinners […] before we ran out of food entirely

What about the others that didn’t have their own backyard coop or vegetable patches? This article really made for shocking reading for me.

  1. I think it is a godsend that this kind of reporting has been allowed to reach the wider world. I suspect, Denise Cullen being a freelancer was unencumbered by syndication laws and so could send in any story.
  2. There’s no reason for the rest of us to cackle at the Aussies. This could happen anywhere. Indeed, I shudder by just imagining the kind of chaos a similar scenario would produce in an Indian supermarket.
  3. It simply echoes the vulnerability of “modern marvellous living” with its overdependence on fossil-fuels and a centralised logistic warehousing model!
  4. Lastly it also highlights a very uncomfortable, unpalatable fact: despite years of affluence and prosperity over the last 2-3 decades, the “thin veneer of civilisation” is actually grown thinner, rather than the other way around.

I would like to place my second story before you, and perhaps that juxtaposition should help you place that last remark in context.

Story 2: 1925 serum run to Nome

A massive Diphtheria epidermic was averted in the city of Nome, Alaska (and its surrounding communities), due to the selfless act of 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs who travelled for 1,085 km and relayed the vaccine from Nenana to Nome by dog sled in a record-breaking five and a half days. This heroic act is commemorated by the “Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race” to this day.  

The town of Nome had ~1500 residents when this incident happened. From November to July, the port on the southern shore was inaccessible and Nome was linked to the rest of the world during the winter through the Iditarod Trail. This said incident took place in Dec 1924–Jan 1925. Without the vaccine, the number of people threatened in the area of was about 10,000, and the expected mortality rate was close to 100 percent!

Here’s how nature decided to cooperate: The temperatures across the Interior were at 20-year lows due to a high pressure system from the Arctic, and in Fairbanks the temperature was −46 °C. A second system was burying the Panhandle, as 40 km/h winds swept snow into 3.05m drifts. In addition, there were limited daylight hours due to the polar night. Let’s sample what happened to man & dog during the relay:

  1. Despite jogging alongside the sled to keep warm (−52 °C), first musher Shannon developed hypothermia and part of his face went black from frostbite. Resting for four hours, Shannon dropped three dogs out of his nine and left with the remaining 6. The three dogs died shortly!
  2. Second musher Kallands took over and headed into the forest, and hot water had to be poured over Kallands’ hands to get them off the sled’s handlebar when he arrived!
  3. Musher Evans relied on his lead dogs when he passed through ice fog, but forgot to protect the groins of his two lead dogs with rabbit skins. Both dogs collapsed with frostbite and died!
  4. Gonangan saw a storm brewing and decided not to take the shortcut across the dangerous ice of the Sound. The whiteout conditions cleared as he reached the shore and the gale-force winds drove the wind chill to −57 °C.
  5. Leonhard Seppala and his team, with “Togo”, had travelled 146 km from Nome into the oncoming storm, met up with the runners, decided to brave the storm and once again set out across the exposed open ice of the Norton Sound. The wind chill with the gale force winds was −65 °C. In one day, they had travelled 135 km! After resting awhile, the team once again ran into the full face of the storm blowing at 105kph. More heroics followed!
  6. Olsen was blown off the trail, and suffered severe frostbite (−57 °C) in his hands while putting blankets on his dogs.
  7. In the final leg, “Balto” led the team through visibility so poor that Gunnar Kaasen could not always see the dogs harnessed closest to the sled! Winds were so severe that his sled flipped over and he almost lost the serum cylinder when it fell off and became buried in the snow. He acquired frostbite when he had to use his bare hands to feel for the cylinder.

The book where I first read about the exploits

Together, the teams covered the 1,085 km in 127 hours, incredibly done in extreme subzero temperatures in near-blizzard conditions and hurricane-force winds. Some dogs froze to death during the trip. A second relay was also organised, but acceding to political pressure it was decided that half will be delivered by plane. The plane failed to start when a broken radiator shutter caused the engine to overheat. The plane failed the next day as well, and that mission was scrapped! K

Thanks to the above altruistic heroism “The death toll is officially listed as either 5, 6, or 7, but Welch later estimated there were probably at least 100 additional cases among “the Eskimo camps outside the city.”

