The Palimpsest of Sawbones Surio

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

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Retirement planning for “free”: A case study of a case study involving 1.2 crores

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Hello everyone! I am back! Inspired by Maus’ “internet fast”, I had undertaken a somewhat similar one myself. I would heartily recommend it to anyone. Regular transmission is back… until the next fast that is! 😛

Every week, The Hindu BusinessLine newspaper carries readers’ stories along with their financial data, their concerns and their enquiries regarding financial planning steps and their dreams about early retirement. Readers might recall that I had carried a one such story on the blog from the same newspaper on an earlier occasion.

Of some interest to me was today’s reader case study. Although not exactly about early retirement, the discussion that I had with DW on the case study as well as the points the study did not cover, opened more interesting questions and what-ifs, that we decided to share it with a wider audience. Here’s a brief breakup of the data of interest to us.

  • 32 yo, son aged 2, take-home salary is Rs 55,000 a month (SISK – Single Income Single Kid). Salary expected to grow at 10% pa
  • Home Loan monthly repayment is Rs 22,700 (loan amount: Rs 25,00,000 (25 lakhs), loan tenure 25 years)
  • monthly household expense is ~Rs 18,100 (15000+3083 insurance premium) leaving a surplus of ~Rs. 14,000 for his investments

Objectives for this person:

  1. to pre-pay the principal portion of the home loan and to close the loan in 10 years
  2. to save for my child’s higher education, I may require Rs 40 lakhs
  3. for my retirement at 58 years (26 years hence) with a corpus of Rs 1.2 crore.
  4. planning to take a foreign tour in the next four years for which I need to save Rs 10 lakh

BusinessLine, please advise?

(Un)Known-(Un)Knowns: Choose your title 😉

  • The man’s wife must be reeallly good at managing expenses. If I could contact them, I would definitely be asking them questions on how they manage with Rs. 15,000/month in Mumbai 😎
  • Household expenses will shoot up for certain once his son starts (pre-)school. See here and here
  • for a representative sample. In fact, I get such appalling numbers and stories about extortion development fund and daylight robberies fees these days, I am looking at homeschooling as a very serious option. With our own IIT/IISc National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), MIT OpenCourseWare and Khan academy it has become more and more possible and easier than most people think! And yes, it’s legal in India too!

  • “Higher education” from an Indian context starts by college (UK: after A-levels), i.e., only by the time boy turns 16 years of age. The 40 lakhs isn’t needed until that point.

Foreign trip

I am going to tackle objective no. 4, chiefly because it is something I personally do not empathise with. My own sentiments on international travel concides with Jacob Fisker’s experiences, but compounded by my AVML/JVML requirements. So, if the man needs to have 10 lakhs for a foreign tour four years hence, he needs to invest all of that Rs. 14,000 surplus in equities, earning 12% pa (as per the journo), starting this month. This investment will return roughly Rs. 11.5 lakhs by the end of five years. I have deliberately omitted in this calculation, the additional contributions per month of approximately Rs. 1300, Rs. 2000 and Rs. 3200 that will be added to the surplus amount by years 2, 3, and 4 respectively due to the increase in pay. If those are factored the trip is a reality by the fourth year (It would seem the man isn’t stupid, for he seems to have worked these things out already and had a year in mind in his query).

What the journo doesn’t discuss in the paper is the “true cost” of the trip from a retirement/FI perspective, which is not Rs. 10,00,000, but Rs. 33,333,333 (that’s 3.3 !crores!). But true cost aside, this actually leads us to the classic discussion of “opportunity cost”, i.e., take the trip and you’ve totally foregone both your retirement corpus *and* your son’s education corpus for the next five years! Personally, keeping in mind the coming turmoil with onset of peak oil and job stagnation/outsourcing to other parts of the flattened world, I would say “to hell with the trip” and focus on the other priorities.

Retirement/Education Corpus Fund

According to the newspaper, Rs. 8000 invested for 15 years in equities yielding 12% pa would cover the 40 lakh education corpus and ~Rs 5600 invested for 26 years as above would cover the 1.2 crores for his retirement. Two factors not discussed by the paper, are additional insurance that the man needs to take (1.1 crores!) and how Rs. 8000 of the son’s corpus would give the retirement corpus a bigger boost from the 16th year onwards.

Pre-closing the home loan

The newspaper has treaded the hackneyed line (CYA?) in this regard.

“As long as the current tax benefits are extended for home loan interest repayment, it is better to avoid pre-payment of the loan”.

