How to Make a Rainforest Diorama

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How to make a rainforest diorama

Updated on July 1, 2011
Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz has a PhD in linguistics from Rice University. She is an ape language researcher and the author of Vacuum County and other novels.

[Note: This article was first published on Hubpages many years ago. It got a lot of traffic. It has since been unpublished by the new management at Hubpages. It has now found a home on PubWages.]

This week, my daughter was assigned a rainforest diorama to make. Her grade on this assignment counts as a science test. This is a little odd, I think, as the skills necessary to make an effective diorama fall mostly into the category of arts and crafts. I love art and so does my daughter, but let’s face it, doing well at making a diorama has next to nothing to do with understanding scientific concepts.

Any child who doesn’t have much ability in sculpting, drawing, cutting and pasting or graphic design is bound to do poorly on this project, no matter how much he or she may understand the rainforest as an ecosystem.

However, if an assignment in art is handed out, even if it is labeled as science, there’s no reason not to have fun while doing it!

Producers: Plants

Image Credit: The Wikipedia
Image Credit: The Wikipedia

Spelling Issue: One Word or Two?

Before we get started on the project, the first issue that comes up is one of spelling. Is “rainforest” one word or two? The answer is: either way will do. It’s one of those words that are in the process of lexicalizing. This means some spell it as one word, and some as two, and neither way is wrong. I’ve chosen the one word spelling. My daughter’s teacher, in the assignment sheet, spells it as two. We are both correct.

The Hubpages capsule spellchecker likes two words better, although it does not always make its preference known. It seems to particularly object to the one word version when used as an adjective.

Reading the instructions

Before embarking on any school project, it’s always a good idea to make sure that your child has carefully read and understood the instructions. Here are the instructions for making the diorama that my daughter brought home from school:

Rain Forest Diorma

This diorama will be graded for your Test on Chapter 4, so your best effort is needed!

Directions: You are to make a diorama of a rain forest.

Due Date: Friday, October 23, 2009

Materials needed:

  • a shoe box
  • plastic animals/plants or pictures/drawings of animals and plants
  • you can make them from construction paper, play-dough, clay

You can use rocks, sticks, gravel, anything school appropriate. Ask if not sure.

The animals and plants should be appropriate for a Rain Forest.

You must have:

  • Animals
  • Plants
  • Sunlight
  • Water
  • Soil
  • Decomposers
  • Producers
  • Scavengers
  • Show interactions of organisms
  • Diorama must be neat and readily understood

Please do not go out and purchase all these materials. There are things you can use without spending money. Use your imagination!!!!

The Amazon River

Photo Credit: The Wikipedia
Photo Credit: The Wikipedia

Cocoa Tree

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Following the instructions

The module my daughter’s fifth grade class is studying is about the trophic levels or who eats whom, I gather. The rainforest is just an example of such an ecosystem. Plants are producers who take the sun’s energy and turn it into food. Primary consumers, who for some reason were not mentioned at all in the instructions, eat the producers. Secondary consumers, also not mentioned, eat the primary consumers. Scavengers take advantage of deaths already effected by others. Decomposers finish the mopping up operation by preying on the dead and rotting. And the teacher wants to see all this graphically depicted in a diorama. “Show interactions of organisms.”

We need to see herbivores munching on plants, carnivores in the process of devouring their prey, vultures tearing carrion to shreds, and bacteria decomposing rotting corpses. And just in time for Halloween!

Or, quite possibly I misunderstand the instructions, and this was the reason the consumers were left out of the list? Could it be that the teacher wants to see plants, sunlight, soil, and rotting timber with fungus growing on it, but no deaths involving animals that we could possibly identify with? But, in that case, why include scavengers?

I asked my daughter: “What was this science module about?”

She smiled shyly: “It’s about how all sorts of animals eat each other.”

Okay, then. We’re all on the same page. It should be an interesting diorama!

Red eyed tree frog

Image credit: Wikipedia
Image credit: Wikipedia

Why is it so hard to find pictures of animals eating other animals?

It’s easy to find photographs of rain forest animals on the web. Want to see a red eyed tree frog? You can find it easily. Want to see a red eyed tree frog eating an insect, its sticky tongue extended in the process of capturing its prey? Not so easy.

Want to see a jaguar in repose? No problem. Want to see a jaguar feasting on fresh caught meat? Not so easy.

Even pictures of Amazon villagers eating readily recognizable unprocessed foods are hard to come by. Is it possible that we have some kind of taboo about the nature of eating and food?

Scarlet Macaw

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Basic Rainforest facts

Besides having good arts and crafts skills, and a good dramatic flare for depicting the struggle for life, making a rain forest diorama should reflect some knowledge about the rainforest itself. A rain forest is a forest where it rains a lot, hence the name. There are two types of rainforest: tropical and temperate. There is more than one rainforest of each sort on this planet.

Temperate rain forest can found in North America (in the Pacific Northwest, the coast of British Columbia), in Europe (such as in the coastal areas of Ireland and Scotland, southern Norway, parts of the Western Balkans, northwest Spain, as well as areas along the eastern Black sea, such as Georgia), in Southeast Asia (southern China, Taiwan, much of Japan and South Korea), and in South America (Chile) and Australa and New Zealand.

Tropical rainforests can be found near the equator. Some famous tropical rainforests include those in Southeast Asia (e.g. Myanmar, Papua New Guinea), Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. the Congo Rainforest, famous from Gorillas in the Mist), South America (the Amazon Rainforest), Central America (Bosawas) and on many of the Pacific Islands (e.g. Hawaii).

I asked my daughter which sort of rainforest she was supposed to do her diorama about. She said any rainforest would do. But then she went on to talk about jaguars and new world monkeys and macaw parrots, so I came to the conclusion that she was interested in the Amazon rainforest in particular.

King Vulture: A Scavenger

Photo Credit: The Wikipedia
Photo Credit: The Wikipedia

The Amazon Rainforest and plants

The Amazon rainforest is the source of many medicinal plants, including trillium for snakebite, chincona to make quinine to treat or prevent malaria, and the coca plant from which we get cocaine, a stimulant that was once an important ingredient in Coca-Cola. However, how would my daughter’s teacher really feel if the diorama she turned in contained models of coca plants? To play it safer, I pointed out to my daughter that the original, uncultivated plants from which we get cocoa, our family’s recreational drug of choice, otherwise known as chocolate, also originated in the general vicinity of the Amazon. “Would you like to draw a cocoa tree for your diorama?” I asked.

“No, not really.”

My daughter’s interest in the rainforest does not extend toward any specific plants as producers. Her diorama featured generic trees and vines and moss, and generic over-sized flowers. She was much more interested in the animals.

Jaguar: The Ultimate Consumer

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Animals

My daughter’s favorite animals are birds, so her diorama includes a macaw and and a King Vulture. She has included one amphibian, a tree frog, and three mammals, a jaguar, a woolly monkey and a little girl.

It was I who found the picture of the girl and her pet monkey and showed it to my daughter.

“She’s so lucky!” my daughter exclaimed.

“You can add her to your diorama,” I suggested.

“No, I can’t!”

“Why not?”

“Because the teacher said not to add people where they don’t belong. She said she’d count off!”

“But there are people living in the Amazon,” I said. “They do belong there. It’s their home. They are part of the ecosystem.”

My daughter eventually agreed to add the girl and the monkey. “But I’m not saying he’s her pet, because that might make the teacher mad.”

