A Modest Proposal (Jennifer, Jennifer)

Inspired by the comments (though not the actual initial post) on PZ’s post here. My verse is more a response to the general issue than to the specifics of the posted incident.

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.


Behind The Scenes

I got a few interesting comments after I posted the following comment on Pharyngula:

They put me on committee, which I thought was really nice,
But they never seem to listen to my wonderful advice!
When I tell them that the Word Of God should underlie our laws,
They just smile and nod a second, maybe just an awkward pause,
Then it’s back to what the government can do for us today,
Though it’s infinitely cheaper just to bow our heads and pray.

They look at lots of options, while I know there’s only one;
When will they learn, that only prayer can ever get things done?
Why, what could be supported through the governmental coffers
That could possibly compete with what the Holy Bible offers?
As they fiddle with incentives, and with programs to promote,
I’ll be getting God’s attention, as I sacrifice a goat!

The topic was Obama’s “Faith Council”, and one member’s complaints that this particular government body was spending too much time looking at government-type solutions and not enough time looking at holy texts for inspiration.

Anyway, I read PZ’s post, typed up my comment, and posted. I was as surprised as anyone else to find that it was comment #4. One commenter even suggested that I must have had advance notice of the topic, to write this in under 23 minutes. So I thought I’d just say a couple of things about how I tend to write.

In this particular instance (which was fairly typical), I read the post and opened up the comment box before I had any notion of what I was going to say. I can’t remember whether anyone else had commented yet or not. Given that I get most of my traffic from PZ’s blog, and given that a substantial number of people quit reading the comments after a couple score are posted, I make it my goal to be in the first 50 comments if I can. I usually can’t. More often than not, I open up the comment box, and… wait… and… think… and… realize I have nothing to say. Or if I have something to say that is not in rhyme, I sign a different name. (I use the same email; any blog owners know it is me. I am not trying to hide; I always use the same name, and I have used it for years.) But occasionally, something will come to me in verse. This post was one of those occasions. I made a total of one slight edit (the last couplet was written before the second to last, and I switched them), but other than that, it just came out, pretty much as quickly as prose does–some of it perhaps faster, because rhyme constrains choices so that you have to think of two lines at once instead of just one.

I do sometimes (I never really counted, but maybe half, more or less) take the time to write something out separately from the comment box. More rarely, I work on something for a day or more–usually, those are written longhand, in my terrible handwriting, even if I am at my computer at the time. I find it much more difficult to work on the day-or-more verses; it is almost as if those ones don’t want to be written. Something like the above, though, writes itself.

Oh, and for the poetry purists… I don’t consider what I write to be poetry. It is commentary… that happens to be in verse.


Hell if I know.

Some day, they’ll do a PET scan, and they’ll peek inside my brain,
And discover things that even Ramachandran can’t explain,
Like connections from my liver to my left prefrontal cortex
Or cascades of hippocampal volleys, spinning in a vortex,
My gyri and my sulci spelling out, as plain as day
(Just as aliens leave circle-shapes in fields of un-mown hay),
In a hieroglyphic pattern that you’ve never seen before:
“Don’t look at us, you moron; we don’t work here any more!”
Yes, my brain is on vacation when I write the things I write;
I pity all the people who can only dream at night.


To GrrlScientist:

Go, blog for me, and be my eyes
And ears, beneath Antarctic skies,
Where colonies of penguins dwell
(Creating quite a rancid smell).

And you will sit upon the ice
And snow, and blog in words concise
By rugged glaciers, icy shelves,
For us, who can’t be there ourselves.

And I will read your priceless posts
And offer you a thousand toasts,
To health and heart, to pen and ink,
Whatever gift I chance to think.

I’ll wish I could be there to see
The wonders that you write for me,
So eloquent your vivid prose
I’ll feel the cold wind as it blows.

Such alien and foreign climes
Are too much work to cast in rhymes:
If you have schemes you would devise
Then blog for me and be my eyes.

The penguins there will sing and dance:
“GrrlScientist has won the chance!”
To friends up North, you’ll say good-byes,
And blog for us, and be our eyes.

To everybody else:

I know that as small fish go, I am a very very very small little tiny little cuttlefish in a global virtual pond. I struggle to maintain just over a hundred readers per day, with occasional spikes a bit higher. Rarely, one of my readers will do something, and I will suddenly get over a thousand readers, and once double that! So, yeah, I am a small fish.

