Pets and you

The science behind why some people love animals and others couldn’t care less

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xkunclova/Shutterstock.com

John Bradshaw, University of Bristol

The recent popularity of “designer” dogs, cats, micro-pigs and other pets may seem to suggest that pet keeping is no more than a fad. Indeed, it is often assumed that pets are a Western affectation, a weird relic of the working animals kept by communities of the past.

About half of the households in Britain alone include some kind of pet; roughly 10m of those are dogs while cats make up another 10m. Pets cost time and money, and nowadays bring little in the way of material benefits. But during the 2008 financial crisis, spending on pets remained almost unaffected, which suggests that for most owners pets are not a luxury but an integral and deeply loved part of the family.

Some people are into pets, however, while others simply aren’t interested. Why is this the case? It is highly probable that our desire for the company of animals actually goes back tens of thousands of years and has played an important part in our evolution. If so, then genetics might help explain why a love of animals is something some people just don’t get.

Micro pigs in skirts.
PanyaStudio / Shutterstock.com

The health question

In recent times, much attention has been devoted to the notion that keeping a dog (or possibly a cat) can benefit the owner’s health in multiple ways – reducing the risk of heart disease, combating loneliness, and alleviating depression and the symptoms of depression and dementia.

As I explore in my new book, there are two problems with these claims. First, there are a similar number of studies that suggest that pets have no or even a slight negative impact on health. Second, pet owners don’t live any longer than those who have never entertained the idea of having an animal about the house, which they should if the claims were true. And even if they were real, these supposed health benefits only apply to today’s stressed urbanites, not their hunter-gatherer ancestors, so they cannot be considered as the reason that we began keeping pets in the first place.

Illustration of a Japanese cat cemetery.
Penguin, Author provided

The urge to bring animals into our homes is so widespread that it’s tempting to think of it as a universal feature of human nature, but not all societies have a tradition of pet-keeping. Even in the West there are plenty of people who feel no particular affinity for animals, whether pets or no.

The pet-keeping habit often runs in families: this was once ascribed to children coming to imitate their parents’ lifestyles when they leave home, but recent research has suggested that it also has a genetic basis. Some people, whatever their upbringing, seem predisposed to seek out the company of animals, others less so.

So the genes that promote pet-keeping may be unique to humans, but they are not universal, suggesting that in the past some societies or individuals – but not all – thrived due to an instinctive rapport with animals.

Pet lovers of the future.
Conrado/Shutterstock.com

Pet DNA

The DNA of today’s domesticated animals reveals that each species separated from its wild counterpart between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, in the late Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods. Yes, this was also when we started breeding livestock. But it is not easy to see how this could have been achieved if those first dogs, cats, cattle and pigs were treated as mere commodities.

If this were so, the technologies available would have been inadequate to prevent unwanted interbreeding of domestic and wild stock, which in the early stages would have had ready access to one another, endlessly diluting the genes for “tameness” and thus slowing further domestication to a crawl – or even reversing it. Also, periods of famine would also have encouraged the slaughter of the breeding stock, locally wiping out the “tame” genes entirely.

But if at least some of these early domestic animals had been treated as pets, physical containment within human habitations would have prevented wild males from having their way with domesticated females; special social status, as afforded to some extant hunter-gatherer pets, would have inhibited their consumption as food. Kept isolated in these ways, the new semi-domesticated animals would have been able to evolve away from their ancestors’ wild ways, and become the pliable beasts we know today.

The pug – a long way removed from its ancestors.
Penguin, Author provided

The very same genes which today predispose some people to take on their first cat or dog would have spread among those early farmers. Groups which included people with empathy for animals and an understanding of animal husbandry would have flourished at the expense of those without, who would have had to continue to rely on hunting to obtain meat. Why doesn’t everyone feel the same way? Probably because at some point in history the alternative strategies of stealing domestic animals or enslaving their human carers became viable.

There’s a final twist to this story: recent studies have shown that affection for pets goes hand-in-hand with concern for the natural world. It seems that people can be roughly divided into those that feel little affinity for animals or the environment, and those who are predisposed to delight in both, adopting pet-keeping as one of the few available outlets in today’s urbanised society.

The ConversationAs such, pets may help us to reconnect with the world of nature from which we evolved.

John Bradshaw, Visiting Fellow in Anthrozoology, University of Bristol

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The science behind… coffee!

Brewing a great cup of coffee depends on chemistry and physics

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What can you do to ensure a more perfect brew?
Chris Hendon, CC BY-ND

Christopher H. Hendon, University of Oregon

Coffee is unique among artisanal beverages in that the brewer plays a significant role in its quality at the point of consumption. In contrast, drinkers buy draft beer and wine as finished products; their only consumer-controlled variable is the temperature at which you drink them.

Why is it that coffee produced by a barista at a cafe always tastes different than the same beans brewed at home?

It may be down to their years of training, but more likely it’s their ability to harness the principles of chemistry and physics. I am a materials chemist by day, and many of the physical considerations I apply to other solids apply here. The variables of temperature, water chemistry, particle size distribution, ratio of water to coffee, time and, perhaps most importantly, the quality of the green coffee all play crucial roles in producing a tasty cup. It’s how we control these variables that allows for that cup to be reproducible.

How strong a cup of joe?

Besides the psychological and environmental contributions to why a barista-prepared cup of coffee tastes so good in the cafe, we need to consider the brew method itself.

Science helps optimize the coffee.
Chris Hendon, CC BY-ND

We humans seem to like drinks that contain coffee constituents (organic acids, Maillard products, esters and heterocycles, to name a few) at 1.2 to 1.5 percent by mass (as in filter coffee), and also favor drinks containing 8 to 10 percent by mass (as in espresso). Concentrations outside of these ranges are challenging to execute. There are a limited number of technologies that achieve 8 to 10 percent concentrations, the espresso machine being the most familiar.

There are many ways, though, to achieve a drink containing 1.2 to 1.5 percent coffee. A pour-over, Turkish, Arabic, Aeropress, French press, siphon or batch brew (that is, regular drip) apparatus – each produces coffee that tastes good around these concentrations. These brew methods also boast an advantage over their espresso counterpart: They are cheap. An espresso machine can produce a beverage of this concentration: the Americano, which is just an espresso shot diluted with water to the concentration of filter coffee.

All of these methods result in roughly the same amount of coffee in the cup. So why can they taste so different?

When coffee meets water

There are two families of brewing device within the low-concentration methods – those that fully immerse the coffee in the brew water and those that flow the water through the coffee bed.

From a physical perspective, the major difference is that the temperature of the coffee particulates is higher in the full immersion system. The slowest part of coffee extraction is not the rate at which compounds dissolve from the particulate surface. Rather, it’s the speed at which coffee flavor moves through the solid particle to the water-coffee interface, and this speed is increased with temperature.

The Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel provides a way to name various tastes within the beverage.
Specialty Coffee Association of America, CC BY-NC-ND

A higher particulate temperature means that more of the tasty compounds trapped within the coffee particulates will be extracted. But higher temperature also lets more of the unwanted compounds dissolve in the water, too. The Specialty Coffee Association presents a flavor wheel to help us talk about these flavors – from green/vegetative or papery/musty through to brown sugar or dried fruit.

Pour-overs and other flow-through systems are more complex. Unlike full immersion methods where time is controlled, flow-through brew times depend on the grind size since the grounds control the flow rate.

The water-to-coffee ratio matters, too, in the brew time. Simply grinding more fine to increase extraction invariably changes the brew time, as the water seeps more slowly through finer grounds. One can increase the water-to-coffee ratio by using less coffee, but as the mass of coffee is reduced, the brew time also decreases. Optimization of filter coffee brewing is hence multidimensional and more tricky than full immersion methods.

What do they know that we don’t?
Redd Angelo on Unsplash, CC BY

Other variables to try to control

Even if you can optimize your brew method and apparatus to precisely mimic your favorite barista, there is still a near-certain chance that your home brew will taste different from the cafe’s. There are three subtleties that have tremendous impact on the coffee quality: water chemistry, particle size distribution produced by the grinder and coffee freshness.

First, water chemistry: Given coffee is an acidic beverage, the acidity of your brew water can have a big effect. Brew water containing low levels of both calcium ions and bicarbonate (HCO₃⁻) – that is, soft water – will result in a highly acidic cup, sometimes described as sour. Brew water containing high levels of HCO₃⁻ – typically, hard water – will produce a chalky cup, as the bicarbonate has neutralized most of the flavorsome acids in the coffee.

Ideally we want to brew coffee with water containing chemistry somewhere in the middle. But there’s a good chance you don’t know the bicarbonate concentration in your own tap water, and a small change makes a big difference. To taste the impact, try brewing coffee with Evian – one of the highest bicarbonate concentration bottled waters, at 360 mg/L.

The particle size distribution your grinder produces is critical, too.

Every coffee enthusiast will rightly tell you that blade grinders are disfavored because they produce a seemingly random particle size distribution; there can be both powder and essentially whole coffee beans coexisting. The alternative, a burr grinder, features two pieces of metal with teeth that cut the coffee into progressively smaller pieces. They allow ground particulates through an aperture only once they are small enough.

Looking for a more even grind.
Aaron Itzerott on Unsplash, CC BY

There is contention over how to optimize grind settings when using a burr grinder, though. One school of thought supports grinding the coffee as fine as possible to maximize the surface area, which lets you extract the most delicious flavors in higher concentrations. The rival school advocates grinding as coarse as possible to minimize the production of fine particles that impart negative flavors. Perhaps the most useful advice here is to determine what you like best based on your taste preference.

Finally, the freshness of the coffee itself is crucial. Roasted coffee contains a significant amount of CO₂ and other volatiles trapped within the solid coffee matrix: Over time these gaseous organic molecules will escape the bean. Fewer volatiles means a less flavorful cup of coffee. Most cafes will not serve coffee more than four weeks out from the roast date, emphasizing the importance of using freshly roasted beans.

One can mitigate the rate of staling by cooling the coffee (as described by the Arrhenius equation). While you shouldn’t chill your coffee in an open vessel (unless you want fish finger brews), storing coffee in an airtight container in the freezer will significantly prolong freshness.