So, what made those dogs and owners risk life, limb and sanity to do this? Was it love of adventure? – these men were too hardboiled for that IMO! Was it a belief that a common bond of community is stronger than their individual selves? Was it the spirit of kinship for those suffering children (many of whom were not related to the runners themselves)?

I don’t know, but today when I read that story from Australia, I couldn’t help but remember these heroes at the same time. If the Nome people showed what resilience is, then the Brisbane story exposes Human brittleness! Keep the perspective, and thanks for reading.

Sources:

  1. 2010–2011 Queensland floods
  2. Looking after No.1 in a time of deluge, Denise Cullen, 15/01/2011
  3. 1925 serum run to Nome 
  4. Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
  5. Togo, Balto, Tribute website of the incident run by Earl J. Aversano   

Written by Surio

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Posted in Musings, Philosophy

Life in Pictures

with 7 comments

They say, a picture speaks a thousand words. I agree. When I was growing up, my father would go out of his way and buy a lot of Sunday papers because we would nearly have a full page of cartoon strips. One of my favourites’ was Brickman’s small society. The exclamation of “Hoo Boy” in every strip and the messages from each strip has stayed with me and my father to this day…… I realised during my earlier posts on old age and retirement that many of those cartoons that I grew up with are still relevant today. Throughout my wrting those posts, my mind wandered back to the many discussions that I had with my father while I was trying to understand the meaning behind those strips. :-) Universal Press, which holds the copyright on them has stopped syndicating the strip (Alas!) along with Calvin and Hobbes my other favourite (Alas! Alas!).

But Oklahoma State University hosts some of Brickman’s cartoons as culturally, aesthetically and politically significant (no mean feat) and carried a feature around him, following his death (RIP).

Fun fact: Brickman took “early retirement” and spent his time playing “Jazz Piano”! I am a fan of the Jazz genre myself and early retirement sounds fun too. Good to realise, one of my childhood favourites also had similar inclinations. Nuff spoken. Enjoy the strip.


Brickman’s “small society”. The lack of capitals was meant to be an irony.

Have a good weekend!

Written by Surio

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Live long, not work longer: Final Thoughts

with 5 comments

This post is the third post on the series about “Old age vs. Retirement age”. The earlier posts can be read here and here.

The posts revolved around my thoughts on retirement ages with increased longevity. I had the pleasure of interacting with ermine and HSpencer in the blog comments on this topic and had an interesting exchange of views in the ERE forums as well. I would like to bring the topic to closure by summing up the conclusions from all those comments.

In previous posts, I had not touched “health” as a concern because the post was getting quite long already. I shall address that one here briefly:

A health aspect concern

When the pension policy was formulated, it was supposed to pay out for a period of say 20 years. And the average age expectancy matched that payout. So far so good.

Brief History: Instead of dismantling the world-war industrial complex after the war, it was decided to put that framework to use in food production, specially the chemical weapons part. The Army Corps were also put to use for building those massive dams. These two technologies and man-power were loaned out to the rest of the world (whether they asked or not – The Indian Green revolution was a by-product of this part of world history). So, food supply became abundant and more nutrition simply meant longevity and less infant mortality. The fact that this setup is beginning to show its age and expose many more problems than its initial show of strength is getting more evident now, but I do not want to digress. The net result of all this is longevity! People who were expected to pop their clogs by 75 are living into their 90s.

Meanwhile a few points to consider:

  • The pension policy assumed for a higher mortality and that calculation has gone boink!
  • The nature of jobs in economies with pensions have also changed. Varietyof jobs are missing; sedentary desk-based jobs (service jobs) became the norm.
  • The jobs carried more stress and unpredictability because they farmed out, re-organised, made redundant… etc…
  • This has led to other forms of ill-health than the previously thought life-threatening ones. New types of illnesses that often involves invasive surgery, presription medicines and major lifestyle changes: blood pressure, cholestrol, heart disease, insomnia, diabetes, etc…
  • Meanwhile, all this sedentary lifestyle (office and home – TV!) has caused a spurt of joint failures, lack of functional fitness and poor motor coordination in an entire generation.

