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DOOM AND GLOOM

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

Stella Gibbon’s novel Cold Comfort Farm, a parody of earlier rural novellas, is based around the oddball Starkadder family who reside in the eponymous, run-down farm, one of whom, Aunt Ada Doom, spends all her life ‘ill’ in bed, a practice brought on by her having once seen ‘something nasty in the woodshed’.   There’s nothing physically wrong with her but whatever it was (and the reader never finds out) was enough to send her into a blue funk and make her take to her bed permanently.  It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds, as when I was a young boy we had a family member who used to routinely do the same for days on end as ‘they were under the weather’. Then said family member would re-appear and all would be forgotten and not spoken about until the weather changed again and said person would go back to bed. I don’t remember the word depression being mentioned – I don’t even think it was around – but I don’t doubt that is what it was.  

I was having a discussion with someone the other day about this illness and how it can be treated. When the suggestion was made that being ‘depressed’ was fashionable, the discussion turned into a heated debate.   I had to presume that the comment came from ignorance because if he had known much about the illness he would appreciate, as Andrew Soloman said; “You do not get the time back. It is not tacked on at the end of your life to make up for the disaster years. Whatever time is eaten by a depression is gone forever. The minutes that are ticking by as you experience the illness are minutes you will not know again.”

And even though help for Ada Doom comes in the form of a bright young thing and distant relative, Flora Poste, who shakes up the entire Starkadder family. This rouses Aunt Ada from her bed and inspires her to take an extended foreign holiday. She too can never recover all those lost years she spent moping in her room.

While there are many treatment options, the easiest is to treat merely the symptoms; with a happy pill.  And with so many questions asked of the multi-billion dollar drug industry nowadays; you would be crazy if you weren’t at least questioning the efficacy and possible side effects of the plethora of depression drugs which seem to have sprung up almost overnight.  Prior to the 1950s there were no drugs to deal with anxiety and depression and a dose of ‘sea air’ was prescribed most often.  Then in the 50s and 60s, anxiety was the illness du jour.  That word, after all, carried none of the ‘one flew over the cuckoo’s nest type of connotations associated with ‘depression’ which was supposed to be the preserve of the real loony tunes. Estimated as affecting perhaps one in 10,000 in the general population, and typically treated with hospitalisation, electroshock therapy and even, in extreme cases, lobotomy.

"The idea that there might be a depression that drugs could treat had in one sense to be invented as had the idea of an antidepressant," writes Healy in ‘The Antidepressant Era.’  

Valium might calm its takers down, but what they needed was something to perk them up.  And when fluoxetine, brand-name Prozac, was discovered in the mid-1970s, it was to also have been marketed as an anti-anxiety agent.  But with the crash of Valium-mania around the same time when it suddenly went from "magic bullet" to a dangerous and addictive substance, its producers decided to market Prozac. The first of the SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), as a safer alternative that could also be prescribed by GPs, not just specialists, and it’s been much the same story ever since – treating the symptoms but not always the underlying causes.

Today it is commonly said that 1 in 4 or 25% suffer from depression (US figures) at some point in their lives and the experts proclaim that this increase in the last 5 decades is due largely to improved diagnosis and reduced social stigma. However, David Healy, author of the Prozac Story and enemy No 1 to the pharmaceutical companies for exposing some of their untruths refers in his latest book, to a "wholesale creation of depression on so extraordinary and unwarranted a scale as to raise grave questions about whether pharmaceutical and other health care…Companies are more wedded to making profits from health than contributing to it."

According to Healy most patients diagnosed with mild or moderate depression could easily be described as suffering from "community nervousness." What he sees as a biological disorder which "could be due to a host of different factors such as overwork, stress, and constitutional deficits.” But clinicians everywhere are diagnosing depression because, just as when the only tool you have is a hammer you will treat everything as a nail- that's what they have a name and treatment for.  And drugs are a quick-fix for both doctor and patient.

Andrew Solomon on his talk on Depression discussed his exposure to alternative treatments throughout the world. He talks about a time when he was doing a project in Rwanda and happened to describe his experience at a tribal exorcism in Senegal and the person to whom he was explaining said "Well, that's West Africa, and we're in East Africa and our rituals are in some ways very different; but we do have some in common with what you're describing…But we've had a lot of trouble with Western mental health workers, especially the ones who came right after the genocide." Solomon asked, "What kind of trouble?" And he replied, "Well, they would do this bizarre thing.  They didn't take people out in the sunshine where you begin to feel better. They didn't include drumming or music to get people's blood going. They didn't involve the whole community. They didn't externalize the depression as an invasive spirit. Instead what they did was they took people one at a time into dingy little rooms and had them talk for an hour about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave the country."

So where you are pretty much determines the treatment, it would seem. Western culture favors the shrink’s couch to re-hash past pain, along with a medicine cabinet full of ‘coping drugs’ and even ECT.  Still also a possibility today; and in some African cultures, an exorcism of sadness and a dose of cheerfulness, sunshine and music.   Either certainly beats the old trepanning method where holes were drilled into the skull to relieve pressure on the brain or the surgical lobotomy which stops bad thoughts by stopping thinking altogether and yet we still seem a long way from a permanent, pain-free, liberating cure – what a depressing thought.

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at  HYPERLINK "http://www.hrmc.co.bw/" www.hrmc.co.bw

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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