Random Harvests

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Location: Central Florida, Florida, United States

Paramedic EMT-II (Ret.), Computer software designer, Building contractor, Cruising sailor, Humorist. . . obviously unable to hold a job.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Sheep Thrills

Pity the lowly sheep. Long terrorized by lonely farm hands, these docile creatures are now the target of every geneticist with a Federal grant and a dream. Since the news of Dolly and her cloned counterparts hit the news a couple of years back, the plight of the sheep has grown ever dismal. Now scientists have injected spider genes into goats (a close cousin to sheep . . . sorry for the lame segue) in a successful attempt to create goats that produce milk filled with whispy strands of silk. I see this as a frightening escalation. First sheep, now goats . . . will any species be safe?

Spider silk, for those of you who slept through eight grade science class, is stronger than steel and is a much coveted commodity. Uses include delicate sutures for eye surgery, the repair of ligaments and tendons, and (not surprisingly) some defense department applications. For years, the commercial production of spider silk has been an unobtainable holy grail for which companies like 3M and Dupont have spent millions.

If we exclude the ramifications (this technique is for ewe . . . and ewe alone), I suppose this is a good thing. After all, we can now dispense with the old fashioned and highly impractical custom of milking spiders for their silk. Not only is this just too creepy for words, it requires the use of a very low stool. No longer will we be forced to watch in horror as spider wranglers, brooms in hand, drive their herds to market.

While I applaud the ingenuity of the scientists who have created this new species (spigoats?), the whole idea leaves me a bit uneasy. No one asked these goats if they would mind a little genetic manipulation. Maybe they are happy about the situation, and my concerns are unfounded, but I suspect not. I know I would be unhappy if some scientist injected me with spider genes. I cannot abide being in the same room as a spider, so having their genetic material flowing through my body is the thing that nightmares are made of.

And what of their offspring? They depend upon mothers milk to survive. Are they gagging on strands of silk in their milk? Let’s face it. Goat’s milk is barely palatable to begin with. Adding additional viscosity to it cannot possibly help the situation. And what happens to future generations? Will they be born with eight legs and a vindictive personality? Are we faced with a future filled with agile, eight legged goats climbing our walls and hiding under our beds? Has anyone else even thought about these possibilities?

I thought not.

Were goats properly represented in congress, through professional lobbyists, this sad state of affairs would never exist. This hardly seems fair . . . as jackasses are universally over represented. This is just another example of how the disenfranchised are ignored by the powers that be.

As researchers are never happy with the status quo, how long will it be before we begin injecting cows with spider genes? A cow produces greater quantities of milk than a goat, so this is a natural progression. This could signal the end of dairy products as we know them. What farmer would elect to raise a normal herd when a genetically altered one could produce milk fetching a far higher price? Will future generations be raised on soy milk alone? Are cheddar and American cheese on the endangered list? Yes, I suppose string cheese is still an option, but this will grow tiresome after awhile.

Frankly, the whole idea reeks of a low budget 1950’s science fiction movie plot. Except back then we had the good graces to blame radiation for mutations. Now we are creating them in laboratories and on purpose. What’s next? Are boneless chickens destined to be flopping pitifully around the farm? Will we inject pit bulls with rattlesnake genes in order to create the ultimate guard dog?

You might dismiss these worries by saying they will happen when pigs fly. But I should warn you, there is undoubtedly a scientist somewhere who is working on this weighty problem as we speak.

A Biting Commentary

As a youth, I always figured I’d grow up to be a scientist. I guess this came from those 1950's science fiction movies that always ended with some lab-coated genius coming up with a way to kill the gigantic mutated grasshoppers that had taken up residence in the Holland Tunnel. Sometimes, he even got the girl. It seemed to be the perfect job.

Alas, the closest I came was to become a computer geek. . . which, for some strange reason, seemed to reduce my chances of getting the girl. To this day science still fascinates me, so I’m understandably disappointed that the aims of scientists seems to have diminished over the years. Instead of defeating mutated, city wrecking insects, they have focused on more trivial endeavors . . . like creating genetically engineered mosquitoes.

Yes, after years of research, scientists now report that they are on the verge of creating a better mosquito. While one might expect that the goal would be to produce a mosquito that does not bite, one would be wrong. This brave new mosquito will still retain it's desire for human blood. Instead, scientists are working on a way to prevent this valuable addition to our ecology from carrying malaria.

