Need your faith in humans restored?

This will help a lot.

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(Police later showed up to scoop them up and take them to safety, in case you notice that they’re still stuck after having traversed all these lanes.)

My otherness

Living in an economically deprived English neighbourhood sometimes goes like this.

You quickly walk to a local supermarket (for two packets of oat cookies) and on the way, a guy seems to want to stop you to ask for directions. But what he says is “You walk like a young lady.”

He adds “You’ve got youth in your step!”

It emphasises my otherness.

What I have is purpose. What I have is two immediate deadlines on my desk, an online course to make, someone else’s grant proposal about to turn up, and also a research paper in the pipeline. He doesn’t.

In central Oxford, by contrast, most people have my fast pace, many actually walking much faster.

Most of county Hampshire is relatively sleepy to start with. Here where I live, many people have relatively little to do and saving whales is not on their mind when they’re out and about.

I didn’t know what to say back to him, so I simply laughed, taken by surprise.

Because what I also have is the absence of the British notion that people who are over 35 are no longer young. He was trying to make me feel young, but what he did was make me realize that he saw me as someone with one foot in the grave.

I LOL. It doesn’t matter.

Normally, when something like this happens, I’ll say something along the lines of “thank you” but today, feeling flabbergasted dominated too much for that.

Sorry dude. I know you meant well.

This is probably pretty hilarious (read: embarrassing) considering that I just wrote an article on LinkedIn about how we all share more than makes us different but that there is a lot more diversity among human beings than we’ve thought for a long time.

It enriches our lives.

I am sorry that I didn’t thank the guy. It was his awareness of his own mortality that made him say what he said and he saw that as a similarity. He was right.

Thich Nhat Hanh might have said that I didn’t give the guy my presence and that I had not been walking in awareness. He would have been right too.

 

An example of one of my book blurbs

In this thoughtful yet also provocative book in the area of bioethics, Angelina Souren takes you on a tour along matters of life and death, exploring ethical and practical aspects of the new eugenics.

With regard to the mew eugenics, Souren argues for caution and points out that technological progress sometimes leads to mistakes that can be hard to correct once made. The unbridled creation of designer babies (which we have already been engaging in for decades), she says, could lead to the disappearance of the glue that binds us all. Compassion. Inclusive solidarity. It does not have to, provided we proceed wisely, she adds. She proposes a practice based on the principle of non-discrimination and would like to see governments to provide broader support for their citizens and their children.

Souren does not shy away from difficult questions. Why do we have so much trouble accepting ourselves and each other, she asks, and points the finger at utilitarianism. She also tackles the task of defining “a life not worth living” and arrives at a practical universal guideline for the application of private eugenics that is bound to raise some protest from all sides of the debate, but will also spark appreciation. We need to move toward a global consensus on these matters, she opines, and that is only possible if some of us take a few steps back and others a few steps forward.

This book is for anyone interested in what is happening in the world around us. It is also particularly suitable for anyone curious about the future of humanity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angelina Souren is an independent writer and researcher who is currently based in the English city of Portsmouth. She has previously lived and worked in the United States and in her native the Netherlands. Her professional background is primarily in earth and life sciences, but also includes several years of legal experience.

She is a former board member of the Environmental Chemistry (and Toxicology) Section of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society as well as former editor-in-chief of its newsletter and scientific yearbook, a former member of the board and various committees of a Dutch organization for women in science and technology called NIMF, and former associate editor of the newsletter of the US-based Geochemical Society.

Book blurbs

Unless you’re an established author with an agent, when you write books, you also have to write blurbs. Back matter. Short descriptions, long descriptions, author biographies, while taking each platform’s word or character limit into account and the platforms’ peculiarities.

An example of the latter is that for the description of paperbacks on Amazon, you have to code paragraphs in html, but not for the Kindle version. (You discover that the hard way.)

Also, the size limit that is indicated while you’re adding that blurb is not the limit that is applied in practice. So you either have to keep it short and sweet, or wait to see if your description will be cut short in mid-sentence in practice. Eventually, you get used to it and learn how to avoid this pitfall.

