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Taking a back seat

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

There I was all packed to go on holiday on the second of January and the last task, before setting off was putting the children’s car seat in the taxi.  And that was the moment when an all too familiar agonising pain erupted in my back – one movement too many and my back seized.

This was annoying to say the least. Just the day before I had commented to a friend how fit and healthy, I was feeling, referring to my flexibility and strength and how well my yoga practise is going. As far as my back was concerned I could bend it better than Beckham.  With such mental euphoria and physical wellbeing  I envisaged a beach holiday characterized by health and vitality, ,demonstrated by early morning, lotus-position salutations to the sun and the seas.  I embodied the epitome of wellness, positivity and the good life.

And suddenly, en route this picture was rudely and cruelly shattered.  The reality which unfolded was starkly different starting with my agonising step by step shuffle through OR Tambo airport at such a slow, torturous pace that I seriously considered wheelchair assistance.  Ego trumped practicality and I soldiered onto the plane to lower myself to my seat accompanied with one distressful thought ‘how am I am going to get off at the other side, much less negotiate another airport?’

I will spare you a blow-by-blow account of my misfortune, suffice to say that 10 days of discomfort followed, albeit, with ever gradual improvement. None of the imagined frolicking in the waves or sun salutations.  Instead, however, all my effort was directed to the accomplishment of simple tasks like putting on a pair of shorts, sitting down and standing up. The word ‘miserable’ comes to mind and the thought ‘incapacitated’ isn’t far away and their presence was like an unwanted song playing on repeat in my mind with no ‘off’ switch.

More debilitating than the physical aches however was my mood. Robbed of physical competence my mental wellbeing was simultaneously affected by a bout of melancholy. I was surprised how easily I plummeted into a feeling of despair and it wasn’t simply because I had a sore back. I felt that I was fighting a war in two fronts and I was under attack from two directions. Battling two aliments at the same time caught me off guard. Nothing matched.  The plan was great holiday destination, time with family, no work, rest and relaxation.  The execution was painful damage and then painful damage control.  It felt as though there was a conspiracy between my physical and mental being to screw it all up.

I know that a change in one system can affect another and that there is a strong link between mental health and physical health, although little is known about the pathways from one to the other. Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization, the psychiatrist who shepherded the notion that mental and physical health were intimately linked, famously stated that “without mental health there can be no true physical health”. More than half a century later, there is strong evidence elucidating the bidirectional relationship between mental illnesses – specifically depression and anxiety – and physical health outcomes.

It has been proven in studies that people with any chronic physical disease tend to feel more psychological distress than do healthy people. Poor physical health brings an increased risk of depression, as do the social and relationship problems that are very common among chronically ill patients.

Some more facts to stress my point:

Up to 50% of cancer patients suffer from a mental illness, especially depression and anxiety
Treating symptoms of depression in cancer patients may improve survival time, thus the mental affects the physical
In patients who are depressed, the risk of a heart attack is more than twice as high as in the general population and further
Depression increases the risk of death in patients with cardiac disease

Similarly studies have also shown that mental health problems have a causal effect on physical wellbeing
1)  A recent study by King’s College London showed the link between severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression and cardiovascular disease,  finding they were at a 53% higher risk. The risk of dying from the disease was also 85% higher than people of a similar age in the general population.

2)  A study earlier this year discovered that there was a link between high levels of mental distress and an increased risk of dying from cancer. The researchers took into account potential factors that could distort the data like age, sex, body mass index, education, smoking and alcohol consumption.

3) Studies have revealed a connection between depression and diabetes.  Those with both conditions were also 85% more likely to have a heart attack.

4) Studies have shown that people living with schizophrenia are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and are more likely to experience hip fractures.  Having schizophrenia almost doubles chances of having low bone density  and one in two people with schizophrenia will also have low bone mass.

So there it is! Sore back and depression or depression and sore back whatever way you look at it, we can be at risk at one thing in our system going wrong and then the whole system is affected.  It reminds me how holistic my approach to wellbeing must be and the need for balance. In my own case I have devoted a lot of time in the past few months to my physical wellbeing with a better yoga practise to show for it, but I have been nothing more than frugal with the maintenance of my psychological wellbeing.  I know this because had my psyche been stronger, I wouldn’t have taken the knock that I did.

When we are ill or injured and something is not working as it should, the body is out of balance and this imbalance causes our body to react more intensely, sometime shutting down in order to heal itself – illness is the body healing and this is one of the ways that the body re-balances itself. Despite my 10 days of awkwardness, doom and gloom I realise now that there is a need to balance movement and stillness.

According to Holistic Health Consultant, Lana Lensman,  if we push or move too fast our body will respond by going into protection mode, slowing down or stopping the flow of movement, resulting in a backlog of energy.  If we are too distracted, interrupting the flow of consciousness from coming in our body we will send signals of alert to wake us up.

Resistance to what is, is never a good strategy and when I stopped resisting, I could start listening with intelligence. What I wanted was a good holiday where I could recharge my batteries and come back stronger because that’s what breaks are all about.  During most of the holiday I could not see the wood for the trees and resented the sore back and low mood. 

I understand now that I did exactly what I needed to in those last 10 days when all I could concentrate on was mental down time in the form of an emotional slump and where physical activities were reduced to the menial…it’s a clever thing the body-mind relationship and when they work in harmony together it’s actually genius.   In my case the one clearly consulted with the other and concluded that I needed to ease off strenuous exercise and repair my overstretched mind and between them they forced the issue.  I have listened and learned that this year fully intend to heed their intrinsic wisdom more often.

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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

… 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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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    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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