Thursday, 1 October 2020

Start Being the Light of the World

FOR A RAINY DAY Why speaking German could help you to save more, what Odysseus can teach us about saving and how piggy banks are helping in the fight against malaria. Not that this necessarily makes it less true. Of course, in the popular imagination, a person who thrives - in other words, who sees their material wealth increase - is often viewed as a risk taker, while thrift is a word generally associated with sparing expenditure, frugality even. Yet the two words have the same root for a reason. The more-more-more mentality had led to hundreds of millions of people living beyond their means, leveraged in blind faith to the economy. But right when it was needed, the economy collapsed, taking their insurances and superannuation with it. Planes grounded and even oil prices dropped below zero. In a matter of only weeks the entire house of cards came apart. I'd rallied against capitalism for decades, arguing it had no future, but I'd never imagined it was that fragile! And needing Taiwan to supply its face masks. So, what came along to save us? Good old-fashioned umpires, such as unions, experts, and the community. In just one week, a group of UK doctors designed a crowdfunded ventilator that could be produced from widely available parts for under $US1300, while in Boston unions mobilised workers at General Electric to demand that instead of laying them off, the company repurpose their workplace to produce respiratory gear that the government was failing to provide. Mutual aid organisations stepped in, too. Lifestyle factors can diminish bacterial populations. Antibiotic use is one example. Lactobacillus strains are a famous casualty of the widespread use of penicillin-related antibiotics, and a new generation of antibiotics is being designed to take the shape of a dual-compartment pill that incorporates Lactobacillus bacteria. Stress is another lifestyle factor that can affect gut bacterial populations. Stress and Lactobacillus strains exist in perpetual opposition.

If one rises, the other falls. If some Lactobacillus populations go up in number, stress goes down, but if stress goes up, their numbers go down. Some strains of Lactobacillus appear to actively bring down the stress signal. Injecting the intestines of mice with Lactobacillus johnsonii La1 reduced their blood pressure and raised parasympathetic tone. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 171 volunteers, taking yogurt that contains Lactobacillus plantarum for two months reduced markers of stress. Without a blood test or any questioning, he'd get a prescription for more than one hundred painkillers, and he'd take them and overdose. A doctor in the hospital tried to keep him alive. We had one doctor trying to kill him with pills and another one trying to save him by pumping those killers out of his guts. This vicious cycle repeated itself five times before Conor fell into a heroin addiction, all because of a woman who was terribly addicted and had no one helping her. I sent Conor to a program in Antigua that accepted people who were destitute, which he certainly was at the time. We paid what we could and visited him a month into his stay. A month later, when we picked him up, he looked beautiful. But that same night, he went back with that woman and they drove straight to her dad's house. In hindsight, you need to have an opioid program. It's not the same as alcohol. For most people who become prosperous - and more to the point, stay that way - do owe part of that prosperity to careful financial management as well as to bold entrepreneurialism or audacious speculations. And we, in our small way, also appreciate that if we're to avoid hardship, we need to know not just how to earn sufficient money and to spend it sensibly, but also how to put enough aside for the future, to invest and save. Indeed there is probably no area in which asserting mind over money is more critical. Yet many of us find saving very difficult. I certainly do.

