Errors of the human body – and genome editing in Toronto

I am about to watch a film called “Errors of the human body” that I just ran into at the local Scope charity shop. Although I don’t know yet how much relevance it has within the context of the new eugenics, it reminds me of (the graphics for) a session on 17 October I saw announced on Twitter this afternoon:

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If you happen to be in Chicago on the 14th, there is also this:

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Consumerism or not

My microwave finally gave up the ghost a few days ago. There had been one or two earlier occasions when it was using energy but not heating food, so it was no big surprise.

The first thing I did was go online and look for a new one. Old habits die hard. It is very tempting to run out and get for example a new shiny red one right away as I rely pretty heavily on my microwave (and a red or black microwave is prettier than a white one). I very rarely use a stove or oven.

But this one had come from someone else’s kitchen remodelling project, and served me well for years. I’d bought the one before that new, and it did not last long at all.

So, operating from a non-consumerist point of view, I was hoping to find another one that was getting tossed out or already got tossed out during a kitchen renovation. Those microwaves often still work fine but as they usually have no legs and their looks may be a bit less appealing, most people probably don’t want them. They’d look a bit odd in a shiny new kitchen, granted.

So I went on freecycle, posted my request and crossed my fingers. I received three offers! I only needed one – which was very kindly dropped off, too – so that means that two other local people whose microwaves are about to break down will be in luck.

There is still so much stuff sitting around unused in people’s sheds, basements and attics. It means that something else does not actually have to be bought yet, with the various environmental burdens that purchase would entail.

Send this man a birthday greeting, please

Thanks.

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The incident at the Tate Modern

Brain scans in order.

Let’s face it, no people in their right mind – with perfect brain health – would do something like this, knowing fully well they would get arrested and possibly put away for a long time.

Brain-based health conditions carry a huge stigma, but when you think about it that strokes, brain tumors and traumatic brain injuries can alter someone’s personality rather dramatically, you realize that it is the brain that creates any person’s personality and that we have relatively little control over it.

That idea makes us feel uncomfortable and that’s why we prefer to assign blame to other people’s brain-based conditions that make them do bizarre things such as throw a random young boy off a building. It simply makes no sense. Hence, there is some pathology at work here. Period.

Landlords…

Never had any problems with landlords in the Netherlands. Never.

Had three in Florida. The first and the third were fine, but the second one was not and his attorney was rumoured to have mafia ties, I kid you not. But I heard that later. I think it was actually a legal aid lawyer who told me that who I talked with later, long after I’d moved out and his lawyer started pestering me. I’ll spare you the details.

My third landlord was the husband of the person I volunteered with on Saturdays and sometimes Sundays. (He was a builder, built huge places, the way they are in Florida. Nice guy. I think he was in the US Army for a while, and they lived in places like Morocco. ) She stopped by one day – to bring me two birds – and was appalled and suggested I move in to one of their places. They owned a small apartment building that was mostly used by snowbirds (people from for example Canada who take winter vacations in Florida).

Some time later, I moved to Britain.

In Southampton, I knew several landlords. (Only one of them was mine.)

One said that only educated people were decent human beings, and I was too shocked to respond. He called tenants who rang him because the washing machine or heating wasn’t working (properly) “bad tenants”. This was not my own landlord, but someone I met within a business context and was friendly with for a while. Wasn’t actually a bad guy at all, strangely enough.

I also knew one who proudly told me how he had tricked an elderly woman with beginning Alzheimer’s out of her flat, I kid you not.

On another occasion, the same guy was talking with me about a new building he was constructing and then added that it did not have to be very good “as it is only for tenants”.

In Portsmouth, I’ve met two who dump rubbish on other people’s front courts and patios. I caught one red-handed and the other one admitted it.

I have principles.

If I can help make things better for people who come after me who are less strong in some way – okay, except physically as I am getting old and I am feeling it – I will try to do that. And that baffles the hell out of (most) Brits. But that is not my problem.

In-groups, out-groups, empathy, altruism, parochialism and disparity – but not necessarily hate

However, it can come across like that on the disadvantaged side of exclusive solidarity:

The Neuroscience of Hate: Rebecca Saxe from the Petrie-Flom Center’s channel on Vimeo.

I find this talk very enlightening, also with regard to my own situation as a migrant in the UK. I will have to do some thinking about how I can apply this knowledge.

What Rebecca Saxe calls parochialism, I call exclusive solidarity (as opposed to inclusive solidarity). Rebecca Saxe’s talk also explains that scarcity – imagined or real, as opposed to having an abundance mindset – causes it. Parochialism. When you’re afraid that there won’t be enough for all, you will only want to look after your own.

In connection with this topic, this book by Kathleen Taylor, another neuroscientist, is very enlightening as well:

 

Stigmas

In my latest course, I also talk about stigmas, including the fact that I unsuspectingly became burdened with at least five stigmas after I moved from Amsterdam to England. It’s shocked and hampered me greatly, and it also taught me a lot.

