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Trust in life and you will see - The Movember series chapter one · Tuesday October 5, 2021 by colin newell

Way back in 2013, I was struggling with an assortment of things – as many people do.

Troubles: They come and go… in varying intensities for most of us.

That period of my life was particularly problematic with the loss of my dad, my mother-in-law, a brother-in-law and a close friend. Stuff like that can overwhelm. And the best thing you can do is talk about it to someone – seek professional help – or confide in someone you trust.

And from my circle of friends came some gentle and creative suggestions. One of which was to listen to (and watch) a few videos from a Jamaican-British spiritualist speaker by the name of Mooji. Many people have heard of him – and probably as many question the efficacy of spiritualist – new age – mumbo jumbo. That said, I gave one video a view – and then a repeated view – and it had me smiling. And it tweaked that “Hmmmm, is this video meant for me feeling?”

The whole point of my misery at the time was the fact that my World appeared to be spiralling out of control and there was nothing I could do about it – and yet at the end of each and every day during my personal crisis, things did seem “OK”. At least they balanced out as it were. The sky never fell. Nothing terrible befell me apart from that gnawing feeling of loss and constant unease.

When I combined my take away from this video and some similar to it – and added some meditative tools, like mindfulness and living in the moment, the darkness slowly started to ease and the skies cleared. Before long I felt joy again.

Now I know that one cannot feel happy all the time – it is no more complicated than looking around at the state of the Planet. It’s messed up. But each and every one of us have to live and keeping putting one foot ahead of the other. There are few other choices.

In this series of blog posts through the end of November, we are going to talk about emotional health, self care, smiling during a pandemic and growing a moustache for mental and physical wellness – something I have been doing for 12 years!

Stay tuned!

Some music – One of my favourite cover tunes is from my home studio – I’m singing and playing the guitar and piano and everything else… this epic old Rolling Stones songs resonates on so many levels and reminds us – sometimes exactly what you need is right in front of us. Enjoy! Be at peace… and find your own wellness.


You can’t always get what you want…

Download – You-Cannot-Always-get-what-you-want-v11.mp3

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National and International Coffee day · Friday October 1, 2021 by colin newell

We talked with CBC On The Island host Gregor Craigie, Sam Jones (2% Jazz) and Carsen Oglend of Drumroaster Coffee on the subject of National and International Coffee day. Click on the above link for the audio or download the file below.
International Coffee Day Interview

Cup of excellence

For most of us, coffee is a very personal experience, integral to the rhythm of our workday.

Caffeine, the active ingredient in every cup, awakens us to the possibilities of the day and the ritual of coffee preparation brings a sense of order to our often chaotic existence.

This is the essence of National Coffee Day – an almost hallmark celebration of our love affair with the steaming mug.

Whether taken black, with cream and sugar, a double-double or a single
ounce of espresso, coffee is our anchor.

I love my coffee. You love your coffee. Take it away and what’s left?

Thousands of miles away, coffee farmers tend the Earth and watch the sky for hints as to what the growing season might bring.

Second only to fossil fuels, the coffee bean is the most traded natural commodity on the Planet.

Millions of families, in over 50 countries, toil on plantations large and small, mindful of the seemingly endless vagaries that effect their well being and success.

At best, farmers and their families earn 5 to 7% of the retail value of coffee – often as little as 2% in countries like Brazil, hosts of the highest output of our beloved bean.

And while we enjoy our first cup as our children trundle off to school, life in developing nations dependent on this powerful export,
often means pulling children from school to assist in much of the demanding work of harvest.

This is my essence of “International Coffee Day…” It is the respectful and mindful exercise of being cognizant of the effort and sacrifice that families make to get us our beloved coffee – and what we, the consumers, can do to improve the quality of life of coffee growers and their families.

Whether you decide to support direct trade, FairTrade Canada , organic coffees or Cup of Excellence programs (where the farm, family and communities more directly benefit from the fruits of their labour…), there are many things that we the coffee drinkers can do to advance the quality of life in the coffee industry.

It is a common refrain in North America where many coffee drinkers insist, “How can I possibly make a difference to a family or community half a World away?”

Well you can. Cup of Excellence programs, for instance, support direct trade where farms and co-ops sell directly to cafes and roasters, bypassing the seemingly endless sequence of middle people that take their cut. The extra money that goes to co-ops such as these builds houses, schools and even community health centres. These luxuries that we take for granted in Canada, are the difference between happiness and misery in coffee growing nations and you can make a difference.

But How?

  • Buy sensibly – Do your homework
  • Prepare to pay a fair price for your cup
  • Support local – Canadian cities have lots of locally roasted coffees!
  • Avoid store bought Mega Brands – you know the ones – don’t make me spell it out!



    Colin Newell is a Victoria resident and coffee drinker, searching coast to coast to coast for that perfect cup of coffee – writing on the subject since 1995.