As an aside, old people are not as mobile as the young to look for jobs. So the kind of jobs old people can hope to find for themselves is usually jobs around the cleaning services sector, jobs in supermarkets, some community volunteer services (e.g., lollipop man), guides, museum guards… OK, this list is getting tiresome, but you get the general idea. Basically, these are tied-to-a-location jobs. Often there’s competition with young people for these jobs too.

But the critical moot point to remember is this: Living long and being functional for your entire lifetime are two radically different things.

So, while they may be living longer, a coupling of all the above means: In terms of finding them a job, there are several riders attached to the clause. 9 out of 10 may have undergone heart surgery which makes jobs with lifting and lugging a liability for them (so, bread-loaf stacker job in a supermarket is perhaps ideal in such a case). But here’s another problem, if there are too many goldie oldies, how many bread loaf stacker jobs are likely going around at any given time? Therefore, even if there is a compulsion to put them to work, they are not functionally fit enough for any job. Rather they can be matched to only a very few jobs. That’s the sad part.

I will not belabour this point any more. I hope it brings out the general picture.

Summarising the interactions and conclusions over the posts

  1. The consenseus was that the tenet of “putting them out to work since they live long anyway” “may not be/is not” the humane/correct way to approach this.
  2. While I had deliberately neglected the workforce’s part in this ongoing story for the simple fact, it would have hampered my “highly charged” narrative, the comments left in the blog more than compensated for it. (thanks ermine/HSpencer. In one sense the comments complete the post :-) )
  3. There’s a lot of slash-and-burn attitude that’s entered people’s attitude to living… instant gratification has replaced prudence or calculating the cost and affordability of the same. iFads, granite kitchentops, top of the line furniture, that ‘must-have’ holiday… well the comments are fun read on their own!
  4. Realisation of the fact that things aren’t hunky dory with them, their lives or their finances is not at all clueing people to wake up to their reality. People are resorting to magical thinking of “wishing”, “hoping”, ….. anything but asking themselves long, hard, practical questions about solid actions to take. (I shudder to think of the stories from the AARP magazine ;-))
  5. While it may be too late for the older generation, any incentive (even the (shudder) lottery scheme) to entice and involve the younger generation into a savings culture is welcome. This should also set the trend where Govt. pulls out from the Florence Nightingale business and passes the baton of responsibility back to the people for pensions and healthcare.
  6. A thought revolving around increasing the pension/social security tax contribution from its current levels found no favour with anyone. This is mainly because of a distrust with the Governments because, in the past they have been naughty with their squandering of this resource. Again, the comments in the posts put it eloquently.
  7. Ominously, both commenters (UK and US) were independently unanimous in hinting that the retirement age would be put up and the tax bracket won’t be raised within the next 2-4 years. In all sincerity, one has to defer to the “experience of life” that speaks the same truth across continents!

Finally, I want to close this by drawing attention to this newly released book by Sage Publications, UK.

Aging: International Perspective

Brief summary of the book:

Community-based carer support programmes such as low-cost respite, and day and night in-home help options are a part of a larger array of community-based services that already exist, but the policy challenge here is to determine the mix of universal and targeted community-based programmes to be more effective. Virtually all countries, with the exception of Africa, have experienced or are on the verge of experiencing a marked growth in their aging population.

India occupies in the ‘Percentage increase in elderly population – 2000 to 2030,’ after Thailand and Brazil, but ahead of China, each with a 150-plus percentage increase(*), even as European countries are expected to experience a smaller percentage increase in their elderly population over the next 30 years.
(*) Likely explanation: For India it is mass immigration of young people in a “flat world” that has tipped the balance wildly out. For China it was the one child policy.

A grim fact brought out in the book is the impact of greying on the budget. The authors highlight how the question about how much to spend on aging social policies can be framed. Public policy debates tend to be about what we value, yet most debates eventually narrow to the question of what we can afford.

