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Pig Organs

By Annalee Newitz

I CAN'T decide which is cooler: superextreme Internet porn, putting radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in student ID cards or creating human organs out of pig stem cells. Sometimes, you have one of those weeks where everything seems awesome.

Maybe it's because I had high-tech surgery a few days ago—one of those outpatient dealies where they throw you on the table, slap a gas mask on your face and fork you with a laparoscope.

Two hours later, you wake up covered in band aids and feeling like you want to barf but can't. By the time I was completely awake, my doctor was long gone, and all that was left of my surgery were some glossy color photographs.

Still strung out on anesthesia and attached to a saline drip, I stared at the images of pink and orange bulges surrounded by lacy white fat deposits. One of the bulges was a kind of purplish color and was being grabbed by a surgical tool. "Is that the cyst that they removed?" I asked, pointing.

The nurse, who was already weirded out that I wanted to look at the pictures in the first place, shook her head.

"I really don't know what it is," she said, snatching the pictures away and putting them back in my file. I sighed and wondered if the hospital owned the copyright on those pictures they'd taken of my cystectomy.

As I lay there trying to sit up and escape the hospital (and not barf in the process), I couldn't help but think about pornography. I mean, who wouldn't?

In late January, a federal court in western Pennsylvania actually ruled that our current national obscenity laws are unconstitutional. That's how the U.S. government lost a case against a couple of Internet pornographers known as Extreme Associates, whose work isn't just your usual cock-and-pussy action. It's full of rape and piss and probably some of those weird purple bulges that the nurse couldn't identify, too.

Basically, the judge said that in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Lawrence case (which overturned sodomy laws), it was impossible for the government to justify bringing charges of a moral nature against people doing things in the privacy of their own homes.

There is simply no compelling government interest being served by forbidding people from looking at naughty pictures on their own personal, private computers, and therefore our current obscenity laws offend the Fourth Amendment. And let me tell you, nobody likes an offended Fourth Amendment. Some people definitely like to mess with the Fourth Amendment's head, though—they call it names and stick "kick me" notes on its back. At least, that's what they do in certain rural areas in Northern California.

This scurvy RFID company called InCom, which is located near Sacramento, decided to perform a little test run of its new tot-tracking technology in a local school. So the company gave some "donations" to an elementary school in Sutter County and persuaded the administration to stick RFID chips in these ID tags all the kids wear around their necks.

Eventually, these kids were going around at school with RFID chips that were pinging RFID readers at the entrance to each classroom (and bathroom!), which then transmitted the kids' locations to a central computer.

Needless to say, the parents—who had not given consent for this little test—were extremely unamused. Currently, they're lobbying the school to stop tracking their kids. But just remember that RFID tracking creepiness isn't just for little kids in farm towns—Berkeley Public Library tracks your movements by putting RFIDs in every book that's checked out.

That's why we've all got to distract ourselves by contemplating a new study whose results have been announced by a team at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. It's all about growing human organs out of pig stem cells (which it occurs to me might be a rather interesting conundrum for a rabbi to contemplate).

You know how President Bush and other clueless anti-science types like Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are working round the clock to stop medical breakthroughs using human stem cells? Well, this could be the big break they're waiting for. Now when Bush starts to get Alzheimer's, we'll just plug up the holes in his neurons with some pig goo!

And let's stick an RFID tag in there while we're at it—something that'll ping me every time old George downloads another rape video in the privacy of the Oval Office.

Annalee Newitz ([email protected]) is a surly media nerd who has always been very polite to the Fourth Amendment.

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From the February 16-22, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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