So I need your help. Whatever it is that you do to share one of my posts that you like, please do it for this one. Post it on whatever blogs, forums, newsgroups, tin cans with string, semaphore chains, electronic telegraph machines or smoke signals you have, and get lots of eyes over to GrrlScientist’s blog, or (if you trust me) directly to her entry, to vote. (Yeah, she’s Devorah; no, I’ve never met anyone with that name before, either.) You may, within the rules, vote from two different email accounts if you have them; voting does require registration, but it is simple, and a worthy cause.

That worthy cause is self-interest. See, Quark is sending someone, as my little verse says, to be our eyes and ears, to be our proxy in Antarctica. This is not something for just anyone. Odds are, if you are reading this, you already know that there are better and worse bloggers, better and worse writers (the two are not synonymous), and it makes a difference who you send to observe and report for you. For me, what clinched it for GrrlScientist was her photo series on the mosaics of the NYC subway system. I want someone who does not just passively take in the sights, sounds, and smells, but who actively looks for the beauty (or the beast) in even the overlooked corners. After all, she will be a guest there, and we will be guests there through her; to us, even the things the long-timers have long ago taken for granted, are new and strange, and I (quite selfishly) want someone there who sees the world the way GrrlScientist does.

Anyway… go vote, and please go spread the word in the other places you haunt. There are about 2 weeks left in voting, and she could use your help. And you could use her talent.


Winston The Pigeon

Carrier pigeons are diligent workers,
And some have been honored as heroes!
But, sadly, technology changed their careers,
With the messages, now, ones and zeroes.

Information now moves over fibers and wires,
At the speed (so they tell me) of light;
And people accustomed to speed such as this
Aren’t impressed by a pigeon in flight.

But intertubes clog, and cables will jam,
And data gets stuck on its way;
Uploading a file takes forever, it seems,
With the fastest computers today.

A firm down in Durban, South Africa, thought
That their ADSL seemed too slow.
Would a pigeon be faster? They planned out a test
So the firm could empirically know.

Thus, Winston the Pigeon was all loaded up,
Four gigs on a flash memory stick,
From Howick to Durban, about sixty miles,
His job was to get it there quick.

They started the clock when they opened the cage,
And a regular upload as well—
Would bird or technology first cross the line?
The experiment, surely, would tell.

Winston the Pigeon first circled the square,
Then was off at full speed for the coast!
In sixty-eight minutes, brave Winston was there
But of course, he was not one to boast.

In about one more hour, the data were loaded,
It looked as if Winston had won!
But wait—check the status of ADSL,
And they found…only four percent done!

Now Winston the Pigeon is over the moon;
He’s faster than broadband, no less!
But technology marches; the internet, now
Must compete with the Pony Express!

(second link–BBC coverage–includes video of the race!)



I have a small bottle of sepia ink
Which I use for particular writing.
The feel of a quill-pen is special, I think,
And I find the whole process exciting.

I read in the news, of an interesting find,
Of a well-preserved cephalo-fossil
(The paleontologists gladly remind,
What we learn may be truly colossal!

See, soft-tissue fossils are rare, as a rule,
So an ink-sac was quite unexpected—
This cephalofind was the coolest of cool,
As a rock that can still be dissected!)

The scientists ground up the fossilized sac
To make ink for its own illustration—
Some see this as fitting, while others attack
It as cruel (in unique presentation!*)

Myself, as his great-great-great-great-great-great-great
Great-great-grandson, I want his return.
His repatriation to Cuttle-Estate,
To his burial inkwell—er, urn.

*Anyone who does not follow this link and read the whole thing is a complete gooberhead. Just sayin’.

Cuttlecap tip to Karen–Thanks!

Nathaniel Jeanson, Stealth Ph. D.

Nate was a Creationist, who hated bugs and blood,
And he wondered, “What’s the perfect job for me?”
He could spread the word of Jesus, the Creation, and the Flood,
If he got a Harvard Medical Degree!

It would give him credibility, and earn him some respect,
And would help him to evangelize, he said.
Since he claimed a higher calling–there were souls he must protect–
It’s ok if his advisors were misled.

His profs expected honesty; they treated him with trust.
Did they mold him to a scientist? They tried…
When he found a contradiction, he would manage as he must;
He just murmured “What would Jesus do?”, and lied.

With degree in hand, and facing competition for a job,
Why, he found a path much easier by far!
“Why bother with competing with the Harvard Med School mob,
I can lie for Jesus, at the I.C.R.!”

Now he’s got a shiny title; he’ll do research, speak, and write,
With his Harvard cred to use and to abuse,
And he’ll make “eternal friends” (a fact which brings him great delight),
While the people who need medicine? … they lose.

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course.

