Those of us with fond memories of the "Aggie Cold Fusion" debacle and bizarre reports of long-term alchemical research (well-funded, too) by top Aggie scientists could hardly have been more delighted by the triumphant production of "Copycat," the kitten newly cloned at Texas A&M University.
Why does it seem to have surprised no one that this was done at A&M? For that matter, why should anyone have failed to suspect that the Aggies spent years trying to turn lead into gold? Hell, they turned an "Agricultural and Mechanical Institute" into a "University," didn't they?
Whether Aggie science has succeeded in turning DNA into gold is perhaps the more relevant question. The theory is that the commercial potential of cloning is in pet reproduction. People with plenty of money will be willing to pay to have their pet cat or dog "with them always."
Why, you may ask, shouldn't institutions of higher learning get in on the action and extract their share of funds from the idle rich? (We can be sure that Little Orphan Annie couldn't afford to get her pup cloned without a check from Daddy Warbucks.)
The rich may be different from you and me, but they are demonstrably no less gullible.
Architects exploit them shamelessly. When I lived in Houston, people were making a killing selling nuclear bomb shelters in River Oaks and Memorial. Lead-lined rooms in the center of the house were de rigeur, as essential as Audubon prints and books supplied by decorators, who bought them by weight. People with a little less money were all buying the same cast-iron curbside mailboxes. Musically-inclined lawyers would want to sit in with blues bands, having spent upwards of $40,000 on hobby gear to try to recreate the sound Lightnin' Hopkins got from a borrowed guitar and his fingers.
So ubiquitous were the custom stretch limos that entire cities appeared to be caught in warring funeral processions. When the limos reached the cemetary, the occupants would sometimes pay an arm, a leg and a neckbone to be buried near the big carved face of Jesus with the eyes that "follow you everywhere, in any direction, seeming to move as you move." That they would not themselves be moving could be counted upon to escape the attention of a reliable few.
The stupidity of new money is one of the oldest, not to say richest, American stories. Can you say Enron?
New money combined with access to advanced technology can be one of the scariest.
It was enough to make even that old reactionary, Allen Tate, "view with alarm," to use one of his favorite phrases. In 1950, in a talk called "To Whom is the Poet Responsible?" he raised the question of "how much natural knowledge should be placed in the hands of [people] whose moral and spiritual education has not been impressive?"
What sort of people was he talking about? "By such [people] I mean the majority at all times and places, and more particularly the organized adolescents of all societies known as the military class."
Or, in the case of Texas A&M, the "faux military" class, complete with make-believe uniforms. Never mind Tate's dismissal of majority rule -- what else would we expect from a reactionary? And it is safe to assume that by "moral and spiritual education" Tate did not quite have in mind Jerry Falwell or Bob Jones.
To observe how far the level of Tory discourse has fallen since Tate's day, we need only ask when was the last time we were able to imagine an institution such as Texas A&M being effectively attacked from the right?
The Aggie kitten is indeed cute. A&M's estimate of the commercial potential of pet cloning is probably shrewd.
But Texas has already given us Bush II. How much would you be willing to bet
that no one in Texas has yet discussed -- in the presence of someone with plenty
of money -- the possibility of cloning Ronald Reagan?
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