Shorts 1

What Would You Do?

Following an older minivan down a rough paved road in the northern part of Vancouver Island. We pass endless trees growing close to the road, held away by ditches on either side. The drive is marred by clearcuts and fire-kill that rape the low hills, scarring the land for generations.

The minivan driver’s head can be seen nodding aggressively to heavy metal that could be heard if I left my window open. I keep it closed to shut out that and the motorcycle’s racket from behind me. It has been following on my bumper for an hour, refusing to pass, just droning endlessly.

Heading toward a slight bend in the road, the minivan driver’s nodding has become quiet. He wakes up just in time to lose control as he plummets down the near bank, does a lovely pirouette along the far bank, then rolls back down into the centre of the ditch, bouncing, and finally ending upside-down in the wet weeds.

As I slam to a stop on the narrow shoulder ahead of the minivan, the motorcycle screeches hard behind me and overcontrols, sending that driver into a high flip over his bike which lands him half into the ditch ahead of me.

I get out in a panic and decide to rush over to the motorcyclist. He is lying in a spread-out heap with his neck at a gut-wrenchingly weird angle. Not wanting to move his neck in case it is broken, I figure out how to carefully raise his helmet visor. Blood is dribbling from his mouth into his beard and his eyes are shut. His chest is not moving.

Since the motorcyclist is, at best, beyond my ability to help him, I turn away to slip down the ditch to reach the overturned minivan. Through the cracked windscreen I can see the back of a very corpulent man sprawled out on the inside roof behind the front seats, incongruously collecting things and putting them into a large kitbag.

As he sees me try to open the passenger door he violently waves me away. Confused, I back off. The driver continues, more quickly, to grab small pieces of paper from around him and stuff them into his kitbag. As he rolls over to reach across his bulbous chest, I see blood pouring down the side of his forehead. At this time, his head slumps fully against the floor, with his thick tattooed arm plopping off his chest to slide beside his body.

I grab the door handle and, after a couple hard pulls, yank it open. The strong smell of weed is even more prominent than it was outside. The driver remains still but I am encouraged to hear a low groan.

There are crumpled twenty and fifty dollar bills scattered everywhere inside the minivan. A pistol lies near the driver’s feet. Hairs begin to rise on the back of my neck. I think about just backing away from this scene.

Shaking my head, I take one of the bills and use it to wrap around the barrel of the pistol, tossing it out the door behind me. With several clean tissues I had stuffed into my pocket while getting out of my car, I gently wipe the blood from the driver’s eyes. He opens them and I can see that he is focusing on me. I don’t know why I notice that tissue bits have collected in his stubble.

“Take it easy – are you hurt anywhere else?”

He puts his free hand up to his head. It comes away with blood all over his fat fingers. I give him the wad of tissues. He awkwardly wipes away more blood.

“You should apply pressure to the cut… Hold the tissues tightly against…”

He twists away but then slumps back down, out again.

I take the tissues from his hand to apply gentle pressure to the head wound. A few minutes pass. He rolls his head away from my pressure but I leave the tissues on the cut.

“Don’t pull the tissues off yet. It’ll start bleeding again.”

The driver raises his hand up to the tissues then decides to leave them.

Twisting his head with difficulty, he stares directly at me. “Who are you? You a cop?”

Smiling, I shake my head, “No. I was driving behind you when I saw you roll. It looks like the airbags stopped you from going through the windshield. Are you ok, other than the cut on your forehead?”

The driver thinks for a bit, moving his free arm then his legs. “Help me turn over. I, ah, have a lot of cushioning.”

I pull on his shoulder and hip to get him flat on his back.

“Left arm. Feels… Shit. Something wrong with my wrist.”

He lifts up his left arm and tries to flex his hand. “Goddamnit! Can’t move my hand.” Then he remembers his kitbag and the bills. He grabs my arm in a powerful grip with his right hand. “Put back everything you took! Or I’ll…”

He looks around for his pistol.

Calmly, “Take it easy, friend. I didn’t touch your money. Let me help you outside. Oh! There was a motorcyclist who flipped right after you did. Let me help you out then I’ll see if he’s… He didn’t look good.”

