Category Archives: There Is No Free Lunch

A Forever Pet…Not So Much

A little over a decade ago, Texas A&M University cloned a cat.  That cat, appropriately named Copy Cat, is still alive and well (at least at the time of the report when she turned 10 years old).  She has a great life and a great home.

But was she a carbon copy of her donor mother cat?  Not at all.  She looks nothing like her “mother.”  You can read the AP article here.

It’s Tuesday, so that means TINSTAAFL Tuesday.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Check out my other TINSTAAFL Tuesday posts about DNA manipulation: Welcome to Gattica and Tracking Pooch’s Poo.

When animal cloning seemed to be on the horizon, many people wanted to store tissue samples of their beloved pets so they could recreate that same animal later after the dog or cat passed over the rainbow bridge.  The company called Genetic Savings & Clone (catchy, huh?) were ready to store genetic material and eventually produce clones for $50,000.  Keep in mind, there is no promise that the resulting cat will be anything like the original.  It might look the same, but it probably won’t act the same.

Um, hello, there are some pretty incredible shelter cats that would love to have nice homes at a fraction of the price. My sister-in-law found two adorable kittens that need homes now.

The company closed in 2006 due to the lack of demand for cloned cats.  Evidently, the business was not sustainable.  Well, no surprise there.

I just found this other article about cloned cats that glow!  South Korean scientists modified the DNA of cloned cats so they glowed red in ultraviolet light.  More recently in the US, a cat was cloned–he glows green.  Take a look at this video:

Much of the latest research that is going on now is in the direction of cloning endangered animals, rather than resurrecting dead pets.  I’m not sure how making them glow has anything to do with saving a species, but I have a great idea for a science fiction story in the works now.

Just remember:  There is no such thing as a free lunch.  😉

A Vampire, a Jackal, and a Spot All Walk into a Spider Web…

From Marvel.com

October 14 was Spider-Man’s birthday, so I’m celebrating with the second post devoted to Spidey‘s supervillains on TINSTAAFL TUESDAY.  In the post last Tuesday, I explained that combining bad parenting with bad experiments creates really bad villains.

I covered eight of the villains who were created in the 1960s.  I have six more dastardly dudes to tell you about.  All were created after 1970. One in particular was created in 1971 after the Comic Book Authority changed some of the standard guidelines to include more types of crimes and creatures.  (The CBA had that little seal on almost every comic book since 1954 until recently–but that’s another story).

(The 1954 code is an interesting read if you have the time or inclination. It reads a bit like the homemakers’ handbooks–all prim and proper.)

Villains sometimes got their own series. These are two from my collection.

Spider-Man’s villains run the spectrum from plain ol’ bad guys and powerless minions to the evil criminals whose power is political or technical to the supervillains who got transformed by their quest for easy power.  Nothing is easy when it comes to power.  There is no such thing as a free lunch, and these six miscreants prove that point.   It’s worth noting that some of them had perfectly fine upbringings.  Also, Marvel started giving the bad guys more redeeming qualities (even if they didn’t reveal them often) and character development.

Morbius, the Living Vampire

Yes, that’s right.  Vampire. Before January 1971, the CBA didn’t allow them.  February 1971: Enter Dr. Michael Morbius, who had a rare blood disease.  In his efforts to find a cure, he and his assistant combined his bat serum and electric shock to see what would happen.  It gave him blood lust, and his assistant lost a lot of blood.  I don’t know how they didn’t see that coming.

He was the first of many vampires in comics.  He was a sympathetic character–he really was a good guy, but his self-induced vampirism made him go for blood.  At one point, he even promised to drink only bad people.  The tortured, souled pseudo-good guy vampire isn’t as recent as people think.

Morbius, honey, I know you have a good heart beating somewhere in that chest of yours.  Do yourself a favor and quit turning to the really evil villains to help you.  Maybe a job at a blood bank would serve you better.

Hammerhead

Hammerhead started out as a minion.  He was beaten to a pulp and left in an alley to die.  A surgeon (disgraced for good reasons, I imagine) decided to experiment on the gunman’s broken body.  He replaced all his broken bones with steel, which gave his head the hammerhead shape.  He remembered nothing from his past, except that he was a criminal and he liked it.  He even got some other evil-doers to upgrade his steel bits to something even stronger.