Amazon girl and her pet woolly monkey: Both Consumers

Photo Credit: http://www.junglephotos.com
Photo Credit: http://www.junglephotos.com

Humans and other primates can and do live together

To me, that picture of the girl and the woolly monkey means more than words can say. There are those who hope to convince the general public that humans and primates can never coexist side by side, and that the only place for primates is in a zoo, a sanctuary, or “the wild.” The wild, they assume, is a place where humans cannot live. Their goal is to make sure that no primate ever be kept as a pet by another primate, and particularly, not by a human. They feel that such a relationship is unnatural. Even my ten year old daughter has picked up on the vibes, and she’s decided not to tell her teacher that the woolly monkey belongs to the little girl.

While I agree that a primate does not belong in New York City, it’s the city that is unnatural, not the primate. And yes, a rainforest is a place where people can and do live side by side with other wild animals.

Some of those who argue against co-existence mention that man took a long time to evolve out of the wild state, and only animals that have been domesticated along with man in his rise to “civilization”, like dogs and cows and chickens, can live near human habitations. These people forget that not all humans have followed the same path. There were humans long before there was agriculture.  Some of us live much closer to the natural state than others.

Vermilion Waxcap Mushrooms: Decomposers

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Shared Excitement

My daughter noticed my excitement about this project. “If you were in my class, you’d probably make all A’s,” she said. “You like doing this so much!” I laughed. I’ve been to fifth grade. Now it’s her turn. And this is her project. So maybe I should back off a little.

At first, my daughter was not nearly as interested as I was, but she started to get excited as the diorama began to take shape. In the end, she exclaimed: “This looks so good!”

Then she looked again, and sighed: “I’ll probably get counted off for neatness.” It’s true. It wasn’t all that neat. Strands of chimp hair were sticking to the pieces of tape she had used. The diorama is not nearly as organized as it might be. There are issues of scale and spacing. We don’t actually see any animals in the act of devouring other animals. But it’s a fifth grade science project — made by a fifth grader.

And besides, who ever heard of a rainforest that was neat!

(c) 2009 Aya Katz

My Daughter’s Diorama

In Case There’s a Fox

RELATED

COMMENTS

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 2 years ago from The Ozarks

    Thanks, VA_Teach. I am glad you found this a worthwhile resource.

    It was an enjoyable and educational project, and we had a nice time working on it. It’s just odd sometimes when teachers assign creative projects — such as writing a short story based on a science premise — in the science classes, and then they give multiple choice and fill in the blank in the classes where creativity should have been what was being called for — such as English composition. Art is a wonderful outlet, and I am in favor of humanities classes, but it’s just not always in the art classes where art is most called upon these days.

  • VA_Teach 2 years ago 

    Hi!

    I appreciate the detail you put into this article – it’s an incredible resource for parents and teachers who can direct families here for ideas.

    I hope you understand, though, that what you and your daughter executed was actually much higher level thinking than an essay or multiple-choice test. Having to apply knowledge to another form stretches the brain in new directions.

    I am sure any teacher would be just as impressed by a crude pencil drawing labeled “parrot” as by a figure sculpted out of clay. You can be just as neat with simple materials as expensive ones.

    Grades for this project would be based on the knowledge that was demonstrated, not the means by which is was transmitted.

    I applaud you both on a well-done project showing off what she clearly understands! 🙂

    Last thing, thanks for being such an involved parent!

  • Tionna 3 years ago 

    I am doing a heard magnet elementary school project in the 5th grade and came on here is to get an idea and didnt

  • Janelle 3 years ago 

    I’m a high school science teacher and we also get students to present their understanding of concepts graphically/visually, as tests don’t always suit all students. As long as the students can show they have incorporated all the main ideas in their design, it doesn’t matter if they’re not all budding artists or designers.

  • profile image

    ar3 5 years ago 

    r335

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

    Teachergirl1, thanks for the input. Making dioramas can be an enjoyable and educational activity. However, because it calls on arts and crafts skills, it just doesn’t seem fair to award a science grade based on the appearance of the model. I have the same issue when they award language arts grades based on projects that require drawing skills.

  • profile image

    teachergirl1 6 years ago 

    The National Science Teacher Association promotes making Dioramas even at the high school level. I wouldn’t make it a test grade though. 🙂 There is a Adopt a Dino Project that includes building one from NSTA.

  • Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

    Emmanuel, you may be right. Maybe the teacher was hoping to learn more about the rain forest from the students.

  • Emmanuel Elembo 6 years ago 

    According to me, the teacher wanted to learn from pupils. What a triky and hard homework for kids to do. Diorama project isn’t funny at all as long as it require bunch of thing to make it work.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

    HTodd, thanks!

  • htodd profile image

    htodd 6 years ago from United States

    Great post…Thanks

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

    Injurycase, I agree that teaching should be enjoyable and that teachers should use their creativity in teaching students. Students are creative, too, but each one in a different way.

    It seems unfair, though, to give science grades on the basis of the ability to show artistic merit in the design of a diorama. It would be just as unfair as giving grades in mathematics based on the ability to draw pretty pictures of numbers, or grades in grammar and spelling based on the ability to complete a construction project. All these skills are valuable, but grading a student on artistic performance in a class that is supposed to be about something else is not helpful to the student or to the class as a whole.

    So a diorama project is a fun thing to do, but should not be for credit except in art class.

  • injurycase profile image

    injurycase 6 years ago from North Pearl Street, Albany, New York

    Teaching is an enjoyable task thus a teacher should be creative enough to the activities that she is presenting. To is is to believe. this is how the minds of children works so it is good that present visual aids to represent the lesson and for catching the interests of the student.

  • injurycase profile image

    injurycase 6 years ago from North Pearl Street, Albany, New York

    Teaching is an enjoyable task thus a teacher should be creative enough to the activities that she is presenting. To is is to believe. this is how the minds of children works so it is good that present visual aids to represent the lesson and for catching the interests of the student.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

    Caitlin, my daughter used little twigs that she found outdoors, and then she attached Easter grass to them.

  • caitlin 6 years ago 

    i need to know what materials i can use to make trees and stuff ..

  • profile image

    muhammad majid 08 7 years ago 

    http://alturl.com/h6sjp Aya Katz 9 months ago

    Glassvisage, thanks! I bet you made terrific dioramas when you were in school! It’s so nice that you dropped by!

    sara 2 months ago

    thanx!

    Aya Katz 2 months ago

    Sara, you’re quite welcome. Hope this helps.

    Lisa 2 months ago

    Thanks this helped a lot

    Aya Katz 8 weeks ago

    Lisa, you’re very welcome. Glad it helped.

    anna 5 weeks ago

    cool

    Aya Katz 5 weeks ago

    Thanks, Anna!

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

    Thanks, Anna!

  • anna 7 years ago 

    cool

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

    Lisa, you’re very welcome. Glad it helped.

  • Lisa 7 years ago 

    Thanks this helped a lot

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

    Sara, you’re quite welcome. Hope this helps.

  • profile image

    sara 7 years ago 

    thanx!

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

    Glassvisage, thanks! I bet you made terrific dioramas when you were in school! It’s so nice that you dropped by!

    .88
  • glassvisage profile image

    glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

    Aya, this Hub is amazing. So comprehensive! I miss making dioramas in school, and this really inspires me to get out an old shoebox, print out some photos of rainforst animals and get crafy 🙂

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Lea’s Life, thanks! I look forward to reading about your daughter’s castle building project!