“Dead?”

“Well, his neck looked broken…”

“Good. Leave the fucker there. Was tailing me. Help me get to my knees. Have to…” With that, the driver’s eyes go blank and he slumps back down.

Confused, I feel his grip on me release so I back out of the minivan. The pistol is just outside the door. Making a decision, I take a tissue from my back pocket, pick the pistol up with it, then, still wrapped, I stuff the pistol into my back pocket with other tissues.

Waiting a minute to think, I see the driver wake up once more. He touches the tissues on his wound but leaves them. With enormous effort, he rolls onto his right side then uses his good arm to get to his knees. Ignoring me, the driver once again starts collecting the loose bills around him and pushes them into the kitbag with one arm. It gets overflowing-stuffed. Absently watching the scene, I make up a number, mumbling under my breath, “Two hundred thousand?”

The driver stops and grins at me. “Close. You’re a cop, right? No problem. With Shitface dead, I’ll give you some of this if you drive me to the ferry… No questions. No fuss. Just free money. I can disappear and you can do what you want with… shall we say, ten grand? Ten big ones and all you have to do is drop me off at the ferry. You can be my Uber driver.”

He resumes collecting bills then reaches for another bag. The driver doesn’t raise his head as he adds, “Make up your mind before someone else comes along.”

It is tempting. I pat the pistol in my pocket then shift it, feeling through the cloth, so that the handle is up.

Slyly, “You got the gun. What’s to worry about. Here, take this full bag and zip it for me while I finish off in here.

As he rises to swing the kitbag out awkwardly with his good hand, he hits the ceiling/floor of the minivan. “OW! DAMNIT!”

The tissues fall off his forehead and the cut opens up again. It doesn’t pour out as quickly as before but it still needs to be staunched. With my last few tissues from around the pistol, I reach in to help the driver. He tries to grab my arm again. I back off.

Throwing the tissues at him into the minivan, I back off. “Clean yourself off, this time. If you can’t trust me I guess I’ll have to go report the accident.”

“Wait!” The driver leans onto his left elbow and holds his right hand toward me. More quietly, “Wait a minute. Not in any shape to argue.” He smiles, “And here you are trying to help a fat old accountant while I… Listen. You got all the cards. All I got is some money. You say you’ll help me for twenty thou and that’s the deal.” He bends his thick neck enough to look me in the eye. “What do you say?”

What would YOU do?

(adapted from a narration of an incident by John Wilson)

Punishing Your Body

The jaw-dropping cache of documents made public by the Washington Post – https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/six-takeaways-from-the-deas-pain-pill-database/2019/07/16/ [paywall]- and reported further in Ars Technicahttps://arstechnica.com/science/2019/07/76-billion-opioid-pills-in-7-years-how-pharma-companies-drowned-us-in-drugs/ – can hardly be believed.

The article starts with this paragraph: “Between 2006 and 2012, opioid drug makers and distributors flooded the country with 76 billion pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone—highly addictive opioid pain medications that sparked the epidemic of abuse and overdoses that killed nearly 100,000 people in that time period.”

Should these prescriptions even be given?

Any medication that punishes the body when one tries to stop taking it needs to be prescribed with extreme caution.  The current and tragic opiate crisis is a direct result of such caution not being exercised.  As I explain in my book Anxiety: Debug It, Don’t Drug It, published by Rutherford Press, the next shoe to drop will be the massive over-prescription of benzodiazepines (“tranquilizers”) for anxiety.  Many people say these drugs are even harder to give up than opiates. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has a proven track record as being far more effective for treating anxiety than do these medications, especially over the long run.   Both the rationale for CBT’s application as well as a step-by-step process for enacting it also are outlined in my book.  :Dr. Michael Catchpole.

Where Are We Going?

Photo by Roi Dimor on Unsplash

This election cycle may be our last chance. Work HARD for the Progressives, do the best you can to see them elected, and vote as if all our lives depend on it, because they do.

Comment by “Art” in https://theintercept.com/2019/07/05/shell-conference-climate-change/

This brief comment to the article in The Intercept was one of several by “Art”. His other comments were a depressing, long list of scientific findings that he, as a climate scientist, offered to support his reasons for being so blunt.