This anecdote stood out for me:

Former US defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s appearance before the Senate Committee on Appropriations to testify on the president’s emergency supplemental budget request for $87 billion for post-military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. “In his prepared remarks, Secretary Rumsfeld posed a rhetorical question: ‘Is $87 billion a great deal of money? Yes. But can we afford it? Without question.’ His point was that this request was of such high value that the money was not an issue. This request was ‘the price of freedom.’ Funding this request would send a clear ‘message to terrorists that we are willing to spend what it takes.’” Alas, such an importance does not usually get accorded to aging social policy issues.

If you are interested, read the rest of the review here. And Thank you for staying with me through the story.

Written by Surio

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Live long, not work longer: Some (Radical) solutions – I

with 8 comments

With regards to my earlier post, Deeply prevailing PWE sentiments: Redux, I got a few comments already as to the fact that I do not have alternative proposals lined up. I must confess I too would hate to be in the hot-seat for making such a decision, but please tell me, why is it that the easiest solution that does not inconvenience us but does inconvenience others, adopted all the time?

Some (Radical for many) proposals to keep the pension coffers running

It takes a lot of courage to do something as radical as this but certainly many of those cold-war fat cats and brazen hawks who continue to milk the war machine can be sent scurrying back to the holes they came from. An interesting film (with eye-candy) would be The Russia House for sound bites on how the war machinery triumphs by feeding falsity and fear. This sentiment is unacceptable in India too, as China/Pak are frequently cited as an excuse to procure armaments!

How about reinin in the healthcare industry (even the Indian ones) that are driving the costs up all the time (but we know how that one panned out in the USA), dismiss a culture of litigation that is source of much irony, both in US and UK. But I understand how the modern system works in the World today! We are a plutocracy!. Two illustrations from elsewhere.

Roy Brown, a homeless man from Shreveport Louisiana walked into a local bank, put his hand under his coat to mimic a gun, and demanded money. He rejected the pile of cash the teller offered him and took one $100 bill, saying that he was hungry and needed money for a place to sleep. He then turned himself in the next day, saying that his mother didn’t raise him that way. He was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 15 years in prison

Christian Milton, was an executive at American International Group, the international insurance firm bailed out with tax money. Mr. Milton engaged in a back-room scheme that defrauded AIG stockholders out of $500 million. Milton, a company vice president, committed securities fraud when he cut a secret deal with General Re Corp. to falsely inflate the asset value of AIG. He then lied about it to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The judge agreed with the prosecutor that Milton had known that the deal was a scam and had shown no remorse. Milton was sentenced to………wait for it…………4 years in prison.

Homeless, hungry, ashamed, and honest: $100 gets you 15 years
Rich, sleazy, brazen, and dishonest: $500 million gets you 4 years

Back to today, we have the oil mafia stealing headlines away from Egypt and Tunisia.

Forgot to mention earlier:

How about increasing the social security tax rate (*) to make up the difference, with a strict constitutional mandate the the Government is no…I repeat….not supposed to touch it under any ciscumstances?
(*) Gaaaasp! Sputter! Blasphemy, Heresy! Burn the Wicker man!

So all in all, it is likely that the soon-to-be-retirees would be asked to pack their lunchboxes again and one more round of bonuses will be paid out for “injecting experienced workforce into the global economy with radical proposal to increase working age”… Anastasia de Waal, are you listening?

Written by Surio

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Deeply prevailing PWE sentiments: Redux

with 10 comments

Or, Why your living longer shouldn’t equate to work for longer!

Over the weekend, I heard this podcast from Motley Fool (30 mins long) featured in Monevator recently. It was an interview with Dr Ros Altmann, director general of Saga, the old person’s youth club. Go on, give it a listen if you have the time.