In addition, there is the problem that some platforms take the long description and cut it short instead of using the short description. *shrugs*

The blurbs tell readers whether or not they want to buy the book. So they also require a lot of tweaking from that point of view.

An example is asking myself “Do I want to make sure I don’t put progressives off by describing myself as a feminist (which I am) or is it more important not to repel more conservative readers by describing myself as a feminist?”

Another one is “Is an academic-sounding description better than a snappier, lighter one?”

Plus, you usually have to select a photo of yourself as well. Which one to pick?!

It is a learning process. By doing, I am slowly getting better at it. At least, I hope so!

 

What it means to be human

Do you agree with this? Don’t other species also have to respond to the circumstances around them, including being chased by humans, having been born in a zoo or as part of the pet trade or to droughts and food shortages, as well as the fact that humans take up more and more of their natural habitat and force them to live in our built environment?

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Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics

The above is the title of the 2018 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference, which took place in June. I had registered for the event because the topic interests me greatly and I have so much to learn in this area. Unfortunately, I turned out to be away and unable to attend after all.

I am delighted that the Petrie-Flom Center not only decided to make some of the lecture materials available beforehand, but recorded the lectures and has made the videos shareable.

Prominent point of discussion at he conference was the question whether a disability is merely a difference, or a bad difference. Putting the question like this is an oversimplification but it is a good starting point. I will discuss this matter and these lectures in greater detail in coming posts.

For now, here are the opening remarks, and first talks.

“Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics” Opening Remarks and Panel 1: Theory and Definitions of Disability from Petrie-Flom Center on Vimeo.

 

 

 

Very severe animal cruelty at Mahard Egg Farms in the US

Last evening, I saw a video and photos that I found shocking. It concerns severe animal cruelty that occurs near Sulphur in Oklahoma. The farm is part of Mahard Egg Farms who appear to be headquartered in Texas. I searched LinkedIn and found nine accounts associated with the company, including that of its CFO, Kaitlin Mahard.

I believe that severe animal cruelty can be considered “violent crimes” which would mean that LinkedIn should remove the accounts associated with Mahard Egg Farms. The LinkedIn Professional Community Policies state that “those who engage in violent crimes are not welcome and not permitted on the Services”.

In 2011, Mahard Egg Farm, Inc., indeed a Texas corporation, was told to pay a $1.9 million penalty to settle claims that the company violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) at its egg production facilities in Texas and Oklahoma, according to the EPA:
https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/mahard-egg-farm-inc-clean-water-act-settlement

The latter apparently resulted in this:
https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2013-09/documents/mahardegg-cd.pdf

That document includes the following:

C. MORTALITY MANAGEMENT
18. Defendant shall comply with the Mortality Management Requirements in Appendix D at the Vernon-Chillicothe Facility, the Springhill Facility, the Prosper Facility, the Boogie Hill Facility, the Nebo Ranch, and the Ravia Facility, unless such facility is not growing poultry.

Appendix D stated:

APPENDIX D:
MORTALITY MANAGEMENT

I. Texas
65.
No later than the Effective Date of this Decree, Mahard shall cease any transfer of
carcasses between Facilities unless a composting plan is in place that is consistent with 30 T.A.C. 332, Subchapter B, and has been approved by EPA and TCEQ.

66.
Mahard shall ensure that all carcass disposal at the Vernon-Chillicothe, Prosper, and
Springhill Facilities is conducted in accordance with TCEQ Regulatory Guidance, RG-326, Handling and Disposal of Carcasses from Poultry Operations (August 2009) and in accordance with 30 T.A.C. § 335.25. Mahard shall collect all carcasses within 24 hours of death and properly disposed of them within three (3) Days of death. Animals must not be disposed of in any liquid manure or process wastewater system. Disposal of diseased animals shall be conducted in accordance with Tex. Agric. Code § 161.004.

