The Palimpsest of Sawbones Surio

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

Archive for January 2011

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. 😀

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Posted in Musings, Philosophy

What do Calvin & Hobbes and Dilbert strips share in common with the “Gervais Principle”?

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Today’s post is a summarisation of a conversation that I’ve been having for a very long time (even more so lately). I felt it would be good to collect the thoughts into one post for easy reference. But first some history:

Venkatesh Rao, who blogs at ribbon farm achieved notoriety(*) of sorts in 2009 with his post The Gervais Principle (G-P).

(*) The Gervais Principle got slashdotted(!), and the resulting traffic crashed his server.

The Gervais Principle, in a nutshell.

The Gervais Principle a social commentary on hierarchical (organisational) models told using two unconnected plot devices. Although the title is a nod to the creator of the (somewhat notorious) sitcom, The Office, there are two plot devices at play in telling this story. So, you’ve been introduced to the first plot device above. The second plot device is this very telling cartoon below by Hugh McLeod.

hughMcLeodCompanyHierarchy

The Gervais principle divides people into these three categories shown above, and goes on to try and explain what’s going on in institutions/organisations/schools or basically, any hierarchical management model. Caveat emptor: Please don’t get too value-attached to the labels – once again I repeat, they are “plot devices” from a cartoon on that link!

  • Losers: People who see the underlying game but don’t play.
  • Clueless: People who don’t see the underlying game and are played.
  • Sociopaths: People who see the underlying game and play (other people).

There are two categories that are not dealt in the Gervais Principle.

  1. A 4th category of people who don’t see the game and aren’t played. One way of tagging them would be “benefit-scroungers”?
  2. There’s also another category who choose to become “Free Agents”.

I would like to state that I greatly appreciated Venkat’s write-up on “Gervais principle”, mainly because I now have a convenient shorthand for that travesty that we know otherwise today as “modern workplace” :-D. But, in a recent post, Venkatesh wrote:

The Gervais Principle series was initially inspired by the question, “how is Office funny different from Dilbert funny?”

Which neatly brings me to the point of this post. 🙂 Because I’m sorry to say this. No, it is not.. In case you missed that one, no, it is NOT different to each other at all. 😐 Let me draw from my own experience as to why not (Warning: Empiric data presented below. If your “funniness” mileage varies, please leave your links in the comments ;-)).

Trying to find the similarities between Dilbert and G-P

Whenever discussions over the “Gervais principle (G-P)” gets stuck due to the prevarications over “sociopath/clueless…”(*), I always steer the topic back to the original discussions (as if by magic), by pointing out the following thing:
(*) Read as: ALL the time 😉

“Look”, I tell people who’re now in a complete twist over the words, “It’s a plot device, very much like using “Alice/Bob/Carol in cryptography discussions”. “For example, the author could have simply used a bunch of Dilbert cartoons, and instead of using those terms, used some Dilbert characters to tell the same story…..”

  1. Instead of “Clueless”, we can easily say “Catbert” or that famous “Pointy-Haired-Boss” or even “Ratbert”.
  2. Instead of “Sociopath”, we can easily tell the same roles and story via “Dogbert” or even “Alice” (she’s sort of a “true” sociopath as well 😉 )
  3. Instead of “Loser”, (this one’s easy….) there’s Wally, there’s Asok and of course there’s Dilbert himself!

By now, everyone has not only latched on to “G-P” but are nodding enthusiastically as well! :-|. Dear God in Heaven!

Added Bonus: Calvin and Hobbes also handles this

Another unifying theme is that both Dilbert and the Office are predominantly set in and around the workplace. By refreshing contrast, the canvas on which Bill Watterson paints Calvin and Hobbes is almost Kaleidoscopic. I could go on and on and on and on Bill Watterson, on Bill Watterson ;-)
about Bill and the strip, but since I don’t want you all to feel like Calvin up there, I’ll cut to the chase. On several other occasions, I’ve totally ignored Dilbert and used Calvin & Hobbes strips to make the exact points once again…..