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Book review On Borrowed Time by Gregor Craigie · Thursday September 30, 2021 by colin newell

On Borrowed Time - Gregor Craigie

Broadcast journalist Gregor Craigie has been on the radio; CBC Radio 1 Vancouver Island, CBS, the British Broadcasting Corporation and Public Radio International in the United States as well as CBC Television as a political reporter…


Audio snippet – the thinking behind the book

Vancouver Island’s largest historic earthquake was a magnitude 7.3 event that occurred at 10:13 a.m. on Sunday June 23, 1946. The epicentre was in the Forbidden Plateau area of central Vancouver Island, just to the west of Courtenay and Campbell River.

This earthquake caused considerable damage on Vancouver Island, felt as far away as Portland Oregon, and Prince Rupert B.C. and brought down 75% of the chimneys in the closest communities, Cumberland, Union Bay, and Courtenay and it inflicted damage in Comox, Port Alberni, and Powell River. Bricks and chimneys were shaken down in Victoria. Remarkably only two deaths were recorded, one due to drowning when a small boat capsized in an earthquake-generated wave, and the other from a heart attack in Seattle.

In 1973, I spoke to a neighbourhood couple who were eye witnesses…

“My boyfriend (and future husband) were 19 years old at the time and working on a farm near Cumberland. We had just wrapped up some morning chores when the ground started moving back and forth and then up and down. My first instinct was to drop to the ground. It was difficult to stand. The ground (and we could see a mile or so in every direction…) was undulating like a Northwest wind pushing waves on a lake. In a minute, maybe two, the worse was over…”

No one, ever, forgets the sensations, sounds and smells following or during a calamity. Earthquakes have that unique ability to wipe away everything we believe in and rely on in the World around us.

My personal experiences with ground shaking have been largely limited to Richter scale 6 temblors on Vancouver Island and in the Hawaiian Islands (during volcanic activity…) – and without exception, these were amongst the most frightening physical experiences of my life.

In Gregor Craigie’s debut book, “On Borrowed Time”, he takes us on an unrelenting journey through the physics and geology, topology and psychology of the earthquake. From San Francisco (1906 and 1989), Christchurch (2011), Alaska (1964), Indonesia (2004) and Japan (2011) and more.

Christchurch, New Zealand, a city that eerily matches Victoria, B.C. in layout, architecture and seismic vulnerability, takes centre stage…

The quake struck in the noon hour, when many office workers in Christchurch’s central business district were out looking for lunch. As earthquakes go, the February 2011 temblor was a relatively moderate magnitude-6.3 event, but that number hid the true terror. Accelerometers near the epicentre measured the peak ground acceleration at more than 2g, or twice the force of gravity. That’s roughly four times the peak ground force acceleration recorded in the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti and roughly twenty times stronger than the force a passenger in a typical commercial airliner might feel during takeoff.

On Borrowed Time - Paperback

Gregor’s tireless research, natural curiosity, and experiences with calamity help shape this masterclass in the consequences of deferring the necessary improvements to infrastructure – action that will, without any doubt, save lives and bring peace of mind to residents of seismically active regions.

A decade in the works, Gregor interviewed scientists, engineers, researchers, disaster victims, civic leaders and city planners on the peril that faces over 100 million citizens in North America alone.

On Borrowed Time is not a breezy read. It is an exhausting and sobering treatise on the very nature of the Earth beneath our feet and the peril of neglecting the individual and collective community preparedness that must take place – if not now, then soon. In example after example (The Christchurch, New Zealand versus Victoria B.C. Canada comparisons for instance…) Gregor reminds us West Coast residents, “You see that place over there? Well, that could be just as easily here…”

The overarching point of Gregor’s work is: “Don’t lose hope or live in fear. Be prepared and take steps for you, your family and community. Earthquakes are inevitable. Staggering loss of life is not.

On Borrowed Time is a runaway train that has to be ridden to the end of the line. My impression after two thoughtful reads is that this is a book that you are not going to want to read – it is a book that you must read – It’s a book that belongs in every school, in every workplace… on shelves that are well secured to the wall. On Borrowed Time is available at all book stores and online.


Colin Newell is a life long resident of Victoria, on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia.

Shake rattle and roll your thoughts to me

Logic and reason requires critical thinking skills. · Saturday September 4, 2021 by colin newell

The Thinker

In a time rife with disasters, simmering regional conflicts, global warming, and out of control fires, when more people than ever can find an audience online, conspiracy theories seem to be growing more silly by the day.

We’re also more prone to believing such things under heightened stress, and there is no shortage of troubling issues confronting us, whether locally or globally.

Some conspiracy theorists pride themselves on being “critical freethinkers,” but a new study showing a trend between lower critical thinking skills and increased conspiracy theory belief suggests this may not be the case.

“Conspiracy theories refer to attempts to explain the ultimate cause of an important event (social, political, climatic, etc.), by accusing a hidden coalition of perceived malicious and powerful people or organizations of having secretly planned and implemented these events,” explain Paris Nanterre University psychologist Anthony Lantian and team in their paper.