  • Lea’s Life 8 years ago 

    My daughter and I were reading this and really enjoyed your humor in presentation…I am new to this all and checked your hub out since I am in the process of writing about her castle building project. The diorama turned out cute and those comments about the teacher taking points off for certain things were funny but also touching when you see how seriously the kids can take these assignments to heart!Thank you for sharing

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Crazy888, thanks for the clarification. Yes, sometimes there is too much homework.

  • Crazy888 profile image

    Crazy888 8 years ago 

    I guess you didn’t know what i meant. I meant that too much homework was a bad thing

    my mistake

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Crazy888, I’m not sure how to interpret your comment. Do you mean that it’s good to have lots of homework, as in: “Yes to much homework!” Or do you mean there is more homework than necessary, as in: “Yes, too much homework”?

  • Crazy888 profile image

    Crazy888 8 years ago 

    yes..to much homework i say!

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Crazy888, yes, this is just another hub about fifth grade homework.

  • Crazy888 profile image

    Crazy888 8 years ago 

    This hub goes back to the 5th grade homework one!

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Kelsey, thanks for your comment. I’m so glad that this can help you with your 8th grade project! Best of luck!

  • profile image

    kelsey 8 years ago 

    thanx for all this information i have this same exact project due on november 23 but im an 8th grader it seams so hard and frustrating. It seams so much easier after reading this.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Thanks, Crazy888.

  • Crazy888 profile image

    Crazy888 8 years ago 

    wow..you dont stop writing do you?? good job!

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Elayne, thanks! My daughter did get a high A on her project.

  • elayne001 profile image

    Elayne 8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    I think you should definitely get an “A+” for all the research you did.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Julie, thanks! I’m so glad this helped. I hope you and your daughter have as much fun with this project as my daughter and I did!

    2
  • profile image

    Julie 8 years ago 

    Thank you so much for such an informative article! Your tips are fantastic! My daughter is making a rainforest diorama for her 2nd grade science class and we have a lot of materials on hand since I’m always into crafty projects. Your page made this a one-stop place to get all the info I needed on specific plants/animals to include. Great job!

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Hummingbird, thank you! My daughter really enjoyed working on this project.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Iqbal, thanks!

  • Hummingbird5356 profile image

    Hummingbird5356 8 years ago 

    I liked this hub very much, it is very informative and the photos are perfect. We never had projects like this at school. Excellent.

  • iqbal88 profile image

    iqbal88 8 years ago 

    awesome

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Khmohsin, thanks for your comment!

  • profile image

    khmohsin 8 years ago 

    Topic choosing is a fun and you have expert in it. Keep it up Nice hub.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Prasetio, thanks!

  • prasetio30 profile image

    prasetio30 8 years ago from malang-indonesia

    really great information. you always have different topic.

     

    Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Jerilee, yikes! Good luck with your specimen gathering. Stay cool!

  • Jerilee Wei profile image

    Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

    We’re supposed to have record breaking highs this weekend — sigh.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Jerilee, is it still warm there? I gave Sword some hot chocolate as an after school treat. It’s definitely chilly here.

    Good luck with Kaela’s project! Let me know how it turns out.

  • Jerilee Wei profile image

    Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

    The perfect hub for me to read this weekend, as such projects are often big debates among the three generations in this household. My daughter oversees the day to day massive amount of homework Kaela has. I have been appointed the coach for science, etc. projects.

    This weekend we’re doing a semester one science project of 25 five native Florida trees. So hoping for cooler weather so we’re not out collecting them in mosquito land.

    Where we get into trouble is grand visions that don’t match or go off on a tangent.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Thanks, Joy!

  • Joy At Home profile image

    Joy At Home 8 years ago from United States

    Glad to hear it. Hopefully your daughter will carry on what you have taught her.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Joy at Home, thanks! It’s always hard to realize in the final product the grand visions in our heads of how a project should turn out, but it’s still a lot of fun to try. I think my daughter and I are doing a good job of keeping an even keel as far as socialization goes. She’s sufficiently well socialized to realize what passes for mainstream thinking (and keeping out of trouble with authority figures), but not so well socialized as to share all those values.

  • Joy At Home profile image

    Joy At Home 8 years ago from United States

    I loved making dioramas of everything when I was in gradeschool…until I couldn’t get any of them to match the visions in my head. I still like them, and if I had time to mess around with such things for my own enjoyment, would probably experiment with more sophisticated arrangements and materials than I chose as a child.

    This was an incredible hub. Thanks for being a good mom and not letting your daughter be totally brain-washed by those who would have her believe that people and wild animals cannot co-exist.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Scott.Life, thanks! It was a fun project for my daughter, and she does seem to be getting more into the material. However, I wouldn’t think it would hurt to also assign an essay about the rainforest. That could be fun, too!

  • profile image

    Scott.Life 8 years ago 

    What a neat request from the teacher. I suspect the intent was to get the students to investigate the many layers that compose the ecosystem as they would in effect be building them into the diorama. I never got any cool assignments like this when I was young, we wrote essays. This was a very fun hub for me and entertaining.

  • Aya Katz profile image
    Author

    Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

    Thanks, Paraglider!

  • Paraglider profile image

    Dave McClure 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

    I always enjoy your multi-layered approach – the socio-philosophical commentaries sprinkled in with the rest. A good picture set too. Nice hub.

Posted in Animals and Pets, Food, Eating and Cooking, Plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Socialists Want

What Socialists Want — and How the Free Market Might Provide It!

Updated on August 1, 2009
Aya Katz profile image
Different people have different preferences. Some value personal freedom. Some value safety. Everything in life has a price. To obtain maximal safety, you have to accept minimal freedom. To obtain maximal freedom, you have to accept a high degree of risk. Some people are risk takers. Others always try to play it safe. Because we don’t all want the same things, many people believe that a middle-of-the-road approach is better. They think we all have to live by the same rules, and so the rules that please the majority should be imposed by force on everyone.

But isn’t there some other way? This pub proposes to look into the conflicting priorities of socialists and free marketers and to find a solution that would not require either party to impose its values on the other.

What do I want? I want the freedom to say no to any offer. I want to have control over my own life. I want to be able to keep my own property, make my own budget and decide on my own priorities. I want to choose for myself what risks I will or will not take with my life, my dependents and my property.

Other people have other priorities. They want to make sure that if they are not able to provide for themselves, then someone else will do it for them, even if that person doesn’t know them or like them. They want to make sure that if they get sick, then someone will heal them — or at least treat their illness with the latest medicine, free of charge, if necessary. They want to make sure that if they are old or disabled for some other reason, that someone will take care of them for as long as is necessary until they die. In order to have these desires fulfilled, such people are willing to give up quite a bit of freedom right from the outset. They are willing to have their income taxed to pay for these services. They are willing for safety laws to be enforced so as to minimize risk from dangerous activities. They are willing to work the majority of their lives for other people at jobs they don’t necessarily like, and all for the guarantee that if something goes wrong they will be cared for. They want to feel safe.

Balancing Rights and Priorities

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Couldn’t all the people who prefer safety over freedom just get together and form cooperative organizations where they all pay dues? Couldn’t these organizations provide health insurance, disability insurance and retirement benefits to the members of the cooperative group? Couldn’t laws requiring people to wear seat belts be dispensed with, and instead members of these voluntary cooperatives would agree to abide by safety rules imposed by the group? Couldn’t the cooperative pool the resources of the members and provide retirement for all?

Some might object that by allowing people to opt out of this social arrangement, the socially “responsible” might be losing valuable resources. But if the majority really prefers safety over freedom, then wouldn’t the majority of citizens end up voluntarily in these cooperative ventures?