My takeaways were:

  1. It made for very chilling listening because the Government pension which was working fine in India has been replaced with all these private SIP schemes bleeding people dry in the present with various processing fees. A simple calculation of the various “fees”, suggests that it would be a minimum of three years before the fund is actually starting to work for the pensioner. And we’ve got hordes of lemmings flocking at these things, and engaging in “fanboyism” with anyone within a 10m radius! When these usurious “fees” were banned by the regulatory body, the private pensions lobby was so powerful that they were able to reverse the ban and also managed to frame another part of their business instead.
  2. She finished the interview with emphasis on bringing back a whole culture of savings and investments within the general public. In between, it was all downhill for me
  3. Suggested to have lotteries that pay out a million quid monthly for pension fund contributers to keep them “hooked to idea of savings”! :-o That antagonised her in my eyes even more…. Lotteries as a concept cause more pain and misery and ruin than society cares to admit!
  4. She conveniently placed the entire UK pension blame at politicians’ feet (OK, there’s some truth in that!). But there was no politician to defend their point of view. So it is a boo-boo in my dictionary (see post – look for “Jungian shadow”)
  5. Argued that people must be prepared to work longer than 65-70 because they are living longer anyway! (I couldn’t beat that type of logic even if I tried/could)
  6. Yet more blame at Govt to tackle ageism to promote above proposal

However, there was a small prevailing thought that the last two points mentioned above “are right”. Oh dear! I decided to collect all my thoughts on “why it is not right!” and present it as a (hopefully) coherent narrative. The logic that acceded to the last two points as part of another conversation has been paraphrased here by me.

When social security was introduced, average life expectancy was somewhere around 55, so a withdrawal age of 62 seems reasonable. At an average life expectancy of 78, it doesn’t. So yes, if people want to use SS/a government pension system as their only retirement income, they should have to put up with working longer/withdrawing at a later age.

Don’t you sense the PWE sentiment that drives this kind of thought process? That’s the first objection I have! But it is not the only objection. Read on to share my thoughts.

The Humane objection to that:

If anything, that premise itself would be unacceptable (at least to someone like me) because we are acknowledging with that observation that we expect people to contribute a certain amount into this pension kitty throughout their working lives with the knowledge that most will never benefit from the resulting largesse. In any form of society, that would just be frowned upon. One small point; retirement age used to be 70, so most paid up but never lived to take benefit of it. When the lid was blown there, the retirement age was lowered

But let’s go with that story for the moment:
Let’s say, we have someone joining the workforce when they are 22. Young, fit and in their prime (There was a time when I was able to run a half-marathon at 27, but now in my mid-30s I no longer feel up for it. Basically, that is to highlight our own changing priorities towards things as we grow old(er)).

The workforce are brainwashed into believing when they joined the workforce, that if they slug it out for 30+ years they “will get a retirement cake” and they can take it easy and stop and smell the roses when they turn 60. I know from my own experience with the “great middleclass” that by 50, most are really looking forward to the time when they will simply sit down and enjoy their coffee without being a slave to the clock (I seemed to move with only people with that kind of wish. YMMV). In fact, many within the public sector banking, regardless of their rank/scale took “early retirement” with severance pay, despite having the chance of one more promotion (and with it, being able to draw more pension). So, it would be cruel for someone who was really loking forward to put their feet up, to be told today that it is not 6o, but maybe 72 or 75 because, guess what, you live longer, so you need to stay at work longer (If it had happened elsewhere, this kind of forced working would be termed as a communistic gulag! :-P).

By accepting this as a given, we are simply mouthing what “they” (the financial institutions) tell us as a given fact (an axiom). Why should it be? The workforce did not ask for longevity, it was a side-effect, a consequence so to speak. A stretched analogy would be: A rising tide takes all ships with it, but it would be rather foolish to overload the ships now, because you find the the waterline to be high, and therefore the ship’s rudder can sink more! Not fair to the ship, because the ship did not ask for the tide, nor is the ship in a position to reject the tide and sink itself to commit suicide!
So, in summary, forcing someone to re-join or stay in the workforce simply by looking at the numbers (age) on the left, the payouts to be made on the right(*) and asking them to grab their shovels and pick-axes once more because (Woo Hoo!) they will all be living longer anyway!
I propose a new term for this kind of attitude: “bean counter nazism”
(*) Most Western Governments have actually resorted to using up this pot for various cold-war funded activities and don’t have the money to pay-out. That’s the conspiratorial truth!