Now, the eradication of malaria is a worthy goal. Malaria remains a major problem, especially in many third world countries, and with the threat of global warming, some scientists predict it will make more of a comeback in the United States as these blood suckers (the mosquitoes . . . not the scientists. . .) move north from the tropics.

To date, researchers have not created a malaria proof mosquito, but they have created a mosquito that will glow in the dark. Well, actually, you need a black light in order to see the glow, but it's the mental image that counts. Who among us can deny that this is not progress? I'm sure the Florida Chamber of Commerce is eagerly anticipating the light show over the Everglades, the Mosquito Borealis, that will undoubtedly become a tourist Mecca in the coming years.

I have to ask, albeit humbly, that if we can make mosquitoes that glow in the dark, and are hopefully incapable of spreading malaria, why can't we simply make them lose their appetite for human blood? Is there some mosquito lobby out there claiming that to do so would deprive them of their basic parasitic blood sucking rights? If so, I imagine this group must also represent lawyers and politicians, as there is so much overlap in their interests.

No, I fear the answer is that, while they could make a kinder and gentler mosquito, it would have devastating economic consequences. We would have to dispense with the manufacturing of millions of tons of insecticides and repellents aimed at mosquito control, decrease the poisoning of our environment, and cut the exposure of our immune systems to toxic chemicals. And nobody wants that.

Now I'm sure, if you tried hard enough, you might find some compelling reason to preserve the world's mosquito population. But if you do, you're simply trying too hard. As far as I'm concerned, we could dispense with mosquitoes entirely, but this is not an ecologically correct stance. Just as the good folks from PETA objected when the CBS television show Survivors depicted hungry castaways eating rats, and protested by carrying signs saying Rats have Rights, someone must standup for these much maligned insects.

And what of the Malaria parasite? If we eradicate their most common vector, what is to become of them? If rats have rights, then surely, so do parasites. They are living creatures, entitled to the same consideration as rodents, mosquitoes, and sometimes even people.

There is seemingly only one solution. We must allow mosquitoes, parasites, viruses and any other living thing prosper and flourish in our ecology. Given enough time, man will lose the battle and our planet will revert to its pure, pre-human state. A harsh fate? Perhaps . . . but after all, the mosquitoes were here first.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Blessed are the Geek

Men are, as everyone knows, all brutes. Their bloodstream's flow with a violence inducing drug called testosterone. They are the war makers, the rapists, and the destroyers of our environment. They also watch too much sports. So it is plain to see that our world can never evolve until men, as we know them, no longer exist. Those of us who protest, who still see maleness as equal to the other gender, simply don't get it.

Hollywood apparently does get it. The male star of today is likely to look more like Leonardo Di Caprio than Clint Eastwood. Slight of build, baby faced, and innocent looking are the star qualities of this generation. Swaggering tough guys need no longer apply. The test of true manhood today is whether Alan Alda can take you two falls out of three; if he can, you might be acceptable.

Or at least tolerated.

To reinforce these ideals, men are portrayed as either maniacal sex fiends, who only take time out from killing in order to rape and pillage, or, alternatively, as bumbling idiots who, after an epiphany, realize that their wife/girlfriend/lesbian neighbor knows best. While accurate, these portrayals are nonetheless insulting.

The feminist rallying cry of today is; If it has tires or testicles . . . you're going to have trouble with it. Male bashing, you see, has become an art form. And funny too.

Recently we have learned that the Navy plans to remove all of the urinals from their aircraft carriers in the Pacific Fleet. It apparently demeans women that men can urinate while standing, whereas women must sit. This, we are told, is a position of superiority - and liberated women won't stand for that.

The venerable old Charles Atlas ads that filled the backs of magazines for decades, you know, the one with the 98 pound weakling having sand kicked in his face until he learns the secret of body building, must now be read from right to left. Which, coincidentally, is the same direction our society is moving.

Now, I have no problem with men becoming more sensitive. As a group, we could stand to be a little more-well rounded. Personally, despite my raging heterosexuality, I enjoy watching figure skating, Broadway show tunes, and cute kittens. I must struggle not to get misty eyed during the last five minutes of Casablanca, and I find it refreshing to watch a movie that does not devote itself to car chases and explosions.

Fortunately, I can still enjoy a baseball game, target shooting, and a decent action flick; so my conversion is yet not complete. Still, I check under my bed each night to ensure that no one has placed a pod under there. These days, it pays to be careful.