Sometimes I suspect that socialists have an agenda that involves taking property away from some people and giving it to others. However, if I am mistaken, and this is an unfair characterization of the true motives of socialists, then the above proposal ought to please all.

I understand that not everyone prefers personal freedom over safety. For those who want to be provided for by a large group or community, this seems like a workable solution that should please everyone, without imposing one group’s values on others.

(c) 2009 Aya Katz

Posted in PubWages Staff | Leave a comment

Children, Finicky Eating and Vegetables

Children, Finicky Eating and Vegetables

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz profile image

 When I was a little girl growing up in Rehovoth, Israel, there was a vegetable wagon that used to stop in our neighborhood, with an old tired horse to pull it, and a noisy vendor to hawk the greens. My mother would go out and pick out the best and freshest produce, and then she would prepare it in the most appetizing way imaginable, in order to get me to eat my vegetables. The only problem was: I didn’t like vegetables. Or at least I didn’t like the same vegetables my mother thought I should like. One time, after telling me that tomatoes were very expensive, she pureed fresh tomatoes and mixed them liberally with sugar. I ate the sauce she’d prepared just for me, but it didn’t make me like tomatoes. As an adult, it took me years to discover their true flavor. (I have always hated ketchup.)

My mother did other tricky things to get me to eat what she thought was a healthy diet necessary for a growing child. To ensure I got enough protein, she would sometimes mix an egg into my chocolate milk.

We all want our children to eat healthy foods. In the name of good nutrition, many a parent has resorted to amazing ruses. Recently, I saw on Amazon.com that there was a new book out with lots of suggestions on how to dress up vegetables so that children will eat them.

The problem with this strategy is: if you dress the vegetables up so that they are unrecognizable, how will your children learn to like them? If they never get to taste vegetables in their natural form and only meet them in a heavy disguise, they may enjoy some short term nutritional benefits, but they won’t become habituated to eating vegetables, and they won’t choose to eat vegetables when the choice of menu is their own.

My nine year old daughter loves salad. Not salad dressing or croutons, but the actual lettuce and tomatoes that are at the heart of the salad. How did I achieve this? Quite by accident. I never eat salad myself. When she was a toddler, every time I ordered a steak, I let her have the salad. For some reason, she took to it naturally, and she still prefers salad to steak.

I have never pushed vegetables on my daughter, nor have I worked hard to make her like them. I offer vegetables with every meal, and if she doesn’t like a particular type, it’s not a big deal. I like peas, raw. She likes peas okay, but she prefers lettuce. If I serve up bite-sized carrots as a side-dish, she will chew on them absent-mindedly. Sometimes she finishes them all, and sometimes she doesn’t. It’s okay with me, either way. I prefer bell peppers and onions; she likes brussels sprouts and broccolli. We both like steamed cauliflower.

Many vegetables are crunchy and appetizing when they are fresh and raw, without condiments, and sauces. Others are best lightly steamed. No vegetable tastes good if you boil all the juices out of it, puree it, or douse it with sugar. Not coincidentally, they are also less nutritious when you do that. If you disguise vegetables too well, they can lose their nutritional identity.

In the long run, it is not so important whether a child eats a particular vegetable at any given meal. There’s no reason to panic if they don’t. The important thing is to allow your child to discover for himself which vegetables he likes. The best way to do that is to introduce them in their fresh, natural form. Leave off the disguise, and let your child make the choice of his favorite vegetables. Whatever he picks, it’s bound to turn into a healthy habit.

(c) 2008 Aya Katz

Children and vegetables

What do you do to encourage your child to eat a variety of vegetables?

In Case There’s a Fox

Apes eat greens: And we are apes!

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Review of Monarchs and Milkweed by Anurag Agrawal

Monarchs and Milkweed by Anurag Agrawal is  subtitled: A Migrating Butterfly, A Poisonous Plant and their Remarkable Story of Coevolution.

The Cover of Monarchs and Milkweed by Anurag Agrawal

This is not the first book I have ever read about the monarch butterfly. It’s the second. The first book I read was when I was six going on seven. It arrived as part of the Weekly Reader book club, and it was called The Travels of Monarch X. I read the book, digested it, but ultimately decided that I did not like it. I liked books about people more. The short lifespan of the butterfly upset me. I didn’t like thinking about death. So I laid the book aside and concentrated on other things for the next fifty years of my life.

 

The first book I ever read about the monarch butterfly — I was six and had just learned English. It was too hard!

The next time I came to mention the book about the monarch was when I was writing Ping  & the Snirkelly People, based loosely on my experiences in first grade. I still did not remember what the book was called or who it was by, but I vaguely remembered reading it in a language I had not quite mastered at the time.

While I have known about the lifestyle of the monarch butterfly since first grade and could recognize a monarch on sight, I wasn’t nearly as interested in them as most people. They were just not at the top of my list, but I still mistakenly assumed that they were useful pollinators, and thought it was a shame if their numbers were dwindling. It was not until I started spotting them on my own property and could see for myself that they were doing nothing for the milkweed plants they depended on that my curiosity was piqued. What was this indolent butterfly contributing to its own upkeep, I began to wonder.

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This year, while I had plenty of purple milkweed, the deer on my property ate the flowers before they could even make seed pods.

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And when the monarchs came out, it was on the thistle flowers that they seemed to depend.

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That’s when I noticed there was a new book out about Monarchs and Milkweed with a beautiful cover illustration. The year was 2017, and the book by Anurag Agrawal was hot off the presses. Somehow,Amazon knew I would be interested, because it showed the book to me in a sidebar, while I was looking for something else. So I ordered the book and started reading it. It was fifty years since the first book about the monarch butterfly.

This is indeed the book I needed to read. It addresses all the points that were bothering me about the Monarch’s reputation and more. Beautifully written and illustrated, it does not talk down to the reader, nor try to sell us a politically correct morality play. This is a book about nature, evolution, scientific inquiry, and also sometimes about politics.

How species involved in interactions evolve and co-evolve depends acutely on the nature of the interaction. If two species are strictly antagonists, then an arms race may ensue. Sometimes, however, species play dual roles, positive under certain circumstances and negative under others. In this case, say if the monarch were both a beneficial pollinator and a herbivorous pest of the milkweed, perhaps the plant would not mount defenses.  The benefits of butterfly pollination to milkweed could outweigh the costs of caterpillar herbivory. But here is where I must dispel a widely held myth about monarch butterflies. Milkweeds do not need monarchs, because the butterflies are simply no good as pollinators. Monarchs are strictly pests. (P. 26)

This is exactly what I had come to suspect over the years, watching the monarchs and the milkweeds on my property. It was the Great Spangles Fritillaries that would frequent the milkweed flowers, not the Monarchs. And if we want to see the Monarch butterfly do well, it can’t possibly have anything to do with the great service that it performs for the milkweed, or any other flowering plant, for that matter.

This nonpollinating aspect of monarchs is not widely appreciated. Although monarchs may successfully pollinate some plant species (perhaps the sunflower family…) this phenomenon has not been well-studied, and they are surely unimportant compared with the myriad other flower visitors. Nonetheless, in a recent presidential memorandum… ‘Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators’, Barack Obama singled out the monarch as the only species other than the honey bee… to be named as an important pollinator. Because the monarch is not, however, a good pollinator, the arms race proceeds… (p. 30)

So now that we know that the milkweed plants regard the monarch as a pest and nothing more, we can go back and ponder about the one-sided relationship of the monarch and the milkweed. The milkweed tries to get rid of the monarch by poisoning it, and the monarch keeps coming back, adapting to the poison, and even uses it to keep birds at bay. How did this happen, and can the milkweed do nothing to fight back?

