It’s Protective Custody, That’s What It Is.

Once again, recent events call out an older verse. I fucking hate it when that happens.

[…S]ome civil libertarians and women’s rights advocates worry that if Gibbs is convicted, the precedent could inspire more prosecutions of Mississippi women and girls for everything from miscarriage to abortion — and that African Americans, who suffer twice as many stillbirths as whites, would be affected the most.

Mississippi has one of has one of the worst records for maternal and infant health in the U.S., as well as some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease and among the most restrictive policies on abortion. Many of the factors that have been linked to prenatal and infant mortality — poverty, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthcare, pollution, smoking, stress — are rampant there.

“It’s tremendously, tremendously frightening, this case,” said Oleta Fitzgerald, southern regional director for the Children’s Defense Fund, an advocacy and research organization, in Jackson. “There’s real fear for young women whose babies are dying early who [lack the resources to] defend themselves and their actions.”

Jennifer, Jennifer, got herself pregnant,
The poor, irresponsible slut.
See, boys will be boys, so it’s up to the girls
To be moral, and keep their legs shut.
But Jennifer, Jennifer, couldn’t be bothered;
She led her young Billy astray.
They met, after classes, at Jennifer’s house,
And now there’s a kid on the way.

Jennifer, Jennifer, wants an abortion—
She says she’s too young for a baby—
But the law of the land says abortion is murder;
The answer is no, and not maybe.
See, murder is murder; we cannot condone
The destruction of innocent life.
And Billy, of course, is an innocent, too,
And he’s much, much too young for a wife.

So Jennifer, Jennifer, finds herself caught
In the view of a watchful Big Brother,
And Country and Church have a task on their hands—
How to keep the babe safe from its mother.
If murder is murder, for fetus or child,
Then surely assault is assault;
A fetus is damaged by drinking or smoking,
And all of it, Jennifer’s fault.

If Jennifer, Jennifer, falls down the stairs
Then the baby inside could be harmed;
And since that poor child is a ward of the state
It is right we should all be alarmed!
So Jennifer, Jennifer, needs to be safe
For the sake of the babe in her womb;
To keep the poor innocent safe from all harm,
Let’s keep Jennifer locked in her room.

But Jennifer, Jennifer, isn’t the first
Nor the last to be pregnant, you see.
The task that’s before us—protecting our children—
Is crucial, I think you’ll agree.
With the passing to law of my modest proposal,
I honestly think we’ll prevail.
It’s simple: Each woman who finds herself pregnant
Must spend the next nine months in jail.

Jennifer, Jennifer, shielded from harm
In a cell with a toilet and cot
With a closed-circuit camera, an unblinking eye,
For the safety of Jennifer’s tot.
When at last you deliver your new baby boy
We’ll whisk you right out through the door;
We care about kids while they’re inside your womb—
Once they’re out, we don’t care any more.

And Jennifer, Jennifer, can’t find her Billy—
Besides, he’s too young for a wife—
She weighs her alternatives, looks down each road…
And reluctantly takes her own life.

And the church says a prayer for the baby unborn
And a heartfelt and tearful farewell.
But Jennifer, Jennifer, so says the church,
Will be heading directly to hell.

There is, unfathomably, a lot of talk recently about what should have been settled long ago. What *was* settled long ago. And when even Jimmy Carter points to religion as a root cause of violence against women, there is no question which side atheists should be on.

Someone Is… On The Internet

An article on politics—
No if, no ands, no buts—
Will bring out Libertarians
Who’ll demonstrate they’re nuts
But also arch-conservatives
And liberals by the score
Who’ll engage in verbal fisticuffs
And all return for more.

An essay on religion—
Any angle you might choose—
An opinionated blog post
Or the fair and balanced news
Will find arguments aplenty
By extremists on both sides
(Oh, and everyone’s extremist)
As predictable as tides

A feminist perspective—
On whatever thing you want—
Will, like maggots on a rotting corpse,
Erupt in shouts of “cunt!”
Any argument transmogrified,
Distorted, shouted down;
The important thing is showing
Who’s the big dog in this town

A report about the climate,
Evolution, or vaccines,
Gun control, or education,
GM foods, or gay Marines—
In the comments, it’s a certainty,
As daytime follows night,
That opposing sides will gather there
And then begin to fight.