To those who said it is too late, or that we, the people, have no power to make a change, Art replied, ” Your nihilism is duly noted but I refuse to give up.”

To which “mgr” wrote:

Art: Spot on! That’s really what it comes down to. We may win, or we may lose, but giving up is always defeat, from the inside out. It comes down to making a choice.

Where are we going?

For the sake of our children and their children, we have this choice: follow the platitudes of our current leaders as they follow the money dangled before their noses; or put your hand up and vote for a future that will include humanity. A future that will include breathable air, enough clean water to drink, sufficient vegetation and animals to maintain the only place, the ONLY place, in this universe where we can live.

The money being dangled before our noses cannot be breathed or eaten.

It is way past time to be nice. Our very lives are at stake.

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew. Marshall McLuhan

The Trappings of Science

Square Rigged, by Ben Nuttall-Smith

– How science is being eroded as an objective agent for our species

I recently underwent a grueling exercise with an individual who is exceptionally intelligent. I describe it as grueling because he clung for the longest time to a perception of “science” that is, regrettably, common. Nevertheless, that perception is not real science.

In a textbook, he was given three descriptions of science from which I asked him to choose the option that best matched his understanding of “science”. May I humbly suggest that only one option is worthy of that label.

Proposition A: a person of science will develop a theory, then apply evidence that can be found that will support that theory.

Proposition B: observations will be seen to have apparent relationships. A hypothesis is developed that encompasses those observations with a possible explanation of why or how they relate to each other. Evidence is gathered using observations and/or controlled experiments; assessments are made as to whether the evidence supports or does not support the hypothesis. If there is found to be sufficient support, a theory may be developed. The theory is tested continually to determine if it is still supported by new evidence.

Proposition C: an authoritative person pronounces on a theory which may be based on common sense, long practice, or even logical deduction or reasoning.

Prop C actually contains several distinct propositions. I will refer to them a group.

Discussion

Plato and many famous philosophers since have used logical deduction to explain the wonders of the world. Within the toolbox of science, this can be a useful method for arriving at possibilities. The main problem with that is, it may be useful but it often doesn’t use feedback from objective evidence. To offer a simple example, it is observed that a penguin is black and white. By logical deduction we know that snow is white and coal is black, so that must make a penguin equal to snowy coal. While an artificial intelligence (AI) program may produce that kind of logic, people understand it to be silly.

Another Prop C option: Aristotle was an admired and authoritative figure. Despite the prior writings of Pythagoras and others who came up with close approximations of the great size of planet Earth, Aristotle suggested with respect to the disappearance of a ship over the horizon, “…All of which goes to show not only that the Earth is circular in shape, but also that it is a sphere of no great size: for otherwise the effect of so slight a change of place would not be so quickly apparent.” (from Aristotle’s On the Heavens). No.

Prop A looks promising. This was chosen by my exceptionally intelligent friend (he is still a friend, by the way). It was also chosen by many other intelligent folks, such as Sigmund Freud (for personality development, in which he argued that personality is formed through conflicts among three fundamental structures – however, in testing that theory, the actual existence of his concepts has been fraught with partisan arguments, rather than objective evidence); John Locke (babies are born with a blank slate – which we now consider inaccurate); Aristotle (spontaneous generation of life, wherein he “observed” life starting from apparent nothingness). In essence, Prop A says that a smart person can come up with a theory and cherry-pick observations that may approximate what the theory suggests.

A theory, however, is never “proven” – merely supported by evidence, or not. A theory must be able to make predictions that can be tested. If we presume that penguins are snowy coal, observations and comparisons would quickly invalidate that “theory”.

When we look around at some of the marvels of the modern age, most of them have something to do with, or are enhanced by, digital technology. When da Vinci sketched out his plans for a helicopter, the reality of building one was stymied by rudimentary materials technology and lack of an understanding of aerodynamics (each field having recently received considerable impetus via digital technology: “computers”).