“Well, no wonder the monarch’s habitat is being destroyed!” I kept thinking to myself.  “The butterfly is destroying the plants on which it depends and giving nothing in return. It probably deserves to die out.” But that is not the sum total of the story, and so I kept reading to find out more about this crazy, “exploitative” relationship.

The toxins used by the milkweed to thwart the monarch are called cardenolides, and somehow the monarch has found medicinal uses for them against internal parasites, as well as weaponizing them against larger predators. They are related to digitalis, and like digitalis, cardenolides can be both a poison and a medicine for humans, as well. According to Agrawal,  traditional medicine has identified the following uses: “subtonic, diaphoretic, alterative, expectorant, diuretic, laxative, escharotic, carminative, anti-spasmodic, anti-pleuritic, stomachic, astringent, anti-rheumatic, anti-syphilitic…” (From Millspaugh, Medicinal Plants, 1892). Humans produce their own cardenolides as a hormone to regulate heart function, which is why cardenolides can be helpful for congestive heart failure. But in plants, cardenolides evolved as a poison  for killing herbivores that prey on them. There is no known function of cardenolides for plants except defense. If plants did not use these substances to kill or sicken or keep away their enemies, they would have no use whatever for them.

Many animals avoid succumbing to cardenolides in milkweed by taste aversion alone. They never get sick, because they cannot be induced to eat milkweed. But for monarch caterpillars, milkweed is the only food. How does that work?

Agrawal points out that it is not as if monarch caterpillars are completely immune to the cardenolides in the milkweed. If the dosage is too high — and it varies from milkweed to milkweed — it will definitely kill the caterpillars. But they do have a sodium pump in their tiny butterfly brains that is remarkably unsusceptible to the toxin. The monarch caterpillar can sequester the daily dose of digitalis prescribed for an adult human with a heart problem, which when compared to its size would have killed it had it been a human the size of a butterfly. No, Agrawal does not say it quite this way, but that’s what he means.

The section about the monarch mating cycle reminded me of the time I came upon two monarchs embracing. Was it consensual? Hard to tell, but Agrawal indicates that early in the mating season, females attempt to flee and males force them down.  Most butterflies related to the monarch use a different, more consensual strategy of attracting females with pheromones and allowing the female to choose the most desirable males to mate with. That the monarch strategy is different has to do with the fact that a mating male doesn’t just give sperm to the female. He also includes a small gift of enough energy to make the flight back to the egg laying ground. Some of the males are too weak to make it back, and so their only hope of reproducing is to give what energy they have left to a female to carry their genetic material to safety.  Females resist early matings, wanting to hold out for stronger males, and also, if they receive too many energy packets, it can kill them. The earlier they mate, the more matings they may end up enduring, and they really only need one for purposes of reproduction.  Only thirty percent of attempted forced matings are successful, because the females get away seventy percent of the time. I don’t remember reading about any of this in the book about Monarch X I read as child.

Even though I have never seen a monarch caterpillar, I have spotted a pair mating

The monarch population of North America migrates twice a year, once from the US  to Mexico in the autumn and once  from Mexico to the US in the spring. They overwinter in a semi-dormant state in Mexico,  all their living and mating and birth and death occurs in the US. But it is the cold weather in Mexico that is required for them to know to turn their next migration northward.  Minus a cold phase, they always head south. Agrawal is concerned that global warming could cause them to head south away from Mexico into South America in the spring.  If that did happen, would they correct course once they encountered cooler weather in the southern hemisphere? It sounds as if they have a single switch in their brain that determines which direction to migrate. Does the switch just tell them to turn around when it gets cold?

Until 1975, it was not even known where the monarchs went during the winter. This means that this information could not have been included in the book that Ping and I read during the school year of 1966/67. A whole group of citizen scientists had been recruited to help tag and keep tabs on the individual butterflies and their comings and goings. Then the question arose: do they make the migration once a year individually, or are there several generations born between migrations? In other words, do the individual butterflies each migrate twice a year, or is their species that does this, so that collectively they appear to be as regular as clockwork? I remember that when I read the book when I was six, I was under the impression that the lifespan of every single monarch butterfly was a whole year. But that is not right. The total time frame from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly is only six to eight weeks for those generations that do not engage in autumn migration. The two migrations every year are something the monarchs do  collectively.

Cardenolide analysis, bolstered by examining isotopes, has led to understanding of the geographic origins of each butterfly.

… a 2013 study using stable isotopes confirmed that the year’s first new generation of monarchs completed development in Texas and southern Oklahoma, but nonetheless, some first-generation butterflies developed as far north as Missouri and southern Illinois and southern Illinois… In other words, most spring migrants leaving the Mexican highlands lay eggs (and die) in the southern United States, but a few butterflies travel remarkable distances on the return journey from the overwintering grounds — up to 1500 miles… and make it to the Midwest. (P. 80)

When looking for a good place to lay her eggs, a female monarch avoids tall, healthy and well grown milkweed plants. Instead, she choose short, shrimpy milkweeds, either those that have just sprouted or those recovering from a catastrophic event such as having been mowed down. Brush fires create the exact kind of newly sprouted milkweeds that female monarchs are looking for. Why? Because the older and healthier and stronger a milkweed plant, the more potent is its toxin. And while monarchs coexist with milkweeds, the milkweed plant does not need them and is definitely trying to kill them. So it is in the best interest of the monarchs to find milkweed that is young or otherwise vulnerable, so that it cannot afford to invest too much of its energy in creating a potent dose of cardenolides. This is not at all what we have been taught.  I personally had believed it was sad that the mowers always came and cut down much of the milkweed at the side of the road before it could even bloom or go to seed. Sad for the milkweed, maybe, but not for the monarchs.

The bee will help pollinate the milkweed, but the monarch will lay eggs that will bring forth parasitic caterpillars that will feed on its leaves.

There is so much about this story that is counterintuitive. Neither the monarch nor the milkweed is looking out for the other. They are not working together — they are antagonists with a serious conflict of interest. But this is not actually unusual in nature. All that peace and serenity and harmony are the result of countless ongoing wars.

Now we have come to Chapter Five, the story of how a caterpillar survives on a diet laced with poison.

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The three major stumbling blocks for a monarch caterpillar are trichomes, latex and cardenolides. The trichomes are hairs growing on the leaves of the milkweed. These hairs evolved as a defense against too much sunlight, but they are also useful against insects that want to eat leaves. The caterpillar has to expend a lot of energy shaving off the trichomes before it can eat of the leaves. Latex is that white sap that the milkweed is named for. It can glue the caterpillar’s mouth shut and totally immobilize it. The latex gushes out every time a leaf or stem is injured. It is a defense mechanism pure and simple. Latex serves no other function for the milkweed plant. Sometimes caterpillars build circular dams in order to dispose of the latex. Sometimes they even suction it out in order to move it out of the way. There are many different techniques that are used by different caterpillars in different situations. Finally, cardenolides is the poison contained in the leaves. Different milkweed plants have different doses of this toxin. For instance, the butterfly milkweed has hardly any at all, so it is safe to eat, but the downside is that butterflies who fed on it as caterpillars can be eaten by birds without ill effect. However, the birds don’t necessarily know what a butterfly has feasted on, so the fact that most monarchs are poisonous deters predators even in the case of those that are not. The average female monarch chooses to lay her eggs on milkweed with an intermediate dosage of cardenolides — not so much that it will kill the caterpillar nor so little that it won’t harm the birds. Collectively, they create a defense for all monarch-kind, though that is not something that any particular monarch is thinking about.