“So”, I say again, wading into the melee that has erupted on the “clueless vs. loser” order; “if those terms confuse/offends you, how about looking at Calvin-and-Hobbes, instead”? I mean,

  • Instead of “Clueless”, I could simply use “Suzie Derkins” or even “Miss.Wormwood”?
  • Instead of “Loser”, I could simply use “Hobbes” or even “Calvin’s father”?
  • Instead of “Sociopath”, I could simply point out to either “Calvin”(^) himself, or “Calvin’s mother”?

(^) Calvin has enormous potential to become one, but only if he is able to suppress his non-conformist streak. That’s my theory anyway…..

Usually, I drive the point home straight away by literally opening random strips from both those books and pointing to the “relationship dynamics” written by Venkat in the G-P series (sociopath/clueless/loser behaviour patterns, baby-talk, posture-talk….etc.) on the strips. And in BOTH cases as if miraculously, from a melee, we have absolute silence from all of them, as the “idea” finally sinks in. It generally pains me to see their pain as the bitter truth of all of the daily drudgery sinks home with those terms and reality, but hey, that’s the truth, No?

There’s perhaps one difference if it may count as a difference. Venkat’s analysis is a brutal one when compared with the other two plot devices discussed here. In fact, they would count to me as too nice by comparison. In other words, “Wally” might make you sympathise/self-pity with yourself, but “loser” does shake you a bit….. “Ratbert” is funny, so is “Suzie”, but “clueless” sucks…..

Sooooo, with that I come back to my original conclusion. Venkat had what many would call an “epiphany”, and used a different “plot device” than the others (Watterson, Adams) had used before him to tell us all the (very same) “story so far”. It is important for us all to remind ourselves that human beings’ last evolutionary “big leap” was in terms of “walking straight”(#). 😉 Nothing else has changed since. We’ve only added new layers, removed old layers, ad nauseaum. Therefore, Venkat shouldn’t be harbouring any delusions of grandeur, please. (I mean no offence, honestly. :-|) Once again, I would like to state that I greatly appreciated this write-up on “Gervais principle”, mainly because I now have a convenient shorthand for the pitfalls in hierarchical models.

(#) We might all be well advanced technologically, but we are quite primitive culturally (which is the level where people-dynamics operate). Here’s a quote from someone more eminent than I am:

Because technology can evolve much faster than we can, our natural capacity to process information is likely to be increasingly inadequate to handle the surfeit of change, choice, and challenge that is so characteristic of modern life. More and more frequently, we will find ourselves in the position of lower animals — with a mental apparatus that is unequipped to deal thoroughly with the intricacy and richness of the outside environment.

— Influence, Epilogue pp. 208-209 (emphasis mine)
by Dr. Robert Cialdini Professor in Psychology, ASU.

Finally, to balance the topic somewhat, here’s a blog post from monevator that provided me with some food for thought. I provide a small sampler.

It’s my contention though that work was mostly always rubbish for the educated classes, and that it’s only nostalgia that causes people to believe otherwise.

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“Life as we know it”: From a developing country

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Business Line graphic accompanying the news story "RBI tells banks to restrain credit growth; ups key rates" appeared on 24/01/2011

India economic growth indicators and statistic at a glance. Enlarged and watermarked to denote original copyright holder. Leave a comment if you would like to have it removed.

This graphic is culled from a News article that appeared in The Hindu Business Line yesterday.

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Posted in Newspaper articles

In praise of idleness….

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In keeping with the spirit of (the overratedness of) work that started with this earlier post, I present two interesting quotations for your reading pleasure:

Whoever is not in the possession of leisure can hardly be said to possess independence. They talk of the dignity of work. Bosh. True work is the necessity of poor humanity’s earthly condition. The dignity is in leisure. Besides, 99 hundredths of all the work done in the world is either foolish and unnecessary, or harmful and wicked.

–Herman Melville’s (Moby-Dick) biography

I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.

Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.