The ConversationSo don’t feel bad that your carefully brewed cup of coffee at home never stacks up to what you buy at the café. There are a lot of variables – scientific and otherwise – that must be wrangled to produce a single superlative cup. Take comfort that most of these variables are not optimized by some mathematical algorithm, but rather by somebody’s tongue. What’s most important is that your coffee tastes good to you… brew after brew.

Christopher H. Hendon, Assistant Professor of Computational Materials and Chemistry, University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wasp research dilemmas

We faced abuse for asking people to kill wasps for science – here’s why it was worthwhile

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shutterstock.

Adam Hart, University of Gloucestershire and Seirian Sumner, UCL

When we launched a citizen science project earlier this year, we didn’t expect to get in so much trouble.

We wanted to public to help us find out more about social wasps (the kind that bother us at picnics and BBQs) and so we launched the Big Wasp Survey. Social wasps are essential pest-controllers and pollinators, but some species are declining while others are expanding their populations and range. Without basic data on the abundance and distribution of these wasps, we can’t conserve (or control) them.

Yet we know relatively little about social wasps in Britain. So we asked the public to set out beer-filled traps for a short period of time when mostly old and soon-to-die worker wasps would be active. This approach would provide essential data that we need to manage social wasp populations. But beer traps kill wasps, and that seemed to upset a lot of people.

Asking the public to kill wasps in the name of science led to high–profile national media condemnation. But our negative experiences were relatively mild – some scientists studying invertebrates have been subjected to torrents of social media abuse for “killing in the name of science”.

It seems our study played into an old stereotype of an entomologist as a Victorian-style net-wielding naturalist, capturing and killing six-legged victims that are then pinned and banished to dusty drawers. More a lethal stamp-collector than a scientist.

Outdated stereotype.
Shutterstock

The reality is modern entomologists are involved in science that underpins pressing societal and environmental issues including medicine, genetics, ecology and climate change. Unfortunately, this research still relies on killing insects, a practice accepted as a necessary evil by scientists but easily criticised by others, as we found.

There are three main reasons why entomologists sometimes have to kill what they study. First, many insects can only be identified by microscopic examination, for example by the shape of their genitalia. A photograph simply isn’t enough for this. We need a dead specimen.

Second, we often need a lethal approach to catching insects, using techniques such as pan traps (open pans of water) or pitfall traps (sunken traps filled with fluid to kill and preserve insects that fall in). Otherwise it’s much too difficult to catch them.

It’s a trap!
Shutterstock

Finally, scientists have learnt a great deal about some important and fundamental aspects of biology and medicine by killing insects. Data on the effects of agriculture, habitat change, the effects of pollution, predator-prey dynamics, and the ecological effects of climate change come directly from studies that leave dead insects in their wake.

The field of genetics would also be nowhere without the fruit fly, which have died in their billions to provide DNA samples in our quest to unravel the fundamental mechanisms of life. Likewise, the American cockroach, the Indian cricket and the mosquito have all died to develop our understanding of nervous systems, ageing, development and disease.

In the case of the Big Wasp Survey, relying on untrained citizen scientists to observe wasps without killing them wasn’t an option. We needed a standard method that everyone could follow and it isn’t possible to reliably observe and count individuals without trapping them. Although there are only eight common species of social wasp in the UK, it’s surprisingly difficult to identify them from living specimens. Without proper wasp identification, our study would be scientifically obsolete.

If we can collect a colony’s worth of wasps we can generate fundamental science to help manage and conserve these important insects. But, again, this would be completely impossible without the actual (dead) specimens for us to accurately identify and use to find out which species are where. We also couldn’t develop any additional research, such as looking at how wasp colour varies in different places, which might reflect pollution levels.

Reduce, refine, replace

Biological research on vertebrate animals (such as fish, mammals and birds) is underpinned by the environmental principle of the Three Rs (reduce, refine, replace). Insect scientists also adopt this principle where they can.

For example, you can use statistical maths to work out the minimum number of individuals (or samples) required to test a particular theory. Improved photography can let us identify some insects such as butterflies without killing them. We can even now use non-lethal methods to take minute quantities of DNA from some insects, allowing us to identify them without killing them.

Every day, billions of insects die splattered on vehicles, poisoned by insecticides or casually swatted for no scientific benefit. In contrast, the tiny number killed by entomologists help us to understand, among many other things, genetics, disease and ecology. The Big Wasp Survey has already collected data from several thousand locations across the UK, engaged millions of people with the value of social wasps and sparked off a number of potential new scientific collaborations with ecologists across Europe.

The ConversationEntomologists have long been troubled by the need to kill insects, and are seeking ways to reduce, refine and replace fatal sampling and identification methods. In the meantime, and in the face of censure and condemnation from those that do not understand the science, entomologists will have to continue to kill insects to make meaningful scientific advances.

Adam Hart, Professor of Science Communication, University of Gloucestershire and Seirian Sumner, Reader in Behavioural Ecology, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Who can you be quiet with?

I used to be known as a loud chatterbox. Well, maybe not everyone everywhere saw me that way, but certainly many people saw me that way when I was around 20, 22.

Many people also expected me to have oak furniture in those days while in reality, I had a tech interior. The industrial look. White and steel, with a touch of burgundy.

Yes, I am energetic by nature – but one of the reasons why I became a loud chatterbox was that when I was a teenager, people kept saying things like “Why are you so quiet? Is something the matter?” (as if I would tell them, ha ha).

I’d be cheerful at 7 in the morning in the days when that was when my morning shifts started. Why? Because it beat giving in to feeling tired and resenting having to be at work at that early hour. Big time. “How can you be so cheerful and energetic this early in the day?” It was simply a choice I made, but I was still too young to realize that and I probably never provided a useful useful answer.

Chances are that I merely shrugged in response.

I drank tons and tons of coffee in those days, probably a minimum of 8 cups per day, perhaps even twice as many. The early shifts usually messed up my digestion and made me so tired that I’d often collapse on the bed the minute I got home. I wasn’t feeling any more positive about those early shifts than the people around me. In fact, I sometimes found the early public transport trips to work really depressing, but I refused to let despair and grouchiness grab hold of me.

Except that one time when I had a brief burnout that made me snap at people, and I needed to recharge the battery. It took me two weeks. Prolonged lack of sleep and constant changes in working hours can wear you out. I had simply gotten completely exhausted and was no longer able to put up the brave face, no longer able make the choice to be cheerful. But I digress.

I grew up near woods and moors. I often hung out there for hours, usually taking the family dog along, being anything but a loud chatterbox.

Becoming a loud chatterbox got people to shut up about me being too quiet.

I am not a real introvert, but I am not a real extrovert either. I am somewhere in between. I love to entertain, and I miss the hustle and bustle of big cities when I am away from them, but I want the noisy parts of life to be balanced by a lot of quiet.

That was really important to me when I had jobs that required me to talk all day. The one with the shifts that started at 7 in the morning was one of them, and that too was part of the explanation for my attitude. You can’t be grouchy to hotel guests at 7 in the morning. Well, you can, of course, but I preferred not to. That’s what working in hospitality is about. In fact, behind my back, management held me up as an example to some of my colleagues, one of them told me. “Why can’t you be more like her? She’s always smiling, always cheerful.”

(Couldn’t that manager have said something to me about that too? Would have been nice.)

In those days, after my relocation from a room in Baarn in an often noisy environment (and with a long commute to work) to a flat in Amsterdam, not too far from Theater Carré, I relished that I was able to come home to peace and serenity, not having to talk and not being bombarded with more chatter after my shifts.

I also remember a time when I was working two jobs and used the metro ride in between as my little oasis of quiet during which I recharged the battery. Oh, how dismayed I was when very loud and insistent buskers burst into the mini meditations during which I made my mind go blank or simply gave in to daydreams. They wanted a response. They insisted. Please gimme some money or look at me and say that you won’t. Yes, I understand that. Fortunately, they’d usually just work the car – one person playing, the other one asking everyone for money – and then move on to the next one.

Living in a big city is often much quieter than a lot of people think. If you wander around, you may even discover delightful oases of silence that you never knew existed and at night, most streets become quiet enough. On the other hand, I like the nice fuzzy feeling of having lots of people living around me. There is just some cosiness to it that I can’t explain to anyone who prefers to live anywhere but in cities.

When they’re at peace, that is. Ugly protests, fights and clashes usually make me want to take a detour, and those too happen in cities. Huge masses of people celebrating a football win (soccer) aren’t my cup of tea either.

When I happen to live very close to a natural shoreline, I can sit quietly watching the waves for hours, all by myself. But I haven’t done that in years.

People I can be completely quiet around, and with, are rare, though. They’re true treasures. The quiet seems to mean we’re in sync, and it almost never happens with complete strangers. When it does, it is with one of those people who instantly feel as if you’ve known them your entire life.

I remember driving to the Dutch city of Maastricht with one of my sisters, many years ago, and both of us being forced to shut up because every time one of us said something, that was exactly what the other one had been thinking. So we gave in, stopped talking and enjoyed the serenity, the harmony. We were at peace.

Who are you at peace with?

The many looks of me

They’re only looks, but people attribute way too much importance to them. It’s a fascinating – and also disappointing – topic, though, the way we are all influenced by outward appearances.

Look at these. Most of these photos are recent (2009-2017); only four are older (three from the 1990s and one from 2003). In one of these photos, I had just cried. Can you spot it?  Most people like this photo a lot, though. There is one other photo that I took 12 hours earlier. A lot of people like that one too. When you’re done looking, go read the previous post!

Now go read the previous post!

 

What you look like matters – but should it?

What our faces can tell other people about the state of our health

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Glowing with health.
Shutterstock/Luba V Nel

Alex Jones, Swansea University

Our facial appearance influences how we feel about ourselves – and other people’s faces influence who we choose to approach or avoid and who we’d like to form romantic relationships with. At a glance, a face reveals a wealth of information about how we are feeling, or the kinds of behaviours we might be about to engage in – but what does it say about us when we aren’t expressing emotion? As it turns out, it’s more than you could imagine.

Over the past few years I’ve learned how aspects of our personality are present in our faces, how symptoms of depression cause faces to appear less socially desirable, and how wearing make-up changes perceptions of social traits – but the most important signals that our faces can give are of health.