Personal Context: Yours truly is one of the many that was conned advised along the same lines and in a misguided moment of sheer adrenaline induced frustration madness, signed on the dotted line only to repent it in leisure since. After a long hard look at the facts and figures of this big concocted lie called “home ownership”, I have taken a somewhat contrarian position towards homeownership. I am not alone in this and here’s a few Indian articles questioning the rationale, empirically and with numbers.

So, back to the story, the fact that the man is being asked to base a long term, financially draining commitment on the whims of “tax-savings” and not based on numbers is a poor piece of advice, IMO. One main gripe I have with such advice is the outright refusal to consider increasing one’s monthly payments towards the loan to one’s advantage.
For the loan amount of Rs. 25 lakhs, based on his EMI amount, he is being charged 10% pa interest. So, by the end of 25 years he would have paid out Rs. 68,15,043 (68 lakhs) to the bank of which the interest is Rs. 43,15,043 (43 lakhs)!

Annually, the man pays out Rs. 2,72,400 towards his home loan (10% interest rate, revised every 3 months — only going to go up under current inflation trends!). Of this, he claims 1.5 lakhs as tax exemption under the tax code. Based on this, he would save Rs. 30,000 – Rs. 40,000 in taxes paid annually. By contrast, he pays out Rs. 1,22,400 in excess to the bank towards the mortgage which is his own money that can be neither reclaimed nor saved/invested.

Back to the big picture: He intended to pay back the loan by 10 years. So, let’s look at his loan outstandings and tax savings side by side for the entire loan period with his liabilities at 10 years from now.

Amount paid out towards interest Amount saved in tax during that period
10 years

23,40,136 40,000 x 10 = 4,00, 000
15 years 19,74,907 40,000 x 15 = 6,00, 000
Total interest 4315043 (43 lakhs) 10,00,000 (10 lakhs)

There is no contest between the two. When compared to how much he is making the bank rich and what a paltry “tax savings” he is making, the man needs to pay off his home loan pronto and make better judicious use of his own money the way he feels fit.

To do this, he ought to increase his EMI payments by Rs. 12,000. By this he will close his home loan by 10 years(*). Classic opportunity cost scenario, for now he’s not able to save for his son’s education corpus fund! If on the other hand he sticks with the Rs. 8000 investment per month in equities towards son’s education corpus and moves Rs. 5000 into the EMI re-payments, the repayment window extends to 14½ years instead. He kills two birds in one stone. Son’s education as well as home loan: SORTED!

(*) Only if he had started paying 12,000 right at the beginning of the loan term. If he’s already into the loan by a few years, then it won’t be 10 years but somewhat different. I don’t know how far into the loan term he’s into now.

Going further

  • If he keeps up a 12,000 payment for his housing loan as discussed earlier, the loan amount might be closed by 10 years. That leaves Rs. 2000 per monthtowards his son’s fund
  • A 10% increase in salary every year is too optimistic IMO and his household expenses will be increasing as the members start ageing. So, I factored a 5% increase in salary and a 5% increase in expenses and re-worked the numbers.
  • From the increase in salary, the man can increase his monthly contribution to his son’s fund by 2000, 4000, 6000, 8000 and 9000 by years 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 respectively, and hold it steady from then on.
  • He would have approximately, Rs. 2000, 4000, 7000, 10000, 13000 to invest into his pension from years 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 respectively. If he holds this payment steadily into equities, he will actually be able to reach his target of ~1.1 crores at the end of 58 years of age.

Conclusion

Since he has pre-paid the housing loan, from the 11th year onwards, he will have an additional surplus of nearly Rs. 50,000 per month (which excludes the payments mentioned above!). Even if his salary stagnates (a very likely possibility) and even if returns from the market is not exactly 12%, he will still be able to meet his financial commitments along with son’s education and retirement corpus. If he wishes to still undertake that ‘foreign trip’ of his, he could look at investing this Rs. 50,000 in equities for a period of 3 years at 12% pa, earning himself 20 lakhs and then take that trip. His son might also better remember the trip at this age.

Aesop’s fable revisited

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Don’t know about you, but it can be tiresome being constantly egged on to do this or that “because you’re worth it” (TM), no? If not that phrase because you don’t have TV/cable (like me ;-)) then maybe you’re hearing another refrain… that You’re not “living up to your potential” (Dark side of ER) or “so many generations before you sacrificed so much, for you to live a life like this”. OK, before you close this page in disgust, I’ll stop ;-). But you get the idea.

