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.

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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.

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



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Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr was the third vice president of the United States. That was the highest office to which he attained, though if he had not been kept from it by the Spanish spy James Wilkinson, he might one day have been the Emperor of Mexico.

Born into a well known family, Aaron Burr was the son of a father by the same name who was then the President of Princeton University, although it was not called Princeton at the time. His mother, Esther Edwards Burr, was the daughter of Jonathan Edwards, a famous theologian. However, when Aaron was still a toddler, his mother and father died of small pox and his grandfather, the theologian, died soon thereafter of an inocculation against small pox, as did the boy’s grandmother. Aaron was then placed in foster care together with his sister Sally and later given to his young uncle Timothy Edwards, a stern disciplinarian with whom he had many theological disagreements. When he was ten years old, Aaron ran away from home and signed up as a cabin boy on a ship in New York harbor, until his uncle found him and took him back to New Jersey. He climbed to the top of the mast and negotiated a deal with his uncle: Timothy would not beat him for running away, if Aaron promised to apply himself to his studies and become a theologian.

Aaron Burr did excel in the study of ancient languages at Princeton, though he never became a theologian. Some of his classmates were James Madison and Edward Livingston.

When the Revoluntionary War broke out, Aaron Burr distinguished himself for bravery, leadership and feats of daring that went well beyond the call of duty. He was discharged as a Colonel. He then studied law and became involved in politics. His marriage to Theodosia Prevost produced one surviving child, Theodosia Burr Alston. Aaron Burr was ahead of his time in that he believed in the intellectual equality of women, and he educated his daughter with the same rigor that he would have applied to a son.

Burr and Jefferson were both members of the Democratic-Republican party that favored limited government. They ran together on the same ticket and defeated the incumbent president, the Federalist and authoritarian John Adams, preventing him from attaining to a second term. However, there was just one hitch: Jefferson and Burr tied in the election. In those days, the person who got the most votes in the presidential election became president.The person with the second greatest number of votes became Vice President. Although Burr and Jefferson were running mates, nobody had anticipated a tie. When all the dust settled, the new president was Thomas Jefferson, but he bore Burr a grudge for nearly beating him, and he did not choose him for a running mate the second time he ran.

While still serving as Vice President, Burr fought and won a duel with Federalist Alexander Hamilton, who had slandered and libeled him and refused to retract. Alexander Hamilton had also been a thorn in Jefferson’s side, but as soon as he died of his wounds in the duel, all this was forgotten, and Burr’s political enemies behaved as if the killing had been a murder.

Once out of office, Aaron Burr conceived of a plan to lead a private army against Spain’s holdings in Mexico. His partner in this plan was General James Wilkinson, but unbeknownst to Burr, Wilkinson was in Spain’s employ as a double agent. Wilkinson betrayed Burr to Jefferson, claiming that Burr intended treason against the United States, instead of war against Spain. Burr was arrested, imprisoned, and eventually tried. He was acquitted of the charge of treason, but was forced to leave the country in disgrace.

Burr spent some time in England trying to raise money for the conquest of Mexico, but when Britain and Spain became allies, he was forced to leave England, and in an increasingly impoverished state he toured Europe until he was finally able to return to the United States shortly before the outbreak of the War of 1812. His daughter Theodosia was lost at sea on her way to visit him in January of 1813.

While Burr lived a very long life after that, he was never able to accomplish anything worthy of note in the succeeding years. Today he is largely forgotten. Yet the significance of Aaron Burr’s life as a founding father of the United States and the philosophical conflicts that his life embodies should not be underestimated. He was the son of an influential family of puritan evangelicals, but he was an agnostic and one of the few politicians who did not hide behind a mask of religiosity. He was a supporter of limited government, and yet Jefferson, his ally in this, stretched the constitution in prosecuting him for plotting to tear the union asunder, which even if it had been true, should not have been a crime in the eyes of a believer in states’ rights like Jefferson. Burr believed in women’s equality and the rights of blacks at a time when these things were quite unpopular. Yet he was also a strong military leader whose expansionist vision for the United States did not involve higher taxation for the citizenry or a costly declared war. If Adams stood for British-style authoritarianism and Jefferson for a French-influenced Jacobin popularism, Burr was epitome of a true American, respecting the rights of all and plotting to take away the property of none.