A picture of a kitten—
Or a puppy, or some ducks—
The comments start with “ooh!” and “squee!”
And then—“Obama sucks!”
Or a photo of a fetus
Or “nice pussy!” or some threat…
It’s depressing; it’s disturbing;
It’s annoying… it’s the ‘net.

I was going to link the article that inspired this particular verse, but it frankly doesn’t deserve singling out. And I don’t mean that in a positive way–it does deserve being seen as shameful… but so do countless others that could just as easily have inspired today’s verse… and, to some extent, did, I guess. I am sure you’ve had the experience (unless you have taken the very good advice of NEVER READ THE COMMENTS!!!!) of reading some innocuous piece of reporting, or some blog post (whether a report on breaking news, new science, or what the writer did last night or found in their shoes this morning), and there in the comments, a non-sequitor (or at best, tangential) comment linking the writing to the commenter’s particular grudge–Obama, usually, or atheists or christians or muslims or libertarians or gays or blacks or trans or women or mentally ill or republican or democrat or jews or nazis or activists of all sorts… it will depend on who are the naturally occurring flora and fauna at that particular site. If your experience is with completely different accusations, all that means is that you read different sites than I do.

It almost doesn’t matter what the original writing was about; the real action is in the comments. People who say this is a post-racial society… don’t read the comments. People who say this is a post-feminist society… don’t read the comments. People who say the real victims today are conservative white Christian males… don’t read the comments. Reading the comments is like turning on the lights in a filthy room–you see things you really wish you had not.

I think I’ll go shower now.

I suppose this is related.

Intrinsically Worthless

From a comment at an article “The Empty, Boring Atheism of Richard Dawkins” (from the Catholic World Report, naturally): “What is an “appetite for wonder” in an intrinsically meaningless universe but simply an appetite for diversion and entertainment?”

I love my spouse and children—
Well, I say I call it “love”,
But it doesn’t hold a candle
To what comes from God above.

I marvel at a symphony—
In this case, number seven—
But, of course, it sounds like screeching chalk
Compared to harps in heaven

A mountain, or an ocean,
Or a sunset or a birth—
But I know there is no meaning
In the things I see on earth

Intrinsically, we have no worth,
We really must admit.
Intrinsically, without a God,
Intrinsically, we’re shit.

The universe is meaningless
And all our lives, as well
Though I’ve never been to heaven
Clearly, life on earth is hell

I pretend to love my children
I pretend to love my wife
But I know that, once in heaven,
I’ll forget about my life

Cos it’s God that gives life meaning,
Not our family, not our friends—
Not our passions, not our pleasures,
All erased when this life ends

Life on earth is mere diversion—
Entertainment till we die—
Others strive to make life better;
I, myself, must wonder: why?

What’s the use of helping others?
What’s the use of pitching in?
When it’s God, not man, deciding
What is good, and what is sin

I can’t know what’s good or righteous;
I can’t know what’s bad or wrong
I can’t know that what I thought was right,
God hated all along!

I can’t trust my own perceptions
I can’t fathom what is true
All I know without a doubt is
I know better than do you.

You, who love your spouse and children,
Music, mountains, seas, and more
You, who love without a God to tell you
What your love is for

What a pity you’re so hollow
What a shame you have no God
What a horror that your world
Is just this “natural” façade

All your life amounts to nothing!
Can’t you get it through your head?
Can’t you see? The only meaning
We can have is once we’re dead!

But of course… I got it wrong (so did several others on the comment thread-and in truth, I wrote it after only his first comment, so I didn’t know). The commenter, identified as a moderator, on Catholic World Report, does not actually believe in a god. Go figure. His big deal is not the absence of a god, but rather the absence of intrinsic meaning. In an intrinsically meaningless universe, what we are left with is mere diversion, mere entertainment, nothing worthwhile.

And he is dead wrong.

