Who loves to be glued to a desk?

There are very few geologists who went into earth science because they loved sitting at a desk behind a computer all day long (though particularly structural geologist do a lot of modelling).

I am no exception. Below is a view from the lamproite plug that I had in my fieldwork area in south-eastern Spain one year (Cancarix).

See what I mean?

By the way, a lamproite plug is like a tiny volcano with molten rock that came up from very deep in the earth. Kimberlite – which can contain diamonds – is a bit like that too.

I loved doing fieldwork, and I miss it. In fact, when I spend too much time behind a computer, typing up reports and so on, I tend to develop neuromusculoskeletal complaints of shoulders, arms, wrists and hands. I don’t like being indoors all the time either.

It is one of the reasons why I enjoy working with wildlife. It enables me to spend more time outside. I even have a small tent for this purpose.

More recommended reading

These are business books that contain a few life lessons as well. The story about RJR Nabisco is a fast-paced account – it’s been called a thriller – about business and banking practices (junk bonds and whatnots) and of course a portrayal of Ross Johnson and others. (It’s not for everyone, and not for every moment because it requires enough time.)

The book about Greggs gives you the inside view of how Greggs came about and grew into what it is today. It’s a good read and may change how you think of Greggs, the big chain it is today that started as a mom & pop undertaking not unlike my own parents’.

Hilary Devey’s Bold as Brass is suitable for everyone – unless you happen to be a misogynist. It’s a touching book, showing you how Hilary grew up in Britain, the many personal and professional challenges she had to overcome and how she developed Pall-Ex. Throughout her life, Hilary climbed many steep cliffs and was pushed off a few too.

  1. Barbarians At The Gate
  2. Bread: The Story of Greggs
  3. Bold As Brass

Unbleached, recycled and 100% biodegradable toilet paper

You’d think it’d be easy to find…

Amazon has it. Unbleached, recycled, biodegradable toilet paper.

The packaging is compostable, too. Made from potato starch.

Ecoleaf, from Suma. Ecoleaf Toilet Tissue 9 Rolls (Pack of 5, Total 45 Rolls)

And while you’re ordering this… why not get the paper towels too?

Ecoleaf Three Play Kitchen Towel (Pack of 12)

Can you identify this performance of Ravel’s Pavane?

This file contains a recording of Maurice Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte played by an eastern European orchestra. I love this rendition. I had it on an LP that I bought in the Netherlands decades ago and then lost after one of my emigrations. I would very much like help with identifying it as I can no longer remember which orchestra this is and who the conductor was.

During the recording, something fell on the floor, which is audible on the LP (but not in this video). It may help someone identify this wonderful performance.

As you can see, my little poltergeist was active when I created the slides for the video file. (Pavel’s Ravane? Ha ha.)

The YouTube file plays the digitized version of a recording I made with a cassette tape voice recorder when I played the LP in my home in Florida, my two quaker parrots enjoying it too as you can hear. (They’d have hollered if they hadn’t. They liked this music.)

Lessons two pigeons taught me

Until a few years ago, I had never paid much attention to common pigeons. I’d seen them around, of course, and I’d seen them hump each other in what looked like a fairly random manner. I used to shrug.

Pigeons – colored mostly grey in my mind – had become the sparrows of the first two decades of my life. We chased those away, out of many countries. Pigeons and gulls stepped in to fill their shoes at the tables of our outdoor cafes and eateries.

But unlike gulls and sparrows, pigeons were actually introduced all over the world, by us, humans. We took them from their sea cliffs in much warmer climates. They were rock doves.

Pigeons are much more tolerant than humans, it seems. They happily eat along other species of birds, they pay attention to each others’ alarm calls, particularly those of crows and other corvids (who often act as watchdogs against prowling cats).

Pigeons are smart. They understand, wordlessly. They also have the ability to distinguish between music by different composers and art by different painters. (Can all humans? Has anyone ever tested that?) And they usually mate for life. Racing pigeons are males who hurry home to their mate. Did you know that? I didn’t until one or two years ago.