My most embarrassing moments in this respect?

Finding myself wanting to emphasize that I am not eastern European “or something like that”.

Because even worse than being seen as a migrant was being seen as a migrant from eastern Europe “or something like that”, when I was living in Southampton.

“I am not one of them. I am one of you, I am one of us.”

I still cringe when I think back to it.

Nobody is immune to the destructive self-perpetuating power of a stigma.

 

Another opinion

The key to our humanity isn’t genetic, it’s microbial

File 20181211 76977 1euccsw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The microbes that live in our gut are essential to good health.
Alpha Tauri 3D Graphics/SHutterstock.com

Ian Myles, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

What if the key to perfecting the human species were actually … yogurt?

Continue reading

Surrogacy

For a while, I’d been wanting to watch the documentary “Big Fertility“, by the Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC), which was released on 17 September 2018. I was mainly curious.

I finally got around to it today. I watched the puzzling trailer this morning – It’s all about the money – and it intrigued me so much that I rented the video from Vimeo.

This documentary features Kelly Martinez, her husband and the director of the CBC as well as Kelly’s doctor during her last surrogacy.

Kelly has earlier addressed the United Nations, as is mentioned in the documentary. This took place on 15 March 2017.

She also went to Spain. I found an article in Spanish newspaper El Pais of 24 February 2017 that mentions her and discusses the problem of gestational surrogacy. It’s not allowed in Spain, but that does not stop people who have lots of money.

My conclusions:
  • The issue of surrogacy needs to be resolved globally, and as soon as possible, as many others have been saying for a long time. Some surrogacies go fine, but many don’t – and the victims are often the babies, for example when they can’t travel from the countries in which they were born or when people who bought a pregnancy change their mind.
  • As Dr Diehl (Kelly’s doctor) explains in the documentary, physicians are currently left in limbo. They are faced with making decisions for which there is (often) no legal framework yet (depending on state/country), which can expose them to lawsuits. An example he gives is the situation that a surrogate does not want vaccinations, while the person who bought the pregnancy does.
  • If it were up to me, surrogacy would be banned altogether. Babies are not products. (Nobody knows what happened to the two boys Kelly produced during her third and final surrogacy.)
  • Thankfully, with the soon expected advent of artificial uteruses – incubation pods for embryos (yes, we will have something like this; there is no doubt in my mind about this and they’ve already been used successfully for sheep – the problem will disappear, at least as far as the surrogates are concerned and to some degree also as far as the babies are concerned.
  • I am reminded of Michael Sandel’s words about the effects of various practices on inclusive solidarity. What’s technologically possible is not by definition mandatory. It is not at all a matter of choosing between nature or science and technology, as some suggest.

I believe that truly altruistic cases or surrogacy will not be stopped by bans but it would curb the predominantly negative instances and effects of gestational surrogacy. In my own family, there is a case of one family giving one or their babies to another couple that could not conceive. It concerned two siblings and their spouses and happened many decades ago.

She’s GOOD!

She raps a poem she wrote to an Iranian-American student repeatedly tasered by police at a UCLA library when he did not want to show his ID when challenged, repeatedly tasered and then told to stand up again. (It was recorded on video.)

And she’s surprisingly good. It’s powerful.

This is 11 years old yet highly current.

When irrational fears on the side of police officers cause deaths, people sometimes get angry…

This concerns my home town of St. Petersburg in the US. I’d just left…

Tyron Lewis was an unarmed teenager. Of course he was black. Hence automatically considered dangerous. And shot. Killed.

I watched the news about it on TV from Amsterdam but for most people around me, it was just another Rodney King story that happened on the other side of the world. It did not concern them.

Particularly for young people (?), the internet – still in its infancy back then, with most people not even using e-mail – enabling like-minded strangers from all over the world to connect has changed this.

(Or has it?)

I knew from my own experiences in St. Petersburg that there were officers in St. Pete who were scared. For their own lives. Expecting the worst. (I once had to ask for police assistance when I came home and found my front door locked from the inside. Seemed a bit peculiar, best to take no risks and let the professionals deal with it. To my astonishment, the officers were much more scared and nervous than I was.)

This video has great sound. One of the reasons why I am posting it.

 

Theresa May’s hostility in practice

While the Home Office’s illegal practice to force medical staff to report migrants to them as if they were hounds pointing out foxes in the field has recently been terminated, if I recall correctly, the hostility policy that Theresa May started against foreigners (though it was touted as a measure to flush out illegal immigrants) continues.

The irony of it all is that for most legal immigrants in Britain, there is no official paperwork that states that they’re here legally. Leave to remain should be automatic for those who have it automatically, on the basis of the law. On paper, I have already had the same rights as British people for about nine years, but in practice, that is not quite the case.