Hammerhead, your one redeeming moment was when you tried to save your dying sister–when you finally remembered that you had one.  However, you almost squandered your chance by drinking the special god-like serum yourself.  A bit selfish, don’t you think?  Leave it to Spider-Man to create a new batch to save your sister for you.  He didn’t do it for you.  Just sayin’.

The Jackal

Miles Warren had a normal family life.  He was a brilliant scientist.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have an ethical bone in his body.  He created “people” from animals, until a Jackal-man killed his family.  He fell in love with Peter Parker’s ill-fated girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, when she was his college student.   After she died and his assistant caught him cloning her, Warren killed his assistant.  He made himself The Jackal and then continued to torment Peter Parker/Spider-Man.   He created more clones (Gwen, Peter, himself) that had various levels of humanity and lifespans.

Dr. Warren, you should have taken the medical ethics course more than once in med school.  It’s sad that the only girl you could get to love you was a clone of the original Gwen Stacy.  I read the second clone saga when you tricked Peter into thinking he was the clone.  He was a newlywed no less.  I hadn’t been married long myself, so I really felt for Mary Jane. I wasn’t upset when you fell off that roof to save your Gwen Stacy clone.  I will be ticked off if that was really your clone.  No more clones, please.

Spot

Dr. Jonathan Ohnn worked for the Kingpin to find a way to recreate Cloak‘s powers.  Ohnn succeeded.  When the power failed because of his experiment, he stepped into the destabilized portal.  As a result, he gained the power to transport himself anywhere.

Your first mistake was to work for the Kingpin.  You weren’t a very good supervillain.  It would be handy to travel through portals, but I think it’s a bit odd that you wear them.  You really should clean up your act.

Tombstone

Lonnie Lincoln was born an albino and was picked on in school.  He grew up to be an intimidating guy and was a mean crook.  A former high school classmate, Robbie Robertson, witnessed Lonnie commit murder, so he tried to kill him. Robbie got away with a little help from Spider-Man during a fight at the Osborn Chemical Plant.  In the fight, Lonnie got doused with an experiment chemical, which made him superhuman. Great.  He wasn’t already scary enough.

Hey, Tombstone, you aren’t a superhuman or a supervillain, you’re a super bully.  Filing your teeth into points is not very good oral hygiene either.

All these villains paid a price when they transformed.  Humanity, in some cases, had already been lost, and the transformations took care of the rest.  I hope Spidey had a great birthday that was free of villains and battles!

Did you also notice that women supervillains still haven’t shown up in Spider-Man’s world just yet?  The women start showing up soon after these guys in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  I might cover them another time.

What do you think about these guys or other supervillains?  Do you prefer the villains over the superheroes? 

Bad Parenting Plus Experiments Equals Supervillains

Welcome to another TINSTAAFL Tuesday.  Today it’s all about Spider-Man villains and how they got that way.

In case you don’t already know, Spider-Man is my all-time favorite comic book hero.  I even subscribed to all four Spider-Man comic book titles in the late 1980s until the late 1990s.  I still have them all in boxes in my closet.  I don’t have much room for clothes.

In celebration of Spider-Man’s birthday on October 14, he gets two posts.  Spider-Man has lots of enemies.  So many, in fact, that this will be a two-part series to talk about the ones whose origins can be traced to the use of an experimental drug, substance, or technology.  In all cases, these men were already, um, ethically challenged due to the incredibly terrible or lack of parenting they received as children.

I really want to tell these guys to grow up and look at themselves as the source of their problems, but they are the antagonists who must exist for Peter Parker to exist.  I love what Kristen Lamb says about conflict–no conflict, no story.

Promotional poster of Sensational Spider-Man #34. Art by Sean Chen.

Instead, I’ll just yell, “TINSTAAFL!” at them for being stupid enough to be human experiments in the first place.  There are many, many more villains, but the rest didn’t have superpowers or were minor evil-doers or weren’t created by an experiment gone wrong.  They may have been badly parented though.  That seems to be a big theme in comic books in the 1960s.

