Cory Booker on PC culture: Is censoring others really the best way?

The key to changing hearts and minds for a better world? Lead with love, says Senator Cory Booker.

CORY BOOKER: I wrote an article in college where I tried, as a senior or fifth year student, I tried to talk about my coming to grips with homophobia that I had as a teenager. And I was very honest in the article about my just twisted thoughts about gay Americans, discomfort, you know, in that area. And in the article I talk about this man who I still remember—I haven't been in touch with him in years—a guy named Daniel Bao; one of the more beautiful human beings I ever met.

And I was working at a 24-hour crisis counseling center and a lot of the calls we would get would be men and women who were struggling with coming out. And it was devastating to me as a counselor. I just had no idea the levels of suicide, physical abuse, kids that were homeless because of family reactions. The bullying and intimidation that gay Americans were enduring. It was like I was seen behind the veil of the realities. And it really called into question my own issues and I remember some nights I would sit with Daniel and question him in ways that now I think about I've experienced questions from people who aren't black who ask me questions that I thought were sometimes just ignorant or if I had a dollar for every time when I was growing up the kids would ask me to touch my hair, you know. And it got tedious, you know, because I was so different. I was one African American in an all white community, my brother and I. And just the comments that were made—innocent comments but over and over and over again they became a tax on my self-esteem in many ways. And so now here I was in college asking the same kind of questions to a gay man; ignorant questions, personal questions. And the way he dealt with me didn't make me feel uncomfortable or ashamed but was so patient, was so loving, was so kind.

I'll never forget that and I grew from his love. I grew form his generosity of spirit. I grew from him enduring and in fact accepting and inviting those questions. So I don't know if I have constructive commentary to give about what's going on on a lot of these college campuses, how people are reacting to what they call environment of PC, political correctness, but I just know in my life, having been both the minority dealing with folks and their commentary and having been a guy trying to learn about other cultures that I just want to always lead with love. And I just want to always be as generous as possible. And even though it's tough; I know if you're gay or black or Muslim—I've been there—how tough it is every single day. If you're biracial, I mean, biracial people if they had a dollar for every time somebody asked you—just walked up to you and didn't even know you and said what are you, you know. Well I'm a human being. I'm a person with feelings, you know. You endure that when you're different and all of us have. I mean having conversations with a female senator Kirsten Gillibrand listening to her book right now. Just hearing her—that stuff she endured just as a woman in politics where everybody seems to think it's their right to comment on her weight or what she's wearing. All of us have to endure that or many of us have to endure that.

And whatever side of this you're on come back that idea: Am I leading with love? Is my question reflective of love, of empathy, of compassion? Am I being gentle in how I deal with this? And that doesn't mean for us activists—it doesn't mean be less strident in seeking justice. It doesn't mean be less hard in defending rights. But the people I revere from our history who were so successful at moving the needle on advancing rights and equality, many of them led with love and I think that that was their most powerful weapon for transforming hearts and minds.

  • When asked to comment on the debate surrounding political correctness on college campuses, Senator Cory Booker recounts a personal story of a gay friend who, many years ago, patiently endured Booker's naive questions as he tried to understand gay culture.
  • Having the freedom to ask questions—even dumb, ignorant questions—helped Booker grow and become an LGBTQ ally. His friend's patience and generosity in answering those questions helped Booker understand that you should always "lead with love."
  • PC culture may stop people asking questions and learning, out of fear of being rebuked. Censorship may not be the best way. Booker suggests that a better path forward, for people on both sides, is to ask: Is my question reflective of love, of empathy, of compassion? Am I being gentle in how I deal with this?

New AI can identify you by your dancing “fingerprint”

We each have a way of moving to music that is so unique a computer can use it to identify us.

Photo by David Redfern / Staff via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • The way we dance to music is so signature to an individual that a computer can now identify us by our unique dancing "fingerprint" with over 90 percent accuracy.
  • The AI had a harder time identifying dancers who were trying to dance to metal and jazz music.
  • Researchers say they are interested in what the results of this study reveal about human response to music, rather than potential surveillance uses.
Keep reading

The value of owning more books than you can read

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love my tsundoku.