–Bertrand Russell

And that was Bertrand Russell, who also gave the quip “Belief in a cause is a source of happiness to large numbers of people” (The conquest of Happiness). A pity it’s the belief in Mammon that’s replaced the beliefs of yesteryears. The above quote was from one of his essays titled In praise of Idleness and rightly so!

Our zeal for “improvement” just doesn’t know when to stop…… And that’s precisely the problem of today. When I was a little kid, I read in a Philosophy book that used the following anecdote to make a point:

When George Mallory was asked by a NYTimes reporter, “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” it seems he retorted: “Because it’s there”

Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine both disappeared somewhere high on the North-East ridge and their bodies were never discovered for 75 years! Indeed!

Luckily ol Bertie hints at a solution…..

When I suggest that working hours should be reduced to four, I am not meaning to imply that all the remaining time should necessarily be spent in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours’ work a day should entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his time should be his to use as he might see fit. It is an essential part of any such social system that education should be carried further than it usually is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing tastes which would enable a man to use leisure intelligently.

Tim Ferris, take a hike! Someone was there long before you were even a twinkle in your father’s eye. Most people, when they spend some time critically reflecting inwards (What’s the point of all this carousel?) do tend to figure that one out by themselves. Here’s ermine at SLS on one of his musings: “On(c)e you have individuated, you can make your own decisions.”.

I sincerely hope Bertie’s essay and Ermine’s post that puts the historical context right will send you down that path of “individuation” as well! Good Luck

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The bare necessities, Calvinism and the “Anti-Work” movement …

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This post is inspired by ermine at Simple Living in Suffolk, who reminded me of his own post today. I am rather pleased to note (Schadenfreude, Surio? Tut Tut 😐 !), ermine’s post was also inspired by Financial Samurai’s “gung-ho” (my post containing link to Sam’s original). What is nice about ermine’s write-up, is that unlike others who’ve restricted themselves to solely deconstruct Sam’s flawed arguments, Ermine takes a different stand and attacks the very core of the problem! Nice one, Guv. He points out that underlying all this angst and insecurity behind the (stale) arguments, is the brainwashed spirit of Calvinism, sometimes popularly referred to as The Protestant Work ethic (PWE). In a nutshell,

To put it succinctly, for me, the PWE means you have no worth (in society, your family and to yourself) unless you are productive each and every day and you get all your work done before you take time to play. The trouble is there never is any time to play because there is always more work to do.

I am willing to take a bet. EVERYONE OF YOU that read that piece were nodding silently in agreement, right? Especially the last line, right? 😛 Ha Ha! Got you there, didn’t I? 😉 So, tell me, why do we persist with that pointless work ethic claptrap? No,seriously, Why?

The answer was of course my self-evident truth…BECAUSE IT IS. Everyone knows work is good, that you need to work to get ahead, to earn your rightful and esteemed place in society. No one likes a slacker or those free-loaders living off the sweat of others.

So, that’s why. Hmmm, that reminds me of an old Calvin and Hobbes strip:

Hobbes: How come we play war and not peace?
Calvin: Too few role models.
Calvin: I’ll be the fearless American defender of liberty and democracy… and you can be the loathsome godless communist oppressor. We’re at war, so if you get hit with a dart, you’re dead and the other side wins, OK?
Hobbes: Gotcha.
Calvin: GO! (WAP-WAP they shoot each other simultaneously) Kind of a stupid game,isn’t it?

Indeed, it is a stupid (and pointless) game. We work ourselves to the bone, lose out on everything life has to offer, then wonder while we are old, where did time fly? All because, we don’t know any other way. We’ve been told that, that’s the (right) thing to do. We were told to CHOOSE LIFE!. And we did too, because we simply don’t know of immediate role models for the other side

Solution: A Mascot, a spokesperson, a memorable figurehead is needed to defend the Down with the “Pointless Work Ethic” movement!

