Stress can Cause Cancer

New Scientist: Healthy lifestyle turns off genes that cause cancer
New Scientist: Poor neighbourhoods can kill

The last article is the latest (Jan 2010) and all the quotes below are from it.

No too long ago, scientists used to deny this – despite what to many people seemed obvious. Now they are changing their tune, and going along with common sense.

According to a novel collaboration between sociologists and biologists, the strain of living in some of the toughest neighbourhoods in the US may cause biological changes that lead directly to earlier deaths.

Results from the collaboration indicate that social isolation and a fear of crime cause an overload of stress hormones that can change cell biology, sending tumours into overdrive. “We’re showing that your social environment can affect your health directly,” says Suzanne Conzen of the University of Chicago. “It goes into gene expression. That concept is really new.”

“It’s a great example of the kind of direction in which I can see us heading,” says Tim Rebbeck, an epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. There are already hints that stress and social deprivation could have similar effects on diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In a seminar last month at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, Gehlert described her team’s findings. Most striking is the fact that the women fall into two groups based on the daily patterns of cortisol in their saliva (see graph). One-third of the women had a normal daily cycle, with a peak about 30 minutes after waking up. But the other two-thirds, dubbed “flatliners”, had no cortisol cycle at all.

It turned out that the flatliners lived in areas with more homicides and robberies, and scored higher for depression. Women who felt they had strong social networks, and scored low on a psychometric test for loneliness, were more likely to have a normal cycle.

Gehlert suggests that the fear that comes with living in high-crime areas combined with scant social support causes overproduction of cortisol, similar to that seen in McClintock’s isolated rats. This eventually erodes the body’s ability to release the stress hormone, creating the flatline effect. Similar “burnout” patterns have been seen in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.

When People Like Something; They protect it – When They Hate Something; They Destroy It

This is the basic dynamic of human behavior – love and hate. I doubt if any would disagree, but most overlook this. They will acknowledge the existence of love (while admitting there isn’t much of it) but forget about hate completely – assuming it’s not important, because it is not nice.

This is like insisting there is only one direction: up, while ignoring down completely. This results in a constant effort to stay high – forgetting that a crash always follows. The economic analogy is obvious – but the economy is nothing but our individual predilections write large.

It has been fashionable to think of the economy in non-emotional terms – but a moment’s reflection – or even less than a moment – shows the foolishness of this. We ignore our passions at our peril – especially when we are thinking of money – the direct representation of our passions.

We can picture an emotional thermometer, graduated from hate to love, and dip it into our everyday lives. What will it read? I just finished a fine lunch at the local soda (a small restaurant) and spent much of the time watching my neighbors walking down the street outside. An emotional thermometer there would have read calmly in the pleasant side. The world was treating them fine, and they were treating it fine – the usual thing.

Take that same thermometer and measure the emotional temperature at a traffic jam in the States, or anyplace at work. You will measure stress – and usually quite a bit of it. These people cannot help but be annoyed at the people around them, because they make their life more difficult.

Bicycle Accident

Me and my bicycle almost disappeared down a drainage culvert today.

There is a one-way suspension bridge for vehicles just south of Orosi. This is a little tricky to navigate for an old-timer on a bicycle like me. A small bus was patiently waiting for me to cross on the other side, and that made me nervous. As I swung around the bus to the right, I didn’t notice a large hole disguised by weeds directly on the side of the road. This was the opening to a drainage culvert going under the road to the river.

Plop! Down we went, head first. The top of my head hit the the edge of the concrete and that stopped our fall. Two men jumped out of their cars and pulled both of us (me and my bike) out of the hole. They carefully walked me to the restaurant nearby, made me sit down, and got me a glass of water.

Fortunately, I was wearing a bicycle helmet, and only got a mild headache out of the episode – but it cut short the much longer ride I was planning today.

Imperial overstretch

This idea is new to me; let me explain how I came hear of it: I read an article in Truthdig: The Hidden Issue of 2010. Here our VP, a man who has never impressed me very much, froths at the mouth at the very idea. Since he was so upset about it, I decided maybe the idea was something worth looking into.

Here is the Google search result. Pretty impressive, huh? It’s obviously an important, influential idea – and must have something to it. When I get around to it, I will check it out. You might want to do the same.

We have become Allergic to Ourselves

I have been struggling to define this problem. Last night, in the middle of the night, when I have my most profound ideas (at least they seem that way to me) I put it this way: “Awesome self-destruction is happening – on a global level.” Or later: “The World is destroying itself.” I am referring to the human world, of course, Planet Earth will do very well without us.

The human race seems to have acquired a kind of auto-immune disease – something also common in human individuals – who are hit with weird combinations of symptoms, such as fibromyalgia, that defy analysis. They seem to have learned from others how to reject themselves. They don’t usually die as a result – they are only thoroughly miserable. Secretly, however, I believe they are pleased with their situation. They know what they are supposed to do – and they are doing it.