I will, of course, grant the “no intrinsic meaning” bit, but there is no magic in the word “intrinsic” that makes meaning any more… meaningful. Money has no intrinsic value–it is paper and metal, or bits of information. The intrinsic value of a $100 bill and a $1 bill are the same. And when we ran on the gold standard, nothing was different–it was social agreement that made gold the standard rather than quartz, or chickens (I now have the image of a one-chicken bill, and making change for a goat bill).

And yes, what is meaningful in life–doing good, fighting for causes, creating art or music, advancing science–all are meaningful solely because we say so. Because that’s what meaning is. Specifying “intrinsically” before “meaningful” is a bit like specifying “invisible” before “pink”. We understand the words from other contexts, but they don’t belong together in this one. Noting that life (or anything) has no intrinsic meaning or worth is trivial, and suggesting that because life is somehow diminished–even worthless–because it does not have this characteristic which it never had to begin with. These fictional modifiers–“intrinsic” is one, “ultimate” is another–serve only to introduce an impossibility, our lack of which is somehow damning.

Just remember, that argument has no intrinsic worth.

Bleargh.

I don’t feel sick
I don’t feel tired
I don’t feel hot
I don’t feel cold
I don’t feel sad
I don’t feel happy
I don’t feel nothin’
I just feel old

I don’t usually feel all of my years. I look at pictures of people my age, and think they look considerably older than I do. I have friends who started going gray in their twenties, and I am just barely beginning, in my fifties. I got carded buying wine just last year.

But today, I feel every one of my years, and a good many of someone else’s as well–so if you feel extra young today, I would be happy to return your years to you.

If this is what normal aging is gonna be like, I’m having none of it. Starting tomorrow, I’m getting younger.

Ah… Memories…

I remember it so clearly
It’s as if it just occurred
I remember every image,
Every moment, every word;
I remember every instant,
Every story, brief or long,
I remember it forever…
But I just remember wrong.

I can tell you all that happened
On a day ten years ago—
I can tell you, I remember,
All my memories, I know—
I can summarize my knowledge,
All the lovely things I feel
All these things are in my memory
But it isn’t really real

It’s a perfect reproduction
It’s the best you’ll ever find
Every detail, trapped forever,
In the amber of my mind
All the flowing stream of consciousness
Is trapped in memory’s cup…
It’s astonishing to realize
Just how much of it’s made up

If your memory’s often fuzzy
Then you might have thought it best
To believe it, when they told you
Half your recollection’s guessed—
But for those with minds of crystal
Those whose memories are clear—
Why, the thought they might be faulty
Is a foreign thing to hear

But the truth, or so they tell us,
Isn’t difficult to see—
We will manufacture memories
And believe them, you and me
And our confidence is faulty,
Though so strongly we believe…
We build worlds upon our memories,
But our memories… deceive.

So, yeah, TIME (remember when they were a magazine?) has a neat (though incomplete, necessarily, given the scope of the subject and limitations of space) piece on false memories–even among those with “highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM)” (in other words: not me). Seems the evidence shows (color me unsurprised) that even those with incredibly good memories are likely to misremember, and to systematically show biases that distort our memories. (Seriously, worth reading, and with a frankly stunning video which I cannot embed here.)

Even the best are flawed. Sounds very human. And it is. (Not that other species don’t display such flaws, but rather that it seems a characteristic of humanity that we do, despite our opinion of ourselves.) The evidence we send people to execution for… is flawed. As certain as we are, it ain’t necessarily so.

I remember being ready to testify in court as to a person’s guilt… only to find that I was looking at the wrong man. I remember being the person another thought was guilty (they were also wrong, I hasten to inform you). Memory is a nasty and crude tool, but we have been told that there are some among us who claim to have mastered it.

Seems likely they are wrong.

“The Sex Toys In The Attic”

There’s a suitcase in the bedroom
Tucked away behind some shoes
And I need it taken care of
If I fight the fight… and lose

If this rattle in my bronchi
Turns out more than merely noise
Is there someone I can count on
Who can disappear my toys?