Which neatly brings me to the point of this post! Many will recognise from the blog post’s title the famous song(*) from The Jungle Book film, which was sung by the lovely endearing bear, Baloo…. Now, before we go further, I request you to watch the clip….. Go on…Go on….Go on….. (*) in which he tells Mowgli how, if you know the tricks, you can live off the land and still have a life of leisure. Now that’s a life! 🙂 Here’s part of the song. Tell me, aren’t those lines simply profound?

[..................]
[..................]
The bare necessities of life will come to you
They'll come to you!
So just try and relax, yeah cool it
Fall apart in my backyard
'Cause let me tell you something, little britches
If you act like that bee acts, uh uh 
You're working too hard

And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it

I'll tell you something true
The bare necessities of life will come to you


Show the video to the most hard-boiled “careerist” (as I have). You are guaranteed one of these two reactions:

  • A wistful smile comes up, followed by a gentle shake of the head, followed by a “I wish we all could do that” (you’ve planted the idea. They’re pliable in the next round of discussions 🙂 )
  • A violent, sputtering rejection of the video (on account of a core self-evident belief being challenged; carpet pulled underneath)

Nothing in between. Guaranteed! Through my own experience. So everytime you take time out, but feel guilty about not “doing something”, take a good look at the bear. Listen to his words carefully. You’ll realise why he’s wise and we are stupid. So, three cheers for Baloo! And a “Salut!” to all those that have decided to kiss “wage-slavery” goodbye, ASAP! You may not realise it now, But in the long run, you are the smart ones. So, my question to you is, what did you think of when watching the video? Let us know 🙂

Historic Side note:

I was part of the generation that grew up collecting soft drink bottle caps for the “Gold Spot” Walt Disney Jungle book….:-) This post brought back Happy memories! And look here! The man responsible for the campaign is on the web too. Small World indeed 🙂

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Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones

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Disclaimer:
To me, there’s only ONE Matrix film. The rest, according to me is:
"%$#@%*^%@#$!!@##$#$#$#@%^#$%$%*(*(@#$#$@!!!!!
———— *self-immolates in rant-induced blood-boil*

Blue Zones – What is it?

“The Blue Zones – Lessons for Living Longer from the people who’ve lived the longest” is a book by National Geographic writer Dan Buettner.

“Blue zones” are areas in the world with very high percentage of long-lived people (including very high numbers of centenarians.) These communities include Okinawa, Japan; the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy; the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica; and the Seventh Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California. With the help of a team of scientist, Buettner tries to find what the elderly in these communities have in common. And the team try determine what lessons can be learned from the centenarians that might help us live healthier lives.

Some of the things the centenarians in all locations had in common are show in the Venn Diagram below:
Venn Diagram of longevity clues from Okinawa, Sardinia, and Loma Linda. Source: Wikipedia.org

To summarise the Venn diagram into words:

  • Family – Family takes precedence on all occasions.
  • No Smoking – Centenarians do not typically smoke.
  • Plant-based diet – The majority have a predominantly plant-based diet.
  • Constant moderate physical activity – Moderate physical activity is an inseparable part of life.
  • Social engagement – People of all ages are socially active and integrated into their communities.
  • Legumes – Legumes are commonly consumed.

So, what’s this post about?

Blue Zones made me consolidate my own thoughts about food and diet. I decided to share it here for the benefit of others too. So, maybe not mathematically, but it is indeed a proven equation for longevity, as far as I am concerned. Read with me, and see if you’re convinced as well.

For starters, whenever “diet” is discussed “between cultures” I always remember this remark from Cipher in the restaurant, from the Matrix [26]

"You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss."

One *main* reason for people (from the West) to be inherently suspicious of a fully plant-based diet is due to the Cipher-like reasoning of “mind over matter”. For most of the Europoid civilisations, meat was in the food chain for so long it is part of the collective conscious in terms of what constitutes “food”. I can claim to understand this fully, for I embody the opposite side of the spectrum, namely a “conditioned vegetarian” myself, like the vast majority of Indians were in the past. But no thanks to a concerted propaganda about the “beaut of meat”, this attitude has changed in India since liberalisation in the last decade or so. Normally, the rejection of plant-based diets in the West takes several forms (subtle, overt, intellectual…..) as a manifestation of the above psyche.