The face is a biological billboard and we are expert readers, always interested in what it has to say. We are attracted to healthy-looking faces and avoid those who are unhealthy –- think of the sensation you might have had the last time you were on the train or a bus near someone who looked unwell – but it is the question of what makes a face look “healthy” in our eyes that is the most intriguing.

There are many historical examples of people altering their facial appearance to appear healthier. Things like the influence of body mass index (BMI) on face shape, or the smoothness of skin texture play a role in how healthy we are viewed to be, but it is actually facial colouration that seems to be the most important.

The lighter areas show where the skin of healthier looking faces are brighter (left), redder (middle), and yellower (right).

Early research has identified that faces with lighter, redder, and yellower skin were seen as the healthiest – and this was consistent across all ethnicities. There also seemed to be relevant biological processes associated with these colours: for example, lighter skin is associated with the ability to absorb more vitamin D. Greater redness, particularly when from oxygenated blood, may indicate more efficient circulation and blood supply to the skin.

But it is yellowness that seems to be particularly relevant for health, and for good reason: people with yellower skin tend to have healthier diets, rich in fruit and vegetables. The organic pigments in these foods, known as carotenoids, are hugely beneficial for health, and seem to be responsible for producing that desirable healthy glow. Intriguingly, tanning also increases skin yellowness and makes faces appear healthier, but the yellowness conferred by carotenoids (as a result, perhaps, of a healthy diet) is preferred to the yellowness brought about by tanning.

Healthy glow

The secret to a healthy appearance isn’t as simple as eating more fruit and vegetables, however, it’s a bit more complicated than that – and healthy face colouration may be more nuanced than previously thought. Skin conditions such as dark circles under the eyes or rosacea, a condition which causes the skin to flush and redden, cause great concern to sufferers – Google searches of treatments or remedies return millions of hits. Both these conditions are also localised to areas of the face, which suggests colours in certain areas of faces could be relevant for looking healthy. Might these patterns of colour in faces, rather than the colour of the entirety of facial skin, be more relevant for looking healthy?

To answer this questions, we asked observers to rate faces for how healthy they thought they were, and calculated the colour differences between faces seen as very healthy and very unhealthy. We used Caucasian faces for the comparison, but there is some evidence that suggests how the overall skin colours of yellowness, redness, and lightness are seen as healthy in non-Caucasian faces too: it seems that everyone, regardless of race, finds these tones to be healthy.

Our research found that while yellowness across the whole face was a contributor to looking healthy, confirming earlier findings, lighter skin under the eyes and redder skin on the cheeks seemed to play larger roles. That colouration, in those areas, seemed to account for a lot more variation in health ratings than skin yellowness.

We subtly changed photographed faces to have lighter under-eye skin and redder cheeks – and also the reverse effect: darker under-eye skin and greener cheeks. Asking people to pick which they found the healthiest revealed a strong preference for the former pattern.

One a picture of health, the other, not so much – which do you think looks healthier?

Interestingly, when we reversed the location of the colouration – lighter cheeks and redder under-eyes or darker cheeks and greener under-eyes – there was no clear preference. Given the wealth of research showing lighter skin and redder skin across the whole face is perceived as healthier this result was surprising. What this work suggests is that lightness and redness in our facial skin is seen as healthy, but only when it is under the eyes or in the cheeks, respectively.

Red cheeks are healthy, red eyes not – do you think one looks healthier than the other?

In a final study, I looked at which facial area and colour was seen as the healthiest. While having redder cheeks and light skin under the eyes came out as looking equally healthy, dark skin under the eyes made people think the faces looked quite unhealthy, even more so than sickly-looking greener cheeks.

The ConversationIt is no surprise that cosmetic products such as concealer and blusher are so popular, since they increase a healthy looking colouration in the areas that matter the most to health perception – but nothing could ever beat a good night’s sleep and regular exercise.

Alex Jones, Lecturer, Swansea University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The tomato growers

Once there were two tomato growers. One was called James and the other one Gordon.

Gordon was very disappointed with his tomatoes. Every day, he would go to them and water them and check how much they had grown. Sadly, his tomatoes stayed pitifully small. He would twist them and squeeze them to feel if they were at least ripening a little bit, and accidentally dislodge one from the vine on occasion. It would drop to the ground and rot away.

Gordon felt something had to be done. So he purchased the best fertilizer he could find, with the right amount of potassium and all the other nutrients a tomato could wish for, and placed it in front of his tomatoes. He told them: “If you grow really really well, I will give you this fertilizer as a reward. This shall be your motivation.” It seemed to have no effect on the tomatoes. If anything, they were only growing at an even slower pace.

Gordon became even more dissatisfied with his tomatoes and started withholding water to see if that would convince the tomatoes to grow. But all that happened was that the tomato plants became infested with pests and he had to spray them with pesticides. (“Damn, that stuff is expensive,” Gordon grumbled.) It was too late. The tomato plants turned yellow and started dying. Gordon got very frustrated and kicked at the plants.

James, on the other hand, adored his tomatoes. He loved them! Every day, he went to them, and removed all those little sprouts from the armpits of the tomato plants and enjoyed that typical spicy tomato smell. That way, all the nutrition went to the little tomato fruits, not into making sprouts. He watered them every day, and made sure the quantity of water was just so.

He took care that they got the right amount of nice warm sunshine and on days without sunshine, he would provide artificial sunshine. He also gave them the right amount of fertilizer whenever they needed it. His tomatoes became famous. Everyone admired them. They were so beautiful, so healthy! His tomatoes seemed to be shining with joy. It was almost as if they loved James back and wanted to make him really really happy.

Gordon commented that life just is not fair and that there is nothing you can do about it and also that James had started growing his tomatoes a year earlier, hadn’t he, and that there were no pests at James’s location, and probably also a lot more sunshine. He knew it! Life ain’t fair! And he had never liked James much anyway.

James was not aware of Gordon’s grumblings at all. He found more than enough joy in caring for his tomatoes.


The above is from my e-book FCQ. It’s available from Amazon and other retailers.

Why we have a problem with plastic

Because we haven’t always asked the right questions in the past. That’s why I argue for caution in many bioethics scenarios (such as the use of CRISPR).

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Why we have a problem with narcissism

When you search the internet on narcissistic personality disorder, you will run into lots of angry comments from people who have been hurt (“burned”) by one or more persons with the disorder. These persons are often charming and anything but boring. That is far from the only reason why persons can end up with narcissists in their lives, however, and no one is to blame for ending up in such a situation.

After a while, it becomes obvious that there is another side to persons who have the disorder. And that is when the problems start.

Because the rest of us, we want to change these persons. We want them to “behave”. We want them to learn. And that is simply not possible. Many also want justification for some of the less  nice things they do (and probably aren’t able to find it).

It’s worse than accusing a person who grew up in Japan of being guilty of speaking Japanese and wanting them to speak English instantly because a person who speaks Japanese can start learning English. But a narcissist can’t do that (although some narcissists are able to benefit from therapy).

Essentially, what we do is like blaming the colour red for being red, the sea for being the sea, a cloud for being a cloud, or blaming a heap of rocks for being a heap of rocks, or bricks.

Again, I am not trying to put the blame on people, merely trying to show the futility of wanting to change a narcissist.

The heap of bricks usually gets angry and/or confused, feels hurt and starts throwing bricks.

He or she is a perfect heap of bricks but we want them to be neat, well-organized stacks of bricks. It is just not what they are.

By the way, I am not trying to suggest that a stack of bricks is better than a heap of bricks or the other way around.

One is not better than the other. Both exist. That’s the way it is.

In many cases, something went wrong for the person with narcissistic personality disorder in early childhood when his or her personality was being formed. If you see a normal personality as a well-organized stack of bricks, well, then maybe someone pulled one of the lower bricks out of the stack, resulting in a perfect heap of bricks. (That can be called trauma in psychology, or injury, which can be confusing.)

Some people who got hurt by a narcissist may get angry when they read what I wrote above, and I think I understand that. To them it may feel as if I am saying that it is okay that they got hurt. Or that I am somehow “justifying” what narcissists do and are. (They may also think that I have never lost anything in my life and aren’t familiar with the havoc narcissists can wreak.)

That is not at all what I am trying to say, or do.

You cannot change a narcissist.

That is where a lot of the problems come from, us wanting to fix them, heal them, make them whole, change them, correct them, make them more like us, make them behave better, make them see the truth, make them grow up, be more mature, less this, more that and so on.

But – generally speaking -you can only avoid the clashes – or make them less severe – if a) you have some understanding of what narcissistic personality disorder is like and b) if you are able to recognize the disorder in someone else early enough. The latter is very hard, in my experience.

I used to think that narcissists are people who spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. I based that on some Greek mythology I was taught about in high school. Clearly, I was clueless.

In the course of my life, I have come across a few persons with the disorder without having an idea of what was going on. Sometimes, it was perfectly fine. At other times, the situation was much more complicated.

I think I’ve just recognized another one in my geographical vicinity. Hopefully, this means that from now on, I’ll be able to avoid clashes with that person. In hindsight, I’ve been really stupid in my dealings with that person so far, in fact. In hindsight, why didn’t I see it? In hindsight, it is so blatantly obvious! In hindsight, it also taught me a tough lesson about myself. To others, my “helpfulness” can be an arrogant declaration of their incapability (and that can trigger a lot of anger in some people, which may not be visible on the surface but can turn into contempt and viciousness, which maybe isn’t so surprising if you think about it a bit more).

Will I be able to spot this disorder right away in the future? Doubtful! But I will probably recognize it much sooner from now on. So that I can avoid the clashes, spot the games before I get drawn into them, and for instance won’t even begin to give them helpful suggestions when they complain about this or that because that only enrages them as it suggests to them they aren’t perfect.

Reading up on the disorder is not pleasant, for instance because it almost unavoidably makes you wonder if you might have the disorder yourself. And if you’ve had someone with the disorder in your life, chances are that you have adopted some of the person’s behaviour and emotions. Fortunately, that does not make you a narcissist.

But please, stop trying to change narcissists. It’s impossible.