Across two studies, the researchers assessed the critical thinking skills of 338 undergraduate students using a French version of the Ennis-Weir Critical Thinking Essay Test. They then scored the students’ tendencies towards conspiracy beliefs and their personal assessment of their own critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking – the objective analysis and evaluation of a situation – requires a collection of cognitive skills. These include the ability to discern relevant versus irrelevant information, think systematically, seeing other perspectives, recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies, look beyond the obvious, be aware of and avoid biases and changing your mind in light of new evidence.

“The more people believe in conspiracy theories, the worse they perform on a critical thinking ability test,” Lantian told Eric Dolan from PsyPost. “This test is characterized by an open-ended format highlighting several areas of critical thinking ability in the context of argumentation.”

Before anyone gets all superior and self righteous around this, we must keep in mind that some people may not have had opportunities to obtain or develop these skills. This doesn’t mean they’re any less intelligent, just that their lives have not as yet taken them on the critical thinking skill acquiring path. But it’s never too late to learn. Good thing!

The researchers didn’t find any evidence for a higher (or lower) subjective critical thinking ability (as opposed to that evaluated more objectively by the test) among those who subscribe more to conspiracy theories.

“This is not in line with the cliché of the conspiracy theorists who see themselves as critical thinkers,” Lantian said.

All this is not to say those with high critical thinking skills can’t also be sucked into believing things that may not necessarily align with reality. The way our thinking is wired as an obligatorily social species makes us very vulnerable to believing those we identify with as part of our own cultural group – no matter how much education we have had that boosts science literacy.

Trust plays a massive role in who we believe; we also have a tendency to believe each of us is above average at detecting misinformation. And that is a clear case of self deception if there ever was one!

Researchers have also linked this need to feel special to greater belief in conspiracies. This is the classic, “I know something that you don’t!” Or, “There is this guy that has a YouTube channel that knows stuff that no one else knows!”

Lantian and team point out that while their study suggests critical thinking lowers people’s chances of believing in unfounded conspiracy theories, the findings don’t determine if these skills can help people detect true conspiracies.

Think like a scientist

Photo above: Our COVID-19 journey has been rife with speculation and a lively source for “conspiracy theorization”, in part, because of the elements of calamity, the “perceived” volumes of unanswered questions, the complexity of the varied impacts on society and so on.

Furthermore, the uniformity of their sample population (all French-speaking undergraduates) means these findings may not necessarily be an accurate reflection across wider society, nor have the researchers demonstrated a causal relationship.

However, previous research has also suggested more highly educated people are less prone to conspiracy beliefs. Another study, specifically designed by Yale University psychologist Dan Kahan and team to untangle within-group bias from levels of understanding, found similar results: Participants who scored highest in science comprehension – which requires critical thinking skills – displayed higher scores in independent thinking.

Kahan and colleagues have also found that curiosity can play an incredibly powerful role in counteracting within-group biases by leading people to consume “a richer diet of information”.

Lantian and team conclude in their paper that “critical thinking ability could help individuals to seek contradictory evidence rather than blindly trusting a conspiracy theory as long as it challenges an established version.”

They hope that this and further research on the topic will help develop better ways to teach more people these vital skills. Critical thinking, along with fostering curiosity and a sense of belonging and community to counteract the forces of cultural biases, may help us nudge each other back towards a smarter and wiser reality.

Elements of this research was published in Applied Cognitive Psychology.


Your web writer, Colin Newell, has lived on the radical Wet Coast of North America and has been writing stuff, totally believable stuff, since 1996!

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Pasta Puttanesca by the numbers - authentic Italian cooking series · Friday September 3, 2021 by colin newell

Pasta Puttanesca by the numbers

I was raised on Spaghetti and meat balls. Tomatoes are my blood. Decades on, I take the greatest delight in genuine Italian cooking. My mama was raised in an Italian-Canadian enclave in Montreal and she knew her stuff. Here in the 21st Century, I have expanded on my childhood knowledge by digging deeper into the cuisine.

Click on the photo for some screen filling action!

Enter pasta Puttanseca. It is a simple dish with a storied past. I’ll let my readers draw their own conclusions as to the myth versus the reality – but on dreary days, this is one of our go-to recipes for a quick and satisfying meal with the minimum of fuss, quick preparation with ready ingredients… made better by the addition of my incredible sourdough focaccia bread

Ingredients

1/8 c. extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 (14-oz.) diced fire roasted tomatoes
1/4 c. kalamata olives, pitted
1/8 c. capers
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
Serving for 2 of boxed spaghetti or bucatini
Chopped parsley, for garnish
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Instructions

Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat.
Add garlic and cook until fragrant – about 1 minute.
Add anchovies and cook until fragrant, another minute.
Add tomatoes, olives, capers, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water (heaping tablespoon of kosher salt to water) to a boil.
Add spaghetti and cook according to package directions, until al dente; drain. Toss spaghetti in sauce.

Sprinkle with parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Serve with a fat glass of Red wine and my incredible Focaccia bread – You’ll thank me later.


Colin Newell is a Victoria resident and coffee expert exploring the powers of the internet since 1996 – his treatise on caffeine has cured many a case of insomnia over the years…

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