Why did I start paying attention to pigeons? Well, one day, I was on my way downtown, crossing a very busy intersection, when I heard a woman say “that bird has a death wish” to her partner. I looked at the bird, hung around to observe, and concluded that she was right.

Pigeons know that cars and buses kill and when they know that they are fatally ill, unable to save themselves, and maybe also after their mate has died, they sometimes choose to end things swiftly rather than die a long and painful death, and perhaps even end up as fox food in a shorter but still pretty painful death.

The second pigeon who caught my attention also kept walking into very busy traffic, but kept trying to fly away and only got a few centimetres of lift. It clearly didn’t want to die but felt it had no choice. I stopped traffic, grabbed the bird, took it home and rehabilitated it.

It had very likely accidentally had gotten locked into an enclosure – I think I know where, too – and was mainly dehydrated and also malnourished, but other than that it was perfectly fine. It stayed with me long enough to be able to assess that and its ability to fly again. (It was getting increasingly impatient too!)

That was the occurrence that got me to look into pigeons and changed my mind about these creatures.

Next, in the course of 2016, two pigeons befriended me. I found one of them on my windowsill one day, indoors, studying me calmly as I was sanding a little table. I had been completely unaware of it, looked up at some point and my jaw dropped when I saw that pigeon resting on my windowsill.

Turned out that he had decided that my windowsill would be a perfect place for a nest. In principle, I agreed, but there was one problem. Kitchen windows aren’t always open. This one – dad as it turned out later – is highly inquisitive and likes looking at what I am doing. When I was hand-sewing sleeves for my penny whistles, he watched with great interest. (Whatchadoin’?)

The whole thing puzzled me for a while until it dawned on me, that, of course, birds are far from stupid – heck, they’ve survived on the planet much much much longer than humans – and they’d noticed that I no longer had pet birds in my place. “I wonder if we can nest there now.” I guess they decided that they wanted to become my pets, which several mammals have done before them.

I sort of compromised. I fed them breakfast off and on, or dinner. When they stopped appearing as a pair, I concluded they had a nest somewhere, I fed them more often and made the decision that I had to support them through their nesting period as I might inadvertently have encouraged their nesting (so I thought, but I later found out that it wasn’t the case as I saw many more young pigeons appear in the streets at around the same time).

I asked them whether they had one or two eggs or youngsters and told them I was very curious about their offspring. Eventually, I got the impression that they were merely getting fatter so they probably did not have a nest at all. Also, I didn’t want them to feel too comfy visiting as not everyone around me might like that, and the birds might start leaving droppings (which they had not done so far). So I cut back on my catering service and transitioned to adding some food to a location where all sorts of wildlife already forages and other people provide food too.

(The female pigeon broke my heart once when she showed up half covered in some really disgusting fast food that had been thrown away. Not all fast food is bad but the fast food that is, is also making wildlife less healthy.)

One Sunday evening, I saw the two walk around in an obvious panic and realized that my support for them had cut them off from the intelligence (information) of other pigeons, namely where to find the best stuff and at what time and on what days. They know that schools are closed in the weekend and supermarkets are closed on Sunday mornings here. (Of course they do!) Those are among the places where people often eat hence drop food. Though it isn’t the best kind of bird food, not by a long shot. I had to cue them in, so I did.

It dawned on me that I had introduced inequality among the local group of about ten pigeons and that this was not benefiting my pair.

Then one day, dad stopped by, first with youngster 1 who was still a bit sleepy and the next day, with youngster 2, the older one. (I felt so stupid! They’d had a nest after all. I’d been right.) The two youngsters are each other’s spitting image, except that one is older and bigger. It took me a while to figure it out.

I discovered that mom and dad are a lot like humans. Daddy pigeon thought it was okay to sit on people’s windowsills, but mommy pigeon was teaching her kids to avoid windowsills. Ha ha!

I saw many more young pigeons around at the time, also in other locations in town.

I have seen one who was still quite intimidated by other pigeons. Ha ha! I have seen him fly toward other birds and then off again, repeatedly, which is odd behavior for a pigeon. Then one morning, I saw him or her do it again. Approach, hover, fly off, approach and hover, fly off, repeat, then approach, land and literally jump in, to eat with the other birds. It was perfectly fine. No one shooed him or her off.