And don’t blame them. They did not choose to be this way. That is not a “justification”. That is  saying things the way they are. A daffodil is a daffodil, a rose a rose and a tulip a tulip. It’s as simple as that. There is no justification, and no blame, for a tulip being a tulip. A tulip is just the way a tulip is.

PS
I suspect that as long as you keep showering a narcissist with positive feedback, things go much better. If you’re a well-balanced person, showering someone else with praise to keep them happy and balanced too does not have to be the end of the world. Is this easy to say? Yes. Is this easy to do? No! But it gets progressively easier.

For me personally, some “problems” started after I read a lot of very negative posts and comments from those who have been burned by narcissists because it led to accusations from me, and some fear. It can be very unsettling to read about how “evil” some people are supposed to be when you have them in your life and have been getting along with them okay. It can make you doubt yourself. The word “evil” is probably used much too quickly in this context. That doesn’t mean that the word never applies. Narcissists can become dangerous, says a clinical psychologist in Australia (see my previous posts), if they experience great internal turmoil as a result of external triggers. Yet another reason to try and understand the disorder better.

 

 

5 tips for empaths

5 key lifestyle changes empaths need to make

  • Be in bed by 10:30
    (Install Twilight or a similar app on your cell phone, tablet, laptop, iPad, smartphone, which is also a good idea for anyone who is not an empath.)
  • Eat breakfast with a lot of protein
  • Moderate your coffee intake
  • Drink enough water
  • Make sure you get enough magnesium

However, “working with a narcissist can also be extremely rewarding and inspiring”

See also this post.

When you start reading up on narcissistic personality disorder, you may find yourself wondering if you have it yourself, which can be unsettling at first. But after those first moments of concern, you will probably very quickly be able to decide that no, it isn’t the case.

You can also start to feel that it is wrong of you, that you are making a mistake or are weak or gullible if you are actually trying to find out how you can get along with a narcissist, for which it is necessary – or at least very helpful – to understand the disorder. (After all, the golden rule is “No contact”, which applies to people who are trying to break out of a close relationship.)

However, working with a narcissist can also be extremely rewarding and inspiring because of their nearly superhuman skills for getting things done — when they want it and how they want it.

From an article in Entrepreneur: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/241355

Narcissists are part of society so you will run into them.

  • One could become that neighbor from hell who seemed so nice when he or she moved in if you don’t recognize the manipulative disorder hence don’t know how to deal with it.
  • One can turn up as your new boss or a new colleague at the desk next to yours.
  • If you’re self-employed, that strange client with inflated ideas about the importance of his work who suggests that if it becomes known you are working for him, burglary is likely and who suddenly starts calling you names for no reason at all may be one too. A little bit of extra knowledge may enable you to avoid the energy-draining conflict situations narcissists are famous for. That benefits everyone in the situation.

When you look into narcissistic personality disorder (or similar disorders), you may end up developing much greater insight into yourself. What your weaknesses are, which are usually strengths at the same time. You may discover a few highly surprising ones. That can cause you to stand much firmer.

You also have to decide for yourself what you need in life, what you want or like, what you are willing to accept (put up with) and where you absolutely put your foot down and draw the line if you want to be able to get along well with narcissists.

Narcissistic personality disorder explained – very good!

The “very good” refers to the videos below.

I talked about this disorder in relation to Donald Trump, before. Please, do remember that persons with narcissistic personality disorder DID NOT CHOOSE to have this disorder. In most cases, something happened in early childhood while the person’s personality was being formed. (There is a video below about that.)

It’s my interest in bioethics in combination with a zen tinge of acceptance, among other things (including two personal situations), that is causing me to look deeper into particularly these personality disorders.

Bioethicist Julian Savulescu, for instance, advocates for removing essentially all disorders and diseases from the human gene pool, even when we can do a lot to prevent certain conditions or keep them under control (think asthma and air quality). A lot of what he wants is like demolishing homes to prevent that they ever burn down. He also is highly critical with regard to various personality disorders.

If you are able to be compassionate and keep in mind that the line between compassion and stupidity is very thin, you may find that dealing with a narcissist becomes much easier. Also, not everyone with narcissistic personality disorder has the affliction to the same degree or in the same way.

It is, for instance, possible to be friends with someone with narcissistic personality disorder. You have to be very steady on your feet and recognize every instance you’re being played so that you can stop each manipulative game before it starts (such as being told that you’re wrong, that red is black and then when you agree it’s black, being told it’s red).

Recognize the toddler part in narcissists when they behave like toddlers. Respond the way you would respond to a toddler. (Calmly.)

You also have to be aware of what may be happening behind your back (lies that are being told about you) and realize that if you try to talk to third parties about the disorder or about what is going on, YOU will sound like the “crazy” and “jealous” one. Can you handle that?

I am not recommending that we all become friends with narcissists, but they are a part of human diversity so we run into them whether we like it or not. Being able to deal with them well is better for everyone.

You can often choose how you respond emotionally to all sorts of occurrences and being able to choose how you respond can make a great difference. Often, you can either choose to get upset and feel victimized or shrug, smile and calmly carry on with whatever you were doing (or walk away). Understanding more about narcissistic personality disorder can facilitate this ability to choose your own responses.

The upside? Narcissists may all have a great sense of humor and no one can ever accuse them of being boring. Sometimes, you can actually learn from them, or from having encountered them.

The downside? They may have ruined you (your life) completely before you even know what hit you. Taking the zen approach of mentally letting go of what you lost and acceptance can help you deal with it and enable you to stay “whole” (but that is hard to explain without sounding shallow or even flippant or, worse, as an encouragement for accepting abuse).

Video 1: How to understand people who irritate or upset you

Video 2: Understanding the mind of a narcissist

Video 3: The emotion at the heart of narcissism

Video 4: The childhood origins of narcissism

Video 5: 5 key strategies for dealing with narcissists

Video 6: How the narcissist destroys your physical health

Video 7: 5 destructive fantasies empaths have after the narcissist has left.
(This is a video about lingering beliefs or ideas some people have after the breakup of a relationship with a narcissist.)

Video 8: The hidden emotion that makes empaths vulnerable to narcissists

Video 9: 7 traits of Narcissistic Abuse Victim Syndrome

Also, this happens when you ignore a narcissist, apparently:

Knowing how manipulation works is helpful too.

Below is an example of a behavior that narcissistic personality disorder can also result in, apparently. (Notice that no one seems to have realized yet that hackers can also have narcissistic personality disorder.) I am not sure yet how that comes about. Perhaps from the realization that in real life, relationships are too hard for someone with such a personality disorder?

I post the following from the work of Dr Lorraine Sheridan.

Typology 4: Sadistic stalking (12.9%)

Characteristics

· victim is an obsessive target of the offender, and who’s life is seen as quarry and prey (incremental orientation)
· victim selection criteria is primarily rooted in the victim being:

(i) someone worthy of spoiling, i.e. someone who is perceived by the stalker at the commencement as being: – happy – ‘good’ – stable – content and
(ii) lacking in the victim’s perception any just rationale as to why she was targeted

· initial low level acquaintance

· apparently benign initially but unlike infatuation harassment the means of intervention tend to have negative orientation designed to disconcert, unnerve, and ergo take power away from the victim

– notes left in victim’s locked car in order to unsettle target (cf. billet-doux of infatuated harassment)
– subtle evidence being left of having been in contact with the victim’s personal items e.g. rifled underwear drawer, re-ordering/removal of private papers, cigarette ends left in ash trays, toilet having been used etc.
– ‘helping’ mend victims car that stalker had previously disabled · thereafter progressive escalation of control over all aspects (i.e. social, historical, professional, financial, physical) of the victim’s life

· offender gratification is rooted in the desire to extract evidence of the victim’s powerlessness with inverse implications for his power => sadism
· additional implication => self-perpetuating in desire to hone down relentlessly on individual victim(s)
· emotional coldness, deliberateness and psychopathy (cf. the heated nature of ex-partner harassment)
· tended to have a history of stalking behaviour and the controlling of others · stalker tended to broaden out targets to family and friends in a bid to isolate the victim and further enhance his control
· communications tended to be a blend of loving and threatening (not hate) designed to de-stabilise and confuse the victim
· threats were either overt (“We’re going to die together”) or subtle (delivery of dead roses)
· stalker could be highly dangerous

– in particular with psychological violence geared to the controlling of the victim with fear, loss of privacy and the curtailment of her social world

· physical violence was also entirely possible

– especially by means which undermine the victim’s confidence in matters normally taken for granted e.g. disabling brake cables, disarming safety equipment, cutting power off

· sexual content of communications was aimed primarily to intimidate through the victim’s humiliation, disgust and general undermining of self-esteem
· the older the offender, the more likely he would have enacted sadistic stalking before and would not be likely to offend after 40 years of age if not engaged in such stalking before
· victim was likely to be re-visited after a seeming hiatus

Case management implications

· should be taken very seriously
· acknowledge from outset that the stalker activity will be very difficult to eradicate
· acknowledge that there is no point whatsoever in appealing to the offender – indeed will exacerbate the problem
· never believe any assurances, alternative versions of events etc. which are given by the offender
· however, record them for use in legal action later
· the victim should be given as much understanding and support as can be made available
· the victim should not be given false or unrealistic assurance or guarantees that s/he will be protected
· the victim should carefully consider relocation. Geographical emphasis being less on distance per se, and more on where the offender is least able to find the victim
· the police should have in mind that the sadistic stalker will be likely to:

(i) carefully construct and calculate their activity to simultaneously minimise the risk of intervention by authorities while retaining maximum impact on victim,
(ii) be almost impervious to intervention since the overcoming of obstacles provides
(iii) new and potent means of demonstrating the victim’s powerlessness (ergo self-perpetuating) and,
(iiii) if jailed will continue both personally and vicariously with the use of a network.

http://www.le.ac.uk/press/ebulletin/archive/speaker_sheridan.html

http://www.le.ac.uk/ebulletin-archive/ebulletin/features/2000-2009/2007/07/nparticle.2007-07-17.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6300291.stm

http://www.le.ac.uk/press/stalkingsurvey.htm

Vegetable biryani

Last week, I saw a guy in India post on Twitter that he was about to make a wonderful jain organic vegetable biryani. I asked him for the recipe as I love a good vegetable biryani but it is hard to come by and I don’t know how to make it. He liked my request, but didn’t give me a recipe.

