Jest who in tarnation is Buffalo Mel? Other Melanie Bacon stuff:

AmeriKali | Clone Stories | Maria's Path

BEDTIME STORIES, tidbits from recent news
guaranteed to further confuse today's youth.

2 of her most popular short pieces:
Declaration of Interdependence
Why the Creator needs a press agent

All You Buckaroos!

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Read the interview with
Buffalo Mel in Rebel Planet.

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Wild Web Corrals
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(Warning, saccharine sweet!
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Buffalo Mel
Son Tory's page
Son Mickey's band's page (612 Crew)
Nephew Jacob's page
Niece Eliza's page
Niece Melissa's page

Sonnets For My Sons

Learn way more than
you can stand about
Buffalo Mel's affection
for her kids.


Any good Wild Web Show needs
amusements and entertainments.
Buffalo Mel is proud to present
these show-stopping links, brought
from all over the known web universe:

* GENWAY, the Supermarket for
Genetically Engineered Foods *

(Fool with your mind's eye!)
* Magic Eye Stereogram of the Week *
* Find The Spam *

* Amuse-o-Matic 2000 *
* Trendy Magic - Interactive Style *
* Stare Down Sally *

* The Hamster Dance *
* Furby Autopsy *
* The Parktown Prawn *

* Crazy Joe's Internet Bungee Jump *

* Run the Los Angeles Marathon *
(a shockwave game)

* Mr. Showbiz Celebrity Love Match *

* Fireworks *

Who turned on the Infinite Improbability Drive?

Can anyone pinpoint for me the moment in time when our consensual reality turned into a Douglas Adams novel? Not that I'm opposed to insanely silly science fiction - it's just that I'm reeling today from the awareness that we no longer have to go to the movies or take drugs to experience life in the fast lane of an alternate universe.

Today is Monday. I almost wrote an essay on Saturday, because of the plethora of weird guys-in-power stories in the New York Times: the president of Bolivia announced that all government officials would be obligated to take drug tests, the Yeltsin government released a videotape showing Russia's Prosecutor General in bed with two women, and President Clinton said that "when the final word was written on his legacy, he would have one strike against him -- for lying -- but 'hundreds and hundreds and hundreds' of pluses for the times that he was truthful."

(Bill Clinton's epitaph: "Most of the time, he told the truth".)

Okay, so Saturday's news showed us we were living in a Kurt Vonnegut universe; not really a big deal, since we've actually been living there since Reagan was elected President (see Slaughterhouse Five). I thought for a while about writing an essay discussing the fact that our world's governments are clearly being run now by adolescent boys, but decided to shampoo my rugs instead.

And then today I read the online papers and realized that we - you and I - are now characters in a story that could easily be mistaken for Book Six of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

The first hint that we'd slid into this other dimension came when I read the story about the four-legged chicken, proudly Dr. Frankensteined by scientists at Harvard Medical School (The Electronic Telegraph). The scientists did this by playing switcheroo games with chicken wing and leg genes ("To identify the genes that convey 'legness' is amazing", said one scientist). Holy Zaphod Beeblebrox!

The next little twinges came while perusing one of my favorite papers, The Sunday Times (London), where we make a kind of Michael Crichtonesque side trip into the world of reanimating extinct species, in this case, the dodo bird. British researchers are recovering fragments of genetic material from dodo body parts preserved at Oxford University's Natural History Museum, hoping to "pave the way for the species to be recreated some day", although the paucity of material makes it unlikely that they will be able to recreate a perfectly perfect dodo; they'll probably have to settle for a pseudo sorta dodo, using bits and pieces of semi-dodo wannabees. Hopefully they'll refrain from giving it extra legs. The Douglas Adams-like twist to this story? Ecologists are worried "that bringing back an animal resembling the dodo might persuade the public that there is no longer any need to protect endangered species, as any creatures wiped out by man could be recreated" (kind of like Kleenex - use it up, throw it away, and trust that the factory will keep cranking out replacements, hopefully new and improved).