While I applaud the inroads made by women in this, up till now, male dominated world, I worry that this pendulum swing has gone too far. Equal pay for equal work? Absolutely. No glass ceiling? That's fine with me. I believe that woman can, and often do, out perform men in nearly every field. I've worked for, and with, many women . . . and liked the experience so much, I actually married one.

But Ladies, all men are not evil. They are just different.

We speak a different language, use a different lobe of our brains for thinking, and despite 10,000 years of evolution, we still believe that white socks go with everything. Along the way, we also managed to, at the urging of women, move from dank squalid caves into bright modern concrete rabbit warrens. And this is real progress.

Think cultural diversity, if it helps. You don't have to understand why men are the way they are (we don't even know. . .), you don't even have to approve of it. But you should, in the interest of tolerance, accept it. Men are like guns. If you don't like them, or are afraid of them . . . don't keep one in the house.

Many women complain that it is hard to find men who are sensitive, caring, and good looking. The reason is simple. These men already have boyfriends.

I fear, what with the advances being made in genetic engineering, in the future the only acceptable male will be a hybrid, one with the features of a male and a female. And ladies, you really don't want that.

If you think we're trouble now . . . what kind of grief would we cause women if we had a penis and a brain?

Bad Boys

There is, I am reliably informed, a dangerous and subversive organization that is targeting our kids and leading them down a twisted trail of antisocial behavior. This organization not only requires the wearing of paramilitary uniforms, it supports the carrying of weapons, and the learning of skills that could be used in ways that could endanger others. They require that all members swear an oath of obedience and often gather in small groups in remote areas away from the scrutiny of others.

This national disgrace, this pox upon our land, this scourge of our youth is known as the Boy Scouts.

Before you dismiss this warning as little to do about nothing, consider the sad tale of Eagle Scout Brian Agnew, and how his involvement in this nefarious gang has affected his life.

Agnew, a junior in a Savannah Georgia High School, as a result of his involvement with this clear and present danger to our society, has recently been suspended from school for ten days and will finish out this school year in an alternative school for his unacceptable behavior. The school board in its wisdom has acted swiftly to prevent contamination of other students and, I am sure, has saved lives in the process.

To understand fully the situation, we must first examine the misspent life of young Mr. Agnew. While his parents insist that he is a good child, and has never been in trouble of any kind, we have the following facts to go on. First, he is an honor student, scored a 1000 on his SAT test in the seventh grade, and is taking three advanced placement courses in school. A member of the National Honor society, he also is a member of the school band, and possibly worst of all, belongs to a Christian youth group. How all of these warning signs could have been missed by his parents is difficult to fathom.

The culmination of these misdeeds is his attachment to the Boy Scouts, where he is a senior patrol leader for Boy Scout troop 26 and has recently completed his Eagle Scout project.

Luckily for society, this dangerous hombre has been stopped cold in his tracks by his high school principal. Acting on an anonymous tip, he confronted Mr. Agnew with the accusation that his car contained weapons. A search of his vehicle produced the following items -- all forbidden by school policy. A pocketknife, dangerously placed in the glove compartment of his locked car, a broken ax handle and blade locked in the trunk, and a cell phone. All of these items were provided to him by his father, a man who obviously does not understand how dangerous these weapons could be in the wrong hands.

While the school admits Mr. Agnew has never been in trouble before, they are taking no chances. He is being shipped off to an alternative school for troublemakers. He will miss the spring band concert, the National Honors Society Banquet, the Honors Night ceremony, the junior prom and two advanced placement exams, according to his father.

While young Mr. Agnew and his father insist that these illegal items are tools used solely for his scouting activities, the principal insists that the zero tolerance policy may not be violated. Rules are rules. In fact, students are provided with a fifty page manual of rules on the first day of school.

It is illegal, for instance, for a student to bring a steak knife to school to cut up his lunch. Any object that could be used as a weapon, or in a threatening manner, is prohibited. Cell phones are considered nuisance items. While all of these items were locked securely away in the boy's car, the potential for their use is understandably frightening.

Fortunately the school intervened before mayhem could result. Young Mr. Agnew is where he belongs, sequestered among other incorrigible youth where he can do no harm. This incident will no doubt go on his permanent record, and haunt him throughout his life.

While some may decry the schools actions as being over the top, I disagree. We need more security, not less. All sharp objects should be removed from schools immediately. Pens, pencils, and worst of all, those compasses we used in my youth to draw circles (now there's a weapon!). Paper cuts can be nasty, so all paper should be banned. I would suggest the use of Etch-a-Sketch's for all schoolwork, but I suppose, if thrown violently, they too are a potential weapon.