These are the ones that were created before I was born and what I have to say to them:

Chameleon

When the Chameleon was first created, he was master of disguise with no special powers.  Due to a terrible childhood, he felt unloved and ignored.  *cue sad music*  That’s really not a good excuse to join a life of crime.

Using a serum so you could make your skin change anyway you want it to?  Gross.  Also, Spider-Man keeps stopping you because you’re not very bright.  Here’s a hint.  When you are impersonating someone and that person’s loved ones talk to you, then you should at least pretend to recognize them.  Duh.  Go, Mary Jane, with the baseball bat to your sad-looking skull!

Doctor Octopus

Another sad little boy with a terrible upbringing, Otto Octavius went from a brilliant scientist to megalomaniac.  A freak accident in his lab fused his four-armed apparatus to his spine.

Doc Ock, you have some Mommy issues that therapy couldn’t help.  I’m not sure what to make of it when Spider-Man clobbered you into a fear of spiders and then let you clobber him later to get over it.  I think I preferred your spider-fearing, gibbering self and Spidey is too good to you.  And still you try to kill him.  *tsk tsk*  I’m still not sure how you get your lab coat to stay on.

 Sandman

When life-time criminal, William Baker, ran into an atomic testing site during a test, he got blasted into smithereens on the beach.  I guess the experiment reactor was powerful because all his molecules fused with the sand.  Great, now a criminal is a super criminal and can make his body into any shape.

Sandman, there were “Do not enter” signs on that beach for a reason.  *shakes head*  You do have some redeeming qualities (you loved your mother), but I still think you’re a little shifty.

Lizard

When is injecting yourself with experimental reptilian serum ever a good idea?  Never.  Just ask Doctor Curt Connors.  While serving as a military doctor, he lost an arm.  He spent years trying to find a way to grow his arm back.

Curt, your first mistake was ignoring your wife’s warning not to do it.  She loved you and accepted you the way you were.  Your next mistakes were the additional experiments that failed to cure you and spawned other creatures.  The first failed experiment that turned you into a psychotic lizard wasn’t enough proof for you?  Sadly, you let Lizard destroy your humanity and turn your son into a little lizard boy so he could live with you in the sewers.  So. Not. Cool.

Green Goblin

Another sad, sad childhood–I sense a theme here, Marvel–for Norman Osborn.  As an adult, Norman owned a chemical company.  After a failed experiment on an employee, Norman found his business partner’s notes about the experimental serum that should increase a person’s strength.  He tested the unstable chemical on himself.  Hmmmm….that’s not going to end well–an already unbalanced man using an unstable chemical.

Norman, quit picking on your son Harry.  He’s a good kid and wants to make you proud, which got him nothing but crazy later because you couldn’t love him for who he was. Mean, mean, meanie pants.

(Mini rant.  In the first Spider-Man movie, the Green Goblin kidnaps Mary Jane and leaves her dangling from the tower.  Spidey has to save her or the trolley full of people, and he manages to save both.  In the comic storyline, that was Peter Parker’s first girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and she died when Spider-Man tried to save her.  Very sad.  I had to get that out.  Mini rant over.)

Scorpion

Mac Gargan was a private investigator who J. Jonah Jameson hired to catch Peter Parker getting the great pictures of Spider-Man.  When he couldn’t do the job, Jameson paid him to take an experimental drug (Don’t do it!) that would give him characteristics of a scorpion.  Goodbye humanity, goodbye sanity.

I suppose in 1964, $10,000 was enough money to turn yourself into a psychotic humanoid-scorpion, Mac.  Then, later, you take on the alien symbiote, Venom?   Mac, you should’ve run at “experimental” (and later at “alien”).

Molten Man

I’m not sure Mark Raxton had anyone in his life to tell him that a life of crime doesn’t pay.  Guess what?  Raxton had family abandonment issues, too.  Yawn.  When he tried to steal the experimental metallic alloy that he helped create (as part of a weapon to be used against Spidey, no less), the stuff spilled all over him.  Ooops.  I have no words for that kind of stupid.