(Photo from Wikimedia)
Personal Growth
  • Many readers buy books with every intention of reading them only to let them linger on the shelf.
  • Statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb believes surrounding ourselves with unread books enriches our lives as they remind us of all we don't know.
  • The Japanese call this practice tsundoku, and it may provide lasting benefits.
Keep reading

Study suggests sperm donation, like organs, should be allowed post-mortem

Is it ethical to use a dead man's sperm to become pregnant?

Photo by Lina White on Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • Many parts of the world are suffering from a shortage of sperm donors due to the high bar for acceptance and varying laws regarding donor anonymity.
  • A recent article suggested that, as a solution, we should consider allowing men to opt-in to posthumous sperm donation, much like men and women do for organ donation.
  • It's technically feasible, but how would we navigate the complex ethical and legal issues surrounding such a proposal?

Can, and should, dead men procreate? Yes and yes, says a recent article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

The UK is facing a sperm donor crisis. According to the article, UK sperm banks only take on a few hundred new donors per year, forcing them to import thousands of sperm samples from the U.S. and Denmark, which dominate the global market for sperm donations due to their high supply.

These countries have a high supply of sperm primarily because of laws and regulations protecting the donor's anonymity — in the UK, for instance, babies born from sperm donations are permitted to contact their biological father after they turn 18, an emotional confrontation that dissuades many from donating. In fact, in a 2016 study based in the U.S., 29 percent of current donors said they would have refused to donate if they could not be anonymous.

How can we increase the supply of sperm donors while simultaneously shielding donors from a potentially life-upending confrontation and providing children with the right to know their own ancestry? Allow for post-mortem sperm donations. Men could opt-in to become sperm donors after their death, just like they do as organ donors. So long as they were collected no longer than 48 hours after death, sperm could be collected via surgery or electrical stimulation of the prostate and be frozen for later use.

"If it is morally acceptable that individuals can donate their tissues to relieve the suffering of others in 'life-enhancing transplants' for diseases," wrote the article authors, "we see no reason this cannot be extended to other forms of suffering like infertility."

A legal and ethical quandary?

As it turns out, this idea isn't all that new. The first posthumous sperm retrieval occurred in 1980 after a 30-year-old man suffered a fatal brain injury in a car accident. His family requested that his sperm be preserved, which was done through surgery soon after he had been declared dead.

There have been numerous postmortem sperm retrievals since then, but they've always existed in a legal grey area. For instance, in 1997, a UK man named Stephen Blood caught meningitis, collapsed into a coma, and died soon after. His wife, Diane Blood, had requested that doctors extract two samples of semen from Mr. Blood.

However, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority had forbidden Mrs. Blood from using those samples to become pregnant, as Mr. Blood had passed away prior to giving written consent to the procedure. In the UK posthumous sperm donation is illegal without written consent. After an appeal, Mrs. Blood was permitted to seek fertility treatment outside of the UK and later gave birth to a son.

Other countries, such as France, Germany, and Taiwan, have a full ban on posthumous fertilization. At the same time, countries like the U.S. and Belgium have no legislation on the subject whatsoever. Given the complex legal, ethical, and medical nature of posthumous fertilization, this range of legislative response is not unexpected. For example, is it ethical to collect sperm from an individual who never wanted to procreate in a country where the young population is dwindling and sperm donors are in short supply? Such is the case in many parts of the UK Is it reasonable to collect sperm from donors who have died and who are, by extension, more likely to be older and with less healthy sperm? Is the offspring of a deceased sperm donor considered to be the donor's legal heir?

These and other issues muddy the waters for countries when crafting policies around posthumous sperm donation. However, the authors of the recent Journal of Medical Ethics article argue that allowing for this procedure is at the very least ethically permissible and likely beneficial for society at large.

"The ability to reproduce matters to people and donated sperm enables many people to fulfill their reproductive desires," write the authors. "It is both feasible and morally permissible for men to volunteer their sperm to be donated to strangers after death in order to ensure sufficient quantities of sperm with desired qualities."