Copyright 2013 Aya Katz – – Words and Image

Note: I drew the sketch based on the portrait by Vanderlyn.

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The Character of Aaron Burr: A Review

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Knowing People

Would you recognize your friends without their bodies? If you were talking to someone on the phone, and it was one of your friends, would you still recognize them even if their voice did not sound the same? When receiving an email from a friend, if they use a different email address and do not sign, would you still know who it is?

Sometimes I think that very few people know each other, even if they have been friends or living together for years. They recognize one another by the look, sound and smell. If they are long distance or internet friends, they know how the other person sounds, writes or uses language.

One way we can recognize other people is by their word choices and their verbal idiosyncracies. But keep in mind that you know only how someone talks to you. If they use a completely different language to talk to other people, would you still recognize them in their other language?

How well can people who come from different cultures ever get to know each other? If there are things you can only say in your native language, and a friend does not speak that language, how can you share yourself?

Is there more to people than the way they look, sound , smell or express themselves? If so, what is it?

Would you recognize your friends without their bodies? If you were talking to someone on the phone, and it was one of your friends, would you still recognize them even if their voice did not sound the same? When receiving an email from a friend, if they use a different email address and do not sign, would you still know who it is?

Literature that Deals with Knowing Others

Two literary works whose main subject is who we are and whether people really know us are Cyrano de Bergerac and Who is Julia.  Each one has a plot that tackles the issue through a gimmick. In the play by Rostand, the gimmick is one man writing dialogue for another man. Roxane was captivated by the eloquence of Cyrano, but only when his words were spoken by a better looking man. Which man does she love? Does she actually know either of them?

But what if in the real world it’s the same man who is eloquent on paper or in texts, but turns tongue tied and bashful in person? Which one of the two men is the real one? And what if they both are? And what if he behaves completely differently with other people? And what if he’s bold and daring, but only when he speaks Armenian?

A lot of people think that communicating in verse like Cyrano is false and stilted. But what if someone feels more comfortable expressing himself in heroic couplets than any other way? The deceased poet, FL Light, used to leave comments in verse on my online articles.

Dictums of sustenance and diet in true

Perception would leave sugar out of view.

That’s a comment that he left several years ago on my article Candy from Strangers. Was this the real FL Light or just his poetic voice? If we had met, would he be speaking in couplets all the time, or would I learn that he had a thick Bronx accent and a modern American English syntax and vocabulary  in everyday life? I have often wondered about this, and now that he is dead, I keep thinking about that. Did I ever know him?

In  Who is Julia?  the gimmick is more modern. A rich and beautiful woman’s brain is transplanted into another, more ordinary woman’s body. But the husband of the woman who used to occupy that body thinks he married the body. Even though he knows about the transplant, he still can’t let that body go.

Many people form genuine attachments to bodies, even less than perfect ones, while being unable to know the minds that occupy them.

Knowing and Recognizing People is Like Reading a Book

In Ping & the Snirkelly People, Ping realizes that her friend Olivia will never come to know her in the way that Ping has come to know Olivia. That is partly because there is more to know about Ping and partly because Ping has been immersed in Olivia’s culture for a whole year, while Olivia has had no contact with Ping’s culture.

There is no implied reciprocity in getting to know another person. Just because they got to know you, it does not mean that you got to know them. Even though you may know them very well, they may never know you.

Some adults who are considered to be perfectly normal will never understand this. Some children on the autistic spectrum already know it. Being normal does not make people’s self knowledge particularly profound. When things work perfectly for you in all social interactions, you are never required to think about it.

Vacuum County — Order Here

Would you consider doing research in a library in order to get to know another person? Would you stay up nights reading old histories in languages you haven’t entirely mastered, the way Verity did in Vacuum County when she was trying to understand Nabal? Or would you just ask hackneyed questions like: “What’s your favorite color? What kind of movies do you like to watch? Pizza or tacos? Coke or Pepsi? Baseball or hockey? Democrat or Republican? Protestant or Catholic?” Do you honestly think you can get to know somebody by asking him about things that are entirely beside the point for him?

Not everybody is an open book, but many of us actually are, if you will bother to crack the cover and see what is inside. It’s not on our body that the information is hidden, though. But it’s all there in a book or two, if you have the time and the patience. And if you can’t or won’t read them, then you will never know.