Newspapers Are Born To Exaggerate

It seems these things come in waves. This time, it is the Times Online overreaching the consequences of some recent neuroscience finding, presenting it in a splashy way, and misrepresenting pretty much whatever they need to in order to fit the message in the simple headline. “We are born to believe in God“, says the paper this time, and lists a number of researchers (at least one of whom has complained about his depiction) whose work is shoehorned into the “hardwired belief” message. (I have not read all of them, but certainly Dawkins, Hood, and Persinger, and while I can see the germ of what the present authors saw, I must say they have read them differently than I did.)

There is, in my view, a considerably simpler explanation that still fits. (I am reminded, with tremendous feelings of inadequacy, of Douglas Adams’ description of humans as fundamentally tool-makers, inventing a god who, like them, is a creator. I am taking a different track, viewing us as fundamentally social creatures, even before we are tool-makers.) We are social creatures. As such, it has behooved us to use certain social strategies, which have apparently served us well. To wit, we are easily influenced by others. We are, unsurprisingly, influenced by the social power of the majority (see Asch), and of course by the positional power of authorities (see Milgram). This is not bad nor good, this is simply who and what we are. That there are areas of the brain associated with obeying (perhaps even worshipping or feeling awe in the presence of) others is no surprise whatsoever. I wonder if those same areas might light up, for some people, in the presence of an adored movie star, singer, or politician. (Would this be evidence that Sophia Loren is God? A much better thought than the idea of scanning my in-laws’ brains while they listen to O’Reilly.) Religion would be, in this model, simply a successful hijacking of this genetic predisposition toward social living. No pre-wiring for belief in god (and did you notice the capital letter? Are we pre-wired for a particular religion?), but rather a predisposition toward particular behaviors that facilitate social living.

In other words…

The Times Online has just opined
It seems as if we are designed,
When growing up, to seek and find
Some evidence for God.
(Of course, the authors whom they quote,
Like Hood and Dawkins, don’t promote
This view at all, so one may note
The Times is acting odd.)

Such explanations soon run thin–
It seems to me that what’s built in
For social humans and their kin
And each religious pilgrim
Is deference to authority,
A bow to the majority
(Just look to a sorority,
Or shocking Stanley Milgram).

Communal lifestyle surely shapes
Our genes, and so, as social apes
Such strategies have served in scrapes,
Thus following’s selected.
The Times is also well-controlled
By genes that fit our social mold–
Reporting only what they’re told
By someone well-respected!

A Verse On The Echidna’s Four-Headed Penis

Ok, in truth, this was inspired by this post on Pharyngula, but that was not the whole point of PZ’s post, so I was going to use some other source… but frankly, if you google “echidna penis” you get more than, perhaps, you were looking for. Anyway, go ahead and do an image search for an echidna’s penis, and you will see that it has four heads. A little more looking into the available information about female echidnas, and you may understand why.

I count myself very grateful indeed that I am not an Echidna.

Two heads are better than one, so they say,
So four heads are better by far;
It took evolution to build this array,
And to humans, it still seems bizarre.

It never would work for a human male, though,
(Is it blessing, or is it a pity?)
See, men tend to think with their dicks, and we know
That nothing gets done by committee.

Step One: Get On Your Knees…

PZ reports on a helpful manual put out by the Catholic Truth Society: the Prayer Book For Spouses.

The book contains prayers for every stage of marriage and family life, including engagement, planning for parenthood, pregnancy and caring for children and elderly parents.

The prayers, written by a variety of authors, are interspersed with Catholic teaching on the meaning of marriage and family.

But of course, the media attention they are getting is for their “Prayer Before Making Love”. Go figure.

My wife and I are nervous wrecks—
The church is getting into sex!
They’ve come up with a book describing how we ought to do it.
But maybe it’s not all that bad;
I’m calmer now, but just a tad—
Before I just dismiss it, guess I’ll buy one and look through it.


Step one: you get down on your knees…
Hey, I could live with rules like these!
And pray to God for tenderness, and purified intent—
A union that does not deceive,
A loving spouse, to whom to cleave…

I liked the bit on kneeling, till I found out what it meant.

The handbook’s authors claim to be
The “Catholic Truth Society”
A group of (oxy)morons who believe they’re doing good;
So, sex for them is holy duty,
Not some chance to knock some booty
Earnest prayer is foreplay; they’re a bit misunderstood.

Putting God back into screwing—
If that’s really what they’re doing
Then the way they go about it is, to me, a little odd;
A religious genuflection
Could diminish my erection—
And that’s quite the wrong direction, if she’s gonna say “Oh GOD!”