Objection 2: If we decide to keep them on the job

OK, laying aside the humane side of the issue for a moment, it is decided to keep their nose back to the grindstone, what happens then? Wel, it so happens that the world population is at ~6.9 billion (last time I checked), and it was relentlessly moving up not stopping, not slowing…nothing! What about the number of youg people coming to work every year out of this number? For ease, I halve it for employable age? Now I halve it for young people as well? So, I have 1.72 billion people left. This is a global number. Last time I checked, this FLAT world was full of sovereign nations, capable of deciding what can and cannot pass over their borders (visa fees hike (USA), cap on immigrants (UK)), and under what conditions they pass (import tariffs, EEA, EEC, GATT, NAFTA……), which means these numbers get accounted and broken at a local level, i.e., country level. Please bear with me while I quote a sci-fi writer who berates us all for obsessing ourselves with numbers and quoting them to bamboozle and impress:

On the other hand, the statistics of Chapter One are beyond reproach. They tell how many people there are נand thus how many living human bodies נin each minute of the 525,600 minutes of the year. How many bodies means: the amount of muscle, bone, bile, blood, saliva, cerebrospinal fluid, excrement, and so on. Naturally, when the thing to be visualised is of a very great order of magnitude, a populariser readily resorts to comparative imagery. The Johnsons do the same. So, were all humanity taken and crowded together in one place, it would occupy three hundred billion liters, or a little less than a third of a cubic kilometer. It sounds like a lot. Yet the worldӳ oceans hold 1,285 million cubic kilometers of water, so if all humanity נthose five billion bodies נwere cast into the ocean, the water level would rise less than a hundredth of a millimeter. A single splash, and Earth would be forever unpopulated.

So, on with the story:
Already the soon-to-retire generation have had to go through upheaveals of their own where the carpets were pulled under their feet constantly (as jobs farmed out everywhere else in the name of globalisation). These people had no part to play in it, except when the axe landed on them. Indeed everyone talks about how having a $100,000 UAW auto-worker is making Detroit uncompetetive with regards to a $5000 SAIC worker, but I ask you, he didn’t demand that much. The bulk of that amount being quoted is taken up by their heathcare! But we convinently ignore that aspect (And Obama hinted further medicare/medicaid cuts in his state-of-the-onion-speech) while piling more misery.

Now as part of the “worker-bee” economic model, new workers must replace the old guard (either by promotion, new graduates joining the workforce, or if everyone wants to mooch off benefits, import them from other countries) for the existing jobs in the market! What happens when educated youth who have been led to believe in the “brave, new world” where everyone can be an investment banker, find themselves completely unemployed for many reasons (one of them being oldies have to work for 10 more years, say)?

Sudden Death Outcome

Providence, with a heavily ironic sense of humour has provided me with two revolutions: 1) Tunisia and 2) Egypt whose agenda seems to be high unemployment and food inflation channelled as a discontne towards incumbent Govt.

Yet another footnote in relation to those revolutions. That was written in Feb/June 2010, depending on which country you are reading it from! Chilling premonition, or self-fulfilling prophecy, I leave you to decide!

In 1950 Egypt population was 22 million, now it is 75 million! More than three times larger. They still have the same amount of arable land, but it is less fertile now and less water from the Nile River, their main source of livelihood. Result? More poverty and population dissatisfaction. Western people are unable to grasp the level of deep poverty in the slums of Cairo, for example, it is similar to India’s notorious slums. Obviously, this population growth leads to larger use of resources, more food, more clothing, more electricity, that is: more energy and more GHG emissions. Egypt has to be governed by dictatorship since otherwise the population would revolt.

Slow, painful death outcome

OK, some people take the population growth argument and turn it around its head. The argument goes like this:

  • World population growth is slowing and will begin to decline soon.
  • This creates a problem for social services that depend on a large number of employed people supporting a small number of unproductive people.