How did we get to this? It was a slow road, going back two generations at least. Here’s my simple take on it:

The Town mouse visits his country cousin

I hope you’ll remember Aesop’s fable of the “Town mouse and Country mouse”?:

A town mouse visits his cousin living in the country. The country mouse offers his cousin from the town, a meal of simple country foods, at which the visitor scoffs and invites the country mouse back to the city for a taste of the “fine life”. But their rich city meal is interrupted, first by a cook, then by a cat, then by dogs, followed by the Master of the house himself, which force the mice to abandon their feast every time and scurry to safety. After this, the country mouse decides to return home, preferring security to plenty.

The moral interpretations this story offers is just profound! I like the different phrasings used by many philosophers in retelling the story:

  1. “Good-bye,” said he,
    “I’m off. ”
    “You live in the lap of luxury, I can see,”
    “but you are surrounded by dangers; whereas at home
    “I can enjoy my simple dinner of roots and corn in peace.”

  2. “I’d rather gnaw a bean than be gnawed by continual fear”.

In fact, If Jacob wants to make an elevator pitch to a honcho about featuring his book (Flipkart link), that’s the story idea he needs to use, ending with: “My book talks to people like that parable about choosing ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of aprovechar‘” 😉

Brief Digression

Now, if you weren’t actually someone like Aesop (a slave) it could be said that your life was pretty peaceful in that era. In fact books like The Richest man in Babylon hark back to this sense of nostalgia in us by drawing on a life that’s gone by. But irritatingly, the book does so by juxtaposing our modern consumerist mindset and lifestyle memes into that timeframe, and offering solutions to break free.

But back to our main story:
Now did you know that Beatrix Potter of Peter Rabbit fame retold Aesop’s mice fable in the year 1918, mainly because of a need to keep up a story deadline to her publisher. Now how did her rendering go?

Timmy willie, a country mouse is accidentally carried to the city. and finds himself in a large house. He slips through a hole in the skirting board and lands in the midst of a mouse dinner party hosted by Johnny Town-mouse. Timmy is made welcome — and tries his best to fit in, but finds the noises made by the house cat and the maid frightening and the rich food difficult to digest. He returns to his country home after extending an invitation to Johnny Town-mouse. who then pays Timmy Willie a visit. He complains of the dampness and finds such things as cows and lawnmowers frightening. He returns to the city after telling Timmy country life is too quiet.

I know, you can see the roots of post-modernism in the story: I quote Jacob who defined it quite hilariously in another post:

I realize that what I am about to say could cause some misunderstandings, particularly in a would ravaged by postmodernism. A world where even facts have been reduced to opinions and all opinions are considered equally valid as long as the opinion holder — yeah, these days it’s less about what you say and more about who you are — does not show any signs of hypocrisy. To go off on a tangent, in a world with no objective values, the only way to be bad is to be internally inconsistent, that is, to be a hypocrite.

Coming from a stoic school of thought myself, an eager yound mind needs to be made to understand that

The essence of boredom is to be found in the obsessive search for novelty. Satisfaction lies in mindful repetition(*), the discovery of endless richness in subtle variations on familiar themes.

—— Mastery by Leonard

and not this wishy-washy “You can do whatever that rocks your boat, and it is equally valid because in the end, it made *you* happy”. It really gets my goat! Really! And Beatrix did a magnificient PR trick in the end of the story by stating her own preference for country living! Gaaaahhh!

(*)Note: If you think I am promoting by-rote learning, you need to hang your head in shame! I use “mindful repetition” which is galaxies ahead of “mindless repetition” (rote learning)


As to the story itself, what was the critics’ opinion? Something to the effect of: “Another volume for the Peter Rabbit bookshelf. Oh, such charming pictures and exciting letter press”…. More Gaahh!

So, Please repeat after me: NOMO POMO (Check the comments for discussion on NOMO POMO). And if you want “true” happiness, here’s an ERE credo to mindfully repeat until you finally “get it”! It’s my “gift” to you. Enjoy!


“Good-bye,” said he,
“I’m off. ”
“You live in the lap of luxury, I can see,”
“but you are surrounded by dangers; whereas at home
“I can enjoy my simple dinner of roots and corn in peace.”


Be safe and Keep well.

Written by Surio

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Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I wish I was that now!

with 2 comments

Ahh, the last week and a half been a blur. It all began like this:

Uncannily, both mother and wife's response mirrored the last strip

Can't blame them really, this is my usual bravado co-efficient

And it came to this. Actually, it has been a week, and I am still feeling pretty lousy!