Every time I leave the UK, I don’t know whether I will be let back into the country again (also because the UK government has been changing its definition of who is allowed to live here and who is not so many times). Dutch people tell me that of course I will be allowed back into the UK, as I am an EU citizen, but they are not familiar with what happens in practice. Last time I returned, the customs officer held back my passport teasingly for a few seconds when he handed it to me, before he let go of it. To remind me that I am nothing but a rotted banana peel in the eyes of people like Theresa May? Because he was bored? Or because I am a female?

Anyway, last year MPs reported foreigners to the Home Office 68 times and “since 2012, MPs have contacted Immigration Enforcement to raise concerns about constituents’ immigration status 723 times”.

I’d like to see a list with the names of those MPs. One of them is Conservative MP Christopher Chope.

Thankfully, 107 MPs have signed up to the pledge that they will not inform the Home Office on their constituents within this hostile climate context. These MPs include for example Diane Abbott, Jon Ashworth and Richard Burgon, yet apparently only one Conservative MP, namely Heidi Allen.

Even at some universities, I read on Twitter earlier this year, the situation has turned into a situation eerily reminiscent of what happened 100 years ago, when Jews in Germany were challenged on every occasion and eventually were forced to wear a band on their arm, with professors who’ve been working in the UK for a long time suddenly being challenged on their eligibility to for example serve on a PhD student’s graduation committee and being asked to show their passports.

Theresa May’s hostility policy remains a highly worrisome development.

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.

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.

 

You thought animals we eat have no feelings?

Boiling water hurts them too.

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Illness and the social self (upcoming Uehiro lectures)

The annual Uehiro lectures will take place in Oxford next week. This year, they are by Richard Holton, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Their topic interests me because I feel strongly that we need to start looking differently at various forms of illnesses. Continue reading

Dealing with empathy

Humans occur along vast ranges of characteristics and one of those ranges is the scale that has empaths and extreme altruists on one end and probably psychopaths on the other. They all have their pluses and minuses. Nothing is bad or good. Everything is both. There is good in bad and bad in good. Good and bad can’t even exist independently. They are expressed relative to each other, after all.

Do you know where on this spectrum you are? Continue reading

Sadistic stalking and other forms of stalking

In my book “We need to talk about this“, I mention a phenomenon called “sadistic stalking”. (This comes from the stalking classification by forensics psychologist Lorraine Sheridan. You can find the description below.)

Imagine you’re a middle-aged woman and you’ve been stalked anonymously for years. One day, you open your front door to go to the supermarket and you find the remains of your dead husband on your doorstep. He passed away years ago, but your stalker has dug him up. Say it all out loud, as if you were talking to a friend or colleague, telling them about what is going on in your life. Then picture yourself explaining what is happening to a police officer. Now imagine that you are also feeling very upset while you are trying to convey this information.

How can other people tell whether you are mentally well or not? You will certainly sound as if you’ve lost your mind. You will very likely be assessed as the one with the mental health problem and if not, you may be told that you’ve mistaken the remains of the prey of a fox.

This example comes from a real case that happened in Britain. The woman in question had a heart attack when she found her deceased husband’s remains. She was later sectioned (declared a danger to herself or others) and spent months on a psychiatric ward as a result of the tremendous damage her sadistic stalker’s relentless targeting had done to her life. Consider this. Sadistic stalkers pick their targets because they perceive them as happy, content… and stable. Undoubtedly, many people in her surroundings did not believe the poor woman while all of that was going on and thought she was merely seeing ghosts, compounding her hardship. Living in a situation like that for years is immensely taxing.

Incidentally, that particular stalker was trying to convey the message “What’s he got that I don’t have?” when he left the remains of the deceased in front of the woman’s house.

Conclusion?

  • When you look at the victims (I prefer “targets”) of this phenomenon, you see how little we know about mental health and how hard it is to determine who is “crazy” and who isn’t.
  • (Also, we need a very different approach to how society deals with stalking.)

Sadistic stalking can even be much more devious and much more “crazy-making”. If you describe someone else’s “crazy” and “crazy-making” behaviour, how can you avoid sounding “crazy” and being considered “crazy”?

People often assess other people’s mental health on the basis of what they think sounds crazy just like they assess other people’s beauty  on the basis of what they they think is beautiful. Professional assessments are still subjective too, even though attempts continue to be made to standardize diagnoses.

This is from the front matter of the book “A week in December” by Sebastian Faulks. I encountered it on a camp site.

Continue reading

Time for a rethink?

There is no such thing as a dumb animal. Okay, with the possible exception of that one bee who currently keeps flying into my kitchen, again and again and again. But he always finds his way out again. Hm. Then maybe even this bee isn’t really that dumb… I haven’t figured out yet what smell on my windowsill could be attracting him. Or her.