So, from my ‘notion of reality’ the Blue zone is not only the correct way (because of ahimsa towards perceived sentient beings), but is fully applicable to anyone’s life (Yes, I know the opposite point of view becomes applicable for people like me).

Let’s specifically look at those bullet points mentioned in blue zones, in isolation. I will hopefully try to address this other favourite Western cadence of “What is size of the dataset of that experiment?” while addressing all of this. But most of the points are interlinked with one other, so some overlap is unavoidable.

  1. Family – Family is put ahead of other concerns.
    I am going to refrain from saying anything on this, because YMMV and discussions on this will sidetrack from the diet aspect of it.
    One small point though, author John Robbins (more on this story, later…) goes after his own “blue zones” in his latest book: Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples says:

    From Abkhasia in the Caucasus south of Russia, where age is beauty, and Vilcabamba in the Andes of South America, where laughter is the greatest medicine, to Hunza in Central Asia, where dance is ageless, and finally the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa, the modern Shangri-la, where people regularly live beyond a century, Robbins examines how the unique lifestyles of these peoples can influence and improve our own.

    Bringing the traditions of these ancient and vibrantly healthy cultures together with the latest breakthroughs in medical science, Robbins reveals that, remarkably, they both point in the same direction. The result is an inspirational synthesis of years of research into healthy aging in which Robbins has isolated the characteristics that will enable us to live long and–most important–joyous lives. With an emphasis on simple, wholesome, but satisfying fare, and the addition of a manageable daily exercise routine, many people can experience great improvement in the quality of their lives now and for many years to come. But perhaps more surprising is Robbins’ discovery that it is not diet and exercise alone that helps people to live well past one hundred. The quality of personal relationships is enormously important. With startling medical evidence about the effects of our interactions with others, Robbins asserts that loneliness has more impact on lifespan than such known vices as smoking. There is clearly a strong beneficial power to love and connection.

  2. No Smoking – Centenarians do not typically smoke.
    According to this metastudy:

    Data for 76172 men and women were available.
    The metastudy reported mortality ratios, where lower numbers indicated fewer deaths, for fish eaters to be 0.82, vegetarians to be 0.84, occasional meat eaters to be 0.84. Regular meat eaters and vegans shared the highest mortality ratio of 1.00. The study reported the numbers of deaths in each category, and expected error ranges for each ratio, and adjustments made to the data. However, the “lower mortality was due largely to the relatively low prevalence of smoking in these [vegetarian] cohorts”.

    In “Mortality in British vegetarians” (with citation) a similar conclusion is drawn: “British vegetarians have low mortality compared with the general population. Their death rates are similar to those of comparable non-vegetarians, suggesting that much of this benefit may be attributed to non-dietary lifestyle factors such as a low prevalence of smoking and a generally high socio-economic status…..

  3. Plant-based diet – The majority of food consumed is derived from plants.
    From the above metastudy:
    “Out of the major causes of death studied, only one difference in mortality rate was attributed to the difference in diet, as the conclusion states: “vegetarians had a 24% lower mortality from ischaemic heart disease than non-vegetarians, but no associations of a vegetarian diet with other major causes of death were established.”

    First study:
    Dean Ornish has done a very exhaustive and thorough study and developed this result:

    Ornish is widely known for his lifestyle-driven approach to the control of coronary artery disease (CAD). Dr. Ornish and colleagues showed that a lifestyle regimen featuring Yoga, meditation, a low-fat vegetarian diet, smoking cessation, and regular exercise could not only stop the progression of CAD, but could actually reverse it. He has acknowledged his debt to Swami Satchidananda for helping him develop this holistic perspective on preventive health.