The Rhino

A Russian thug, Aleksei Sytsevich, subjected himself to chemical and radiation treatments conducted by more Russian thugs.  I wonder if he knew their plan to give him rhinocerous-like armor that he could never take off.  Considering that he was chosen because of his lack of intelligence, I’m sure that never crossed his mind.  I hate to think of the chafing under that armor.

Deep down, you really are a softie at heart, so I feel a little sorry for you.  Aleksei, quit trying to change yourself. Experimental treatments that transform your body are not the fast or smart way to strength, power, or money.  You did right when you turned yourself stupid again after your high IQ experiment made you realize that being smarter than your girlfriend was not a good idea.  Stupid wins this time.

Next week, I’ll tell you about the TINSTAAFL Tuesday-worthy supervillains who began to torment my favorite neighborhood Spider-Man in the 1970s onward.  Things start changing when the comic book codes allow certain types of creatures onto the pages.  Stay tuned!

Do you have a favorite supervillain that you love or love to hate?  Would you sacrifice your humanity to have superpowers for any nefarious reasons? 

Also, we’re down to the last few days of Ponyfest12.  Jump over to Rebecca Enzor’s very lovely blog and vote for my Marce pony entry.  I’d love to win a stack of books and a custom-made pony to represent my main character. 🙂

An Asteroid to Save the Planet

It’s TINSTAAFL Tuesday.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to post about until I saw this bit of future possibility of science fiction becoming reality.  Speculative fiction might be a better description of it.

The article talks about the possibility of harnessing the dust from an asteroid to help reduce global warming.  The dust could act as a sunshade.

*blink, blink*

In the movie Armageddon, Harry (Bruce Willis), A.J. (Ben Affleck), Dan (Billy Bob Thornton), and several other key men (and other amazing actors) must save the Earth from the impact of an asteroid.  Meanwhile, Grace (Liv Tyler) waits for her father, Harry, and her boyfriend (A.J.) to pull off the impossible or die.  Well, if they die, everyone on Earth dies, too.

There is a difference between saving the Earth from impending doom, as in the movie, and geoengineering.  Yes, I know that the movie was fiction and full of inaccuracies of real science.  It was entertaining and fun to watch, and the characters in the movie had no free lunch.  Their lives and sanity were at risk the entire time.

I’m not altogether sold on the theory of global warming, mostly because I think the planet is what it is.  The jury is still out.  Yes, humans do a fine job messing with the environment, but Earth is not static.   There is so much we don’t know about the planet.

Back to the idea that we could harness an asteroid and nudge it close enough to Earth so that its dust particles shade us from the sun to cool us down a little bit.

*blink, blink*

But how do they calculate the tiny 1.7 percent reduction?  What if there is a miscalculation or misinterpretation of data?  Also, there is a concern for safety.

*blink, blink*

It’s not that I think this is a crazy idea (well, not completely).   I’m just saying, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

I won’t even list all the things that are humanly possible to go wrong with this idea.  Oh, fine, just two:

  • The percentage might be miscalculated.  A 17 percent change is significant whereas 1.7 percent isn’t.  I presume the scientists involved are much better at math than I am though.
  • The weight of the asteroid is bigger than thought so the momentum carries it too close for comfort.  And since the scenario in Armageddon isn’t realistic, the people in charge of space will have to come up with another plan while our moon is hurdled into a different orbit.

Very nice!  I just came up with new science fiction story ideas to start working on.  Cool!  Thanks, geoengineers!

Your turn to share a bit of your lunch.  🙂

Did you see the movie, Armageddon?  If so, did you like it?  Do you do anything on your own to help the planet (recycle, drive a hybrid vehicle, ride a bike to work)?   What do you think about the possibilities of geoengineering to safeguard the environment? 

Run, Logan, Run

Today’s the day that I take a look at science fiction and tell you there is no such thing as a free lunch (TINSTAAFL Tuesday).

If you’ve read anything new recently, there is a good chance there’s a utopian/dystopian society involved.  Dystopias have a great deal to teach us about human behavior.