So I decided to start hunting down recipes for myself so that one day, I’ll be able to make a really delicious one.

So here goes. First off, using organic ingredients makes it relatively eco-friendly and healthier for you. Second, I haven’t actually tried any of these yet.

This is the first one I found, at: https://www.tarladalal.com/Vegetable-Biryani-7553r

Preparation Time: 15 mins. Cooking Time: 40 mins. Total Time: 55 mins Serves 4.

Ingredients

For the rice
3 cups steamed rice
1/2 tsp saffron (kesar) strands
2 tbsp milk
4 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves (phudina)
salt to taste

For the gravy
1 cup boiled mixed vegetables
2 bayleaves (tejpatta)
4 black peppercorns (kalimirch)
4 cloves (laung / lavang)
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp coriander-cumin seeds (dhania-jeera) powder
1/4 tsp asafoetida (hing)
1/4 tsp nutmeg (jaiphal) powder
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
1/2 tsp cornflour mixed with 1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup fresh cream
2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp oil
salt to taste

Method

For the rice
Warm the saffron, add a little water, rub it so the milk becomes yellow and add to the rice.
Mix in the rice, chopped mint leaves and salt and keep aside.

For the gravy
Heat the oil in a pan add bayleaves, peppercorns and cloves to it.Add the chopped tomatoes, chilli powder, coriander-cumin seed powder, asafoetida and nutmeg powder. Cook for a few minutes while mashing continuously till the oil separates from the mixture.
Add the tomato sauce and milk-corn flour mixture. Bring to a boil, add cream and mix well.
Mix the vegetables in the gravy and keep aside.

How to proceed

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a huge vessel make a layer by spreading 1/3 of the rice.
On it spread half the gravy and 1/3 of rice. Layer again with remaining half of the gravy and remaining 1/3 rice. Cover a lid and seal the edges with a dough.
Cook on a slow flame for 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot.

Here is the second biryani, from: http://www.sanjeevkapoor.com/Recipe/Jain-Dum-Biryani.html.

This is not really a vegetable biryani, I suppose, as it contains dairy products, but it sounds delicious and offers you plenty of suggestions for variations.

Prep Time : 26-30 minutes

Cook time : 31-40 minutes

Serves : 4

Level Of Cooking : Easy

Taste : Spicy
Ingredients for Jain Dum Biryani Recipe

Rice soaked and drained 2 cups
Paneer (cottage cheese) cubes ¼ cup
French beans cut into diamonds ¼ cup
Babycorn halved ¼ cup
Green peas boiled 2 tablespoons
Black peppercorns 6-8
Cloves 6-8
Bay leaf 1
Cinnamon 1 inch stick
Caraway seeds (shahi jeera) 1 teaspoon
Green cardamoms 3-4
Ghee 4 tablespoons
Salt to taste
Cashewnuts 4-5
Almonds 4-5
Yogurt 1 cup
Cornflour/ corn starch 1 tablespoon
Turmeric powder ¼ teaspoon
Red chilli powder 1 teaspoon
Biryani masala 1 tablespoon
Garam masala powder 1 teaspoon
Fresh mint leaves 1 tablespoon chopped + for garnishing
Fresh coriander leaves 1 tablespoon chopped + for garnishing
Butter 1 tablespoon
Fresh cream 2 tablespoons
Saffron (kesar) a few strands
dough made of atta to seal

Method
Step 1

Boil water in a deep non-stick pan, add some peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, caraway seeds, green cardamoms, salt and some ghee and bring to a boil. Add rice and cook till the rice is 34th done. Drain and keep aside
Step 2

Heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a non-stick pan, add almonds and cashewnuts and sauté till lightly browned. Set aside.
Step 3
Add remaining peppercorns, cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon, bay leaf to the same pan and sauté for half a minute. Add French beans, babycorn, green peas and sauté till soft.
Step 4
Mix yogurt and cornflour in a small bowl and add this to the pan.
Step 5
Add turmeric powder, red chilli powder, biryani masala, garam masala powder and salt and mix well.
Step 6
Add fried nuts, paneer and mix well.
Step 7
Add mint leaves and coriander leaves to the gravy and mix well. Add some water and rice.
Step 8
Mix butter, fresh cream and saffron in a 2nd bowl.
Step 9
Put the cream mixture to the biryani.
Step 10
Cover the assembled biryani with a tight-fitting lid and seal the edges with atta (dough). Cook for 15-20 minutes.
Step 11
Serve hot garnished with coriander and mint leaves.

Below is a YouTube video and recipe no. 3, from: http://www.sanjeevkapoor.com/Recipe/Vegetable-Biryani-KhaanaKhazana.html

Prep Time : 16-20 minutes

Cook time : 26-30 minutes

Serves : 4

Level Of Cooking : Moderate

Taste : Mild

Ingredients for Vegetable Biryani Recipe

Basmati Rice 1 1/2 cups
Carrots 2 medium
Carrots 1/2 inch pieces 2 medium
French beans 1/2 inch pieces 15
Cauliflower 10-12 florets
Green peas shelled 1 cup
Salt to taste
Green cardamons 8
Black cardamom 1
Cloves 15
Cinnamon 1/2 inch stick
Bay leaf 1
Caraway seeds (shahi jeera) 1/2 teaspoon
Ginger-garlic paste 1 1/2 tablespoons
Turmeric powder 1 teaspoon
Red chilli powder 1 tablespoon
Coriander powder 1 tablespoon
Yogurt 1/2 cup
Rose water 1/2 teaspoon
Saffron (kesar) a few strands
Fresh tomato puree 1 cup
Garam masala powder 1 teaspoon
Fresh coriander leaves chopped 2 tablespoons
Fresh mint leaves chopped 2 tablespoons

Method
Step 1

Boil rice in four cups of salted boiling water with two green cardamoms, one black cardamom, five cloves, half inch stick of cinnamon, until three-fourth done. Drain excess water and set aside. Heat a non-stick pan. Add the remaining green cardamoms, cloves, black cardamom and cinnamon along with bay leaf and caraway seeds and roast. Add onions, carrot, French beans, cauliflower florets and green peas.
Step 2
Sprinkle salt, cover and cook on medium heat for two minutes. Add ginger-garlic paste mixed with a little water and stir. Cover and cook for two minutes. Add turmeric powder, red chilli powder and coriander powder and cook.Whisk yogurt with rose water and saffron. Add a little water or milk and whisk well. Add tomato puree to the vegetables along with half teaspoon garam masala powder and mix well. Simmer for two minutes. Take a microwave safe deep bowl.
Step 3
Arrange a layer of rice at the bottom. Over that arrange half the cooked vegetables followed by another layer of rice. Sprinkle half of the remaining garam masala powder, half the coriander leaves, half the mint leaves and half the yogurt mixture. Arrange the remaining vegetables followed by the remaining rice.Sprinkle the remaining garam masala powder, remaining coriander leaves, remaining mint leaves and the remaining yogurt mixture. Cover with a silicon lid and cook in the microwave oven for four to five minutes on HIGH (100%). Let it stand for five minutes. Serve hot.

Number 4 comes from this page: http://www.jeyashriskitchen.com/2009/09/vegetable-biryani-and-awards.html

Preparation Time: 10 mins | Cooking Time: 20 Minutes | Serves 2-3

INGREDIENTS:
TO GRIND :
GINGER 1 INCH
GREEN CHILLI 2 NO
MINT LEAVES FEW
FENNEL SEEDS 1/2 TSP
CLOVE 2
CARDAMOM 1
TOMATO(optional) 1 SMALL SIZE

VEGETABLES U NEED

CARROT 1 NO
BEANS 100 GMS
GREEN PEAS(FROZEN) 1 FISTFUL
CAULIFLOWER 5-6 FLORETS
CAPSICUM 1/2 NO
AND FINALLY BASMATI RICE 1 CUP.

METHOD:
Wash and soak the basmati rice in 1and 1/2 cups of water for 20 mins.
Grind the ingredients in the table no.1 into a fine paste. Cut the onions(optional) and capsicum into long thin slices.
In a kadai , put 2 tsp of oil and saute the capsicum till it emits a nice aroma and keep it separately Then add the cauliflower florets and saute by adding little salt till it cooks and gives a golden brown color This will take 7-10 mins. Keep this also separately.
Then again put a tsp of oil and add the thinly sliced onions to it and saute till golden brown . Now add the masala paste. Fry till the raw smell gets rid off.
Cut all the veggies, except peas ,into cubes and add it to the paste.
Let it gets nicely coated with the veggies.
Now add the rice keeping the water aside. Fry for 2 more mins. Then transfer everything to a rice cooker or a pressure cooker and add the water.
Add salt and a tsp of oil.
If using pressure cooker cook till 1 whistles and simmer it for 10 minutes . Finally add the capsicum and cauliflower.

Serve hot with onion raitha or any other raita of ur choice.

Finally, number 5 which comes from: http://pratibhajain.org/vegetable-biryani-vegetarian/

Ingredients for Vegetable Biryani:

Basmati rice – 1 kg
Oil – 300 ml
Cinnamon – 2 (1-inch pieces)
Cloves – 4
Cardamom – 2
Onions – 250 gms
Ginger – 100 gms
Garlic – 100 gms
Potatoes – 200 gms
Carrots – 250 gms
Beans – 100 gms
Fresh peas – 100 gms, shelled
Tomatoes – 300 gms
Coriander leaves – ½ bunch
Mint leaves – ¼ bunch
Green chillies – 2-4, stem removed
Fresh yogurt – ½ cup
Red chilli powder – 2 heaped teaspoons
Salt – to taste

Method:

1. Wash the rice and soak for half-an-hour in 1.5 litres of water. 2. Wash all the vegetables. Slice the onions thinly. Chop the potatoes, carrots, beans and tomatoes into medium-sized pieces. Peel and grind the ginger and garlic into a fine paste. Chop the coriander and mint leaves finely.
3. Heat the oil in a wok and add the cinnamon, cloves and cardamoms.
4. Lower the flame to medium heat, add the onions and sauté until they turn translucent.
5. Add the ginger-garlic paste and sauté for 4-5 minutes until the aroma rises.
6. Add all the vegetables including the tomatoes, coriander and mint leaves. Saute for 2-3 minutes.
7. Add the green chillies, yogurt, chilli powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Allow to cook until the potatoes are tender (but not overcooked).
8. Now transfer the cooked gravy into a rice cooker or pressure cooker.
9. Add the soaked rice along with the water and add some more salt, as required. If the gravy does not have any liquid in it, you may need to add another half-a-litre of water.
10. Allow to cook until the water has evaporated and each grain of rice is cooked. In the pressure cooker, you can cook for up to 2 whistles. Take care not to overcook since each grain of the rice must be separate.