    This result was demonstrated in a randomized controlled trial known as the Lifestyle Heart Trial, with data published in the Lancet in 1990, which recruited test subjects with pre-existing coronary artery disease. Not only did patients assigned to the above regimen fare better with respect to cardiac events than those who followed standard medical advice, their coronary atherosclerosis was somewhat reversed, as evidenced by decreased stenosis (narrowing) of the coronary arteries after one year of treatment. Most patients in the control group, by contrast, had narrower coronary arteries at the end of the trial than the start. Other doctors claim similar results with similar methods, for example: Caldwell Esselstyn, and K. Lance Gould.

    This discovery was notable because it had seemed physiologically implausible, and it suggested cheaper and safer therapies against cardiovascular disease than invasive procedures such as coronary artery bypass surgery.

    Second one:
    This one’s an author who is well known for his books on plant-based diet (Opinions and medical evidence are frequently presented together, so people try to discredit him). As one critical reviewer in Amazon puts it:

    Had the Editor done a better job at removing the author’s ego from the fascinating insights Robbins manages to provide here and there, the book could easily have scored 5/5. Perhaps the writer’s personality overwhelmed the editor? Never have I read a book about nutrition that is filled with such subjectivity and oftentimes simplistic statements. I kept reading, as unexpectedly Robbins would offer up another scientific gem. Thorough editing would have greatly enhanced the quality of the advice in this book.

    That’s the gripe many have with him most of the time.

    Side note: His corpus was wiped out because his financial advisor invested in the hottest fund of the time, “Bernie Madhoff fund” without informing him… 😐

    Michael Pollan doesn’t need much of an intro. Indeed, why is he relevant here? It’s due to his “mantra”. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
    The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
    Read some of the reviews: People switched to vegetarianism based on his compelling scientific reasons.
    In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

    This book’s generated some controversy (at least on the net).

    The book examines the relationship between the consumption of animal products and illnesses such as cancers of the breast, prostate, and large bowel, diabetes, coronary heart disease, obesity, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, degenerative brain disease, and macular degeneration.

    One reviewer said: “The bottom line of this thoroughly-documented study is essentially that animal protein is not good for us—even milk, ‘the perfect food.’ My students (and I!) may not relish the change to a vegetarian diet, but it is difficult to refute the mass of evidence in The China Study.”

  4. Constant moderate physical activity – Moderate physical activity is an inseparable part of life.
    My own grandparents’ generation (most of my life was spent in large subsidised Government provided housing societies where everyone used to know everyone else – no exaggeration there!) were healthy all into their deaths with only the cataract surgical procedure being their only operation performed on them. I noticed they were all regular walkers, and like my own grandfather, many did actively practise callisthenics and Yoga and breathing // exercises well into their 70s! We would be ROFL watching the “Geriatrixes” do the exercises slowly to their own beat, but now I know better!
  5. Social engagement – People of all ages are socially active and integrated into their communities.
    The opposite of “engagement”, namely “disengagement” or in this context, “Loneliness” is a well-researched and understood phenomena and acknowledged to be a major modern cause of illnesses and mortality.
    This study

    Two University of Chicago psychologists, Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo, have been trying to disentangle social isolation, loneliness, and the physical deterioration and diseases of aging, right down to the cellular level.
    As with blood pressure, this physiological toll likely becomes more apparent with aging. Since the body’s stress hormones are intricately involved in fighting inflammation and infection, it appears that loneliness contributes to the wear and tear of aging through this pathway as well.

    I couldn’t find the dataset there, but I suspect it is large-ish, since researchers in the Western world are aware that “strength lies in numbers” `:-)` for academic acceptance.

  6. Legumes – Legumes are commonly consumed.
    Small article with a varied demographic group (elderly people from Japan, Sweden, Greece and Australia.) on Legumes and longevity:

    Famously: Bill Clinton commented on questions about the circulating rumours surrounding his dramatic weight loss and change in eating habits.

    “The short answer is I went on essentially a plant-based diet. I live on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit…..no dairy”

    The former President credits both Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and his son, Dr. Thomas Campbell, authors of The China Study, as well as Drs. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish for their pioneering work in the field of plant-based nutrition. Please note, he was a self-confessed junk-food addict.

