It’s all in the genes you know

For the benefit of Lord Irvine, who will not have heard of her, Jodie Foster is employed as an actress in the American moving picture industry. She has enjoyed acclaim for her mimetic skill in such bioscopic confections as The Silence of the Lambs and The Accused and, in the opinion of the man on the Clapham omnibus, is a bit of a cracker.

It is not, however, either her acting or her looks that makes her the subject of this week’s column, but rather her use of a novel form of marketing. For, finding herself childless, but seized by the urge of motherhood, she scorned the conventional means of attaining her desire in favour of a form of catalogue browsing.

Off she took herself to the neighbourhood sperm bank, or masturbatorium, where many hundreds of deposits are held on ice, bringing verisimilitude to the line from Eskimo Nell that, in the frozen wastes where men are men, semen comes not as a fluid, but a solid frozen chunk. The proprietors of this public institution thoughtfully provide their customers with a guidebook of donors, who, though anonymous, reveal many particulars about themselves.

Should a prospective mother require her child to be fathered by a man who is blue-eyed, fond of cookies, and a non-smoker, she need only flick through the book, make her choice, and pay at the checkout. The rest is a tiresome formality involving test-tubes, Bunsen burners and such-like and need not detain us here.

What makes Miss Foster’s case a subject for debate is that she elected openly to discuss her choice. “I was,” she explains, “looking for a man who’s genius level.” Happily, the sperm bank was able to supply the frozen essence of just such a specimen, a handsome scientist with a PhD, an IQ of 160, and several books to his name.

“I know all about the father’s background,” enthused Miss Foster. “I know he’s well-educated and happens to be strikingly handsome.”

How she knows is a matter of conjecture. She has not met the donor nor seen a picture of him. So she must be relying on someone else’s assessment; but, as we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Let us hope for Miss Foster’s sake that whoever cast an appreciative orb over the father had 20-20 vision.

That apart, there are other snags. A counterpart of Miss Foster from a bygone age, Jean Harlow, I think, once met Bernard Shaw and dared to suggest to the venerable playwright that, should they jointly produce a child, it would be doubly blessed. “Just imagine,” twittered the blonde, “a baby with my looks and your brain.” Shaw was not impressed. “Suppose,” he replied, “it had my looks and your brain.” Has Miss Foster thought this one through?

She may also be at fault in too readily assuming that an IQ of 160 is an asset. Extraordinarily intelligent people can be remarkably silly, as Sir

Clive Sinclair proved with his invention of the C5 electric trike and as Lord Irvine daily sets out to demonstrate.

We must ask ourselves, too, why this egg-headed Adonis, academic and author took himself off to a sperm bank. As with most sport these days, institutionalised onanism is more commercial than recreational, so it seems reasonable to assume he was hard up at the time, so to speak. Could it be that, for all his brains and beauty, he is something of a failure? On the bright side, however, he may have made the donation some years ago, when his PhD was just a gleam in his tutor’s eye, in which case we must trust that his deposit was not past its sell-by date when Miss Foster happened by and plucked him from the catalogue.

The most serious flaw in her plan, however, is to equate science with genius. Suppose her son or daughter takes after the father, will he or she be the kind of scientist who predicts that an asteroid will collide with the earth at 6.30pm GMT on Thursday, October 26, 2028, bringing untold death and destruction, earthquakes, tidal waves and a cosmic winter? Or the kind of scientist who says it will miss the earth by miles?

Will Foster Jr be the kind of scientist who says that passive smoking kills 80 babies in Britain each year? Or the kind who says there is no link between cancer and other people’s smoke?

Perhaps he or she will be a fun scientist like Dr Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan (crazy name, crazy guy) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has discovered why honey dropped on to toast from a spoon coils around like a rope. (It’s to do with speed, gravity and viscosity.)

Maybe her or she will be the kind of zany scientist who, like Jeff Stein of San Diego, freely offers useful tips to lay people. To make your laundry whiter than white, he says, all you need do is put the rotting carcass of a whale in with the wash. Apparently, the decomposing corpse gives off bacteria-eating enzymes powerful enough to beat the strongest washing powders.

You don’t suppose, do you, that Jeff Stein is strikingly handsome, has a PhD, writes books, and once spilt his seed for money? In which case Jodie Foster could be in for a big disappointment.


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