Serve hot with any raita of your choice.

Enjoy!

When your husband commits suicide

Last week, I spoke with a woman whose husband committed suicide in 2010. Doesn’t your heart just break when you read those words? Her husband committed suicide. Few things are more dreadful than that. I can imagine the turmoil that must have caused in her at the time.

And then again, I guess I can’t because it isn’t something I have ever gone through.

I thought she would be in a much better place by now than she was at the time, when she seemed to be blindly lashing out in pain at anyone who reached out to her to comfort her. Understandably!

To my initial dismay, I noticed that she seems to have decided that her life is now ruined forever, by contrast.

That is more or less what she said, literally.

If she has really decided that her life is ruined forever, then that is what the rest of her life will be like. That idea makes your heart break too, doesn’t it?

It may well be that all she actually meant is that she is still mourning, still busy getting back on her feet.

Nobody gets to decide how long someone else’s mourning process will take. To mourn means to heal.

Every person is the expert on his or her life and on what he or she needs. We cannot decide that for someone else.

Well, at least, very rarely. Exceptions that I can think of is children, and persons who are ill or injured and really do need someone else’s care. You can’t make decisions for yourself when you’re unconscious, for example.

But I noticed something intriguing.

Noticing the anguish that is still present in this woman induced a serenity in me, a calm, some kind of grounding, and from that place some kind of very tentative and gentle reaching out, a passive one, more in the sense of a lack of doing anything than in the sense of actually doing something. Maybe I was sending her unspoken positive thoughts. Or feelings, rather.

This serenity took me by surprise. What did it mean? (Afterthought: That there weren’t any actual real feelings on the other side, merely empty drama intended to get an emotional response from me, perhaps?)

Also, I could have pointed out to her that while this happened to her, other things happened to me, to create a different perspective for her experiences. I didn’t. I knew that that was the last thing she needed to hear.

How did I know that? I don’t actually know. (Afterthought: Some pathology at work? The attention needing to go to that person, according to the person? This may sound very harsh to the casual reader, but stranger things happen in life all the time.)

After I tossed that around for a while, later, I was reminded of something that happened to me once, a very long time ago. Though it was not so much the actual event, but the realization that I suffered from such a large degree of disbelief at the time that I froze. It’s probably the only time in my life, ever, that I froze. And I’d never before asked myself why – but now I suddenly saw where it came from.

“I can’t believe it! This is not really happening. This can’t possibly be happening. This didn’t just happen. How on earth could he do that? How on earth could he do that to me?”

Then it dawned on me that the woman whose husband committed suicide may also still be resisting – coming to terms with – the idea that this happened to her. In her life.

The shock of it. The “I can’t believe that this happened to me!” shock. The “How on earth could he do that? How on earth could he do that to me?”

Maybe she is still clinging to something more positive than what really happened in a small niche of her thoughts, possibly the notion that if she tries hard enough, she’ll wake up and it will all have been a bad dream.

And maybe on another level, she is still struggling with the idea that her husband’s suicide means that she has failed. That she wasn’t good enough.

After all, bad things do not happen to good and capable people, right? Capable people always maintain complete control over everything. That idea.

That misconception. That feeling!

Yes, it’s a feeling.  An emotional response.

Fortunately, a feeling is something you can change. The cells of your body know how to make you feel a certain way, just like they know how to make you walk if you want to walk.

I know that the woman whose husband committed suicide will be okay. There was plenty in the conversation I had with her that indicated that. I could hear that the island within her is still there and that she was dipping into it, slowly replenishing her energy, restoring her soul.

I wish she knew how many tears I’ve cried for her, though, but I am probably wishing that for me, not for her. I too am merely human. And that’s okay.

Life goes on. She has her life. And I have mine to live. That’s perfectly okay.

 

 

Implicit attitudes. Awareness helps. With all forms of bias, not just regarding benefit claimants

How our unconscious minds are prejudiced against benefit claimants

File 20170912 3737 liebxr
How biased are people against people claiming welfare?
via shutterstock.com

Robert de Vries, University of Kent

Without us knowing, our brains are busy making associations. While on the surface we may sincerely believe that men and women are equal, or that people on benefits are just regular folks who happen to need help, our unconscious minds might not be so progressive. In psychology, ideas that we hold unconsciously are called “implicit attitudes”.

Implicit attitudes develop under the influence of the world around us. Immerse your brain in a culture that routinely represents women as emotional and irrational, or in which black men are habitually portrayed as aggressive and criminal, and it will develop those associations whether you want it to or not.

This can happen even if you are part of the maligned group yourself. It is these unconscious associations that can – for example – lead a police officer to view a black suspect as more threatening than a white one.

A great deal of valuable research has been done into people’s implicit attitudes towards women and people of colour. However, there are many other groups which society also tends to represent in negative, stereotyped ways. A particular target in the UK are unemployed people who receive government benefits.

Described in newspaper headlines as “dossers” and “layabouts” (The Sun), “scroungers” (The Daily Mail), and “skivers” (The Express) benefit claimants are treated with unremitting hostility by large sections of British society. It is easy to see how exposure and immersion in this culture could lead to the development of negative unconscious feelings towards this group. This is the idea I set out to test with my new research.

Testing our associations

How do you find out if someone harbours negative implicit attitudes towards benefit claimants? The very fact that these attitudes are not conscious means you can’t just ask them directly. To get around this problem, psychologists have developed a set of tools called implicit association tests.

In my research, I used a specific test called the Go/No-Go Association Task, or GNAT. The easiest way to describe how this works is by way of an example. Imagine you are sat in front of a black screen. At the top of the screen some white text reads “spiders and negative words”. Words will now appear and disappear rapidly in the centre of the screen.

As each word appears, your job is to decide if it fits into the category of “Spiders and negative words”. If it does, you press the space bar (“Go”). If it doesn’t, you don’t press anything (“No-Go”). So, for example, if you saw the words “tarantula” or “disgusting” you would press the space bar. If you saw the words “wonderful” or “glasses”, you wouldn’t.

Once you’ve finished going through 60 words or so, the text at the top of the screen changes. It now says “spiders and positive words”. Now if you saw the word “tarantula” or the word “wonderful”, you should press the space bar. If you saw the word “disgusting”, you shouldn’t.

Testing for hidden biases.
via shutterstock.com

Because most people feel negatively about spiders, they will find it more difficult to group them together with positive words than they will to group them with positive words. Because the words appear and disappear so quickly, people don’t have time to deliberate. Their responses are dominated by their unconscious feelings. You can get a feel for this by trying some implicit attitude tests on a website run by Harvard University.

The principle is exactly the same when we are talking about social groups. For example, study after study has found that people find it much easier to pair photographs of black people with negative words than with positive ones.

Bias against benefit claimants

And when I used this technique to examine unconscious attitudes towards benefit claimants in the UK, I found exactly the same results. Participants found it much easier to group words relating to benefit claimants together with negative words like “bad”, “useless”, and “dirty” than they did to group them together with positive words like “friendly”, “clean”, or “wonderful”. This was true even for people who, when asked directly, did not report having any negative opinions about people on benefits. These results strongly suggest the existence of a negative, unconscious prejudice against this group.

There are of course caveats to this research. My sample was small – only around 100 people. This is a similar sample size to that of most implicit attitude studies. However, 100 people is clearly too few to start drawing conclusions about the British population as a whole. This is particularly true given that all of the participants came from a single town (Oxford), and that many (though not most) were university students.

So this research does not yet demonstrate that negative unconscious attitudes towards benefit claimants are a general feature of the British population. However, if this result proves to be robust, it has significant implications for debates about welfare both in the UK and elsewhere.

The ConversationIf antipathy towards benefit claimants is strongly rooted in people’s unconscious feelings and stereotypes, this profoundly limits the power of facts and figures to change people’s minds about the benefits system. Correcting mistaken beliefs about the benefits system is easy. Severing unconscious negative associations that have developed over decades is likely to be much, much harder.

Robert de Vries, Lecturer in Quantitative Sociology in the School of Social Policy, Sociology, and Social Research, University of Kent

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Niks aan de hand…

“Die gevaarlijke gek, dat krankzinnige brein, daarginds in Berlijn.”

Reverberating echoes of the run-up to WW II from Foxtrot, the musical. I saw it as a teenager and was highly impressed by all that darkness, and slightly intimidated. “Ridi, rada, ridi, rada!” It sounded like the alarm calls of the sirens of emergency services and calamity warnings.

“That dangerous fool, that insane brain, in yonder Berlin.”

The year before, in my 4th year in high school (which had a total of 6), we were all offered the possibility to subscribe to a theatre series in my high-school class. The series weren’t free, but there may have been a discount. I didn’t go. My dad hadn’t thrown out those invitations, which he had done with the invitation to ballroom dance classes as I later found out, but I was simply unable to find a class mate who was interested in the same series.

“If this continues in this way, I’ll never get to go anywhere,” I decided. So the year after, I signed up for the series I wanted – the cocktail series, as I wasn’t familiar with the theatre – and started going on my own. Thus, a tradition was born. I’ve never had any regrets about that!

To the contrary. There have been later years when I was living in Amsterdam, around the corner from several theatres, during which I had several series – up to six, I think – at once, sometimes leading to three or four performances in a week (but that was rare). I immersed myself in a lot of music and a lot of modern dance. Loved it!

The snow birds

Once upon a time, I had two Canadian snow birds as neighbors. And every morning, they pinched my newspaper! That meant I usually didn’t get to see it until after I returned home from the lab where I was working on my PhD.