One scientist made a statement I found kind of ominous: in discussing the difficult of recreating a perfect dodo using only the tiny fragments of material that survive, he said "You only need to get a little bit wrong to get a non-viable animal - a single mistake could be lethal". It seems to me that when you're messing with genes, "a little bit wrong" could result in something much more significant than a "non-viable animal" (the dodo is extinct, after all; non-viability is something of a redundant issue); my question is: lethal for whom?

Which leads to our next story, about the newest weapon in the British military arsenal, the Neostead shotgun. This is a handgun "so powerful it can demolish walls or stop a light tank in its tracks"; a weapon which "has never been seen outside Hollywood science-fiction epics"; it can "scythe through armour or spray advancing troops with hundreds of lethal ball bearings" and enable one man "to destroy a small convoy or kill dozens of advancing troops", yet "is small enough to be carried in a shoulder holster and has a recoil system so sophisticated that it can be held and fired with one hand" (The Sunday Times). The South African-made gun is being bought initially for special forces, but "could also be used by elite police squads".

I read this, my paranoid American mind racing with thoughts about the almost infinite abuses inherent in the existence of this weapon, wondering how many people (maybe even members of the criminal element!) are buying this thing on the Internet right at this very moment. You know me, always jumping to wild conclusions. However the wonderfully British Sunday Times is very prosaic about the inclusion of the Neostead in the British military and police arsenal, offering only one comment about other possible uses of this shotgun:

Graham Downing, the British Field Sports Society's shooting consultant, said that using the Neostead on game shoots in Britain would be illegal as it fires more than three cartridges: "It's not really on to turn up at a game shoot with a semi-automatic or pump-action shotgun."

Those Brits are very serious about being sportsmanlike when you hunt. So when you go hunting four-legged dodo birds in Britain, leave your anti-tank handgun at home.

This isn't your grandmother's reality anymore.

© 1999 Melanie Bacon
All rights reserved.

Children for fun and profit

Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical piece a few hundred years ago called "A Modest Proposal," in which he suggested that since Irish children were just dying horribly anyway, they might as well be used like slaughter animals to benefit the society. We haven't adopted all of his ideas, but today's news shows that modern society certainly has embraced the spirit of his proposal. Children are a commodity, so much so that I've been thinking about writing a story in which children futures are traded on the stock exchange.

I have a web page called Bedtime Stories, in which I encapsulate strange news items related to children, culled from the various newspapers I read on the Internet. I found 5 stories today, from all over the world; no doubt I would have found more, but I'd already been on the net for two hours and needed to get a little work done. 3 of the stories bore a similar theme: people figuring out ways to capitalize on kids.

The first is a sad story about how children are the real victims in war; in this case, it's a civil war in the Sudan, where children are captured and enslaved by conquering forces. Outside agencies face a catch-22: they can buy the children and set them free, but if they do that (1) they validate the concept of buying and selling human beings by participating in it, (2) the children go back home to the war zone where they might end up getting recaptured and re-enslaved, and (3) the profits from the slave trade go back into the war machine.

What's an omniscient world body to do? Too bad it's children who are being seized - if the conquering forces were stealing oil reserves, the UN solution would be obvious.

And then there's that pesky illegal drug problem in the United States. Drugs, kids, drugs, kids - parents face such difficult choices these days. A Des Moines, Iowa woman figured out a solution: to settle a drug debt, she loaned her 11-year-old daughter to her drug dealers, who took the girl to California with them on business and then gave her a new pair of platform shoes, omitting to tell her that her feet were being used to ship product.

Both of these stories have at least the excuse of human desperation. There is no such excuse for my third and favorite story, a story about pure greed, sex and sensationalism: the race to produce and promote the first baby born in the year 2000.

This is a big deal right now, because if you're even going to be in the running you have to conceive the little bugger sometime in the next few weeks. There are companies right now, today, having conceive-a-thons, sponsoring and then interviewing panting couples who hope that the last ejaculation was the lucky one. But the big money will be in the delivery: people are scheduling cesarians, and reserving rooms at God's own end of the Earth (where the crack of dawn means literally that), and going to immense amounts of trouble to ensure that their baby will be the very utterly absolutely first one born in the year 2000, which will garner them huge pots of cash and prizes which maybe they'll even share with the kid (who is guaranteed to be named something cutely awful).

But only one member of the class of 2018 is going be the 'winner'. What happens in the families where the kid doesn't cooperate? Will Mommy and Daddy love Junior just as much if he's born half-a-second too late and they lose millions of dollars? What schemes will they come up with to recoup their investment? Will they sue the kid for emotional trauma and loss of income? Or maybe sell him to drug dealers?

I'm having this nightmare vision where a couple uses fertility drugs to ensure that at least one of their little darlings arrives at exactly the right moment (and you know, you just KNOW there are people out there right now planning to do this).

This baby race business gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "family planning".

I'm reminded of Hosea 13:13, in which God is trying to give birth to Israel "but he is an unwise son; for now he does not present himself at the mouth of the womb." What's a Mother to do with this uncooperative baby? "Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death?" No way, God the Mother says, "Compassion is hid from my eyes." And God didn't even have millions of bucks and a movie of the week deal at stake.

© 1999 Melanie Bacon
All rights reserved.

Inside the Monkey Lab

Like a cow chewing her cud, I've been sitting here ruminating over three articles in today's New York Times. In the first, "U.S. And 5 Allies Reject Global Treaty on Trade in Genetically Altered Goods", we learn that "some 25 percent to 45 percent of major crops grown in the United States are genetically modified", and that "attempts to forge the world's first global treaty to regulate trade in genetically modified products failed Wednesday morning when the United States and five other big agricultural exporters rejected a proposal that had the support of the rest of the roughly 130 nations". Evidently, "proponents of the treaty, especially European nations, have resisted genetically modified products, worried that not enough is known about the possible effects on human health and the environment". The purpose of the treaty is to require exporters of genetically-altered products to get permission before they export it to countries who don't want it. The U.S. and its 5 big genetically-altering agricultural exporter buddies don't want to have to get advance approval from countries before exporting this stuff to them, because they think that's too much red tape.

(An aside: the plight of the 130 nations in regulating the import of unwanted genetically-altered products into their countries reminded me of a story in today's Star Tribune, "My Mother Is A Sweepstakes Junkie", which talks about the frustrations families feel when trying to get junk mailers to stop sending unwanted packages and solicitations to their elderly parents).

The second New York Times article, "Gene Therapy Passes Important Test, in Monkeys", starts out amusingly with "A colony of 54 rhesus monkeys at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia was peacefully watching an episode of the second "Star Trek" series one recent afternoon when an alien-looking squad of higher primates, decked out in masks and white disposable boiler suits and ridiculous bootees, marched into their quarters"; the goal of the aliens was to scarf some monkey blood to use in their latest gene therapy experiments. Developers of gene therapy (trying to cure people by inserting good genes into their bodies to replace or modify the bad or absent genes) use modified viruses to infect the body with the good genes. Their enemy has been the human immune system, which thinks a virus is a bad thing and something to be gotten rid of (with greater or lesser success; my immune system has managed to destroy most of the flu virus that infected me for a week or two, but I'm still hacking away with a miserable cough.) (That was another aside). These gene therapist folks (aka "the aliens") are trying to develop a virus shell which "does not greatly provoke the body's immune system", thereby tricking the human body into allowing these foreign genes to permanently alter the genetic structure of not only the person, but even "remedying a genetic disease in the patient's descendants...making inheritable changes in the human genome" (or "thy seed after thee in their generations", to quote Genesis).

Their intentions, of course, are wholly benign and honorable; their goal is simply to benefit humanity and the shareholders of the corporations that fund them. By the way, this is the same munificent goal of the six countries that insist on exporting gene-altered agricultural products to the 130 countries that are too nervous or ignorant or jealous or god-knows-what to know what's really good for them.