The collective benefit to all monarchs from the effort put forth by each is something that happens naturally, despite a complete lack of selflessness on the part of the insects. In fact, if two monarch eggs are laid on the same milkweed plant, the first to hatch will eat the other. That is how unaware they are individually of the “common good.”

But there are also butterflies that are not monarchs who survive by mimicry and telling lies. If you believe that communication can occur without anyone intending to communicate, then it is also possible to lie without saying a word. Sign and signified are learned, and then someone else uses the sign to imply the signified, except that it isn’t so. The Viceroy butterfly announces with its colors: I am a Monarch, beware my poison, and yet it isn’t true. And many, many birds are duped. How were they to know? And all of this happens, without anybody even needing to have a theory of mind. Take that cognitive linguists! But I digress.

Having survived all the traps, the predators and the internal parasites, and the difficulties with overmedicating or undermedicating with cardenolides, the successful monnarch caterpillar leaves the scene of the crime, where all its eating of milkweed occurred, and searches for a safe place to pupate. Evidence of the damage it caused the milkweed might alert predators to its existence as a dormant pupa, so the caterpillar wanders around and finds another spot. Whereas the monarch caterpillar and the butterfly advertise their toxicity with brilliant colors — a practice called aposematic coloration — the chrysalis tries to blend in and not draw attention. While I personally have seen monarch butterflies mating and damaged milkweeds on my property, I have never seen a monarch caterpillar or a chrysalis. I am not sure whether it is because the monarchs on my property are just passing through, or whether it is that the eggs are laid on very low lying milkweed that I am unable to see. I usually spot dogbane plants early in the season, long before I can see the milkweeds. By the time I notice the milkweed plant, it is usually about to bloom. But I don’t see the monarch butterflies until much later in the season. By the time I spot the monarchs, it is usually the goldenrod, bidens and the thistle flower that are blooming.

It is not possible to study butterflies without knowing quite a lot about the plants they depend on. That is why Agrawal devotes so much time in his book to the milkweed plants. In fact, he has a whole chapter called “The Milkweed Village”.

All the species that have milkweed as their food are interconnected, Agrawal points out. As indeed, so are we all.

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There are only eleven other species of  insects, all of them colorful, that live off the milkweed plant. Most are specialists, eating only milkweed. They include the milkweed tussock moth, Euchaetes egle,  the milkweed beetle, Lavidomera clivicollis, the large and small milkweed bugs, oncopeltus fasciastus and Lygaeus kalmi, three species of aphids, Aphis nerii, Aphis asclepiadis and Myzocallis asclepiadis. There’s a fly that eats between the layers of a milkweed leaf: Lyriomaiza asclepiadis.  There is  even a four eyed red milkweed beetle: Tetraopes Tetropthamlos.  There’s a milkweed weevil Rhyssomatis lineaticollis. And there’s a generalist slug that can eat other things, but has been known to also eat milkweed, especially if somebody else has already dealt  with the latex flow.

Agrawal is concerned with how few and genetically diverse these milkweed eating insects are, and he speculates about what led them to such a remarkable convergence, most of them using the exact sodium pump de-sensitizing solution to the problem of metabolizing cardenolides. He plans to further explore the issue by manipulating fruit flies into situations that would require genetic changes to cope with environments similar to those of the milkweed eating insects.

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Agrawal even mentions the Middle-Eastern milkweed, Calotropis, that I encountered this past year through my friend Dave McClure of Doha, Qatar on Facebook. Even in the Middle East with Calitropis, there is convergence of unrelated insects that have learned to eat the milkweed plant.

One of the seven wonders of the known world is the autumn migration of the monarch butterflies to Mexico. In order to make it to their overwintering site, the  butterflies who do so remain virgins. They do not reach sexual maturity, even though they become adult butterflies. This allows them to live much longer than all the other generations of monarchs who breed throughout the summer. Not breeding allows them to extend their normal average lifespan of eight weeks to eight months.

As these summer monarchs emerge, mature and mate during the summer, they do not employ directional flight, but rather they stay in the general locality where they had been caterpillars. Yet, beginning in mid-August, when the last generation of butterflies emerge, they have low levels of juvenile hormone, and this suppresses reproductive maturity. The result is that this last summer generation of monarch butterflies remain virgins, migrate south and wait months to mate. (p. 181)

The chapter on the autumn migration touches on more than the beauty of millions of butterflies overwintering in secluded spots, covering fir trees on mountain peaks with their fluttering wings. It also contains the most dramatic scene about rivalry between scientists. Having found the overwintering grounds in 1975. Professor Fred Urquhart shared the information of the location with National Geographic, which published breathtaking pictures in a 1976  issue of their magazine. But Urquhart refused to tell his colleague Dr. Lincoln Brower, who specialized in milkweed sequestration in monarchs,  where the overwintering spots were. Unperturbed, Brower used tidbits of information from the National Geographic article to find the spot, and one day he trekked there only to find Urquhart and his crew tagging butterflies. To say that the meeting was awkward would be an understatement. The two never could get along.

Which brings me to the politics of science and also the politics of art. It was Urquhart who was behind that 1966 book that was sent to me all those many years ago as part of a Weekly Reader book club that my father subscribed me to. I was expecting an interesting story, and instead got a meandering paean to a migrating butterfly. I was not impressed. The story had no discernible plot. But though the book was written by Ross E. Hutchins, it was part of Urquhart’s grand plan to recruit small children to help him track the monarch butterflies to their overwintering grounds. At that point in my life, I only ever read the story in a book, and not the preamble or the afterword. But if I had read that part, I would have found this plea:

ATTENTION Would you like to work with Dr. Urquhart as a research associate in his interesting research on butterfly migration? If so, you should write to: Dr. Fred A. Urquhart, Associate Professor, Department of Zoology, University of Toronto, Canada. He can supply you with information and special marked tags to be attached to Monarch butterfly wings. Perhaps in this way you can make an interesting contribution to the study of Monarch migration and the flight paths they follow. Perhaps, too, one of your tagged Monarchs might fly even farther than Butterfly X.

He should probably have added: “But don’t share any of this top secret information with my nemesis, Dr. Lincoln Brower.” It would have made a great thriller!

Speaking of dark plots, the very last chapter of Agrawal’s book reminds us of the roots of the environmental movement, and how Richard Nixon contributed to some of the most dastardly government agencies that are a daily part of our life today.

The environmental movement began to take hold in the decades preceding the discovery of the monarchs’ overwintering grounds in 1975. Prior to this, monarchs were simply a quiet icon of nature. It was the beauty behind metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, the science of mimicry and sequestration of toxins, and the mystery behind their migration that captured people’s attention. Nonetheless, milestones of the era included the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1960, and Richard Nixon’s double boon of creating the Environmental Protection Agency and advancing the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Today, it is under the Endangered Species Act that through the declaration of U.S. Fish & Wildlife that domesticated chimpanzees are an endangered species, PETA brings lawsuits to harass chimpanzee owners and accuse them of a “take”, as if their American born and hand reared chimpanzees had been taken out of nature only yesterday, when they had been bred locally for generations. But for tenured faculty at major universities, all this is seen as a good thing.

When people talk about monarchs and milkweed today, they ask what government should do to protect these species against the incursion of man. Is there not enough milkweed for the monarch to exploit for its own survival, while the plant tries to get rid of this pest? Have too many trees been cut down, so there is no place to roost at night? Are there too many cell phone towers up, confusing the butterfly when it is trying to navigate?