Snow birds are people who make the trek to a warmer climate to escape from the snow in their usual environment. They’re often retired. These particular snow birds were two elderly sisters whose husbands had passed away and who had decided to spend some time in Florida.

Then something happened.

One of the sisters changed her ticket and returned to Canada earlier than planned. It turned out that the other sister was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and it was suddenly progressing. She had been randomly accusing people – including her sister – of theft and other unkind deeds and it simply got to be too much for the other sister, understandably.

When people have Alzheimer’s and can’t remember where they’ve left things, and what day it is, it is not that surprising that they think someone has stolen something from them when they can’t find what they are looking for – because it’s in another place or in another time period.

So, the landlord we had in common (Paul, a guy I knew from another setting) and I started looking after the lady. I discovered that merely keeping track of the days for her was greatly reassuring to her, but also how draining it can be to look after someone with Alzheimer’s. It requires your complete attention, and a lot of patience. It is not something you can do “on the side”, while doing something else at the same time. It requires dedication.

The landlord got in touch with the airline and arranged that the ticket date got changed and that someone would ensure that the woman in question wouldn’t return to Nova Scotia, where she used to live, but travel to the city in which she was now living. It got critical at some point when the airline asked whether the woman was actually able to travel on her own.

And I called the woman’s daughter, to keep her up to date and liaise with her too.

The woman – let’s call her Peggy – was actually a wonderful person who used to be very happy and who was also quite aware of what happening to her, which saddened me. Looking after her wasn’t nowhere as bad as I may have made it sound above. She was often lucid, and helping her keep track of time actually also seemed to help her stay lucid, because it eased the stress on her.

There was a second critical moment, though, when she arranged to have money wired from her account in Canada to a local bank. I informed one of the professors that I was going with her to the bank, and why. Just in case. And at the bank I kept my distance from the counter, on purpose.

But everything went fine.

For some reason, Peggy trusted me, even though I was in fact a complete stranger. Not even once, not even for a second, did she become  suspicious or distrustful about me in the days I looked after her, and I was very grateful for that.

It all happened decades ago on another continent, and I am sure she has passed away by now, so I don’t feel I am violating her privacy by posting the photos Paul took of the two of us at the airport. Yep, we’d gotten coffee. I am holding the coffee in that image on the left.

I was reminded of it this afternoon when I got a phone call related to another woman who needs to have a practical problem solved. That’s what Alzheimer’s is like in the beginning. A practical problem that others can help with.

Last week, I went shopping with an elderly woman in an electric wheelchair. I had spotted her in front of a busy shop with narrow aisles, clearly debating whether to go in or not, as the shop would close within 45 minutes. I offered to go into the shop with her and she accepted. I checked and cleared aisles, scouted products for her.

Heck, why not? I wasn’t going anywhere at the time and it didn’t even interrupt anything at all. (It’s important to give the other person enough space in such a situation, and I think I did that sufficiently too.) No, it wasn’t something I’ve done before. It was a spur-of-the-moment heck-why-not thing. A here-is-a-practical-problem-I-can-help-with-right-now thing.

 

When a burden turns into a resource

Am I a coach? Is that my role in life? I have wondered about this off and on. Vaguely. My work does sometimes have a support component, yes, although that was more often the case when I was still in the Netherlands.

Then, some time ago, when I was watching a Tony Robbins video, I was amazed to discover that in my teens and in my early twenties, I used what turns out to be a very powerful coaching technique to draw someone out of a dark place, getting the person from feeling completely stuck to become more dynamic, more open to other options.

It worked.

What I did is the following. I used to make fun of the person, ridicule the person, until the person could no longer stop herself from bursting into laughter. It always felt very risky to me, like I was treading on unboiled eggs that could crack any moment, but it was the only thing that worked and once she burst into laughter, the battle was won.

How did I know to do that?

This morning, I was talking about that with someone who happens to be a coach and then it slowly started to dawn on me that I’ve more or less been a coach all my life.

Except, I didn’t see it that way.

I saw the things I did as being silly or desperate or as clowning around. I also saw it as something that I had not chosen but that was put on my shoulders at a young age, something heavy and dark, something in capital letters. RESPONSIBILITY FOR OTHERS.

I have felt a duty to help make other people’s worlds whole from a young age, and yes, maybe I was pushed into that into some degree – and yes, I was also highly aware of the fact that I wanted a life for myself, away from this imposed duty to cater to other people’s needs and look after myself instead.

But maybe it is also something that I am actually really good at and really enjoy? Something that I should consciously embrace, do more with?

I certainly like making people happy. True. And I like seeing people smile. I also like building bridges.

One of the things that apparently make me special is that I see a lot. It’s benefited me tremendously in science, but also in other areas. I see the things that many people overlook.

Why? I have no idea.

Maybe because I grew up close to moors and woods in which I spent a lot of time as a child, observing the world around me. Nature. Maybe because growing up I had to make sense of a world that didn’t often make much sense.

I suppose you could say that I have had lots of “bad” things happen to me. I no longer think of it that way, though. I love learning, and I have meanwhile seen that some things that happened to me later in life were my own doing, the result of looking after other people’s interests at the expense of mine. That, yes, that is an inheritance from my childhood. But it’s one that you can reject as soon as you develop the wisdom to see that you no longer want it.

(I also inherited a musical talent from my mother. That I’ll hold on to!)

My mother was a strong enough woman and at the same time sometimes a very silly and weak woman but perhaps mostly a very hurt and confused woman because she expected a fairytale when she married my father and what she got was anything but a fairytale. She didn’t know how to deal with it. And she contracted cancer shortly after her marriage, which was misdiagnosed twice. She passed away young.

I think I was still pretty young when I was somehow made or became responsible for making my mother’s world whole in spite of who – or what – my father was. At least, that is how I vaguely remember it. Was I supposed to compensate for what my father wasn’t?

My mother was very close to one of her sisters, though, so it was probably more a matter of matching my mother’s expectations (providing sweetness and reliability) and putting up with the extremely short leash she kept me on. She wanted to keep me safe, make sure nothing bad happened to me. I used to break out of that, do things she didn’t want me to do and my dad also consciously encouraged me to explore the world more than my mother felt comfortable with. He bought me my first bike, and my second.

At the same time, my mother too created chances for me. Violin lessons, for instance. And when the kindergarten teachers wanted to keep me another year because I was very young, my mother stepped up and made sure I wasn’t held back and I am very grateful for that. Boredom is the bane of intelligence. Maybe that is putting it too strongly, but the fact is that if you have a nicely working brain, that brain wants to do lots of stuff, not be held back and get bored. You don’t want to learn how to walk and then be kept in a high chair. You want to learn how to run, too. And jump, and dance.

She also bought me my first mineralogy book, encouraged my rocks and minerals hobby, even though she wanted me to become an air hostess. (I started the hobby after I found a piece of rock with the imprint of a shell in our garden. I also found a piece of flint that was almost certainly a prehistoric tool, in hindsight, as I used it as a tool all the time.)

Maybe my coaching insights began with the Sunday fights my parents used to have. When I think back to those fights – oh, how I hated them, hated it when my parents quarreled – I still can see myself going into the large commercial cooler we had at the back of our very large house where I’d hidden pastries that I had bought from my weekly allowance. I can feel myself hesitantly shuffling back into to the room, feeling as if I was walking on egg shells, feverishly hoping that my pastries would be enough to break through the impasse and stop my parents’ fight.

Worrying even that I might trigger an explosion instead.

I felt so damn powerless.

But it usually worked. In fact, I think it always worked, but the shifts in atmosphere weren’t always the same, not always as good as I had hoped.

Did that teach me that in order to draw people out of a dark place, you have to offer them – make them see – something better? That you sometimes have to push them – goad them – into something better, something they will surely prefer over the darkness once they become aware that something better exists?

I never forced them to choose. The choices were up to them. My parents could have chosen to ignore my pastries and continue to fight and the woman I made fun of could have chosen to remain in her dark place instead of bursting into laughter. (Maybe it’s a matter of persistence.)

I didn’t actually make that choice for them. All I did was offer them a better alternative.

But I never saw it that way back then. I saw it as a heavy burden I took upon my shoulders. Or as doing silly stuff to get my sisters to smile. Clowning around.

I have never, not once, tried the humorous approach on my dad. He would only have gotten furious. (I suspect that what he essentially needed was to be told in a calm but stern voice what to do – and to stop the nonsense – in certain situations, but I learned that when I was around 20.)

My dad often used to go completely berserk. He’d always done that. Even before my parents were married, he’d threaten to kill himself, drive into a wall when he left the farm on which my mother grew up if she considered breaking off the relationship, the way young couples sometimes do.

Yes, I grew up with that same kind of emotional manipulation, particularly after my mother had passed away, but when you’re lucky enough to be born with a wonderful brain, you can often see such things and decide to try and stay as whole as possible in spite of everything that goes on around you. (I am not saying that my father’s emotional manipulation didn’t affect me. Of course it did.)

Like I said, my dad often used to go completely berserk. Usually, of course, when no other adults were around. My dad was not a bad person. He was a very friendly resourceful person, but he wasn’t very smart and he had gotten damaged very badly in his childhood.

He partly blamed me for that. This is an example of how I had to make sense out of a world that didn’t make sense, which I mentioned above. I had not even been born yet when my dad was a child, but something to do with the biblical story of Cain and Abel caused my dad put a lot of blame on me, as I too was the eldest. Even as a child or teenager, you KNOW that that doesn’t make sense. You also know that it isn’t fair.

I concluded at a relatively young age that my dad was simply ill and I also decided to disengage who he happened to be from what a father is supposed to be to his children. He was not a father; he was merely the man who had fathered me and who I grew up with. It enabled me to keep my beliefs intact of how life is supposed to be and feel less “lack”, I suppose. From a young age, I read a lot of books and I could see that in books, dads were very different from what mine was. The dads of kids in school also seemed different, although it can be hard to tell what goes on once you’re out of their house.

So besides probably having served as some kind of coach – or a sounding board rather – for my mother in some way I also must have served as a coach to my dad.

He used to threaten me often, with knives, poisons, ropes, what not. It had nothing to do with me, with who I was. He was giving voice to his own powerlessness that came from an extremely dark place that sprung from his childhood and he was directing it at whoever was around him and who was supposed to make his world whole again so that he could be happy, in his optics.