II. Oklahoma
67.
Mahard shall comply with the terms and conditions in Mahard’s 4/29/09 Carcass Disposal Plan, as amended and supplemented by the letter from ODAFF, dated May 7, 2009, to Mahard (both attached here as the Appendix D Supplement).

The Kroger chain has meanwhile dropped Mahard’s eggs and I’ve reached out on LinkedIn to it spokeswoman Kristal Howard to thank Kroger and ask her to ensure that Kroger will never be associated with such severe animal cruelty again.

Kroger’s 2018 Sustainability Report includes an animal welfare policy, which states:

“Kroger has a long-standing commitment to responsible business practices, including the humane treatment of animals,” Kroger says in its policy. “We require our suppliers to adopt industry-accepted animal welfare standards that we endorse, and we monitor our suppliers for compliance with these standards. We align with the Food Marketing Institute’s industry-adopted and industry-aligned animal welfare standards for the following animal proteins: beef, pork, chicken, turkey and eggs. For nearly a decade, Kroger has convened our own independent panel of animal science experts to make recommendations on how we can work with the industry to improve animal welfare.”

I’ve also contacted the EPA.

Mansplaining

“I don’t agree with you. What you just told me, well, that’s never happened to me. (And I wasn’t there when you said it happened to you. So it never happened, period.)”

“And anyway, I think you’re crazy. (You’re a woman and everybody knows that women are crazy.) It’s all those hormones. Women are way too emotional. (Always seeing things that aren’t there.)”

“(She’s getting too old for technology, but I am not going to say that in her face. Everybody knows that only large corporations get hacked. She’s just imagining things because she doesn’t know which buttons to press.)”

“(I bet she has a crush on him and he rejected her.)”

And various versions and combinations of the above.

That’s the real mansplaining.

It includes the fact that people who did speak out about the Harvey Weinsteins in the world in the past were dismissed with this type of bullshit arguments.

However, being a male feminist does not mean that you need to take an interest in whether a woman has ever been raped or not. That’s a common misunderstanding. Women’s emancipation is about a little bit more than women no longer getting raped.

 

Why we need to talk about stuff that is hard to talk about

I quickly shot this with my mobile so the quality is not that great and you get to see my saggy wrinkly skin up close. Hey, I am no longer 20 or 30 and that’s perfectly fine!

Here is the article in the Atlantic that I mention in the video:
https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/you-really-dont-want-to-know-what-its-like-to-be-a-right-whale-these-days/566009/

Council tax and care leavers

This morning, I received an e-mail from Jacq who is part of the Campaigns team at The Children’s Society. As a result, I contacted my local council. (Council = local government.) Apparently, roughly half of Britain’s council’s are helping so-called “care leavers” with their council tax bills, whether Labour-led, Lib-Dem-led, Green-led or Conservative-led.

My council does not do that yet. It means that the roughly 230 care leavers in Portsmouth are worse off than care leavers in, for example North-Somerset, which has the same number of care leavers.

See: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-you-can-do/campaign-for-change/a-fairer-start-for-care-leavers

When young people who have been in a care home or in foster care are thrust into society on the basis of their age, they have had almost no financial education, apparently, and little or no preparation for what it means to live on your own.

Particularly council tax bills tend to get them into trouble. I think that makes sense. These so-called care leavers may never have heard of council tax, and they’re not seeing anything tangible in return for paying these bills. It makes sense for young people to ignore them. You pay water bills for water, electricity bills in return for electricity, council tax bills because you use… eh, what?

Since my move to Britain, I have tried to explain council tax to educated adults in other countries a few times and they too are flabbergasted by the idea of “council tax”. In response, I was even told once that I was paying someone else’s taxes, was paying bills I should not have to pay – by someone who’s probably never paid a bill late even once throughout his entire life.

If the concept of council tax is that incomprehensible to educated adults in other countries, it probably makes even less sense to young care leavers.

Unless councils step in to support these care leavers, council tax ruins these young people’s lives before they’ve even had a chance at a life.