But the overall sickness gave rise to some “feverish” imaginations:

All you need is a vivid memory and a vivider imagination, to have some fun 🙂

and some rather “delirious” imaginations too:

It was almost surreal, how much art can imitate life, or in my case, the opposite? Mother did bring me lunch over one such 'swimming with salamanders' dream

But this post is is not about me… No sireeeeee…

A small ode to all those 'mom-lady' out there who end up moulding the 'Calvin's into 'Hobbes's

And of course, that “indomitable” other lady of my life:

First time I called DW that, I had to bring down the comics collection from the attic to explain. Oh, and she *did* laugh heartily afterwards!

Thanks to the excellent ministrations from the two lovely ladies, I am now up and about, but just so…… I am not well enough yet to say, can’t grumble, but overall, I feel comforted, I feel reassured, and in safe pairs of hands. So, can’t complain on this post. :-D! And that does, put my other gripes, worries and rants in perspective. :-)…… like this strip.

Sometimes when I feel dark I always look up this strip. Sometimes it's all in the matter of seeing things, isn't it?

Thanks for including me in your thoughts. And have a great week ahead.

P.S: Ted’s post will go up as advertised. 🙂

Written by Surio

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Life in Pictures – II

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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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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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Response to Financial Samurai’s “The Dark Side Of Early Retirement”

with 5 comments

Sam, who blogs as Financial Samurai, recently posted on The Dark Side Of Early Retirement. I originally intended to post a short response, but the content grew more than just a response.

Meanwhile other people started responding with their own blog posts to that OP, so this is my take on the matter:

Vanakkam Sam-san,
Hate to sound cynical, but was this post written to get more hits? I jumped here from ERE.

All arguments usually have a “premise” on which the entire thing hinges on. Your’s unfortunately hangs on “being glib” and that’s it! Very sorry, but that’s the truth.

Let me merely take one single point and argue against. I leave the rest for another day (or for someone else to take up. Indeed I see Jacob from ERE has posted a reply of sorts, to your “2) Easier way out” point).

1) Haven’t found the right job.

  1. Firstly, form a picture of Maslow’s triangle – then read on. Your blog readers are routed to your site through SEOs, cross-posting and word-of-mouth. In other words, the readers are urbane, savvy, literate seekers who are “aware enough” of such concepts as “financial independence” and “early retirement”, “what is the point of it all”, etc. You are “Preaching to the converted (soon to be at least)” so to speak. So methinks, your readers have a clear vision on “what to do” with their lives. And there is no “dark side” there, mate! Now, moving on:
  2. World population is 6,818,700,000 [May 2010]. Even if we halve the population number for “employable age”, how many of the world’s “employable” can find the “right job”, ever? South-East Asia has the bulk, i.e., it is the densest populated corner in the World. It is also home to the world’s “grunt work”, i.e., all the things that “Urbania” consumes, come from here. Do they have “right jobs”? Like hell they do! Do they read your post? Most likely not! Do they even aspire or think of “Early Retirement”? Hmmmm, an interesting thought. Don’t you think?
  3. Even if such a thing (right job) exists, can we fulfill the whims and wishes of all? How long does one keep “looking” for it? Remember, a day lost from your life is a day lost. Here’s an interesting thing from India for readers:
    Reality is, the largest employer in most “booming” economies is healthcare (nursing and tending the ‘nouveau riche’ sick), hospitality (preening and pampering the rich) and construction (dirt, noise, sudden-death)… None of which is one’s idea of “right job”. I quote: “Santosh Parulekar of Pipal Tree Ventures, a social enterprise which trains disadvantaged youth to work in the construction industry, is blunt. ‘Our brochures show pictures of exactly what is steel fixing and bar bending – it is a field job. Otherwise, boys join and then drop out saying they don’t want to do this kind of work.'”
    Sad truth is: The vast majority want jobs in air conditioned offices, with ‘officer-like’ qualities, working on computers, shifting papers and “supervising” someone else. No economy/country can provide this to EVERY ONE of its aspirants. For, the simple truth is, there just won’t be enough such jobs EVER. So, if one gets a job that fits all of the above should one just “count your blessings” and “hang on” to it?
  4. The other interesting point is Population density and its cousin, Urban Density. Not all parts of the World is inhabitable ([sub-]Saharan, nordic, siberian, mountains, water-scarce, etc.). And where it is inhabitable there will always be “not enough (good) jobs to go around or not enough (good) people for the jobs that go around)*!
    (*)So, do we chill out and curb our lifestyles and opulences? No! We call people in when it suits us and expel them when it doesn’t (Happens everywhere – even in India too)!