There are several shapes and sizes
And there’s many different hues
Some use cords, and some use batteries—
(There’s one that’s blown a fuse)

There are some still wrapped in plastic—
They looked better on the shelf—
There are some that need a partner
And there’s some for just myself

If I find that I am dying
(Because everybody does)
I don’t want my kids inheriting
A box of… things that buzz

So I need a trusted confidant
To do some cleaning first
So my mostly mourning relatives
Won’t get to see the worst…

Then again… you know… forget it—
They’ll discover what they will—
They can find out I was human,
That I hadn’t gone downhill

If the worst they can discover
If I die beneath the knife
Is a suitcase full of sex toys…
Hell, I lived an awesome life.

According to Twitter, this verse took half an hour; I read this wonderful opinion piece in the NY Times, tweeted something about it, and thought “there’s a verse there somewhere.”.

But disposing of sex paraphernalia — actually all those embarrassing items you have stashed around the house — is something every boomer should be concerned about. The days are dwindling down to a precious few and some of you have a nasty cough. Do you want the people clearing out your house, particularly your children, to find those feathery, metallic, rubbery, polymer blend items you ordered one drunken night a few months after you’d been forced to take early retirement? Do you want them to know their big, tough construction worker dad liked to dress up in heels and a boa and sing “La La La” from “No Strings,” one of Richard Rodgers’s weaker efforts?

You may be thinking, “What do I care what my friends or children find in the house? I will be beyond embarrassment, I will be dead.” But you are wrong. Doctors now know that the human sense of embarrassment can last up to two weeks after the heart stops beating. Consider this statement from a boomer named Stanley: “I was lying on the operating table, then I had a feeling of leaving my body and looking down at myself and all I could think was, ‘Is my gut really that big?’ ” Look it up on the web.

The funny thing is… the thing that people would find out about me, eventually, is that I wrote doggerel on the internet, and nobody knew.

Sounds pretty boring, actually. Maybe I should hide a box of sex toys.

*****

Hey–you’ve read this far, now something serious. There may be 10,000 or more dead because of Typhoon Haiyan. There is an immense need of help, and the Foundation Beyond Belief is one way you can help. Details are here–if we can’t count on the people who know God won’t help, who can we count on?

Simple

There is beauty in simplicity
When simple things are true;
But solving complex mysteries—
There’s beauty in that, too

There are simple things, and complex things,
And mysteries and more…
Sure, sometimes you have favorites,
But it isn’t either/or

Ok, so I saw this commercial, and it really bothered me:

Do you want to hear about the chemical composition of the sun? Or simply feel it on your face? Do you want to talk about all the muscles it takes for two hands to connect? Or just enjoy that they can? Do you want to debate why an apple a day keeps the doctor away? Or just take a bite? Do you want to talk about what it takes to make a miracle happen? Or just look at one?

To have a kid’s voice say these lines is, to my ears, just horrible! Kids want to know the chemical composition of the sun, and are fascinated by how muscles, sinews, bones and skin combine to make hands work. The ad writers have the kid certain that apples work, and that babies are “miracles”. Kids are naturally curious–why on earth would you base a “simplify” commercial around someone who probably makes Rube Goldberg machines out of kitchen appliances, clothes hangers, and tape. Kids see the beauty in complexity–in stuff that takes a lot of work to understand. That’s one of the best things about kids.

I can see why a healthcare plan might want to simplify. But damn, this commercial just grates at me whenever I see it.

“Why Don’t Atheists Just Kill Themselves?”

I’d constructed the ultimate sandwich
Perfection in bread, cheese, and meat
But there’s something I don’t understand, which
Has been making it harder to eat

See, although it is surely delightful
There’s a truth that I cannot suspend
That at some point, I’ll reach the last bite full
And the pleasure will come to an end

And my life, too, is not everlasting
And the Reaper will pay me a call
It’s the same, whether gorging or fasting
So why am I eating at all?

Since nothing in life lasts forever
There’s one life, all too brief, here on earth
The argument’s not even clever
That a transient joy has no worth

There are joys in this life to be tasted
There are days filled with utter delight
There is too little time to be wasted
There’s a sandwich—enjoy every bite!