Agrawal states that the declining number of milkweed plants is currently the most popular explanation for a decline in the number of monarchs. That there is a decline is undeniable.

While in the early 1990s there were some 400 million butterflies, roosting each winter in Mexico, in the past few years , the number has hovered at 100 million butterflies, or a 75 percent decline… In Fenruary 2016, as I write this chapter, news was just released that there were 200 million monarch butterflies in Mexico (well over triple the number last year.) Still, any way you slice it, there has been a persistent and long term decline. (p. 213.)

Agrawal discusses different methods of taking a census of the monarch butterfly population and their divergent results. He also explains the difference between the survival of the species and the survival of the migration.  The monarch butterfly species developed in a tropical climate and began to migrate later, because of population pressure on the milkweed it fed on. Agrawal does not believe the decline in monarch populations in North America is due to a limitation in the availability of milkweed, despite the popularity of this explanation. Agrawal and his group of scientists believe the decline has more to do with what happens in Mexico in the overwintering sites. But even this does not necessarily spell doom for the monarch. Migration is just one strategy for survival.

Monarch butterflies as a species are not at all endangered, but due to logging that has affected the overwintering sites, and due to other fluctuations in climate, the annual migration to Mexico is endangered. This is not a problem that government can solve, as outlawing logging in the areas affected has not prevented illegal logging, and climate change is not necessarily man made or under our direct control. Monarchs have survived climate fluctuations in the past, long before humans knew much about them. Hopefully, they will survive without our intervention in the future, even if it means they will need to change course or alter some of their habits.

Here is a video of the author, Anurag Agrawal, speaking about possible reasons for the decline in monarch butterfly populations.

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Copyright 2017 Aya Katz

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The Monarch Butterfly and the Thistle Flower

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I suffered the impending loss of a loved one lately and It fell upon me that “I love you wasn’t enough”. After desperately considering all that could be said I found but one thing that seemed to fit. Unfortunately the opportunity was missed, I relate it here so some may find solace in it.

Your neighbor is a fireman and you learn about firemen from him and from his children. You will generalize from your experience and look at all firemen in much the same way as your neighbor. Your teacher is a fisherman and you learn about fishing from him, again you will generalize about fishermen and think of your teacher and his preferences when you reference fishing.

Each person in our lives comes playing a role of some sort. Our mother represents a multitude of roles female, our father represents many roles male. To a lesser or perhaps greater extent, brothers, sisters, friends and all, give us lesson after lesson on approaching the human condition.

This is how you have made me. What I am in my approach to my life is the culmination of what I learned from all of you.

So perhaps you may give your mind some pause with your next personal encounter to look at the tweaks you have made in your approach or your philospohy based upon the one you are encountering. Yes, feel the love for sure, but look into the nuts and bolts of who you are to find their mark, their extension of your experience to draw on.

Nearly everyone you encounter has something you can learn from. Nearly everyones’ thoughts when shared will leave a permananent mark on who you are. Understand the value of others, be open, listen, share.

So yes, dear cousin, I most certainly love you, but I also thank you for what you brought to my life. I will always look at the world a little differently because of the special way of looking at the world, you showed me.

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Everybody can find beauty in a flower, or a butterfly or a deer. But if you love nature, then you also see the symmetry and the grace of a common, ordinary black rat snake.

 

This December, just before the weather turned so cold that all the snakes went into hibernation, this beautiful creature decided to hang out right at the entry of my house.

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I spotted its long, black form on the ground, but it did not stay there for long. Soon it was climbing the bare limbs of the bushes and trees at my entry.

The snake saw me, but it was not afraid. It posed for pictures, and it stuck its tongue out periodically.

Isn’t it a glorious world where both rats and rat snakes can live side by side? If you abhor violence, maybe you should check your premises. It’s the beautiful black rat snakes that keep our rat population down, without eradicating either species.

Live and let live is a policy I support. But it does not mean what people think it means. It does not mean peace and tranquility. It means the struggle for life that makes life itself possible. For all of us!

 

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The Art of Repetition

This gallery contains 9 photos.

I have always been impatient with my paintings. I want to start one and then finish it, and then I want to go on to the next. I’ve never believed in practice works. You know, the kind of artwork that … Continue reading

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Abstract Language

On October 19, 2013, on my other site, HistoriaObscura,com, I published what I consider an important paper dealing with the basic issues concerning authentication of the Journal of Jean Laffite.

Was the Journal of Jean Laffite an Original, a Copy or a Forgery?

The issue of the authentication of the Journal of Jean Laffite, because the only manuscript we have of it is probably just a copy, brings up a more general issue, not only in the study of history but also in the study of language:

  • What makes two texts identical? Is it that they look the same? Or is it what they encode?
  • What makes language work? Is it the physical distinctions? Or is it that there is a one to one correspondence between subcomponents?

I go for the more abstract interpretation of language, and I have very good reason to do so. At home and with my family, I use a language that had been dead and was revived. It was not transmitted in an unbroken line from mother to child like most living languages. A dead text intervened and preserved the language until people were ready to use it again.

And what is more, we have no original copies of that text and no copies that even remotely look like the original. The Old Testament was was passed down by copying word for word and letter for letter. There are some scribal errors, and there are also some passages which have obviously been altered, if we do a good internal analysis, but largely it came down through the generations more or less intact.

But the copies that people now have and are using to study that text are written in a different looking set of symbols from those that were most likely used when the text was first written down.

Hebrew writers adopted the Assyrian alphabet symbols after an exile among Aramaic speakers. Today, and in the past two millenia, when we read the old testament, the sixth commandment, “thou shalt not murder” looks more or less like this: לא תרצח

But at the time of the composition or first writing of the text, it looked more like this:

Does it matter what it looked like? Absolutely not. It is letter per letter the same. But do you know how many people have developed an attachment to the Assyrian form of the letters and think there is something holy or special or undeniably Hebrew about them? These are the same people who would not recognize their friends if they had a new hairdo.

Today, when I communicate by email in Hebrew with family members, if I want to write “thou shalt not murder”, I just type “La trzh.” It’s the same six letters, and it does not matter what they look like, as long as those of us communicating realize what they stand for.

So here is the moral: when looking for your friends, don’t judge by appearances. When identifying a language, don’t base it on what the letters look like. Yo soy una mujer is Spanish. I am a woman is English. I didn’t have to switch fonts to do that. I can do it in Hebrew, too: Ani ase. You judge the code not by the symbols it is encoded in, but by the correspondences. I could use morse code or smoke signals and it would still be the same.

When judging a copy of a copy of an older manuscript whose original no longer exists, we need to be able to do the same thing. Put aside our prejudices of what it should look like and ask ourselves: who could have written this? What language or dialect is it in? What were they trying to say?

Copyright 2013 Aya Katz – – Words and Images

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Olivia Dahl – Ethics of Vaccination

The Dahl Family, from left to right: Theo in pram, Tessa, Patricia Neal, Olivia and Roald. Source: FindaGrave

Olivia Twenty Dahl was one of the children of author Roald Dahl and actress Patricia Neal. She was born on April 20, 1955 and died on November 17, 1962 of encephalitis caused by the rubella virus. The tragedy of her death is currently being used by supporters of the MMR vaccine. Some people mistakenly believe that Olivia died of the measles. In fact, it was not what we in the United States call the measles, but a completely different disease, rubella, which was then commonly known as the German Measles. The rubella vaccine was not yet available to the public in Britain where Olivia Dahl died, and her parents asked that she be given gamma globulin, but the remedy was denied to them by reason of public health rationing.