(Yes, they do occasionally fight. The males sometimes get into quarrels and the females sometimes have to shoo younger males off. I have seen the female of my friendly pair grab a much younger local male – quite a character, that one – by the bill to make sure he got lost when he was way too pushy.)

I have negotiated with dad and moved the birds back to where they came from. I found them surprisingly easy to work with (which explains why humane pigeon management works much better than the traditional pest control approach, as I wrote in my previous post).

Dad really likes me for some reason, though, and still stops by from time. We mostly just look at each other and enjoy the bond, the trust. He is highly inquisitive, likes watching what I do.

I guess he is a lot like me. I have no idea where these two roost or where their nest was, but I confess that I was quite curious about where they were hiding them when the little squabs were still highly vulnerable and very ugly.

If only humans could be a little more like pigeons…

Thankfully, where I live many people help out the local wildlife, often feeding them high-quality (proper) food too. I think that, in theory, if people see the plights of wildlife, it is easier for them to see the plights of other humans around them too.

On some days, I wish that Julian Savulescu’s solution – feeding all humans oxytocin in pill form – would work and we humans would stop killing other animals, destroying ours and their habitat and foster harmony among all humans and all species on the planet. But to think that this will work is scientifically naïve, although a very useful ethics exercise. (I used to know a woman with a Bachelor’s in psychology who once shocked me by saying that she wished mind control was possible for the entire human population, to make people behave the way she felt they should. I considered that notion highly unethical, though now, many years later, I can also see the other side of that ethical dilemma.)

The solution will probably have to come through a combination of education and voluntary activities – a version of show and tell, of setting good examples – and dogged persistence. We need more Thich Nhat Hahns in the world. But not even Buddhism is free from violence and sexism because Buddhists too are merely human. We humans are so fallible, so liable to make mistakes.

Thankfully, the greatest learning comes from mistakes. Learning is the purpose of life, not only in our own lifetimes, but also from one generation to the next and the next. Life’s lessons are repeated until learned.

Even the oxygen we humans depend on comes from other species.

Below are some photos of dad and the eldest squab, taken on the day dad surprised me when he stopped by to introduce the youngster. (At the time of writing, I haven’t seen any of them for quite some time as they’re way too busy getting on with their lives and enjoying the wonderful weather. Only dad stopped by to say hello a few days ago.)

Effective city pigeon management

Traditional pest control companies like spreading persistent myths that help keep them in business. Thankfully, humane wildlife deterrence practices – which are much more effective – are slowly gaining traction. Take pigeons.

They’re highly intelligent animals which we took from their native habitats in foreign countries – sea cliffs – and introduced all over the world. I didn’t know that until nearly two years ago. When it comes to pigeons, there seem to be three groups of people: People who hate them, people who love them and people who are indifferent to them.

I used to be in that third category. In the past, I hardly paid any attention to the critters.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch this documentary:

Deterring pigeons the traditional way is expensive. That’s partly because it works against the intelligence of the animals instead of working with it. Birds have been on the planet much longer than humans – since 150 million years ago, roughly, whereas our oldest ancestors such as Orrorin tugenensis appeared only around 6 million years ago. So birds have built up a vast collective knowledge that we still lack.

Several cities, including Paris and Nottingham, successfully work with pigeons instead of against them. It results in healthier birds and makes – if you want that – controlling pigeon populations much easier (through the use of dummy eggs).

In city parks and on the rooftops of flat buildings, you can provide pigeon roosting, nesting and feeding structures – modern dovecotes – that are so attractive to pigeons – the former rock doves – that they’ll select them over the inferior spots where we humans usually don’t want pigeons.

Such structures can be made from recycled plastic, which is maintenance-free, non-toxic and available in many shapes and colours. You can use them educational facilities for the public too, connect them with their surroundings in a positive and meaningful way that can be highly inspirational.

It makes sense. Would you rather live in a shack that exposes you to the elements from almost all sides or in a nice cosy environment that feels like home?