A computer, however, is merely a tool. If digital technology is relied on to be the magic bullet, depending on it as if it were the final answer usually leads one far down a garden path. When proponents of instant language translators say that they are on the cusp of a perfect solution, one would be wise to read what a professional in the field of translation has to say:

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/01/the-shallowness-of-google-translate/551570/
Douglas
Hofstadter is a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University at Bloomington. He is the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.

“I’ve recently seen bar graphs made by technophiles that claim to represent the “quality” of translations done by humans and by computers, and these graphs depict the latest translation engines as being within striking distance of human-level translation. To me, however, such quantification of the unquantifiable reeks of pseudoscience, or, if you prefer, of nerds trying to mathematize things whose intangible, subtle, artistic nature eludes them. To my mind, Google Translate’s output today ranges all the way from excellent to grotesque, but I can’t quantify my feelings about it. Think of my first example involving “his” and “her” items. The idealess program got nearly all the words right, but despite that slight success, it totally missed the point. How, in such a case, should one “quantify” the quality of the job? The use of scientific-looking bar graphs to represent translation quality is simply an abuse of the external trappings of science.”

We are inundated in the media with assertive pronouncements regarding the efficacy of certain products. Imprecise statements, cherry-picked observations, and outright fabrications are used without regard to the harm they cause. The harms extend beyond merely loss of money in buying worthless stuff. Purchasers may be conned into spending their meager resources and time on the worthless stuff to the detriment of using an approach that can be of actual value to them. This is particularly egregious in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. People who have become addicted to drugs such as opiates are dying in the thousands after being prescribed the drug and not being followed up properly, or where the prescription was for a symptom that should never have been treated with drugs in the first place. (See Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, Dr. Michael Catchpole 2019, Rutherford Press.)

One must ask, what harms are yet to be caused by AI in charge of ground and air vehicles. Analysis of the recent Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashes will take some further work, but we understand a lot at this time (see https://avherald.com/h?article=4c534c4a). Those tragic results cannot be placed solely at the feet of artificial intelligence residing in the software, but it may turn out that a significant component could possibly be attributed to a culture of hurried development and over-dependence on the “magic bullet” of AI, as alleged by pilots and engineers at recent Congressional hearings. Perhaps that culture has been fostered by a subliminal dependence on, and shifting of responsibility to, the lines of code on a silicon chip. Getting that shift wrong with a new laptop design is an entirely different order of mistake than getting it wrong with a new airplane that can carry over 200 lives on board. (see  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/business/boeing-hearings.html)

Trust in Science

Is trust in science  misplaced, or is it conveniently used as a replacement for deeper understanding?

Considering the difference between denialism and skepticism, a study found evidence, yet again, that presenting a denier with objective facts was not an effective strategy:

Because this denialism springs from motivated reasoning, science advocates are scrambling to understand how to debunk misinformation in a way that motivates their target audience to accept it. [added emphasis]

https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/06/debunking-science-denialism-does-work-but-not-perfectly/

Being “motivated” means that a denier is self-censoring anything that does not conform to the way the topic is stored in their mind.

A recent study of 140,000 people worldwide proved instructive. Here are the main highlights:

Trust in science and health professionals

Globally, 18% of people have a ‘high’ level of trust in scientists, while 54% have a ‘medium’ level of trust, 14% have ‘low’ trust and 13% said ‘don’t know’. This ranges from a third of people having ‘high’ trust in Australia and New Zealand, Northern Europe and Central Asia to around one in ten in Central and South America.

from: Gallup (2019) Wellcome Global Monitor – First Wave Findings
https://wellcome.ac.uk/sites/default/files/wellcome-global-monitor-2018.pdf

The study is both fascinating and frustrating. The breadth of the study needs to be read to be fully appreciated. Any study that includes 140,000 subjects who answered such a range of questions is to be commended as a considerable feat.

May I humbly say, however, that frustration arises in those numerous instances where the numbers being thrown at the reader elicit questions of greater depth. Take this statement in Chapter 2’s Summary:

Worldwide, more than half the people aged 15–29 (53%) say they know ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ about science, compared to 40% of those aged 30–49 and 34% of those aged 50 and older.

Is age a causal variable, or correlational, or coincidental. For instance, might it be that older folks have matured into the realization that the more they know, the less they understand? And that certainty is best left to the young blurs that pass by on their respective missions? Is there a whiff of something like the subject of Douglas Hofstadter’s article on translation: all the right words – absent depth?

