"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 December 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Monster Mash


[i have not been laid off, nor is Suck being flushed down the toilet called life, but i must take a deep breath at the turmoil of the past week or so ...]

The Field Museum of Chicago

recently paid more than 7 million

dollars for the fossilized

skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex

named Sue, a small price tag

for neutralizing the dual

threats of would-be buyer Nathan

Myrhvold and potential stomper

Godzilla. Since dinosaurs

fascinate most people over the

age of two, it's not too

surprising that these ancient

remains are now unburied

treasures. But in the past, the

dinosaur images that made the

earth tremble - from

flesh-ripping caveman-killers to

idiot purple endomorphs - owed

more to marketers than

paleontologists. Then along came

the billion-dollar Jurassic

Park franchise. Its theorizing

about the terrible lizards (or

is that birds?) might've neither

crawled nor flown past peer

review, but its influence

unearthed a groundswell of mass

appeal for bare bones.


[thank god i am going home today for some tasty thanksgiving feasting]

And suddenly, academics, porn

starlets, and attentive

schoolchildren alike were united

in their refrain of "it's not

the size, but what's inside that

counts." DNA, in a rare instance

of a scientific entity

penetrating the pop culture

miasma, emerged not as a bit

player but the unlikely co-star

of the Jurassic junta. Thanks to

Crichton and Spielberg,

additional blips of molecular

biology like "polymerase chain

reaction" and "introns" started

popping up at the collective

cocktail party, along with old

standards like "clone" and

"recombinant." An educated

American adult can now better

explain how one might

reconstruct the chromosome of an

allosaurus than, for example,

why it gets cold in the winter.


[today is so surreal, no one here at work, stomach growling, getting only weirdo rando email today]

It's difficult to explain what

intrigues us so much about

genes. Crichton's slight

morality tale about tinkering

with nature, kept from being so

didactic that it would scare

away customers, missed the point

anyway. We aren't afraid of

spawning nightmare creatures,

any more than we fear killing

ourselves through the rabid

gormandizing of Marlboro reds,

Johnny Walker, and

Jack-in-the-Box Chili Cheese

Curly Fries. The source of our

interest and vague unease is

more likely a function of our

ambivalence toward the array of

stupid genome tricks, and the

associated ethical fine-tuning.


For instance, we really like the

middle-tech imprecision of

fertility therapy, to the point

of celebrating those who succeed

in producing ever-larger litters

of genetically similar children

(will Diane Sawyer abandon her

annual trip to the Dilley

sextuplets now that the

McCaughey family managed

seven?). But cloning, which

might achieve nearly the same

ends, is objectionable. The

infamous Dolly sheep-cloning

episode provoked fits of denial

and litigiousness; but nobody

was too bothered by the real

purpose of carbon-copy

transgenic animals, which is to

serve as hormone factories for

the pharmaceutical industry.

Similarly, repairing genes in an

individual to cure disease is

OK; but tweaking the germ-line,

which makes genetic changes that

can be passed on to offspring,

conjures images of a

Gattaca-like future. Apparently

we're a bit worried about our

individuality, but few can

muster a Rifkinesque outrage

about biotech in general.


[which reminds me, thanks for all the Janes replies - the concert rocked - did i already tell you that? actually here in san francisco, it was more than just the concert but also this whole love, peace and sexuality thing - e.n.i.t. festival - supposedly what the original lollapalooza festival was supposed to be]

The recent contemplation of our

genes is probably a remnant of

the concern with viruses that

began in the 1980s. But HIV, its

relationship to sex, and its

exploitation of our genetic

material beg to be pondered

metaphorically. Although smug

would-be eugenicists often try

to cast the genetic code as a

symbol of fate - the hand that

we're dealt, as it were - it

makes most people uncomfortable

to let the genotype code for

anything more than the

phenotype. An indication of the

prevailing attitudes can be seen

when genetics encounters the

law. DNA sequences in criminal

trials are seen as

incontrovertible evidence of a

person's presence at the crime

scene (barring tampering), but

frequently fail as proof of

guilt. In Oregon, laws passed to

prevent the abuse of genetic

information by insurance

companies and the like make the

genome the private property of

the individual. The message is

something like this: DNA is our

body, not our soul.


[sigh ... well, off to that place called home ... ]

The upside to this is that we

have less of a problem selling

our bodies. Once the Human

Genome Project has completed its

task, we'll all have a basis for

assessing our genetic uniqueness

and profiting from it like

supermodels and professional

athletes, bartering our best

features for those of others or

an equivalent cash payment. If

you think selling your genes

sounds even more outrageous than

reaping a fortune from a pile of

bones found on the back 40,

you're probably right: By the

time you get a chance to plot

your dig, some biotech company

will probably already have

patented your subterraneum

jackpot. But with a little luck,

you might still hold the movie


courtesy of Dilettante