And he was furious with not being understood – though he certainly didn’t understand himself either – and other people’s inability to make his misery go away. But his misery came from within.

I couldn’t make that go away. All I could do is try and stop him from doing damage and that meant trying to draw him out of his dark place and getting him to a happier place in his mind.

Can you picture me in a car on a German Autobahn as a child, a teenager, with two other children in the car, with behind the wheel a man who was flooring the pedal, threatening to kill us all? I felt so powerless, because I was not able to drive a car yet, never even realizing back then that in such a situation, nothing can be gained from grabbing the wheel.

So I talked and talked and talked and talked, and never gave up until I got him out of that place of despair in his mind. That may sound brilliant, but I didn’t really have an option. It was either that or allowing him to kill us all (and maybe whoever happened to be in surrounding cars too). I didn’t want to die. Neither did my sisters.

Isn’t that partly what coaching is about? The ability to get people to see other options and draw them out of the place they are stuck in? Also, the ability to make people see that what other people do and say isn’t necessarily intended to upset and hurt them, but can have much more to do with what’s happening with them or happened with them in the past.

Once people become aware of their emotional responses, they can also learn to master them and even choose to respond differently. You can acknowledge an emotion and then let it go. A lot of trouble seems to come from wanting to fight negative emotions, from feeling we must be “better than that”. We’re only human. All of us. That’s perfectly fine.

Am I a coach?

I am still very busy tossing this around, but I am slowly starting to feel something empowering and enlightening that used to feel like a heavy burden. There’s been more bad stuff in my life, but when it happens, I seem to throw myself into it so that I fully digest it and complain and sometimes even rage a lot for while and then get to the point that I actually start to forget about it.

(Except that one time when I completely froze and my sisters had to drag me away. The time my dad tried to set fire to me. I wanted to leave that out here, but doing that might mean that I still haven’t accepted it and still am in denial about it. Oh, the disbelief! “I can’t believe it! How on earth could he do that? How on earth could he do that to me?”)

Okay, then. Misery disclosure. I’ve also been raped, by a stranger who broke into my student flat. And I’ve been homeless, and before I lost my home, I have even collected and processed acorns to survive. I’ve also been robbed, in Florida, and successfully negotiated with the robber to get my bank passes and passport back. I negotiated with the rapist too and got him not too tie me up completely which could have had devastating consequences with one of my neighbors being deaf and the other one not at home.

I’ve also sort of fallen off a horse once or twice. (I slid off the saddle once, at speed after I lost my footing in one of the stirrups, oh how embarrassing, LOL. And the same horse had already once managed to walk so close to a little tree that one of its branches literally wiped me off the horse.)

And another horse stepped on my toes once.

(Yes, you can laugh now. And yes, I inserted that on purpose. I don’t want you to get hung up on stuff that happened to me a long long time ago. This – coaching – would not be about me and I am no longer very interested in the past as such. The past, however, can be a rich resource for me, I now realize. For instance, I had not been aware until now that it was disbelief that made me freeze once. That enables me to recognize when it happens to others. Disbelief.)

So what does this make me? A coach?

No, my life has not given me 20/20 vision and I am far from perfect.

That said, I always thought I had to be strong and capable all the time. But maybe all I have to do is… be as soft and gentle and vulnerable as I want to be whenever I want to be or need to be.
Does that make me a coach?

What fascinates me in this context and what forces me to consider this is that I feel a strength when I consider this (yes, also with some slight trepidation, but that isn’t surprising). Is this because it would enable me to turn what was a burden in the past into a rich resource?

Am I a coach? If so, for whom?

Don’t take refuge in anything, in anyone, except in the island inside

Because you are enough. Good enough. Strong enough. Worthy enough. Resourceful enough. Human enough. Vulnerable enough. Understanding enough. Wise enough.

It is important to protect and replenish that island inside, too.

You have to close the windows from time to time, to keep the noise out and allow serenity to return.

Consumerism of all kinds – and hope

Do you crave and often purchase beautiful shiny things?

Do you often indulge in a lot of cookies late at night?

Do you regularly have a few drinks too many?

Does this make you feel uncomfortable on some level?

Then stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it. You know the answer.

The shiny new things may confirm to you that you’re a success. The cookies may give you a sense of being loved. The alcoholic drinks may dull your senses enough to give you a sense of safety and security.

They bring you hope. They bring you the idea that you can choose to feel this way in the future, any time you want, if only you have the things you need that make you feel the way you want to feel.

It can even be a particular breed of dog that you use as a tool to bring you the feeling you want, for instance the feeling of being adored, or successful or loved.

Know that you have the power to give these feelings to yourself without the designer products and clothes, the cakes and cookies and hot chocolate, and the beer, wine, whiskey and rum or any other prop that you use. The warm-blanket feeling is already inside you. You can give it yourself any time you want.

You don’t need an excuse to feel that way. You deserve to feel the way you want to feel. Successful, loved, safe and secure. You have the power to decide how you feel.

Being aware of how you want to feel is a major first step. Take the time out to give yourself that feeling whenever you need it. Choose to feel the way you want to feel.

Just like the cells of your body know how to make your walk if you want to walk, the cells of your body know how to make you feel a certain way if you want to feel a certain way.

If you want a tool to help you accomplish that, use for example Paul McKenna’s 30-minute “Change Your Life in 7 Days” soundtrack or one of his apps on GooglePlay or the AppStore. Late at night, early in the morning, whatever time suits you. Do it. Because you’re worth it.

Paul McKenna’s 30-minute “Change Your Life in 7 Days” soundtrack is available on YouTube, for example here and here. I can also e-mail you the 27.4 MB MP3 file if you want (or send it to you on CD at a small fee); use the form below. It may not literally change your life in seven days, but it will likely change how you feel within seven days.

Remember…

There is only one success: to be able to live your life in your own way.
– Christopher Morley

And of course, there is nothing wrong with a little indulgence every once in a while!

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Two travel observations

Muslim woman dressed in black with a veil and a wonderful broad smile is travelling with a young child. Her daughter. She is precocious and smart, chats non-stop, entertaining everyone around her with her gentle voice. As a distraction to play with, the girl has an American video or game featuring fragments from Bizet’s Carmen and Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite, as well as the topic of Christmas. As free as a bird in the sky. The little girl reminds me of me when I was a little girl. Even her hair is about the same.

Young blond guy in a turquoise-blue jacket accidentally drops something that looks like a business card or ticket at Victoria Station’s Prêt. I happen to see it happen, from a nearby waiting area. When he ends up in my vicinity, I tell him about it. “I am not sure,” he replies, and goes back into Prêt, where he loiters and keeps an eye on me. Meanwhile, a Prêt employee notices the card or ticket, picks it up, studies it and puts it on the counter. Did young blond guy not even listen to what I said and assume I was asking for money (which is not unusual in Britain)?

Geoethics – Call for abstracts

The IAPG (International Association for Promoting Geoethics) organizes/supports five sessions on geoethics at the Resources Future Generations – RFG 2018 Conference (Vancouver, 16-21 June 2018) under the Theme “Resources and Society: Social & Ethical Values”.

More information: http://www.geoethics.org/rfg2018.

Tasering of patients

Dutch daily Trouw prominently featured anger about a human rights violation on its 6 September front page (online version).

Not only had Dutch police tasered a patient in so-called drive-stun mode (“pain compliance“), the patient in question already was in solitary confinement.

I was shocked when I read this. It seems to signal a return to practices I thought we had left behind a long time ago, and it particularly worries me that this happened in the Netherlands of all places.

“This is torture,” say Amnesty International as well as organizations of patients and their relatives, and Amnesty has called for an immediate suspension of the use of this type of weapon by Dutch police, so I understand. According to Trouw, the taser’s manufacturer advises against use on psychiatric patients and Amnesty believes taser use may actually be life-threatening in such cases.

This is likely the first time a taser was used to subdue a hospitalized psychiatric patient in the Netherlands, where three-hundred police officers are currently testing tasers.

The following appears to have transpired.

On 17 July, police officers were called to a hospital in Cappelle aan de IJssel, in which a male patient in his twenties was having a psychotic episode. (When Dutch police are called to a hospital for a problem with a patient, police take over responsibility.)

The patient was having a bad day, apparently, and had refused to take his antipsychotic medicines. Rotterdam police were first called to force the patient into solitary confinement (to reduce sensory input and calm the patient down).

In the evening, police were called again, for unknown reasons. That’s when the tasering occurred.

The patient’s mother, Marijke Bos, found out about the incident a few days later during a visit on her son’s birthday. Her son had dark bruises under his eyes, several bruises on one of his hips and roughly thirty small taser-related lesions on his back. The patient had also been tasered on one of his feet.

The patient’s mother has filed several formal complaints.

The hospital staff reportedly is also extremely dismayed about the taser use.

Solitary confinement in itself can be damaging and can be seen as a human rights violation. Tasering a patient who already is in solitary confinement and clearly no danger to anyone else raises eyebrows, to put it mildly.

It seems to me that tasering in drive-stun mode is even worse than using a baseball bat to knock someone out as it deliberately causes pain, so it is more comparable to stabbing someone with a knife or throwing scalding water or oil.

The incident made me wonder about taser use on patients in other countries and I did a quick web search. It is not clear whether other reports of taser use on patients concern drive-stun mode or probe mode, but probe mode is the usual taser mode.

New Zealand police used a taser on a mentally ill man earlier this year as well and it was the country’s second case this year in which taser use against a mentally ill person was ruled (excessive and) unjustified:

“Police told the 21-year-old he would need to be strip searched, the man repeatedly refused to remove his clothes telling the officers he had a history of sexual abuse and didn’t feel comfortable being touched by males.”

In Britain, even taser use in general has turned out to concern mainly mentally ill persons, according to Home Office figures:

Taser use against patients in hospitals has already around in Britain for more than ten years:

The consensus appears to be that this is a big no-no:

I agree with Matilda MacAttram (director of Black Mental Health UK and writer of the above article in the Guardian) that there is no role for police in mental healthcare, just like police have no business in heart surgeries and appendectomies either.

See also this article: