Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sperm from Donor 401

I recently heard about a man in California known only as number 401. He was a sperm donor who stopped assisting laboratory-style reproduction 2 years ago. He was the perfect Arian and his DNA was in high demand from women seeking blonde-haired, blue eyed children of German extraction who tan well.

His sperm is so popular that when a woman recently discovered she had 17 unused vials of his DNA sitting in her garage, she offered it up to wishful 401-mum wannabees and was subsequently offered thousands for her collection, as if it were a rare Picasso or the Mona Lisa itself.

Number 401 has fathered at least 11 children who are part of a super family of women, mostly single, who keep in touch over the internet. They say they have less interest in knowing who the man is than in knowing each other, but their children are young and there is no doubt in my mind that this group of 11 will one day seek out their father. Number 401 will be confronted by a group of children knocking on his door, wanting to be let in to the secret that is his identity.

The women seem to be living in a state of denial if they think this will not happen. Louisa Weix, 43, mother of 401 spawn, was quoted as saying “Some doors are better left closed”, but does she get to make that decision? For now, while her child is too little to do anything independently of her she can make such bold statements, but in recent years there have been a few people track down their biological, sperm-donator fathers through records kept on the internet. With the power of 11 children working together to find whatever details they need, it’s only a matter of time. It WILL happen.

I often wonder, and my thoughts on the topic are generally unpopular and perhaps a little antagonistic, if some people reproduce for rather selfish reasons without much thought to their offspring. I hold the fairly cynical opinion that many parents truly believe their DNA is somehow superior and, therefore, worth replicating. Ask any parent and they will adamantly deny it, but how many times have I heard new parents declare that their child is above average and then try to demonstrate through a show of their progeny’s amazing ability to colour match. Or how many times have I heard prospective parents planning the future of their sure-to-be brilliant bundle of joy.

I worked with a kind of crazy guy whose wife was pregnant. He pondered one day what he might do if his unborn girl turned out to be less than a genius. I suggested he might love her and support her in whatever interests she wished to pursue in life. He wasn’t happy about the prospect. Ok, so he was an extreme case but I use him as an example because I suspect the same thought has occurred many, many times to many, many, many different people, waiting for their perfect combination of genes to arrive and make their big, bright mark on the world.

I’ll return now to the 401 children whose mothers keep in touch with each other, sharing baby photos and developmental stories. Can you imagine the competition? What’s going to happen when one child clearly outranks the others in mental capacity, or when another shows an aptitude for sport? When they’re a little bit older, one starts taking drugs and another ends up in Jail, while another one becomes a public prosecutor after graduating early at the age of 19 and the oldest of the lot opts out of the race to go live on a commune.

Children are not toys or robots. They are people, unique and individual, not an expression of a set of genes or a showcase of a successful blend of DNA. I wonder why women are scrambling to get their hands on the stash of unused 401 vials that recently turned up. Don’t they want their child to be completely unique? Don’t they want their child to be someone with their own, distinct personality who will grow up to be truly one of a kind? With all the evidence before me, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that no, these woman would actually prefer a clone and I wonder if they’re the norm rather than the exception.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Secrets of Lost, the TV series

Television is changing and perhaps it’s time this beast steps out of the primordial slime and evolves. We are living in a world of multi-everything. From multimedia to multitasking we have people to see, places to be, things to do and more choice than ever before. But from the time we first switched on and tuned out, television has been the medium of choice to escape the crazy jumble of everyday life and for an hour or 2 do nothing at all.

But how long is it going to last?

The producers of the popular hit television series, Lost, got with the program and merged fiction with reality with fiction again. In a sub-plot twist, a novel is found by a character who didn’t survive the plane crash. Author Gary Troup (fictitious, yet surreally real) delivered his novel Bad Twin just days before the doomed flight. is selling the novel alongside the entire first series of Lost on DVD. There is a broken interview with Gary Troup including a reference to his first book which is mysteriously unavailable, but relates to the Hanso foundation, which relates back to the bizarre hatch and strange Others on the island where Lost takes place.

Lost abounds with hidden hints. In order to follow the show completely its fans are crawling the internet for missed clues and shared theories. There are several web sites connected with the show, including an official web site for the fictitious Oceanic Airlines, with all operations ceased following the flight 815 disaster. New web sites associated with the show keep popping up. I’m not exactly keeping track of it, but I can’t help noticing them. Are they officially related to the show? Some probably are and some might not be, but one thing is for certain, never before has any television series crossed so many mediums.

If you’re not yet convinced, channel 7 recently aired a Lost special hosted by the series’ director. JJ Abrams revealed there is a reference to the series hidden in his recently released Mi3 movie. Yes, that’s correct. The blockbusting sequel to the Tom Cruise films contains a reference to the world of Lost.

But that’s not all! On an episode aired recently in Australia the series was interrupted for an advertisement. It took me a moment of contemplation to realise it wasn’t a regular commercial break. It was an advertisement for Hanso, the fictitious organisation most likely responsible for all the strange events happening on the island. In the midst of watching the main characters trekking through the tropical jungle, the narrative was interrupted with a self-imbedded commercial. The commercial contained a freecall number. The number was real and according to a Wikipedia reference was different in every country where the episode aired. Calling the number led to a whole new set of mysteries and the telephone Medium was crossed.

I’ve been watching the show, but as I said I haven’t been following its multimedia spinoffs in any depth. I am, however, immensely interested in how the producers of the show are using every available technology to (not to sound too cynical) make money and enhance the viewers’ experience of the TV series. Is this the future of television? My magic 8 ball tells me: Outlook Likely.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Men with guns

Hunting is an old tradition and is most certainly not limited to the humans. Lions hunt, bears hunt, kittens hunt, whales hunt … in fact I struggle to think of any member of the animal kingdom that doesn’t.

Tribes around the world use hunting as a fundamental part of survival. Without hunting there would be no meat, no source of protein and iron and no skins for shelters, decorations and clothes. The African Bushmen consider the art of hunting very sacred and a single hunter will go without food, sleep or shelter for days to track his prey and return to his tribe with the prize. Denied of sustenance, he goes into a delirious trance and becomes one with the animal he is tracking.

There are few who would argue against a form of hunting which places such respect on the prey. There are few who would argue against any tribe or culture that hunts merely for survival. Yet in the culture of the Western Man, hunting is often played as a sport and done merely for entertainment.

Foxes were introduced into Australia. Can any one imagine how foxes might arrive accidentally on a boat? It was no accident. They were imported purely for the sport of hunting. They were brought over in cages and then released and pursued, but apparently those early settlers weren’t so good with the tracking because foxes have flourished unchecked since their arrival.

It’s this reckless and pointless aspect of hunting that upsets a lot of people. Killing for fun, as it could be described bluntly, certainly isn’t something that appeals to every one. There are legal seasons to kill certain animals, but that isn’t to say the law is always adhered to. Hunting is not easy to control and the concern many people have is losing entire species as a result.

Popular hunting, like hunting ducks, deer and bears, doesn’t threaten endangered species, but it has happened before and it could happen again. Remember the Thylacine, the Tasmanian tiger? It was perceived as a threat, a pest, preying on sheep and poultry. The farmers hunted it (with the help of their dogs) to extinction.

Many hunters argue that they are killing pests and dangerous animals. In Australia the Kangaroo, a native animal, has reached pest status. As inland water holes dry up over a long period of drought, the Kangaroos move into rural and urban areas and their numbers have become too great. Could there come a time when Kangaroos are hunted to extinction? It is possible.

But how about species of animals we don’t even know about yet, or anomalous combinations? Is it not possible that a small hunting accident or miscalculation could be detrimental in ways we might not imagine?

A hunter in the US paid $50,000 for a sport hunting trip (that’s big business) and now faces court over the slaying of a “Grolar” or “Prizzly” Bear (CBC, April 26), a mix between a Grizzly and Polar bear, the only one believed to be in existence. It’s so rare it doesn’t even have a proper name and may never be found again. The man’s in trouble not because he killed a rare species but because he didn’t have a suitable hunting license. The man’s reaction to the event? “Y'know, I've spent $50,000 here. And … to come back with nothing, I don't think that's fair".

Never mind he might have denied the world of the only animal of its kind, he just wants his trophy.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Heroes and role models

During an episode of the current US Survivor series an aged astronaut revealed his secret identity to his island buddies. It was a touching moment of pride and respect. The younger men revered the space man and for a moment it seemed their resulting blokey-bond was infallible.

Jeremy and I watched with a certain degree of disinterest. I wondered aloud why meeting an astronaut creates such an occasion in this day and age. Yeah, CNN (28 April, 2006) still reports shuttle launches, and they may or may not be televised on obscure American cable networks, but they go largely unnoticed. The population just isn’t that interested any more.

Jeremy remarked that space travel is about to become openly available to the general public, or at least those with sufficient funds. Virgin Galactic is on the verge of introducing space travel with a space port being built in New Mexico and the first flights set to take place in 2008.

As more people can fly through the outer atmosphere, the importance and nobility of astronauts will fade to nothing. Is this sad? Well, that probably depends on a few factors. Did you dream of bouncing around the surface of the moon while playing with your space Lego set and Star Wars figurines when you were a child? Is your dear-ol’ Grandpoppy a decorated astro-god? Did you narrowly miss out on a chance to fly into space and you’ve been desperately hoping another chance will come to set your name in the history of space travel?

If you answered “no” to these questions, there’s a good chance that it makes not a scrap of difference to your life that the future of astronauts is not so rosy. It’s not that they’ll cease to exist. As long as there are new regions of space to explore (and there’s infinite potential for that) astronauts will have a job. In fact, the more space travel expands the more jobs will be available for astronauts, so it’s good news for those of you who are still dreaming.

However, the old Dan-the-astronauts of the world won’t be able to drum up the respect they still, for some reason, get. It won’t be long before “I’m an astronaut” results in the same response as “I’m a freelance web-designer.” Isn’t everyone?