Originally published in The Harvard Post, Dec 21, 2000 (http://www.harvardpost.com/columns/merry.html).


by Ann Levison

Even animals, it would seem, are caught up in the technological frenzy that
plagues our era. In one such instance, French geneticists, at the behest of a
Chicago artist, have recently succeeded in inserting the DNA of a
phosphorescent jellyfish into a white rabbit, producing a bunny that glows
greenish under black light. Not too surprisingly, the breakthrough has
generated significant controversy, with the result that the animal has not yet
been released to the artist who commissioned it.

The artist is throwing a snit.

According to a front page piece in a recent edition of the Boston Sunday
Globe, the artist, Eduardo Kac, had wanted to "interact" with Alba, the rabbit,
in a faux living room as a piece of performance art. His reason for having
Alba created in the first place, the Globe quotes him as saying, is to show
"that even transgenic animals created in a lab have "an emotional and
cognitive life.'"

Well, of course they do.

"This is a new era and we need a new kind of art," Kac goes on. "It makes no
sense to paint as we painted in the caves."

Whatever. Critics, of course, have charged cruelty, have pointed out that if
such an animal should escape, it would have a serious impact on the genetic
basis of animal life, and have remarked on the profound silliness of using
such powerful technology for an art exhibit.

Personally, I think it's a great idea. Maybe I could have it done to my cats, so
I could find them more easily when they hide under the couch, or so I don't
trip over them in the night. Only trouble is, they're not all white, like Alba, but
black and while, sort of like Holstein cows, or a Gateway computer box. So
what I'd see would be disconnected blobs of ghostly green floating on my
bed or zipping between my feet. Or, of course, hovering over the food bowl.
Kind of disorienting, I would think.

Then there's the currently ongoing effort to develop a "bird-friendly" web
browser that would allow parrots to use the Internet to play games, look at
pictures of parrots and other images, listen to music, and interact with their
owners, according to an article in another issue of the Globe. If the project
works, developers hope to apply it to other animals and "enrich the lives of
America's pets." That's another great idea. The only thing I can think of that
would be more useful than having cats you can't trip over in the dark is
having cats who can amuse themselves when I'm busy. Except, of course, that
we'd be endlessly arguing over whose turn it is to use the computer.

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