This week’s novel was written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson in 1967: Logan’s Run.  That’s a little before my time, but the movie was made in 1976 and made an impression on my young mind.  Since most people stare at me blankly when I mention it, I’m giving it some attention today.

Michael York (Logan) and  Jenny Agutter (Jessica) starred.  Farrah Fawcett had a role (the poster shows her rather prominently).  In the 23rd Century, a computer controls all living conditions and resources in a domed city that protects the inhabitants from the destroyed world outside.  The citizens do whatever they want and live decadently, because they don’t have to work or worry about anything (or wear much clothing, either).

Sounds boring…  But wait, there’s a price.  There is no such thing as a free lunch.

The price is that no one can live beyond the age of 30.  Each person has a life crystal, which indicates age by color, embedded one hand.  When it goes dark, he or she must be culled in the ritualistic killing called the Carrousel with the promise of rebirth.  I remember this scene more than any others in the movie.

{On a side note, In Logan’s Run, the novel, the age limit was 21. This is also the cutoff date for most people in the movie In TimeMarcy Kennedy addressed the question about life and death in that movie.  You should check them both out (the movie and her blog).}

Those who don’t want to die this horrible death escape beyond the dome.  Logan is a skilled Sandman (police assassin), who prevents Runners from escaping to find the mythical Sanctuary.  The computer gives him into an undercover operation.  His life crystal goes dark four years early to force him to find and destroy Sanctuary.  He escapes and meets Jessica, who is also on the run.

I won’t give away the endings.  The novel and the movie have differences.  Read the summaries on Wikipedia (which also explains the novel that I must now read) and iMDb.

The young people in the domed city were complacent and quite happy to let a computer tell them that the rest of the world was uninhabitable.  They were conditioned to go willingly into the Carrousel on their “lastday” to die a public and fiery death because they outlived their allocated resources and it was their time to start over.  *shiver*

One of the things I love about science fiction is that it presents a problem (dark, twisted, and scary sometimes) to make us think for ourselves and to live.

At lunch yesterday, a friend mentioned a country that rules in such a manner that the people don’t know that life beyond their land is different–they’ve been told the outside world is dangerous.  They believe the government will take care of them even while many of them live in conditions that we would find unlivable.  People are hunted down who try to escape.  Since this is not a political blog, that’s as far as I’ll go.  You get the picture.  The similarities were startling to me, perhaps because I’d already written the draft for this post about Logan’s Run.

Digging deeper, the conversation made me think about what Logan’s Run can teach us about our own lives.  Have we already grown complacent about certain things?

We go to the grocery store to buy packaged food.  We don’t produce or butcher our own food, for the most part, anymore (although home gardening is on the rise).  It has become second nature to use the internet for instant and constant communication.  We don’t think about it, but we expect the technology to work and are always plugged in.  Things to ponder…

Now it’s your turn. Did you see Logan’s Run the movie or read the novel?  What do you think about the story?  What happens when we rely too heavily on technology to keep us safe?  Who gets to say at what age a person is no longer viable to society? 

Tracking Pooch’s Poo

I had a different post planned for TINSTAAFL (There is no such thing as a free lunch) Tuesday until I saw this news story out of Austin, Texas.  It’s real-world example of how DNA can be used to track people.  But in this case, it is a way to track people who aren’t picking up after their dogs.  It makes me wonder if we aren’t already approaching the world depicted in Gattaca. So consider this an update to last week’s Welcome to Gattaca.

Here’s the scoop: A lab out of Tennessee has a service to catalog the collected DNA samples from dogs.  Usually, these dogs’ humans live in communities with active homeowner associations (HOAs), apartment complexes, and condominiums, where the property management offices are requiring dog owners to have their dogs’ DNA to be recorded.  Then when any dog, um, presents are discovered on the lawn, because someone didn’t pick up after their pet, the HOA can send a sample to the lab to be analyzed.  Offenders face stinky fines.

It’s the law to pick up dog stuff, for many obvious reasons.  We pick up after our dogs.  A 75-pound dog doesn’t leave small bombs behind.  It’s disgusting when people don’t clean up after their pooches, and it makes me mad when they leave it in my front yard.  We wouldn’t leave it in their yards, even in retaliation.