Please let’s not delude ourselves about “finding the right job” in order to “fulfill our worth”. With 6 billion in the globe and rising don’t bother about fulfilling your “worth”. Try and enjoy your “being” (snide remarks about exotic vacations notwithstanding). By the way, what is one’s worth? Read and decide for yourself. Caveat: This can happen to anyone!:
The famous Joshua Bell experiment.
Pearls Before Breakfast

It’s an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

The Post Wins 6 Pulitzer Prizes

Final comment:- Next time you feel like posting such “antidote” posts, sleep over it until the thought passes or matures fully. If it still doesn’t, then please read YMOYL by Joe Dominguez (or something else similar. This one came to my mind first!). If it still won’t pass, please go for a long walk/run until the thought does leave you for good!

I think that’s enough of my own “Harrumph”!

Written by Surio

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Ja gut, but what’s it all about then?

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This is a real-life incident. Dramatised for effect. Some minor characters have been exorcised to keep the situation crisp. The scenario has also been modified to remove further resemblance to the original setting. All characters are real-life stereotypes that many of us can emphatise with. We will introduce the (major) characters in turn.

1: Ex-PSU dude in late 50s, now in second lease of career in private sector (PSU50)
2: Been there done that dude, mid-40s, really been there done that! (BTDT45)
3: Dude on a roll, in late-30s, you know the type when you see one (DoR35)
4: Dude in 30s, still coming to terms with his future (DD30)

Scene 1: (Four colleagues of a blue-chip organisation are waiting for the lift outside of their offices. PA system in the foyer is belting out yet another Kenny G tune to the annoyance of everyone and for the benefit of no-one).

——-*****——–

DoR35: We were taking interviews today. It was a hoot, I tell you. The answers some of them gave for the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?”! Classic and priceless.

PSU50: Yes. I know, that is always the highlight of the interviews.

BTDT45: Some of them do have a sense of purpose, though. Not all, but some do.

DoR35: Well, come to think of it, you are right. Some of them do.

BTDT45: And that’s what separates the “Men from the Boys” (words to that effect)

DoR35: Is that so? Then let’s ask ourselves that question, shall we? (Directly addressing PSU50 now) Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time then?

PSU50: (Completely startled. Hadn’t anticipated the turn of events). Well, ….er….ummmm…. well, I suppose I will be still around here doing what I will be doing then, I suppose. That depends on the company, if they want to give me an extension? (presumably alluding to his crossing of retirement by then)

DoR35: Oh! Still here, Eh? (wry smile. Smirk almost. Now addressing DD30 directly). You then! What about you? Any bright sparks? (DoR35 and DD30 are good friends, so the tone was almost teasing)

DD30: You know the happenings of my life. You should know better (Frowns at him for putting him in a spot.) than that. I don’t see major changes in my life in the next 5 years. (It puts DD30 in a spot)

(DoR35 laughs heartily at DD30’s expense and slaps him on the back. PSU50 looks relieved. After all, Misery loves company, right? BTDT45 shoots a quick, symphatetic glance at DD30 that clearly says, “I’ve been there, done that one too, my boy” and clears his throat subtly to break the discomfiture of DD30)

DoR35: (Now facing BTDT45) Ah, well. What about you then?

BTDT45: (Speaking deliberately, avoiding any inflection in tone) I should be retired for I will be financially independent before that time.

DoR35: (Chimes in just as BTDT45 completes) Oh Wow! WoW!. Me too. I am working on that myself. I won’t be free by five, but I WILL be for sure before 10 years are up.

(Ding! Lift arrives on floor. Doors open wide. All of them pile in before the doors close again. The lift has mirrors mounted on opposite wall so all of them could see everyone else’s face.

1: DoR35 – The smirk on the face is now really pronounced.
2: BTDT45 – Still impassive facially. A naturally tall person, but now walks a little taller than a minute before.
3: PSU50 – Looks visibly crumpled. Looks like a house 4-storeyed house fell on him just then.
4: DD30 – Has the look of a person who’s just been pole-axed by a metallic telegraph pole.
Support cast: also entering lift – all share the same look of a person undergoing acute indigestion. [Assumption: They all eavesdropped on the chat])

——-**——-

That discussion above left a lasting impression on Yours Truly. Especially, the looks on PSU50 and DD30 has been indelibly carved into my mind hence (I don’t call it Palimpsest for nothing, you know ;-)). And the motivation of this blog is to chronicle the improvements in planning, thinking and execution in the time that has past since those words “financially independent” were heard and truly understood.

So, gentle reader, that’s what it is all about.

Written by Surio

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Posted in Musings, Personal