I’d be very happy to assist any party (city council, park owner, owner of large building with flat roof) who wishes to apply this.

Northern Ireland abortion refugees: Supreme Court — UK Human Rights Blog

R (o.t.a A and B) v. Department of Health [2017] UKSC 41, 14 June 2017 – judgment here. Sometimes The Law comes to the rescue. And by this I do not mean constitutional law versus populism or the rule of law versus raw-knuckled fighting. It just happens that, occasionally, litigation drawn from ordinary life encapsulates more political […]

via Northern Ireland abortion refugees: Supreme Court — UK Human Rights Blog

Prank, boredom or tardiness?

Yesterday, I found this note under my door. Is this a prank, evidence of boredom (komkommertijd bij de Engelse politie?) or does this inquiry relate to when I was attacked in July 2007?

Hint: I added two letters to the note.

I think it is a prank. First of all, the police forces here are stretched thin in many ways and the officers don’t have the time to go around inquiring randomly whether persons are fine. That makes no sense.

Also, it just so happens that I stopped by at the police station only a few days ago, with my passport, to inquire about something in relation to an e-mail I’d had from my home country and everything was fine.

Yes, I was attacked by five lads in July 2007, in an incident similar to two others that had just cost the lives of two Britons. (Thankfully, I didn’t know that at the time of the attack; a Briton in my home country later e-mailed me about it.) Local police (Hampshire Police) showed zero interest in what had transpired at the time, which is rather odd in view of the fact that they must have been aware of the other incidents. Or…?

It is hard to imagine them showing up 10 years later!

A while after the attack back then, via the Old Bailey, I got in touch with the widow of one of the other victims, which was probably good for both of us. After all, I merely had a mild concussion – two stones hit my head – and never lost consciousness so I was relatively fine. (I sustained a serious concussion in my teens as a result of two blows to my head during a traffic accident and those knocked me out good. I was carted off by ambulance then, so I knew it wasn’t as bad as that.)

When I found the lads sitting on a wall in front of my home a few days later, I called police in a bit of a panic, but then too, police, well, I guess were completely unaware of the other two incidents that had happened and cost lives? It is the only explanation that makes sense.

So, no, Hampshire Police officers don’t go around inquiring whether people are well, not even after a serious attack, and I am not on a first-name basis with anyone called William either.

So it must be another prank, from anonymous neighborhood folks. I get pranked a lot.

Foreign criminals’ deportation scheme ruled unlawful — UK Human Rights Blog

R (Kiarie) v Secretary of State for the Home Department; R (Byndloss) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2017] UKSC 42 In a nutshell The Government’s flagship scheme to deport foreign criminals first and hear their appeals later was ruled by the Supreme Court to be incompatible with the appellants’ right to respect for […]

via Foreign criminals’ deportation scheme ruled unlawful — UK Human Rights Blog

Five books about Britain

I haven’t read the fifth one yet, but take for granted that it’s highly informative. The first one is pretty heavy reading, more suitable to browse and read when anything catches your eye about how the tea tradition came about for instance or that alcohol used to be seen as good sustenance for hard-working people. Do that often and you’ll learn a few things you didn’t know yet.

The other four are much easier reads.

The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin Modern Classics)

Rich Britain

The Making of Modern Britain

SHOPPED: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets

A History of Modern Britain

McKenzie Friends study

Commenting on their findings, Drs Leanne Smith (Cardiff University) and Emma Hitchings (University of Bristol), who carried out the study alongside independent legal researcher Mark Sefton, said: ‘We found much that was positive about the work of paid McKenzie Friends. This is the first research to explore the views of clients of McKenzie Friends and those we spoke to reported receiving a great deal of valuable support from their McKenzie Friends at a relatively low cost.


Three books I recommend

They make very good reading. The first book helps you develop an understanding of the principles behind laws (and partly also why judges sometimes decide the way they do). The second book is handy for when you are doing business with companies in other countries, and the third one can make you see where people from other cultures and countries are coming from. Concepts like “truth”, “time” and “pain” are not as fixed as we tend to think but have strong cultural components.

