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Friday, December 14, 2007

Hello kimchi kitty: Science's mad take on lol cats

Each hyped advance in the fields of genetic manipulation and cloning is sure to spark intense ethical debates, both internal and external. Today's story of a Korean team unveiling eerie, kimchi hued cats will receive an equally polarized public airing (see Korean scientists produce kimchi-colored kitties from Reuters).

The media's argument is usually framed as a confrontation between science's relentless forward march and religion's unbending moral obstructionism. Unfortunately, in this simplistically inclined world where everything is reduced to black-white, either-or categories, more nuanced interpretations are doomed to abide in a limbo of inconsequence.

I'm someone who falls into that conflicted, middle gray space. I believe that, when properly wielded, the cutting edge of modern technology can slice through the most stubborn obstacles to progress. In order to accomplish that, however, there needs to be a coherent, altruistic, and compassionate social vision driving the decisions of what research avenues we travel.

Right now, most science is conducted in the service of a corporate master whose sole guiding principle is the flowing of greater profit into narrower channels. All technical knowledge uncovered is kept as a tightly guarded secret — a new tool to be locked away in a strong box and only pulled out for very limited uses. Never mind that it was most likely forged from some form of publicly funded research.

In such an environment, we see the misapplication of science. Choices are made to leverage discoveries into market opportunities rather than social improvements. We get designer pets targeted at niche buyers with disposable incomes, rather than indispensable genetic therapies for patients with physical illness and financial limitations. When medical benefits are discovered, they'll most likely be rationed and sold only to monied elites.

Those of us who challenge the dominance of a "money makes the world go around" ethos are usually condemned as wild-eyed dreamers. We're classified as hopeless romantics to our faces and misinformed, crazy lefties behind our backs. Echoing the sentiments of David Bowie below, I'd rather be counted among the mad few than the sane multitude when faced with such absolutes.

Note: Image above of the cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland drawn by John Tenniel (1820-1914) in the 1866 edition.

All The Madmen
by David Bowie

Day after day
They send my friends away
To mansions cold and grey
To the far side of town
Where the thin men stalk the streets
While the sane stay underground

Day after day
They tell me I can go
They tell me I can blow
To the far side of town
Where it's pointless to be high
Cause it's such a long way down

So I tell them that
I can fly, I will scream, I will break my arm
I will do me harm
Here I stand, foot in hand, talking to my wall
I'm not quite right at all ... am I?

Don't set me free, I'm as heavy as can be
Just my librium and me
And my e.s.t. makes three

Cause I'd rather stay here
With all the madmen
Than perish with the sadmen roaming free
And I'd rather play here
With all the madmen
For I'm quite content they're all as sane as me

(Where can the horizon lie
When a nation hides
Its organic minds
In a cellar...dark and grim
They must be very dim)

Day after day
They take some brain away
Then turn my face around
To the far side of town
And tell me that it's real
Then ask me how I feel

Here I stand, foot in hand, talking to my wall
I'm not quite right at all
Don't set me free, I'm as helpless as can be
My libido's split on me
Gimme some good ole lobotomy

Cause I'd rather stay here
With all the madmen
Than perish with the sadmen roaming free
And I'd rather play here
With all the madmen
For I'm quite content
They're all as sane as me ...
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