The third little story that caught my attention, "On Germ Patrol, at the Kitchen Sink", is a human interest piece about scientist Dr. Charles Gerba, who studies germs. It seems our homes are infested with gazillions of the little critters; he seems to focus primarily on microbes in the bathroom, kitchen and laundry. For example, Dr. Gerba discovered that one-fifth of the washing machines in the homes of people in one study contained E. coli, while a quarter were contaminated with fecal matter, and "that some salmonella and hepatitis A survive through laundry -- including the dry cycle -- and remain on clothes". He found that "in most homes, the bathroom is much cleaner than the kitchen", and that "because of contamination introduced by meat and vegetables, sinks harbor the most dangerous bacteria, and people who appear cleanest -- who wipe down counters regularly with their kitchen sponge -- tend to have that bacteria all over their kitchen." Personally, he uses a lot of bleach.

This is the sentence that kind of tied this story in with the others for me: "He predicts that infectious disease, or microbe-caused illness will become more prevalent, explaining that antibiotic resistance, our aging drinking water infrastructure, and emerging pathogens will give microbes the leverage they need in the next century".

Okay, so here's the combined story as my mind sits here distorting it: Making money helping people is a good thing. It is good - and profitable - to provide food to people. It is good - and profitable - to cure people's diseases. Altering the genes of agricultural products results in a greater yield of "good" products. It may also result in greater yield of "bad" products ("some scientists worry, for instance, that a gene conferring insect resistance or drought tolerance on a crop could spread to weedy relatives of that crop through cross-pollination, creating superweeds"), but the combination of immediate profits and immediate humanitarian benefit will inevitably win the argument. Creating a virus shell that can bypass the human immune system to put "good" genes into an individual and their descendants is a "good" thing. Presumably using that same virus shell to deliver "bad" genes would be a "bad" thing, but no one appears to be too concerned about it, possibly because no one's yet figured out how to make money on it (it could be a problem if the acquisition of land and/or power were still predominant human motivators, but we'll leave discussion of "Corporation As King" for another essay).

So we're gene splicing and gene modifying this food product and that animal and this human being, and they in turn alter other animals, plants and people through contagion and reproduction; and in the meantime we're having this explosion in germs and microbe-caused illnesses, which presumably we'll try to "manage" through further gene therapy and genetic manipulation; and hopefully there'll never be a geneticist Hitler who'll want to use these tools in his nefarious schemes because, after all, where's the money in that?

I watched a program on The History Channel last night, called "Ancient Aliens". This program explored the thesis that human beings are ourselves the result of genetic manipulations by aliens over a period of time from millions of years ago to a few thousand years ago (and folks who ascribe to the "alien abduction" theory would say it's still going on). Let's presume for a moment that the thesis is true: that we are the result of genetic manipulation. The resulting genetically-altered species (aka "us") could be viewed as both a "good" thing for Earth, and a "bad" thing: good because our evolving consciousness is contributing to the evolving consciousness of the universe (if you don't understand that, don't worry about it); bad because we are hell-bent on destroying everything of value in our environment - our water, our air, our bio-chemical balance, the other species we share space with, blah, blah, blah, you know all that stuff already. When I weigh it out, I have to say, despite all our best intentions, the "bad" outweighs the "good". I think the Earth would be way better off if there weren't any people infecting her. You may have a different opinion.

I think the aliens made a mistake messing with our genes. And I think we're making a mistake in furthering the experiment. The greatest argument against genetic manipulation is: us.

Oh, by the way, another little piece in today's World Briefing section of the New York Times grabbed my attention: "Mexico: Drug Use on Rise"; this is the piece in its entirety:

Mexicans' illegal drug consumption has increased by 56 percent in five years, although consumption remains far lower than in the U.S., a government survey found. In 1993, 1.6 million Mexicans consumed some type of illegal drugs; in 1998 the figure was 2.5 million. Last year 4.7 percent of Mexicans smoked marijuana, compared with 33 percent in the U.S. Sam Dillon (NYT)

33% of people in the U.S. smoked marijuana last year?! If this is not a typo, then there are more marijuana smokers in the United States than there are cigarette smokers. I am not a marijuana smoker (nor a cigarette smoker), and until I read that sentence I had never bought the argument that marijuana should be legalized in this country. But if this percentage is true, then clearly U.S. policy on marijuana is wrong - is undemocratic, even; more American citizens are smoking marijuana than voted for the winner in the last presidential election.

© 1999 Melanie Bacon
All rights reserved.


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