Ergo, keep the existing workforce going. This is a linear progression of thought that fails to take the “leapfrog” technologies that seem to overtake us everyday, leaving us feeling like “lower animals” (see quote referred here). In other words,

  1. The Japanese, faced with a negative population growth and surfeit of elderly needing care, have simply resorted to creating various types of nurse // robots
  2. Who needs teachers anymore? All those English teacher-bloggers living in South-Asian countries advocating lifestyle design, please take note ;-)
  3. And then to add insult to injury, who needs waiters anymore?

So, I note with ironic hilarity when consumerist junkies that promote debt-driven economies suggest (as Ros Altman does in her podcast) that part of the solution of the decling population is that younger people can find jobs in restaurants or work in hair salons to service this already worked-to-death senior citizen who is being asked/forced to continue work for 10-15 more years. Hmm, will there be a waiter job for humans, going forward? On that note, will there be a job for the soon-to-retire?

The persistent myth of the pension pot

Companies engineer movement of jobs all the time with deliberate intention of keeping workers in a state of anxiety…. “M&A”, “outsourcing”, “JVs”, “synergistic partnerships with offshore collaborators”, “virtual office assistants”, etc…etc… OK, I don’t want to sound Marxist here, but take a look at the announcements here
and scan for the following words: closures, downs shutters, cuts working days, shut down…… Granted it is 2008 news, but I am too lazy to refine my search… I leave it to you to refine it, but I do know that in 2009, this happened among others, and in 2010, this lockout hapened near my neck of the woods – and they are one of Bangalore’s biggest blue-collar employers! For Apple fanboys, here’s the latest on Foxconn India! And I will take a bet, those jobs rarely, if ever come back to original state of play.

It is those type of workers all over the world, who were brainwashed that the trade would feed them, clothe them and put a roof over their heads (iPods, FTW!) after they retire, rely on a small pension towards their “planned” (by someone) obsolescence. The college-educated jobless can frequently move to find other paper-pushing jobs “wherever” they may be available, but what about these types of “blue-collar” workers?(*)

(*) It takes five fingers to make up a hand, in the same way it takes all kinds to workers when you talk about “workforce”, right?

OK, the jobs have moved from USA to Malaysia to China to Vietnam to India to wherever it goes next. In the process the organisation has stayed in the black and its operations run “as usual”. What about the workforce it leaves behind, who are unable to find a job? Yes, there’s a severance that’ll take care of them while they hunt another job, in the same way the Indian Government will extract all the Swiss black money and create a brave new India.

So, where is the “pension pot” for the original worker who signed up 30 years ago, not knowing he will be left hanging 20 years down? Where’s the “job” for him to go back to in order to continue working for.

Already, the new wave Indian companies who are themselves products of “flat world” outsourcing are becoming smart enough to open “offshore” centres of their own in SE-Asia… So, what happens to the jobs that used to come from the “mothership” to the “offshore centre”? What happens to the unemployed that are left behind as the Indian operations farms it out to SE-Asia “offshore centre”? Presumably some cynical t**d will create an Indian version of this and this to keep the masses opiated from joining a revolution!

As the post is going beyond 2500 words and I will stop for now. Based on the interest I recieve on this topic, we can take up Part II/IIIs if needed.

Frankly there are no easy solutions to this. And I don’t have the answers for these problems. But it is certainly not the airily worded solutions from the “experts” that we should continue to “soldier on”, since that is what “they” tell us to do, since it is the “only way forward”! Bah! Humbug!

As one modern philosopher puts it:

“the task of the philosopher is not to act as the Big Other who tells us about the world but rather to challenge our own ideological presuppositions.”

I have challenged myself on this one for long. Have I managed to challenge you today?

