Thursday, February 10, 2005

Clone Fall.

Well, it’s certainly very exciting to think that we are close to the anniversary of the cloning of Dolly the sheep.
Cloning - from the Latin "clone" meaning "copyright" and 'ing" meaning "infringement" - is a very complicated scientific process whereby scientists take a small piece one thing, place it on a surgical table, raise it up through the roof of the castle on a dark and stormy night, leaving it outside in the rain until it is struck by lightning, and then lower it back into the lab and shout "IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!" at it until it becomes genetically identical to the thing it originally came from.
Scientists have been doing this for some time with a variety of plants, promising, among other things, to create lawn grass that keeps itself permanently cut, which is something bound to make the world a better place for us all. But Dolly was the first time they successfully cloned an animal.
So they say. But if that's true, how do you explain Mike Harris and Brian Mulroney? Or Michael and Janet Jackson?
Anyway, why the Scottish scientists chose to clone a sheep is not clear. It may have had something to do with haggis. Haggis is, of course, a Scottish delicacy which involves oatmeal and a sheep's stomach, and was used by Mel Gibson to fight the English. It has been suggested by friends of that the scientists were actually trying to clone a haggis but added too much single malt whisky to the blender and wound up with an entire sheep by mistake.
It is the ethics of cloning which will be addressing today. People around the world have greeted the news of the successful sheep cloning with horror and dismay. "A sheep!" they are saying in editorials and on call-in shows. "Why on Earth did they clone a sheep! Does anybody know why the plural of sheep is the same as the singular? What if they clone a moose next, or an octopus? Who will know what the plural of those are?"
While the ethics debate rages through the scientific and journalistic communities, many wonder why the scientists didn't clone, say, Cindy Crawford or Mel Gibson. We are pretty sure that their research would have been much better received had they trotted out an army of Sean Conneries or Amanda Marshalls rather than a sheep, but there you are. That's why I write a column and they Xerox sheep.
The scientists named the home-made sheep "Dolly", by the way, which immediately raises the question: did the scientists say "hello Dolly!" when the sheep came into being, and if so, do we really want people with that kind of sense of humor diddling with our genetic futures?
The promise of the cloning technology is that we will pretty soon be able to make copies of ourselves, and presumably better copies. But I am not so sure this is a good idea. For one thing, the clones are not likely to think very highly of the arrangement. If a person were to be convicted of a crime, say, and were sentenced to 20 years in jail, he could simply rush off to the Clones "R" Us store, and grind out a copy of himself to serve the sentence. But how would you feel about being brought into the world, fully mature, only to be greeted with: "Welcome to the world. You now get to go to jail for 20 years. Have a nice day." Pretty soon there would be a clone union and nasty clone strikes and all sorts of irate clones writing grumpy letters to the editors.
On the other hand - or, presumably, the other of several hands - people are arguing that it would be nice to have a couple of spares around the house to pick the place up and cook the meals. But for those of us who are already talking to ourselves too much, this prospect is just way too frightening.
So instead of cloning sheep or people, I suggests the Scottish scientists try their hands at cloning long weekends. Now there is something you can never get enough of.
P.S. If you were to clone yourself, and discovered that your clone had a tendency to swear and use profanity all the time, and you decided to get rid of the clone by throwing it off the CN tower, what would you be charged with? That's right, making an obscene clone fall.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Lotteries are the future.

A poll conducted a while ago on behalf of a large newspaper found that a lot of today's teenagers include winning a lottery as part of their financial planning for the future. Instead of working hard at school or thinking about their eventual careers, these kids actually figure that a sizeable lottery win will set them up in life.
Not surprisingly, this discovery sparked a great deal of debate among child development experts right across the country who felt that there were already far too many people buying lottery tickets which lessened the odds of the experts winning The Big One.
No, I am kidding of course. The child development experts were actually upset because the lotteries weren't around when they were kids, and it didn't seem fair that some spikey-haired, body-pierced little social misfit should be able to suddenly become a multi-millionaire overnight, while the expert had to keep struggling along on a mere $50,000 a year.
As a responsible journalist and observer of the human condition, the temptation here is to remind those kids that money can't buy happiness, and to point out that a penny saved is a penny earned, that hard work is its own reward, that anything worth owning is worth working for, and that the best things in life are free. But since none of that is true, I won't bother. Indeed, given the current state of employment opportunities for young people, investing their money in lottery tickets might be a better bet that investing it in retraining programs which help them develop skills computers can already do much better. Perhaps colleges and universities should be offering courses in sooth-saying and rune-casting to help people pick winning lottery numbers, rather than computer programming and business administration.
On a historical note, it is interesting to remember that lotteries were once used by the Romans to pick which victims would be tossed to the lions first, and which young men would be conscripted for the military. Winning the lottery used to mean you lost. It is also important to remember that playing the lottery is gambling, an activity which is against the law unless it is sponsored by the government - sort of like smoking that way.
But the research results do raise some interesting questions: is it desirable to receive a lottery windfall, and if so, why hasn't I won anything significant yet?
As it happens, someone who has recently become an extremely close, very dear, personal friend of mine recently did win a considerable amount of money in a lottery.
This person, who is now living under an assumed name and won’t return my calls, won a brand new vehicle worth about $38,000. Of course, once she drove it off the lot, it became a used vehicle and consequently worth about $5,000. Anyway, I asked her if the win changed her life for the better “I sold it right away” my friend said. As for as how people around her reacted, she reported that while her friends and family were very happy for her, there were clearly a few people who were more envious than delighted. "Some of the comments I heard after the win were, 'Hey that was my vehicle!' And, 'Who made you so lucky?' People also asked me: 'How come you won?' To which I always reply: 'I won because I bought a ticket.'"
But what about winning really big? Having tasted a little of what a lottery can do for you, how would she have reacted to winning, say, several million?
"I don't think it would change my life all that much. I would look after my family and I might buy a bigger house, but I would still keep working."
To which I join thousands or others in saying: "HA!" What's the point of including winning a lottery as part of planning for the future if that future still includes having to work?
It would appear then, kids, that what we learn from my friend’s experience is that winning a lottery can be fun, but it can also can make your life more stressful, and can cause otherwise nice people to say not so nice things about you.
So the moral of the story appears to be that money can't buy you happiness, it can only get you a better brand of misery. But don’t let that stop you from buying the tickets, and don’t let anyone tell you that lotteries are just a tax on stupidity – that’s already covered under NAFTA.
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