Category Archives: Culture

Get ready for the Noise …

Mark your calendar: on Saturday, May 22, at 8:45 pm, Gena Mason & the Noise will perform at the world-famous Cat Club, on Hollywood’s legendary Sunset Strip. Hopefully, the LAPD and others will refrain from interfering this time.

The Cat Club is located at 8911 West Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA. Hope to see you there.

Correction: BIO, not Solazyme, responsible for cloned pigs

After receiving numerous indignant emails today from individuals purporting to represent Solazyme, I’ve done some additional digging and found that it is apparently BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization), and NOT Solazyme, that placed the cloned-human-transplant pigs in the convention hall for last week’s Chicago conference. From Solazyme‘s communications, I’ve gathered that they are “a renewable oil company, focused on converting algae to oil within a sustainable process for use in making biofuels, foods and cosmetics. They do NOT work with livestock.” I apologize for the mistake and for any inconvenience it may have caused.

However, the story stays interesting. The cloned livestock is for real. And it turns out that you can check out the GE (genetically engineered) animals for yourself in September, when BIO holds its Livestock Biotech Summit in South Dakota. From BIO’s website:

“The livestock biotech summit is BIO’s first national industry conference on genetically engineered (GE) animal technologies. This conference will uniquely focus on developing global solutions through animal biotechnology.” 

BIO’s stated motive for displaying its cloned pigs and calves is to prove that

“these healthy creatures do not look different from any other pig or calf you’ve ever seen but these animals, and others like them, are laying the foundation for transforming public health, helping the environment, improving food production and enhancing animal welfare.”

Well, judging from the fact that Solazyme was extremely anxious to distance itself from this technology, BIO will have its work cut out for it in convincing the general public to accept the new genetic advances, however revolutionary.

Just as I predicted, this is a hot-button issue. More later.

Cloned pigs used for human transplants

Wow … while scouring the internet this week, I happened upon a mention of a “bioproducts” company called Solazyme. Word is that, at an intellectual property conference held last week in Chicago, Solazyme proudly displayed in the convention hall one of its new products: a pig that had been genetically modified to grow body parts to be used for transplantation into humans.

Apparently, Solazyme isn’t the first to venture into this territory. In 2002 National Geographic reported that competing teams of scientists had been cloning genetically-modified pigs, to use their organs for human transplantation:

“Pig organs are well suited for transplantation; they are approximately the same size as human organs and have similar plumbing, which makes reconnecting blood vessels much easier. Also, the size of pig litters tends to be large and pigs reproduce quickly, raising the prospect of a large supply of ‘spare’ organs.”

One hitch, however, is that “natural” pigs’ organs are generally rejected by humans, due to an idiosyncratic coating of sugar molecules. The fix: scientists simply created cloned piglets programmed without the sugar-producing gene. This was a significant scientific advance because the researchers were able to “knock out” a targeted gene at a specific location.

Though scientifically laudatory, this work by geneticists — and its subsequent commercialization and marketing by companies like Solazyme — promises to open up a proverbial can of (genetically-modified?) worms. Once fundamentalist Christians, FoxNews, and PETA latch onto this story, I imagine it will stir vigorous debate.

Perhaps that’s why, during a quick visit to Solazyme’s website, I found absolutely no mention of livestock, genetically-modified or otherwise. Maybe they’re planning to break it to us gently. I’ll keep tabs on this story. More later.


“[I]s time travel possible? Can we open a portal to the past or find a shortcut to the future? Can we ultimately use the laws of nature to become masters of time itself?”

In a recent article published by the UK’s Daily Mail, renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking asks these questions and provides some startling answers. For days the internet has been abuzz about Hawking’s essay “How to Build a Time Machine,” in which the universally-recognized genius emphatically concludes that humans can accomplish time travel into the future.

For the means of voyaging through the fourth dimension, Hawking presents several possibilities: wormholes, black holes, or a VERY fast machine.

According to Hawking, physicists now believe in the existence of invisible portals through time (“wormholes”) that can facilitate fourth-dimensional travel:

“There are tiny crevices, wrinkles and voids in time. Down at the smallest of scales, smaller even than molecules, smaller than atoms, we get to a place called the quantum foam. This is where wormholes exist. Tiny tunnels or shortcuts through space and time constantly form, disappear, and reform within this quantum world. And they actually link two separate places and two different times.”

One problem, though, is their incredibly small size. But Hawking suggests that wormholes might be captured and enlarged enough for a person or a spacecraft to pass through. If so, a wormhole could take a traveler to distant planets, or to a different time on our own planet Earth.

Even with the help of wormholes, Hawking concludes that time travel to the past is impossible (thus dashing his own hopes of a tryst with a vintage-era Marilyn Monroe). This is because traveling to the past would create a paradox that the laws of nature would not permit.