Ironically, it's a little easier if the thing we're saving for is not that important in the grand scheme of things. Putting money aside for a wedding or a holiday (or a lute) involves short-term sacrifices of course, but the reward is usually only months away - and we can enjoy imagining and anticipating it. By contrast, general, long-term saving for unforeseen circumstances, for old age or illness, is harder. We know it's sensible. It could be vital. Prison abolitionists bought soap and sent it to prisons, relief funds were set up to support artists and sex workers (who miss out on any kind of government entitlements) and activists rallied to feed poorly paid healthcare workers at the frontline. Mutual aid is a form of activism - it ignites from the grassroots and mostly operates to expose and educate the world about inequalities, often leading to radical change. Tenant advocacy groups that provided mutual aid in Mexico City following the 1985 earthquake played a pivotal role in the city's transition to a democratic government. The `welfare state' also stepped in. Childcare in Australia was made free to all, so too emergency health measures, like virus testing. In the US, moratoriums were put on evictions and foreclosures while job seeker payments were increased to a humane amount. No market was doing the corrections or leading us to salvation. Indeed, some commentators found themselves awkwardly arguing the unfolding scene looked not just a little bit socialist. The fragility of the system - and the ultimate supremacy of Mother Nature - was made particularly apparent when we started seeing wild boar roaming deserted Italian towns, deer walking the streets of Nara in Japan and kangaroos skipping through Australian CBDs, and we learned that in China, measures to contain the virus in February alone caused a drop in carbon emissions equivalent to New York's annual emissions. The more-more-more system was that tenuous! Giving chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers Lactobacillus casei daily in a fermented milk drink for two months raised both Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus levels in the colon and significantly reduced anxiety in a small, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Taking a probiotic that contained Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum for a month reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and anger and lowered cortisol in healthy adults. The stress of taking exams reduces the population of Lactobacillus in college students. A fermented milk drink (containing Lactobacillus casei) improved the mood of 132 healthy adults after three weeks, particularly if they were feeling depressed at the start. A group of healthy women were given a fermented milk product made with yogurt starter cultures that contained Bifidobacterium animalis subsp.

At the end of the four-week period, the brains of those taking the fermented milk product reacted differently to painful and emotional stimuli, compared to the brains of matched controls. If you colonize the intestines of mice with Lactobacillus rhamnosus, there is an improvement in stress-induced anxiety and depression. Over a century ago, the Nobel Prize-winning immunologist Ilya Ilyich (Elie) Metchnikoff, one of the founding fathers of inflammation research, proposed that eating yogurt every day is the secret to a long life after noticing an astonishing number of frugal centenarians living in the Balkan states who ate yogurt regularly. Although we need more studies, it would appear that current research findings support this view. If you are allergic to milk, sauerkraut (European fermented cabbage), natto (Japanese fermented soy), and kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage) are other options. It's a specific addiction. It takes a long time to fix, if it can be done at all. Soon after, we organized a family vacation and Conor came along. He had always ruined other vacations, but this was just a couple of days. It seemed almost normal again, watching him mess around with his sisters, blinged-out in his sunglasses, and showing off his tattoos. Mom, what kind of jeans do you think I should wear? I hadn't had that kind of conversation with him in years. I felt a sense of calm and peace, with an optimism that had been missing since he was a boy. But Conor was loaded with a staph infection, which we didn't know. The night before he was to go to another rehab in California, he sat at the foot of my bed, promising me he would get through it and come home healthier than ever. But the thing we're saving for can be a long way off, indeed it might never happen - and it doesn't promise much in the way of pleasure. In the meantime, we are surrounded by immediate temptations. In advanced economies, a bewildering variety of vehicles and schemes, of seemingly ever-greater complexity, have sprung up to `help' us to save. But in order to make use of them, we need to recognise that a saving scheme that might work well for one type of person won't do the job for another. This is an area where the insights of psychological research can prove especially useful.

Psychology shows that although sometimes we appear to make irrational choices about our money, in the longer term those decisions can turn out to be quite sensible. And the reason that's true is because we recognise that we are fallible human beings rather than rational actors and sometimes need to resort to devices that save us from the worst of ourselves. So where to begin? Well, financial advisers often encourage us to spread whatever savings we have around. There's one indisputably good reason for this. And nature was that tenacious! As Rob Watson also said, `Mother Nature always bats last. And she always bats 1. This is the perfect batting average in baseball (for those short on sports lingo). I don't see how any of us can unsee this or feel we can go back to such an unfair system or let greedy governments lead us so astray again. Nor how we can forget to bow to nature and work towards joining its flow, for it will absolutely bat last. The world has been upended; It's not a bad time to quote Dr Martin Luther King Jr from his `Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution' speech: And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution. Unless you are allergic to dairy products, take plain, unheated, probiotic yogurt every day. Aim for approximately 300g per day. If you have noticed you become ill more easily when you are chronically stressed, your gut bacteria may be partly to blame. When you are stressed, noradrenaline circulates around your gut. It increases the virility of several pathogenic bacteria.

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