This article is not meant to give any medical advice. It is instead intended to explore ethical issues involving the conflicts of interest between “the public good” and the good of any particular individual. Olivia Twenty Dahl might have survived if her parents had been able to override decisions made in the name of the public policy in order to save their own child.

The rubella virus, also known as the German Measles, is a disease that for most people takes a fairly mild course, although it can have disastrous effects on fetal development if women contract it during the first twenty weeks of pregnancy. In order to avoid birth defects, it is usually advised today that any woman who has not already had rubella be vaccinated for it prior to attempting a pregnancy. The normal course of the disease for healthy individuals is sore throat and fever, after which there are swollen glands and a rash. About thirty percent of those infected actually do not have any symptoms at all. Lifelong immunity follows infection. In very rare cases, rubella develops into encephalitis, and then the prognosis is not good. Olivia Twenty Dahl was one of those very rare cases.

The disease of rubella has been around since before the Middle Ages, but it was not until 1941 that the medical profession began to consider it dangerous. The virus was isolated in 1962. By 1969 vaccination became routinely available worldwide.

The rubella virus is not to be confused with the measles, a completely different disease caused by the rubeola virus. But it is understandable that from a historic viewpoint people do confuse the two, because they were not distinguished until the 19th century. Today, infants are routinely vaccinated for both measles and rubella and also the mumps in the MMR vaccine. The MMR vaccine is considered safe, but it, too, carries some rare health risks and in some cases the complications become life threatening. Nothing in life is risk free.

Olivia Twenty Dahl — Source

I know about what happened to Olivia Dahl from reading her mother’s autobiography: AS I AM by Patricia Neal. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Patricia Neal, Gary Cooper or Roald Dahl. It is a very candid biography that in its telling of Miss Neal’s life story touches upon a lot of issues that I am interested in. I understand that there was also another, later biography, but I recommend this one, which came out in 1988.

The back story of Olivia’s death is that her family had been living in New York when her brother Theo was hit by a taxicab while crossing the street in a pram and suffered brain damage. Roald Dahl moved the family to England, where he believed his children would be safe. He was wrong.

When there was an outbreak of rubella at Olivia’s school in November of 1962, a note was sent home to alert the parents. Patricia Neal had two children she felt were particularly vulnerable, Olivia, who was always wiped out after every childhood disease, and Theo, who was injured and highly vulnerable. She was less concerned about her other daughter, Tessa, who had a strong constitution. At the time, even though the rubella virus was already isolated, the vaccine was still in the experimental stages, and gamma globulin was rare in England, and was rationed out only to pregnant women during an outbreak of rubella to help them fight the disease, rather than being used as a preventative for school children.

Ordinary people simply accepted the situation. But Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl were not just ordinary people. They were famous and well respected, and they had connections. They tried to pull strings on behalf of their children.

Roald Dahl’s half-sister Ellen was married to Sir Ashley Miles, head of the Lister Institute. Roald Dahl asked Sir Ashley to get enough of the gamma globulin for his children: Theo, Olivia and Tessa. Sir Ashley was sympathetic, but he was an upstanding British subject, and he did not want to break the rules just to accommodate family. The policy of the government was clear: only pregnant women were to be spared. Children had to risk getting the disease, as they were less vulnerable to its effects.

According to Patricia Neal, Sir Ashley laughed and said that they should let the girls come down with disease as it would be good for them. However, he did get the gamma globulin for Theo, because of Theo’s medical status as an invalid.

Olivia came down with the disease within three days. After she recovered from the usual symptoms, she was listless and lacking in energy. By the fifteenth of November, she slept for over twenty-four hours. The next day she had what appeared to be a stroke. She was taken to the hospital and died on the 17th of November.

What would you have done if this were your child, you knew that gamma globulin could save her, but the doctors and the medical establishment had decided not to give it to you by reason of public policy?

In my opinion – – and this is not a medical opinion, but an ethical one – – Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal would have been justified to buy gamma globulin on the black market or to create a rubella vaccine in their own private lab and to administer it to their daughter when they thought she needed it, and public policy be damned!

But that is not what people are now using this story to say. Instead, they are saying that every child, even the ones who would survive the disease just fine and might be allergic to the vaccine, should be vaccinated by the MMR vaccine, for the sake of children like Olivia.

Not every child faces the same risk. Even in the same family, a parent might be concerned for one child and not another. The disease killed Olivia. Tessa came out just fine. Her parents were never worried about her.

People say we should listen to our doctors. I agree. We should listen, but we should also use our independent judgment on behalf of our children. Public policy is crafted to maximize the chances of most people – – at the expense of some people. But when you have a specific child to look out for, as a parent you must do what is best for that child.

Most children would survive the usual childhood diseases. Most children also survive the MMR. It is the rare child who is the most vulnerable. Some would not survive the disease. Others would not survive the vaccine. It is your job as a parent to try to figure out what the odds are for your own child.

Vaccination for rubella used to be given separately, and children were then left to suffer through the measles and the mumps on their own. Was Sir Ashley right when he said the disease might be good for the girls? Is it ever better to suffer though a disease rather than to be vaccinated for it? I am not sure. Ask your doctor about these things and educate yourself concerning your own child’s health. What is a life saving practice for one child can be a death sentence for another. It is also possible to get one of the vaccines without the others.

Parents have a duty to their own children to see that they get the best possible care. If your doctor tells you that you should get a vaccine because your own child is seriously vulnerable to a disease, then by all means do what you can for your child. Or ask for gamma globulin, instead, during an outbreak. But if your doctor tells you your child is not vulnerable to the disease, but he should get the vaccine for the sake of other children who are less robust, then you might think again.

Ethically it is never right to sacrifice one child for the sake of another.

Books by Aya Katz — Order Here

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https://hubpages.com/relationships/Gary-Cooper-Patricia-Neal-and-Family-Values

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Forgotten Art

Rolled up canvases I found

Painting from Bali

Sometimes when we are looking for something we have misplaced, we come across something else that we have forgotten all about. That’s what happened to me one morning. I was looking for gumdrops in the kitchen cabinets and instead I cam across two rolled up canvasses from my years in Taiwan.

These are artworks that were given to me when I was living in Taiwan but that I never got around to framing. And what they were doing in my top kitchen cabinet is beyond me.

The first one was given to me by a fellow professor in the Foreign Language Department at Tamsui Oxford University College. He went on a little trip to Bali and brought back gifts for everyone. He gave me this canvas with the painting of the little boats in the blood-red sunset. But at the time, I was just about to move from Tamsui to Taichung, so I kept the canvas rolled up, thinking I would frame it later. Then later I was very busy with a new baby and a new job, and I never did anything at all about it.

The second one was given to me by Ghost Mask maker from Jiufen. At least, I’m pretty sure it was his. It is black and white and very typically Chinese.

Artwork from Jiufen

Someday, I should frame these pictures and hang them up properly. I just don’t know when yet. I am also thinking that I might be able to use them for cover illustrations for future books someday, if the original artists don’t mind.

What do you think? Would these make good book cover illustrations? How would I go about finding the artists so as to get their permission?

Copyright 2013 Aya Katz – – Words and Images

Note: I took these photos myself of the canvases I found in my kitchen cabinet.

Books by Aya Katz — Order Here

The article is from November 5, 2013. Facebook reminded me today of this memory from four years ago.

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http://www.pubwages.com/?s=art

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