The future, however, is fair game. As Hawking explains, this is partly because time moves at different speeds in different places. A massive object — such as a black hole or even our own planet Earth — can cause time to slow down dramatically. However, Hawking dismisses such natural bodies as being largely impractical time machines.

Instead he proposes a man-made alternative: a machine that can travel near the speed of light.

“It really is that simple,” Hawking claims. “If we want to travel into the future, we just need to go fast. Really fast.” But of course there’s a catch. A suitable time machine would have to be massive; and the only way it could achieve the requisite speed would be to travel through outer space. However, Hawking writes, if these conditions were met, then one could travel to the edge of the galaxy in 80 years, or approximately one lifetime.

So exploring the galaxy in one lifetime is within the realm of human potential. But I suspect that a lifetime might not be nearly enough to explore the mind of Stephen Hawking.

Don’t miss “Stephen Hawking’s Universe,” beginning May 9 on Discovery Channel at 9pm!

Stephen Hawking in zero gravity (NASA)

On Avatar and Obamas

What is the BFD about Avatar, anyway? Is it really that great? Let me know!

Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House theatre

It’s the principle of the thing

Pro-gun rallies in Washington

The Huffington Post has (rightfully) called today’s NRA gun rally a “PR FAIL,” considering that today is also the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City domestic terrorist bombing. So I suppose I’m completely un-PC by proudly posting my NRA certification in basic pistol training (below). But, hey, maybe this will convince the LAPD that I’m not a flaming, card-carrying, pinko-hippie-liberal-communist-terrorist, or something:

Seriously, though, I don’t want to be glib about any of our national tragedies. However, I agree with the Supreme Court’s recent decision affirming gun ownership as a constitutional right, as intended by our nation’s founders. Nonetheless, there need to be some limits. I remember one occasion when an ex-boyfriend took me to the house of married friends of his; the couple had a child — a toddler — and they also kept an AK-47 assault weapon by the front door (“just in case”??)! PARENTING FAIL.

I’ll stick to air guns.

Festival report: the LAPD shut us down!

Three songs into my new band’s first show together, the police shut us down … for being too loud!. Right after we wrapped up my tune “Jihad,” police officers parked in a squad car across the street barked through their bullhorn, letting us know that that Gena Mason & the Noise were making too much … well, noise! Then they shut us down! That, my friends, is what rock and roll is all about. Of course, some suggested that, had we not been playing for a marijuana festival, the cops wouldn’t have given us a problem. Whatevs. We played a pretty good short set, anyway, and are looking forward to our next show. I’ll post photos of our performance here soon.

Rock City news item

I made it into the latest issue of Rock City News magazine. Check out page 7 of the April issue, which is dedicated to previewing LA JEMM‘s Medical Marijuana Awareness Festival on April 18. I share a spread with the great Count Smokula from Smokesylvania. You can view the entire issue online, at the Rock City News website (click the flip-book beneath the image of the new magazine cover), or pick up a copy of the magazine at one of dozens of locations in the L.A. metro area.

Who heads the U.S. death squads?

Last year renowned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh publicly discussed JSOC, a longtime black-ops U.S. military operation that Hersh describes as an “executive assassination ring.” Hersh, who writes for the New Yorker, made his statements as part of a public talk at the University of Minnesota. He’s been investigating these issues for a forthcoming book.

When asked whether covert hit squads run by the White House continue to this day, Hersh said yes, and elaborated:

“After 9/11 … the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. …

“Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to … the secretary of defense.

“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

“Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

“… they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

“I’ve had people say to me — five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee.?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.”

Of course, this comes as no surprise to me or to many others. However, it does beg the question: who is running the operation NOW? Because if there’s one lesson we’ve learned in our country’s brief history, it’s that power is addictive. So it may be that JSOC (and perhaps other such black-ops federal death squads) functioned without oversight until the last Bush administration; but if, as Hersh claims, JSOC reported to Cheney (GWB’s “shadow President”), then Cheney’s departure from the White House created a power vacuum that someone must have jumped at the chance to fill. The “inspirational” Barack Obama would likely not want to dirty his hands with running a secret assassination ring. And, according to Hersh, JSOC doesn’t report to the defense secretary. So at present, JSOC and/or other assassination squads must be either functioning without any authority or reporting to another figure — likely someone with White House heft. I’m speculating, of course, but Obama’s uber-powerful Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel currently fills the role closest to that of a “shadow President,” and may be JSOC’s go-to guy.

Well, if so, I’d rather have Rahm Emanuel in charge than Cheney. But we probably won’t begin to know the truth until another generation has passed and relevant documents start to be declassified.