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.

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

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

Abortion

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

Ouch.

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:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-40047485

https://researchingreform.net/2017/04/12/london-live-interviews-researching-reform-on-charlie-gard/

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/format.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/972.html

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.

 

 

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:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/item/82dcd957-fb96-422c-b037-ad2645d7d3b7

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.

Less-waste living

I am not happy with how much plastic I put in the trash all the time and want to change that.

I am going to start by making my own tooth paste. That’s a baby step. That’s how we all learned to walk. Baby steps. Easy does it.

Here are three useful pages with information:

http://askthedentist.com/homemade-toothpaste/

http://www.diynatural.com/homemade-toothpaste/

http://www.diynatural.com/whitening-tooth-powder/

I am also going to start using a wooden toothbrush and I am going to experiment with making my own shampoo.

I noticed that that could produce more waste instead of less if I am not careful. Coconut milk usually is not packaged in plastic but in cans/tins (easy to recycle) and I can use the remainder of the coconut milk in food, but liquid soap is packaged in plastic. Then I found directions for turning bars of soap into liquid soap do I will look for bars that are packaged in paper and turn them into liquid soap.

There is also this method for washing hair with baking soda.

I am going to give the coconut shampoo version a shot to see how it works out and to that end, I will first try to turn bars into liquid soap. If the latter works, I also will no longer have to buy liquid hand soap in plastic. I can use the plastic pump flasks that I already have. (The pumps don’t work on many of them, so I’ve kept a few that work and I refill those anyway.)

Another advantage of using home-made toothpaste is that it won’t contain any nanoparticles. Many products contain nanoparticles these days, but there is no technology yet for removing them from waste streams.

Grow your own food inside a computer

At least, that is what it looks like, like you’re growing vegetables inside a computer case. This is a TED Talk by Caleb Harper.

TED Talks won’t let me embed this TED Talk, so you will have to click on the above link.

You can grow your own tasty Isle of Wight, Spanish or Floridian tomatoes, lettuces, broccoli, and a lot more, by recreating local climate and nutritional conditions with the aid of a computer, using recipes that you can exchange for free.

I want one!!!

This YouTube video show you how you can build one. This is not for everyone, so it is a great projects for neighborhood communities!

British apartheid

While reading three of Nelson Mandela’s (auto)biographies, I noticed some similarities with how the UK treats (oppresses) a large group of its population. I was not sure what to think of it, and a bit hesitant, held back by not wishing to offend anyone who’s endured apartheid in South Africa, to dare compare the situations.

Now this turns up.

Apartheid in the UK is a reality (article in the Independent). Here is the link to the initial article in the Guardian.

Note the sharp contrast between the US and the UK. On paper, Britain and the US may have similar degrees of inequality, but in reality, very little is similar about it.

This appalling craziness has got to stop. We badly need more equality in the UK. Real equality.

As the main driver for this inequality appears to be the urge to accumulate more money by those who already have plenty, there have to be financial motives behind the UK’s inequality. So, is the UK deliberately – habitually – keeping a large group of people poor enough so that it has a buffer of powerless people it can milk and starve whenever the economy tanks, or what? (The answer to that is “yes”.)

There is money in these “poor doors”, a lot of money.

There is nothing wrong with money. The problem is the feudal thinking. The service charges argument is bullshit. That can be solved some other way.

Someone might consider sueing London over this. Its planning committee made this possible, and signed off on it.

(This is not the “pepperpotting” Ken Livingstone had in mind!)

A better step? Reverse the situation! Make the entire building affordable living on the condition that a few rich folks get to live in it as well.

Food bank row

This morning, the first news today’s papers informed me of was a row over food banks.

fruitApparently, someone – an aide to the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – threatened to have food banks shut down if they continued to raise awareness about their activities and about food poverty in the UK. This aide has the wrong idea.

Only a few years ago, in 2011, I noticed a major discrepancy in this area. The Trussell Trust – which runs the food banks in the UK – wasn’t accomplishing even 10% of what Dutch food banks were doing.

  • UK food banks handed out 40,000 parcels per year.
  • 900,000 per year were handed out by Dutch food banks.
  • The population of England & Wales on 27 March 2011 was 56,075,912. The population of Scotland on that day was 5,295,000.
  • On 1 January 2011, the population of the Netherlands was around 16,700,000 persons. That’s almost 45 million people less!

So, while British food banks were handing out 0.00065 parcel per person per year, Dutch food banks handed out 0.054 parcel per person per year. Or did my calculator trip me up badly?

cheeseAround 83 times more food parcels were being handed out in a tiny country with much greater equality and almost none of the appallingly deep poverty of the UK!

That is not the Trussell Trust’s fault.

While the number of food parcels handed out in the UK has gone up substantially since then, it still is nowhere near enough. The Trussell Trust gave emergency food to 913,138 people in the UK in 2013-2014. Presumably, that means ‘once’.

According to the Trussell Trust, 13,000,000 people in the UK live below the poverty threshold. (That’s what it also said three years ago.)

Addressing the UK’s persistent poverty problems would improve the lives of everyone here, not just the lives of the poor. When UK scientists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett investigated the impact of inequality on society, they had to conclude that a higher degree of equality would lead to overall improvements for everyone, not just for the so-called vulnerable.

Conquering poverty would also benefit the nation’s budget, as the estimated cost of child poverty alone in the UK is £25 billion per year in terms of costs to business, the police, courts and health and education services.

Inhabitants of the Netherlands rank among the happiest people on the planet, year after year after year. Dutch children consider themselves very happy children, regardless of their socioeconomic background. The same cannot be said for British children.

At the end of 2010, UNICEF research into child inequality in 24 developed countries showed that income poverty has the greatest impact on child inequality in the UK. The UK ranks alongside countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. There is little inequality in the Netherlands, however, and the lives of children from the richest families differ little from the lives of the poorest Dutch children.

UNICEF UK commented that addressing income poverty is the crucial factor. ‘David Bull, Executive Director UNICEF UK said:

‘We must not lose sight of the importance of family income to eradicating child poverty in this country. We must ensure that no family with children has to live on an income which cannot provide the warmth, shelter and food they need.’

We need to hand out many more food parcels. There is no shame in handing out food, and none in accepting it either. The embarrassment is in not handing it out.