(Of course, the real issue includes the lack of support they’ve obviously had while in care. Fixing that is more complicated and more expensive, however.)

 

Vulnerability

Brené Brown’s talk (see previous post) has gotten me thinking a lot, not just within the context of the new eugenics.

I’ll need to read her book on the topic (even though what she is saying has been said by many others before her).

In the past few months, I was reminded rather harshly a few times of the fact that men seem to have a great need for women to be vulnerable. (By this, I mean that they’re uncomfortable around strong women and often try to tear them down verbally – though the other explanation of this sentence is equally valid.)

Not all men, but men who… feel vulnerable and have a hard time dealing with it.

For example with not measuring up to either their own or the world’s ideas of who they are supposed to be, professionally.

Though, of course, the story is often much uglier than that (see not only the first but also particularly the second part what Sallie Krawcheck said on LinkedIn recently).

So, at first sight, the problem with vulnerability can seem to be that it needs to be censored, and also that it needs to be dished out in measures, instead of freely.

If you make yourself appear too vulnerable, it can backfire greatly, because it makes some people focus on your vulnerability to such a degree that they believe that you have no strengths whatsoever (or that you view yourself as worthless).

That may sound like a problem, but it isn’t. As long as you surround yourself with strong people, things will be fine. And if you run into weak people, their response may upset you briefly but that’s fine too, and maybe you’ll inadvertently help them grow.

Strength is the willingness to make yourself vulnerable and admit that you’re vulnerable. Some people, however, tell themselves that strength is the absence of any vulnerabilities. That means that they’ll never be who they want to be. How frustrating that must be.

We’re more than bits of software designed to tun on electronic equipment. Vulnerability makes us beautiful.

You can see this reflected in the valuation of handmade items over mass-produced ones. The process of making something by hand exposes the creator to the possibility that the process might fail. The end product could be seriously flawed, all the time and attention “wasted”. (It won’t be wasted as it will likely have resulted in learning and possibly produced relaxation, and hey, the joy is in the journey, not in the reward.)

We inherently value the risk that the creator takes as much as the wonderful result of the process when it doesn’t fail. We sense the fragility in the end product.

Mass production has been optimized to minimize flaws and products with flaws are removed in a quality control process that we hardly ever think of as consumers.

Consider flawless mass-produced drinking glasses over exquisite hand-blown glass ware.

Some time ago, someone wrote to me “It must be difficult for someone so thoroughly talented/blessed, to not be able to take a compliment without examining it for booby traps?!?!”

And I thought “What the hell is this about?” because I had no idea. (I still haven’t been able to identify the “compliment”.) The message came from someone who appears to have a great need to feel superior to others. I suppose that my willingness to be open about my vulnerabilities over the years must have led to the idea that I don’t believe that I have any talents?

Maybe I should add that the other person is in a country that has a very different culture and style of communication than the one that I have been in for nearly fourteen years now. I surely have assimilated many of the mannerisms that I am surrounded by. That’s only logical.

Okay, so I probably often do come across rather oddly to people in other countries these days, because they expect me to behave the way I used to in the past, the same way they do. That causes a mismatch that is unidentifiable for them and that likely makes them feel slightly uncomfortable. (Look at the Brexit negotiations, for instance at Angela Merkel’s frustration with Theresa May in this context, to see how differently people from my current culture communicate. David Cameron had the same problem, by the way.)

I on the other hand had been thinking he might be taking the mickey because he’d suddenly sent me a puzzling series of messages, in which he partly seemed to be parroting me in in a strange way. I thought that the parroting in itself was already quite odd. It’s something people do when they want to make fun of you, after all.

But then again, come to think of it, parroting may also be something certain men do automatically when dealing with women, probably because they subconsciously want to be liked. Maybe that was the compliment.

“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brené Brown

 

Will designer babies dissolve the glue that binds society?

That is one of the questions I’ve been wondering about, as you’ll know if you read my latest book.

I just watched Brené Brown’s TED Talk about vulnerability again. I first saw it a few years ago. It turns out that her research appears to indicate that yes, the unbridled creation of designer babies would destroy our capacity for connection.