  1. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? 
  2. Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity
  3. When Cultures Collide, 3rd Edition: Leading Across Cultures 3rd by Lewis, Richard D. (2005)


Human rights for just a few, that’s discrimination. Human rights apply to all human beings.

It has just been the 6th anniversary of an important human rights case, that of Mark and Steven Neary. Steven, who is autistic, was detained in local authority care for over a year before his dad used the Human Rights Act to get him home. RightsInfo has made a powerful short film to mark the […]

via A powerful new human rights film  — UK Human Rights Blog


Writing the first edition of my essay “We need to talk about this” – the second edition is in the works – forced me to think about issues I had never thought about before in great depth and I had to leave many of them untouched at the time.

For example, I am a feminist and I have always believed in a woman’s right to abortion. While I was considering how we could regulate the new eugenics, I ran into boundaries. It included having to think about how to fit abortion into the topic. That was a significant hurdle.

I was no longer able to say “of course women should be able to have abortions” – which I had always done in the past – but had to think about why and when they should, regardless of my own personal feelings. Because what I was writing about selecting pre-embryos and fetuses clashed with the general ideas that I had always entertained about abortion but had never examined in detail.

Legislation and protocols can sound very cold to people, but it’s not enough to just state something like “we think this is very very good” or “we think this is very bad”. That wouldn’t work in practice. If you want to make sure legislation is solid and leaves little room for abuse (deliberate misinterpretation), you end up with language that can come across as heartless. But that does not mean that the legislation (or protocol) is heartless or that the people who wrote it are!

It can be difficult to get that across, I have seen in various online comments (on for example the Groningen Protocol). It works the same way for traffic rules or rules for building skyscrapers. The law can’t just say something vague like “drivers should be careful” and “buildings should be safe” and leave it at that.

When Obamacare was introduced, a staunch Republican (and stauncher Libertarian) wrote to me that it was ridiculous that its legislation was taking up more than 2,000 pages or something like that. (Who would ever read that?)

I replied to him that I knew a jurist who works in precisely that area in the Netherlands and explained what that kind of legislation has to include. Fortunately, he listened to that explanation.

Unfortunately, I have found that even people who see themselves as the voice of reason (and sometimes as having absolute wisdom, too) aren’t always willing to listen to what someone “from the other side” is saying.

A certain brand of callousness

In my essay “We need to talk about this” I mention that I have on occasion been shocked by a certain brand of callousness that I have seen (too) often in Britain (both in the media and in real life). Here is one example of what I mean.


You can only justify such occurrences by applying a tweaked form of utilitarian reasoning. One person was suffering, but “wasn’t really harmed” and the number of people who were enjoying what was being done to George Cheese was greater than 1, hence these occurrences “increased overall happiness”.

The fact that utilitarianism was associated with the higher classes may have given this type of reasoning or events an unfortunate aura of “cleverness”. It could also explain why anyone who condemns the sort of things that were being done to George Cheese is seen by some as “naïve” and “not quite with it”.

Utilitarianism also attached little importance to individual persons’ rights. It would have stopped short from, say, stabbing someone like George Cheese as opposed to setting his clothes on fire and stuffing him into the trunk/boot of a car. This is the kind of background, I think, that enabled Simon Wright to say “It did not go too far.”

In reality, abuse targets like George don’t get to LIVE. All they are allowed to do is wait for their natural deaths. George Cheese said “FUCK THAT!” and stood up for himself in the only way he had left.

At least there is an inquest. That’s good.



The Charlie Gard case


I ran into the story a while ago, and couldn’t find too much information about it back then. However, the parents have just been turned down by the next court and now apparently plan to take the case to the Supreme Court. That’s resulted in more attention for the story, with more background.

Here are two places where you can read more about the case if you’re not familiar with it:



In the online discussions, I see something that I also recently mentioned in an essay I wrote and I feel the need to say something about that. (I have also submitted a comment elsewhere.)