Or, to put it another way: we have a passionate desire to become perfect – and this means rejecting our selves – which are not perfect, and don’t want to be. As a result, we become nothing: the perfect thing (or nothings, the perfect things) – and are extremely pleased with ourselves – and consider this our ultimate accomplishment – to become god-like. In cases like this, the gods finally have their revenge.

The alternative is to be human – something only a few hundred years ago, was an admirable objective – but now is seen as disgusting. It is now our job to eliminate ourselves – once and for all. Now more half-measures, such as the Holocaust. This time, we have to do it right!

The Decline of the Protestant Ethic

I have been trying to catch up on the history of the last fifty years in America – a period I lived through myself, but didn’t understand in the least – and the effort has left me disoriented and confused. I can sympathize with those who don’t wan’t to think about it all all – who don’t want to think about anything at all. But at the same time, I really think they should make the effort – ignorance is not always bliss – it just feels that way.

A good source for this is The Organization Man, written in 1956, for heavens sake, even before I got out of college. It is as relevant as ever – maybe even more so.

It is not clear whether the Protestant Ethic produced the Industrial Revolution – or the other way around. Probably they produced each other – a common occurrence in complex systems, which evolve – which is another interest of mine.

But first, we must define what we mean. For this I will quote from page 17 in the book:

Under this free system of government, whereby individuals are free to get a living or to pursue wealth as each chooses, the usual result is competition. Obviously, this competition really means industrial freedom. Thus, anyone may choose his trade or profession, or, if he does not like it, he many change. He is free to work hard or not; he may make his own bargains and set his price on his labor or products. He is free to acquire property to any extent, or to part with it. By dint of greater effort or superior skill, or greater intelligence, if he can make better wages, he is free to live better, just as his neighbor is free to follow his example and learn to excel in turn. If anyone has a genius for making and managing money, he is free to exercise his genius, just as another is free to handle his tools…If an individual enjoys his money, gained by energy and successful effort, his neighbors are urged to work the harder, that they and their children may have the same enjoyment.

Without this ideology, society would have been hostile to the entrepreneur. Without the comfort of the Protestant Ethic, he couldn’t have gotten away with his acquisitions – not merely because other people would not have allowed him, but because his own conscience would not have. But now he was fortified by the assurance that he was pursuing his obligation to God, and before long, what for centuries had been looked on as the meanest greed, a rising middle class would interpret as an earthly manifestation of God’s will.

Fair enough, but as this books shows, this doctrine soon diverged from reality – the reality of the large corporation, which was not really the shadow of one man. I can show this readily with the example of The Sheaffer Pen company, at one time the largest employer in Ft. Madison Iowa, my Father’s home town, where I was born. It was founded by W. A. Sheaffer in 1907, and it was built and run by him entirely.

I know this because I knew one of his top executives, Earl, who married my Father’s youngest sister, the flirt of the family. He was a married man at the time, and my aunt had already married twice for love. This time, she married for money (Earl was her boss at Scheaffer’s, and their marriage was such a shock, they had to leave town town and live in Denver, where they remained happily married for a long time, until Earl died, much later.) But I have digressed.

When old Mr. Sheaffer died, the company was taken over by his son, who could not fill his father’s shoes – because the world had changed too much. This was similar to the change of control after Henry Ford died. A large, modern corporation cannot be run as a dictatorship, even a benevolent one. It has to be a team effort, and if this team doesn’t function well, the company suffers – very common situation. The success of a organization man depends on how well he works with others – this just a plain fact of modern life – and directly contradicts the Protestant Ethic – which is all about the lone wolf.

William H. Whyte Jr, the author, does an excellent job of explaining this, much better than I can – and I recommend his book – which is a classic.

Bankers try to fight off wave of controls

The Financial Times

For most of the past decade, banks have used the WEF in Davos as a lavish opportunity to entertain clients. Last week they were fighting to fend off a wave of controls on sectors ranging from bonuses to proprietary trading and derivatives.

International supervisors, led by the Financial Stability Board and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, are pondering how and when they should change the levels of capital and liquidity that banks will have to hold in future. Moreover, in recent weeks, politicians – Barack Obama, the US president, Alistair Darling, the UK chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president – have weighed in with measures, short-circuiting the more consultative regulatory response.

But policymakers in Davos warned that banks would be foolish to think they would be “let off the hook”, as one said. “There is real political pressure to do something,” one senior western regulator said. “The banks need to recognise that.”

In the event, there was plenty of handwringing over the new Basel rules on capital… But the most powerful consensus was that however awkward regulators were, unpredictable politicians were worse.