 

#eugenics #designerbabies We really do need to talk about that

In my book “We need to talk about this” I am not trying to convince you of anything (other than that “we need to talk about this”).

I simply believe that it is important to move toward a global consensus on matters like the new eugenics, on how we see future generations and societies.

To reach a global consensus, we’ll all need to adapt. Some of us will have to take a step back while others have to move forward. A few of us can stay right where we are.

It means that you have to examine your own opinion, to see where exactly it comes from, and where necessary, adjust it. This will help you see where other people’s opinions are coming from, also if they’re not at all like your own.

Then you may suddenly discover that their views aren’t actually as different as you initially thought.

 

About dealing with the poleese

Below, you will find a highly entertaining university lecture by a law professor (James Duane) and a police officer about why you should never talk to the police. Ever.

(James Duane won a national debating award when he was still in high school. You can tell.)

Most of us are raised on fairy tales about the police that have little to do with reality. So was I.

Much later in life, when I became more proficient in legal matters, I realized that not only should you never talk to police, you should never let police into your home either, even if you’ve already decided you aren’t going to say a thing.

I’ll tell you why.

(Besides that, as James Duane demonstrates in his lecture, saying nothing is very hard.)

When I was much younger, one of my sisters had a boyfriend who was with the police. When the two visited my home for the first time, I noticed how little reticence he displayed with regard to opening the door to my bedroom and walking straight into it. I realized that it probably came from his policing background.

Would I have been happy for him to have walked in on, say, a display of sex toys or my bloody underpants on the floor because I happened to have gotten my period unexpectedly that day, or even a collection of childhood teddy bears? Probably not!

We value our personal life. Our personal privacy.

Without you being aware of it, police may already have access to all your phone calls and other electronic communications. Everything is recorded and kept these days. So, do they really still need to be able to discover that childhood teddy bear collection in your bedroom too?

You usually are under no obligation whatsoever to open the door to police and if police officers think you have done something very serious, they’ll bust the door down anyway.

This is not about being dishonest or having no respect or about trying to make the lives of police officers as hard as possible. This is about the reality that “life ain’t fair” and that stuff happens. Even when no bad intentions are involved.

Everything that James Duane says is true, and for many reasons. The main reason for how we can get ourselves into a mess is probably that most of us are chatty, perhaps particularly when we’re under some kind of pressure.

So, as Duane explains, you may end up accidentally saying something that has nothing to do with why police wanted to talk with you but that happens to reveal a violation of some obscure law that should have been updated decades ago but wasn’t and that one of the two police officers you’re talking with just happens to know about.

But as Duane also explains, you could for example mention that you weren’t in town on a certain day, not knowing that someone else firmly believes to have seen you that day. That is likely to come across as a lie on your side, even if you aren’t lying at all.

Part of being chatty also seems to be that we sometimes say really dumb things.

I sometimes catch myself saying the stupidest stuff when I am making small talk, or letting stuff rest that other people say. Stuff that isn’t true. Stuff that makes me look bad, or look silly. Nothing serious, usually. Just silly stuff that makes me look dumber than I am.

Such as that when I bought an iPad, I splashed out without thinking. I had a very practical reason for purchasing an iPad and it had to do with my business. But that’s for me to know. I don’t feel inclined to correct another person about an assumption he or she makes when all I am doing is making small talk. I know why I bought that iPad, and that’s enough for me.

But sometimes, I leave stuff unchallenged that I really should have spoken up about and at other times, I find myself automatically saying things like “yeah, me too”. I guess I do it to be sympathetic or because I don’t want to come across as too overpowering or too much of a “smart ass”.

When James Duane did his little quiz, I thought “That’s funny, I didn’t know that they had been dot dot dot but he definitely said dot dot dot” and so I too thought I knew the answer. We say what we say in such instances because we are so eager to get it right, and we know that that answer is the right one. Only, it isn’t. It is the right answer, but to a different question.