Yes, it is true that the British medical profession can be extremely arrogant. As a Dutchwoman who previously lived in the US and is now based in Britain (in Ashya King’s city, I might add), I too feel that the medical profession generally still has that ridiculously old-fashioned god status in Britain. I’ve for instance been ridiculed by an ophthalmologist for asking about possible side effects of a medication, only to find that it did cause serious problems for me. (Thankfully, we have the internet now, which can help us solve such relatively minor problems and bypass physicians who don’t like assisting emancipated patients.) Some people have mentioned Ashya King’s case within this context.

Having said that, Charlie Gard’s case – heart-breaking and difficult – also has a strong element of the opposite. We are now in an era in which doctors are increasingly often perceived as “playing God” when they do NOT do everything in their power to prolong a baby or an adult’s life artificially, no matter how high the cost to the individual in question.

Charlie Gard’s case is not comparable with Ashya King’s case.

Charlie was born with a condition that normally means the infant won’t live very long. I understand that of the few children with his condition, his situation is the worst. Ouch. One can ask whom prolonging Charlie’s life benefits, Charlie or his parents. This will sound incredibly harsh to many and I understand that. It is okay to be very angry with me for that comment.

(I understand, really. I grew up with illnesses and deaths in my very close surroundings; it concerned my mother, one of her sisters and one of her brothers. They died of different kinds of cancer. My mother suffered greatly and for many years, after having been misdiagnosed twice. My youngest sister almost died after she was misdiagnosed when she was 4 or 5. She ended up in critical condition and had to be cooled with ice to keep her fever alone from killing her.) If it hadn’t been for the persistence of my dad, she would never have had the chance to develop into the successful business owner she is today. So, yes, I do know about losing people and wanting to hold on to them.)

On the other hand, allowing Charlie the experimental treatment in the US could yield very important information that may not benefit Charlie but could benefit future infants with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome or even other conditions. Could that be worth it? Hard to say.

What would Charlie want? Can you place yourself in Charlie’s situation for even a moment?

Ashya King, by contrast, was a healthy and much older kid who developed a brain tumor. Even with the traditional treatment, Ashya had a fighting chance and treating Ashya as well as possible was certainly going to benefit Ashya (even though there is never a 100% guarantee).

And it has.

One of our problems is that we badly need global regulations for all kinds of medical situations, regulations that people from all sorts of backgrounds all over the world can agree with. The lack of it currently not only causes medical tourism but also the kind of heartbreak we now see in the Charlie Gard case.

If I put myself in the parents’ shoes, I say that most of the hurt and upset for them is currently coming from the legal process. The uncertainty. Even possibly the knowledge that every day they spend in court is one day on which he is not getting the experimental treatment in the US. Unassisted, nature would have already allowed Charlie to cross the rainbow bridge and be at peace and the parents could have had a more normal mourning process.

Is Charlie at peace now? Is he not? How can we know?

It might be possible to avoid this kind of agony if we had much more clarity about what to do to limit harm to such a child as much as possible. Such regulations will have to be a compromise, obviously, and can never avoid heartbreak (but heartbreak is also a normal part of life; life does not come with guarantees and the losses make us cherish what we have).

Conditions like Charlie Gard’s also play a role in the new eugenics, currently particularly in the selection of embryos for IVF procedures, a rapidly growing practice, and soon in the creation of designer babies. It is an incredibly difficult topic that is screaming for attention. So I just wrote a rather provocative essay on it, in a hurry. It is called “We need to talk about this” (the second edition is already in the works) and includes a definition of what constitutes a life not worth living. I have based it on the principle of humanity, namely that every human being has the right to a life in dignity. During the writing of that essay, I grew very depressed a few times, because it is such a hard and dark topic. But we really do need to talk about this, sooner rather than later.

I wish the judges and the parents wisdom and strength and little Charlie lots of eternal sunshine of every possible kind.



What do you get if you cross George W. Bush, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Geert Wilders?

What do you get if you cross George W. Bush, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Geert Wilders?

Ehm… an ethics professor at Oxford University???

I have read a few of Julian Savulescu’s papers and they are certainly all very eloquently written. That said, not only did I sense a vague underlying fear as motivation for some views he expressed in a particular article (Procreative Beneficence: Why We Should Select the Best Children), those views scared me.