The customer survey results show a 100 percent success rate at reducing pet waste.  The customers said that what they liked best was that it provided “undeniable accountability” of their tenants.  Gee, I wonder what the chances are that one of those residences will risk a fine, or worse, after they know that their dogs’ DNA is in the database.

I’m not doggin’ the company for marketing a service.  I don’t question anyone’s right to own a business.  The conundrum here is that dog owners aren’t doing their duty to pick up the doo.  In reality, there would not be a need for these communities to go to the extreme of tracking doggie DNA if people just do the right thing.

So, TINSTAAFL!  Does this make you wonder where the line stops?  Will this creep from residential communities into cities and counties?  What do you think about this?

Welcome to Gattaca

Here at Mermaids Don’t Do Windows, I’m introducing a theme for Tuesdays: “TINSTAAFL Tuesday.”

TINSTAAFL is an acronym for “There is no such thing as a free lunch” and is a common theme in science fiction literature.  It was the favorite theme for one of my SF literature professors.  Everything has a cost, which has little to do with money.  (Unless you’re Bill or Ted on an excellent adventure, and then there are no consequences).   Nothing is for free.  In SF, if it seems to good to be true, then that isn’t a good sign.  Payment will be due.

An article called “Genetically engineering ‘ethical’ babies is a moral obligation, says Oxford professor” creeped me out.  The geneticist insists that we are morally obligated to screen fetuses for imperfections and make them better people by tweaking their genes.

“Welcome to Gattaca” is the first thing I thought.  Gattaca is a 1997 SF film that stars Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about.

The film is set in future Earth when eugenics determine every aspect of people’s lives.  Vincent (Ethan Hawke) was naturally conceived and born, and as  a result has imperfect vision and a heart problem.  His parents decide to give their second son a better life, and he’s perfect and picks on his older, weaker brother often.

The government catalogs everyone in a DNA database and conducts regular screenings.  DNA dictates which kinds of jobs people were allowed to have. The children who are naturally born are considered lowerclass and physically flawed and, as a result, limited to certain menial jobs.  Vincent dreams all his life of joining Gattaca and going into space, but He is trapped in his place in society.

Jerome (Jude Law) is perfect in everyway except an accident left him paralyzed.  Jerome provides Vincent with his fingerprints, blood,
urine, hair samples, and even a heartbeat–everything Vincent needs to take on Jerome’s identity.  With one DNA scan Vincent is accepted into Gattaca—the database thinks he is Jerome (absolutely flawless).  If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t give the rest away.  It’s pretty intense.

That recent article brings up many questions about morals and ethics–whose definition of these terms is this geneticist using?   His own agenda makes it sound as if he is offering utopian people.  Well, we all know how utopias end.  Stories about them now are called dystopias–let’s call it what it is.

TINSTAAFL, I say to the idea of eugenics.  No one knows what the unintended consequences could be.  What’s the geneticist going to say if he mistakenly screens out the gene for friendliness because his hand twitched?  “Oops, sorry, your kid isn’t going to be friendly, but she’ll be a genius and will be able to swim across the Pacific Ocean.”

Sure, he’s implying that the procedure could weed out psychopaths and other undesirable character flaws and make the world a better place.  That just begs the question of nature vs. nuture, doesn’t it?  I don’t see a free lunch here.

Let’s say he creates all these happy, friendly, smart, caring people who don’t have any negative feelings or emotions.  I wonder if these eugenic people would be able to function in society.  “Oh, it’s okay, my teenaged-daughter, you can stay out until 3 am, because I trust everyone has been eugenicized.”  Creeeepy–borderline Stepford Wives (which deserves a TINSTAAFL Tuesday all to itself).

If given the chance to alter a future child’s DNA before birth, would you do it to the extent of Gattaca?   Are we adding another layer of science fiction meets reality to our lives?  Are you as bothered by this “obligation” as I am?

Hello!

Welcome to my new blog where I’ll write about everything from family and gardening, books and movies, and anything else that is interesting in life.