Written by Surio

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The Limerick of Box stacking

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Or, How I developed an awareness of the insidious art of sidestepping a problem

One of the many memorable experiences that I’ve carried away from my time as student is the totally unexpected Shayari sessions (the Western equivalent would be Limerick sessions) that would suddenly take place in the midst of a seriously raging technical debate. All the more memorable, because we were all engineering students whose street cred is measured in how geeky your responses are, and not how poetic you are. So, once in a while when we let down our hairs we get some brilliant outlooks about this and that and everything else. One particular “shayar” always stayed with me, for reasons I will explain presently. You may be forgiven for thinking this is a variant on the famous Bottles on the Wall, but it is not. The suspect in question goes something like this (translated for ease):

A box, upon which rests another box,
Upon which rests another one, and carries another on top,
And there’s one more, and another box on top…………………
…………………………………………………………………………………………….
And another box on top……………………
………………………………………………………another box on top

This is repeated ad nauseam, until someone in the group loses patience (there’s sometimes a plant to ask this question, if the group is not too sharp to catch on fast!) and asks the narrator, “Excuse me, but is there a couplet in this somewhere”? At this the narrator feigns anger and put a frown and retorts, “Why you Philistines, don’t you appreciate what a delicate stack of balancing I’ve done with those boxes”!!!


I always retained in my memory, this incident from the past, because it provided me with a psychological lesson to watch out for in all my human interactions from thereon. That is, a lesson into the insidious art of sidestepping a problem by highlighting a different aspect within the problem, which is usually a) tedious to refute, and, b) cleverly worded to make the refuter look bad! Looking at that “box couplet” above:

  1. It was evident from the start of the couplet that the group has been strung up!
  2. Also evident as the “box song” progressed that the joke’s going to be at the expense of the group, not the narrator.
  3. The phrasing of the response, when the joke has reached its tether is another valuable lesson!
  4. Here, the narrator conveniently places the blame on the unappreciative “philistines” for not showing their appreciation at the stacking of the boxes,
    1. So, the stupidity of having suffered a “box song ” which adds neither profundity nor profanity (one of the two main intended purposes of any Limerick) is now forgotten,
    2. Any attempt to refute the narrator has to begin with the deconstruction of the “wonderful stacking” point, which defeats the point of a friendly, relaxed session, and does make you look a right ol’ git!

A weak version of this is played out in the The Monty Python’s Life of Brian sketch, “What have the Romans done for us”, when John Cleese goes:

All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?

Yes, I think it is a gloriously funny film, and no, I am not reading too much into it. Just consider this: Not to sling mud on the Romans (or anyone else), but

  1. Isn’t it self-defeating to assume that nobody but the Romans are capable of bringing these “modern marvels” to the others?
  2. The Roman civilisation itself was an offshoot of the other “great” Etruscan Civilization, so wouldn’t it be better to have said “What have the Etruscans done for the (Romans/) us?” and somehow set the record straight after all these years of misinformation?
  3. And besides…………..at this point I’ve also become the anal retentive klutz who can’t take a joke!

If you think I am laying it thick, check out how many school study websites on the Net push this very same jaded worldview! And there are some others who take it to doombat levels indeed!

The slightly stronger form of this comes to play in:

Internet “opinion wars” that usually revolve around TEOTWAWKI: pollution, environment, deforestation, man-made climate change (Boo-Boo!), peak oil, genetically modified food discussions. Usually there are three proven sidesteppers in these arguments:

  1. Insisting that some technology being done somewhere by someone else, which we may or may not adopt (depending on our NIMBYism meter at that time) will bail us all out of all our predicaments,
  2. Displaying a brazen machismo by imagining a future that is more nihilistic, and more awful than what others may have suggested already and/or
  3. Finding somebody to blame for all this, and evoking a rage that mostly makes other recall the famous Jungian shadow projection theory.

Have you seen these “holy” wars end in any other way ever? Typically when sidestepping is employed, the net result is one where, locally everyone is right, but globally everyone is wrong!

The monstrous versions usually play out in global level politics:

Since I don’t want this blog to be a political one, I will finish this by pointing out, one just needs to look at all the “smoke and mirrors” and the volte-face of all the major actors in the latest Iraq war. Of course, as one famous ad-campaign for toffee in India used to put it, “The Argument continues”. I rest my case. ! :-|

What do you think? Am I being guilty of that famous “Maslow’s law of the instrument”, or were you able to recall several insidious sidestepper incidents of your own to back this point? Let us know. :-D

Written by Surio

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Posted in Musings, Philosophy

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