Then I ran into a report of a talk he gave in Japan in 2011 and it provided some clues. It appears that he is worried that the human species won’t survive much longer and believes that the solution lies in (tinkering with genes and also) ensuring that persons with so-called undesirable genes no longer come to life.

He is not wrong regarding his fears for the human species. Unfortunately, some of his argumentation is flawed and resembles the kind of reasoning that is sometimes presented by, say, the Daily Mail or the Daily Express and then attacked by scientists for being biased, incomplete and unbalanced.

This gives some of his argumentation a strongly irrational tinge and that is why some of his views scare me. He works at the University of Oxford (and was previously at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne). I expect a lot more from someone in his position and I certainly expect a lot more from academic papers. He has a responsibility to do much better and is surely capable of it.

For example, eradicating the incidence of asthma by eradicating asthmatics – which he proposed in that paper I refer to above – is like making sure that house fires no longer happen by demolishing all housing.

Bad air quality – one of the factors that play a role in asthma – is generally not caused by asthmatics and so eradicating asthmatics won’t improve air quality. As I am sure he knows, other factors include stress, certain medications, and allergies for wheat and other foods. Poverty – living with mold-covered walls and ceilings – is also a major factor. We should address those issues first, also because they are linked to other negatives and would help ameliorate those as well.

I agree with him that we humans face huge challenges, but I believe that there are currently much better ways of tackling them than eugenics. As two examples, I recommend the TED Talks by his learned colleagues Jane McGonigal and Rutger Bregman. The former has very attractive – and very up-to-date – ideas for how we can boost our problem-solving skills and the latter knows how we can lift the IQs of a very large group of people by roughly 14 points and save a lot of money in the process without too much trouble. It would also help make things better for asthmatics. Both are much more elegant scenarios than the scenario of eugenics (by any name).

His Procreative Beneficence article includes a table that lists 13 traits under the heading “behavioural genetics”:

I feel it is best to refrain from comment on that table. It speaks for itself.

Next, I wanted to take a look at the book he and his Swedish colleague Ingmar Persson published in 2012 (Unfit for the Future) and my jaw dropped when I read the summaries on the Oxford Scholarship site. Literally.

In it, they use the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” many times. They list “weapons of mass destruction” under the heading “catastrophic misuse of science” and combine it with keywords like “xenophobia” and “multiculturalism” but also “biological weapons,” “nuclear weapons” and “terrorism”. They write that “the multiculturalism of current liberal democracies make it likely that they will contain groups of people hostile to their ideology.”

They appear to think that “it might be possible for a well-organized terrorist group” “or even single individuals” to construct “weapons of mass destruction” and that this should be addressed by administering the hormone oxytocin, which they consider a drug. To me, this sounds like a combination of George W. Bush, Nigel Farage, classic Donald Trump and Geert Wilders speaking. I was astonished.

Persson and Savulescu put the cherry on the icing by the following two sentences:

“However, it is admitted that research into biomedical agents of moral enhancement is still in its infancy and that it is too early to judge its fruitfulness. There is also the general difficulty that means of moral enhancement have to be administered by morally imperfect people.”

Will this be developed into the next James Bond film, I wonder?

The book summary starts with the following sentence: “It is easier for us to harm each other than to benefit each other, e.g. easier to kill than to save a life”. That statement does not sound particularly healthy to me and I wonder what a psychologist or psychiatrist might make of it. I see people save other people’s lives on a daily basis and I don’t live that far from Oxford so my environment can’t be that different from Savulescu’s, though there is likely more poverty in my neck of the woods than in and around Oxford. People saving other people’s lives may happen more frequently than he and Persson think, even in countries like Syria.

Thankfully, I found some common ground in half of the chapters. Our planet is in trouble. I agree with that. But is it true that families with babies – young parents tend to produce a lot of oxytocin – are better for the environment than the rest of us?