Making our schools safe is a national priority. As a child, I can remember the school only allowed us to use blunt scissors. It was a matter of safety. Today, the biggest danger is apparently a sharp mind.

But don't worry, the schools are doing their best to blunt those too.

(a little something from the archives . . .)

Don't Think About It

Lately my mind has been wandering, and I'm afraid it may one day leave completely. It isn't that I particularly mind that cat food jingles run through my head each night for an hour before I fall off to sleep, or worry that I am perfectly content to leave the television on The Weather Channel for hours on end, but I do wonder why.

Recently , while doing my daily review of the news on the net, I think I've figured it out.

According to scientists, who, (if they are to be believed) are supposed to know about such things, the earth is in danger of being destroyed by Invisible Asteroids. Not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill iron and stone juggernaut from the cosmos, but an invisible invader for which there is no chance of detection or protection. We, as a species, are in danger of vaporizing faster than a campaign promise the day after the election.

Well, it's no wonder that of late, I prefer to idle away the hours thinking about nothing.

Each day we are bombarded by dire predictions, somber warnings, and insipid advice from so-called experts. This explains why the televised mini-series has lost its luster . . . why start a movie when the odds are so long that you will live long enough to see the second half? Why, if even if a tiny fraction of the stuff they warn us about are true, we might as well march out into our backyards, pick a nice spot under an oak tree, and dig our own graves - except that that would probably upset the eco-balance - and who needs Karma like that?

There are now medical web sites where you can input your age, your weight, your dietary habits, exercise regimen, and the number of cigarettes you consume daily . . .and they will tell you your life expectancy. When I tried it, they sent me an email asking if I'd prefer a donation to my favorite charity in lieu of flowers. The only good news was, I discovered - at my weight - I qualify for a group-rate health insurance policy.

But if scientists are right, and stress and worry are major health risks, isn't it better that we not think about all the things we do that are unhealthy? And if the world is continually on the brink . . . does it matter anyway? I would hate to spend agonizing months going through nicotine withdrawal, only to be incinerated by some pre-ordained disaster brought by some asteroid from a parallel universe.

Jay Leno, of Tonight Show fame, does a bit once a week where he interviews people on the street and asks them simple questions about current events or history. Stuff we all know. Like `Who is the President of the United States' (although most Democrats still argue over the correct answer . . .), and we guffaw at their ignorance. Folks, these people with blank stares are not stupid. They have simply made the best of a bad situation, and have tuned out the news. They worry not about North Korea and their missiles, or about the emergence of Ebola in equatorial Africa, or whether there is bio-engineered corn in their taco shells. They have abandoned the 24 hour cable news fix to concentrated on their own shallow existence.

And most of them seem . . .happy.

They are the ones who think Foot and Mouth disease is what struck Senator Robert Byrd when he used the `N' word twice on a Sunday morning news show a couple of years back. To them, the cast of Survivor is reality, while their congressman is a fictional villain from a bad soap opera carried by C-SPAN. They don't care if Bill Clinton gives up the saxophone in order to play the hormonica. And they certainly don't worry about the ozone layer, social security, or the terrible prospect of a new CD to be release by Brittany Spears.

To them, consciousness is simply that irritating period of time between naps.

And, I'm thinking of joining them

Not full time, but on a part-time basis. At least to start. An hour here, and hour there. Lost in non-thought. Oh, it will take some time to overcome my news junkie habits. I will go through withdrawal, suffering the crawling of my skin and shaking of my hands when breaking news occurs . . . and I force myself not to listen. But I am determined to try . . . at least today.

I've often heard that `thoughts are things'. That the world we live in is created by the things we imagine. If so, the less we think, the better things should be. At least I think so. But I am determined not to think about that too much. . . just in case.

So if you see me with my jaw slack, my mind blank, my fingers drumming to the beat of a cat food jingle, with a trace of a smile crossing my lips . . . it's just me, doing my small part to save the world.

Coming Soon?

Welcome to the future home of Random Harvests, a collection of essays and musings by yours truly. Right now, and for the next couple of weeks, life has thrown a monkey wrench into my schedule, so there is nothing to read here yet.

But please return, as I hope to begin posting regularly here by the end of August.

Michael Coston aka FLA_MEDIC