    Also, the health benefits of legumes soaked overnight is well understood by researchers worldwide. 🙂


Those that take exception to the dataset side of things, may be pleased to note that the consensus of ALL the studies conducted above in each of this aspect, when put together, is ENORMOUS and overwhelmingly supports the blue zone theory.

In the light of all this information, I hope you are now ready to consider some of the aspects mentioned within the blue-zones lifestyle in your own personal life? Let us know in the comments :-)!

Written by Surio

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New Year Resolutions: Why most fail?

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We’re into the fourth week of  January (just) and  already Yahoo! India is carrying articles titled “Is your gym membership a waste of money?“. Where Yahoo! goes, can MSN or others be far behind? But the premise of the article provides a lot of food for thought!

The start of the new year sees spikes in gym memberships because many people are quick to start implementing their resolution to get fit. However, by the middle of January, that initial momentum has gone and many of us often revert to our old ways and the frequency of our gym visits drop. So, in this context its worth asking if a gym membership is worth it or not.

Most of you may have heard the even more scary expression: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” :-|! Indeed! In our case, the lapse usually results in

  • Waste of money (memberships certainly don’t come cheap).
  • Carrying guilt due to the failed commitment. 
  • An insecure self-image due to the triple whammy of
    • not honouring the commitment to the act of “keeping fit”
    • not honouring one’s promise to oneself, and, 
    • Wasting the money by failing in the above

Road to hell, indeed, don’t you all think? But the 1 lakh rupee question is, why does this happen so often (Don’t worry. I’ve been there myself too)? The answer is very simple. Simple enough that people dismiss it as “too simplistic” even. People fail to “set goals”. To me, there’s a lot of difference between a resolution (usually synonymous with a “(usually good) intention”) and the setting of a goal (writing it down). This is not new at all. Stephen Covey has emphasised on it, so has David Bach and so many other self-help and PF gurus of the day. By now, many might be going, “yet another new fad of the day”… Stop! Here’s a whammy: Those of you that enjoy the “Dilbert” strips will be pleased to know that its creator Scott Adams is also a big endorser of Goals and Affirmations(*)! So, before you dismiss it, I want to remind you that this concept is as old as the hills. In fact I too was pleasantly surprised to make that discovery  very recently.

(*) Scott’s a vegetarian too, but that’s not relevant to THIS discussion 😛

Ryan Martin, fellow blogger over at lifestyleshock.com recently blogged about S.W.Y.G.D.S. (Start Writing Your Goals Down Stupid). The idea was nicely expressed by Ryan himself. I quote:

I “retired” from the rat race at 32. I attained this by setting goals: aggressive saving goals, real estate goals, investing goals, knowledge goals (from books). I wrote down my goals almost daily, most of the time as a number e.g. “Save $30,000 this year.” or “Save $300 this coming payday.” I didn’t know how I’d achieve the goal, BUT I’d set the goal (this was key). I wrote it down. I planted the seed of thought… the seed of an idea. Typically, taking action followed my goals.

I can’t beat that one even if I tried :-)! More power to you, Ryan! And that shows the power of a “written, enumerable, personal goal(*)”!

(*) The fact that modern corporates have obliterated it to suit their own “shifting goalposts” is probably best left for discussion for another day 😦

 The real kicker for me in that post was “Earl Nightingale” also known as “Dean of Personal Development“! Quite a mouthful, Eh? I would say he qualifies as the grand-daddy of the goal setting movement. Just listen to his wonderful talk on “The strangest Secret”. I simply love his voice. Quite a baritone!


I am going to sign off with Ryan’s note, as he does a wonderful timeless and brotherly appeal to all!

If you find yourself floating through life and not designing it, again, I implore you to listen to The Strangest Secret, it may save your life. Next, take that extra step and download a copy, and listen to it daily!

I would be hard pressed to beat that one; and to be honest, I don’t wish to. And on behalf of everyone who stands to benefit from that gem —

A BIG Thank you, Ryan!

Written by Surio

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