What would happen if you throw in a bit of extra testosterone, another hormone that seems to be taking the world by storm as a bioenhancer at the moment? Testosterone is linked to aggression, after all. Would that cancel out the effect of the oxytocin? And for women, a bit of progesterone may be better than oxytocin but then again, estrogen is better for memory even though it tends to make women cranky. Less sweet. Testosterone on the other hand generally is not that good for memory.

Coffee is, though, particularly for people at more advanced ages and coffee has a number of other benefits. It is very good for the liver, even helps diseased livers recover, for instance, and it is a mild bronchodilator that works for about four hours after administration.

What does oxytocin do for memory? And, might it cause many women to lactate?

And could the unbridled practice of eugenics negatively influence oxytocin production in parents? Would it pitch hubris (such a powerful word!) and consumerism versus humility and gratitude? Could it push society toward psychopathy on the human diversity spectrum that ranges from extreme altruism to psychopathy?

I don’t think there is a one-pill-fits-all solution for the problems the world faces, with or without administration by morally imperfect people.

I did something similar. I went the other way and wrote a deliberately provocative essay – “We need to talk about this” – that highlights some of the downsides of eugenics. (The booklet has its limitations; I am working on a second edition.) I am just an ordinary educated citizen who believes in embracing (bio)diversity – also because there are good reasons for it – and in inclusive solidarity. I am not a professor at Oxford University. Maybe that’s a good thing.

I have also communicated the above to professor Savulescu. (I don’t expect to hear back from him.)

I would like to add a few words about what the BBC posted on its website on 24 May. Attacks like the one in Manchester – note that this does not involve the biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction Persson and Savulescu are worried about – take expertise that is difficult to come by and require a lot of planning and preparation, which increases the chance that agencies like MI5 will find out about such plans long before they can be executed, the BBC wrote. The type of individual required– not the type that Persson and Savulescu are concerned about, as that would be much rarer – is “very rare” according to the BBC.

Hormones and (mental and physical) health

For most women, PMS is an unpleasant but manageable part of their period. But for 5-8% of women (around 80,000 in the UK), their symptoms are so severe they can be fatal.

Laura experienced anxiety and panic attacks into her twenties, and was forced to temp because she couldn’t hold down a job. “Every month I’d get so tired I’d have to sleep 18 hours a day for three days. I started getting suicidal thoughts.”

She was suffering from Severe PMS or, as it is sometimes referred to in the UK, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. The condition is recognised by the NHS.

“PMDD is actually the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of one type of Severe PMS,” says consultant gynaecologist Dr Nick Panay. The UK’s definition is slightly different. “‘Severe symptoms interfere with someone’s ability to function normally.”

This is an important article. Read it:

I mention something similar in my book “We need to talk about this” in relation to a woman whose child was taken from her womb because she was in advanced pregnancy and has bipolar disorder. Hormones can wreak havoc. Blame the hormones, not the women. Don’t punish the women. Support them.

I happen to know a highly intelligent and spunky woman with bipolar disorder. She has a PhD and her own business. She was hospitalized twice. Want to take a guess as to when that happened? Right. When she had her daughter – who is now an adult and doing fantastically well, I might add – and when she was going through menopause.

Cut people some slack. Don’t punish them for their conditions, certainly not when the condition is otherwise highly manageable and well-managed by the woman in question. Punishing someone with bipolar disorder for going through a rough patch is like punishing someone else for having a bad flu.

By the way, Italy has just introduced period leave for women. And in case that makes you wonder about this, the gender pay gap in Italy is lower than in quite a few other European countries.

You, me and plastic

Like just about everybody else, I use too much plastic and have started to take small steps toward reducing my plastic footprint.

Instead of toothpaste, I use baking soda that comes packaged in paper and cardboard. Using baking soda is cheaper than using toothpaste.

Instead of buying containers of liquid hand soap, I make my own from a quarter bar of soap and refill the containers I already have. This too is much cheaper than purchasing ready-made liquid hand soap and the effort involved in making my own is negligible.

I try to keep plastic food containers and reuse them at least once for seedlings on my window sill. It’s nowhere near enough. I would like to see a system geared toward collecting and reusing  the plastic used to package food.  Maybe I’ll start one myself one day.