The reason for my skepticism is outlined below.

Human Rights or Social Permission

Do humans have rights? Are they “inalienable”; or are they subject to the will – or lack of will – displayed by a political community? This was explored by Kenan Malik:

So, what should we do? Our starting point must be the recognition of rights neither as inalienably rooted in human nature, nor as gifts bestowed on citizens by the nation state, but as aspects of human social existence continually created through struggle and contestation. Rights are, as the political theorist Lida Maxwell has put it, ‘collective achievements rather than individual possessions’, and achievements that are ‘fragile’ and ‘imperfectly realised’.

How does the topic of human rights fit into this discussion? One way is that it shows the value of skepticism in approaching a subject for which so many people hold hard views.

The Science of Skepticism

For those who consider it “good science” to first develop a theory and then try to prove it, the field is open to cherry-pick whichever evidence can be shoehorned into the most compelling package. After all, the right words are being employed by proponents of their pet theory: science, reasoning, evidence, clinical, proven

No. Science depends on skepticism: questioning the evidence which supports or doesn’t support a hypothesis; constant review of evidence; the belief that a belief is a blindfold…

Malik’s analysis of human rights, above, lists ideas and their proponents who wish to bestow a conceptual construct into human genes. They insist that the only way to combat discrimination is by saying that people are “born with rights”. A corollary of this approach, however, allows some to say that only certain humans have the “rights gene”, therefore discrimination against the defective elements of the population is permitted.

The more difficult approach to fighting the many forms of discrimination is to freely admit that rights originate in words; they are born in the fire of social discourse. And there, the rights may be either eroded away or strengthen for those who must depend on them the most. That fire may wane or flare, so it is incumbent on the people of a political community to keep feeding oxygen and, yes, fuel, into the fire.

Skepticism is one such fuel. A skeptic’s voice must be heard by all who wish to contribute to the discussion.

Denialism is not, however, the same as skepticism. Denialism is a soggy blob of retardant on the fire of social discourse.

The trick, then, is to find a method that distinguishes motivated reasoning from healthy skepticism.

Yes, this is hard.

Love and Time

Thoughts on Margot: Love in the Golden Years

How does one celebrate the romance of a lifetime?

To lovers in their latter years, the prospect that one will leave before the other becomes increasingly evident. Yet, no matter how prepared we think we are, the shock and resultant loneliness reach far beyond any expectation.

Seniors become accustomed to caring for one another in ways younger couples seldom dream of. Such intimacy and dependency deepen love far beyond the heart-fluttering romances of younger years.

Despite the annoyances of age such as loss of hearing and the inability to control certain body functions – flatulence, bladder control – we tend to become more forgiving and considerate of the other.

The excitement of sexual activity gives way to back and neck rubs, intimate conversations and the simple joys of being in one another’s company.

We tend to favour the comfort and happiness of our partner, far above our own. Love reaches its full potential.

                                                                                    Ben.  June 29th 2019

Anxiety at Steam Punk

Within the walls of the Nautilus in the delightful back room of Port Alberni’s Steam Punk Cafe, how could one be anxious?

Shane – who did literature review for Dr. Catchpole – and Shane’s mother, Tammy, look to be in good spirits, and Dr. Catchpole certainly is relaxed. In between signing over 20 books, he kept telling us of his upcoming fishing expedition into the wilds of Oregon.

So many of the folks coming in for his book, Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, expressed their sincere gratitude for the special perspective it gave them when real anxiety started to interfere with their lives. From the book:

My third and final career goal has been to convince the public, and more directly in this book, to prove to you that it is no longer necessary for you to live with or be bullied by distressing levels of anxiety…

…“Anxiety-related Disorders have been beaten”. All these disorders are now proven to be treatable, and the success rates… are outstanding.

And, critically, the treatment does not include drugs!

No subsequent addictions, terrible withdrawals, zombie side-effects or paying your life’s fortune to some heartless pharma corporation (nor a street drug dealer).

Just get cured.

Buy the book at https://rutherfordpress.ca/anxiety