I’m sure you’ve seen it–I only had to type “why don’t ath” when google filled in “eists kill themselves?”, and suggested over 2 million hits for the phrase. Some are pretty horrendous, and are good, moral religious believers suggesting that atheists ought to kill themselves, but it’s the others that I am interested in. Those that suggest that life is meaningless if it is not followed by an eternal afterlife. That life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (to use Hobbes’s delightful phrasing), and that ending it early would be preferred, were it not forbidden by God. Hell, perhaps the most famous writing in all of literature, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, explores the question:
… Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

But atheists have no dread of that undiscovered country, so why don’t we just kill ourselves?

I’d answer, but I have pets to play with, food to eat, kids to call, reading to enjoy, poetry (well, verse) to write, music to listen to, football (and football) to watch (Man City is, as I write, up 2-0 over Man United), lesson plans to make, cider to drink, (ok, now it’s 3-0), a book to put together, and much much more. Nasty life indeed.

(FWIW, I do think that suicide can absolutely be rational, and should be an individual’s choice. If a religious prohibition on suicide means someone lives years of misery and pain, wishing they could end it, I don’t count that as a case in religion’s favor.)

(ok, 4-0; I may have to try writing a post during my Browns game…)

Anxiety In Hindsight

There’s a tenseness in your stomach
And a flutter in your heart
You may find it hard to focus
Any noise can make you start
Since it came upon you slowly
Or your thoughts were turned aside
You believed it would be something
You could easily abide
Hell, you might not even notice
As you go about your day…
But I guarantee, you’ll feel it
When the feeling goes away!

So today, when I got the news that Cuttlespouse’s father’s surgery went well, it was (understandably) a relief. I knew (and expected, or hoped) that it would be. I had forgotten, though, just what a palpable, physical feeling that relief is.

I suffer from anxiety on occasion. I’m getting much better at recognizing it and taking steps to avoid it, or when it is unavoidable, to take steps to handle it (up to and including anti-anxiety meds). It is rare that I notice the beginning signs, though, until they are jumping around in front of me chanting “neener neener boo boo” and distracting me to the point of insomnia and digestive problems. And the biggest bouts I have ever experienced, I did not notice at all until something happened to impose understanding on me from without.

So I guess what I’m saying it, it’s real, it’s palpable, but it can be helped. And if you feel like a fool not realizing that you are suffering, you’re not alone there either. There are perfectly good reasons to get all stressed out about something (that’s life for you), but that feeling of relief is nature’s way of saying “y’know, it might be nice to try something different right about now.”

Everything Old Is New Again (Or, Sex With Robots)

As predictable as clockwork,
Or some finely crafted gears—
We forget about the last one
So the latest one appears

It’s designed to gather eyeballs
Both to titillate and vex—
It’s an article (with pictures)
Probing human-robot sex

Yup… this time, it’s the BBC with “Will we ever want to have sex with robots?“. In 2007, the now-defunct Cognitive Daily asked “Will humans marry robots in 50 years”, which prompted this bit of musing from me. In 2009, the big news was HRP-4C (also mentioned in the Beeb’s current piece), which also got its (her?) own verse here. I may have missed the 2011 version, or perhaps I just reposted the old verses… but now enough time has passed that we are once again being asked if or when people will be having sex with robots.

But something is different this time. In 2007… well, here, something from today’s piece:

In 2007, the British chess player and artificial intelligence (AI) expert David Levy said in his book, Love and Sex with Robots, we would be having sex with robots in five years – and be capable of falling in love with them within 40 years.

His argument is based on improvements in robotic engineering and computer programming – and extrapolating from the income generated by the porn industry each year.

Such robots would be a “terrific service” for mankind, he argued.

Well… a terrific service, in that it finally rids us of the need to treat our sexual partners as human beings. Because that is a huge, pressing problem, and the way to address it is not to teach us how to treat one another properly (really, honestly, is it too much to expect people to find enthusiastic consent sexy?) but to invest in machines that allow us to have absolute control instead.

But… for once, the old faithful story addresses this, just a bit:

“It is time to reconsider the premise that a robot is better than nothing,” says Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Because, if you are trying to solve the problem of care and companionship with a robot, you are not trying to solve it with the people you need to solve it with – friends, family, community.”

There’s a bit more there, but they did the job of writing it, so you can give them the traffic.