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Is there such a thing as talent? And if so what is it? What does it mean to be talented at something? What does it mean if you are not that talented?

This topic came up the other night in conversation. One person asserted that there was no such thing as talent. There is only social conditioning, Mozart was conditioned to be a musical prodigy. If they had conditioned him to be something else, he would have been something else. Anyone can be taught to do anything. Therefore, there is no talent.

I agree with part of that, but vehemently disagree with the rest. I agree that just about anyone can be taught to do just about anything, given enough effort, time, resources and the correct teaching method. But I don’t agree that there is no such thing as talent.

Where I think the disagreement comes in is that we are using talent to mean different things. If you think of talent as the ready made ability to create a perfect, flawless finished product without any training or practice, then maybe there is no such thing as talent. But if you see talent the way I do, as the natural predisposition to do something over and over again until you become very proficient at it without any assistance, then there is definitely talent. Talent is not knowing something in advance. It is the ability to acquire knowledge and skills in a particular area with a minimal investment.

Take music, for instance. Some people have a talent for it, so they are able to match pitch or harmonize or reproduce musical sequences without effort. They obsessively play with music without cease, and since practice makes perfect, their abilities increase exponentially with very little apparent effort. Other people are less talented. This means that when they do try to do something musical, their return on investment for effort is not good. Since they are not rewarded by nature for the effort, they also do not feel any desire to redouble their effort, so they get less practice and arrive at some kind of impasse. It does not mean they cannot learn to do some of the things that talented people can do. It just means it takes them longer to learn, and they may not actually acquire these skills unless they are taught by someone who has good pedagogical methods.

There is nothing wrong with taking some time to learn how to do something you are not particularly talented at. There can be many benefits to acquiring some skills in an area that we are not very good at. But it is unlikely that someone without that innate, natural drive to pursue music will become a musical professional, much less a prodigy. If that does happen, for some reason, it may not be a good thing, either for the person involved or their employers.

I know of one woman who was very industrious and studied music and became very proficient at singing opera. She was aware that she was less talented than others in the field, but she was such a hard worker, she was very determined, and she got good training with good methodology. She stayed up nights learning what other people learned in moments. She compensated for lack of natural ability by working twice as hard as anyone else. She was accepted as a singer in a very prestigious opera company. But eventually she decided that being an opera singer just did not pay well enough for all the work that had to be done. She was expected to learn new songs in no time at all, and it was very stressful because she had to hire a tutor to drill her on each new song, and nobody paid her for all that extra work and what she had to pay the tutor every time a new song had to be learned!

Yes, sometimes it is possible by hard work to propel yourself into a position for which you are not competent. If you are Peter Keating, you can persevere and complete your studies and get a degree as an architect. But what good does it do you in the end, when you have to get Howard Roark to design all your buildings?

Bottom line: anyone can be taught how to do anything, to the point of seeming to do an excellent job if they have time to do sufficient preparation so that they appear to be at their very best. But only a very talented person can do the job in real time under less than perfect conditions.

It makes sense to listen to your heart before you embark on a long and arduous training program. Just because anyone can be taught to do anything does not mean you want to be stuck in a job for the rest of your life for which you have formal qualifications but no internal drive.

Ultimately, that is what talent is: the obsessive desire to do something over and over again because it is fun. If you do not feel that way about something, save yourself the trouble and do not make it your life’s work. Can you do it? Yes, you can. But there is not a good enough return on investment to bother. Stick to what you really love, because that is what will pay off for you!

Copyright 2013 Aya Katz – – Words and Image



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What would a choice by the people look like in a political context? Would it mean that the people, each individually, gather together in rooms, in their own communities, hash out what they would like to vote for, and then send representatives to the next level who carry forward their message?

Or, alternatively, does it mean that the party bosses tell the local leaders what they should stand for, and then the local leaders spread the word further down the line, until every rank and file member in each of the established parties toes the line and mouthes the party platform?

Another way of asking this question is: top down or bottom up? We understand that eventually a mandate will be given as to what is to be done. But where will the mandate come from? The desires of individual citizens or the designs of party organizers?

I am very cynical about the political process, not because I haven’t tried to be an active participant, but because I have been to enough political conventions to know that it is mostly top down. The consensus is not arrived at by arguments at the precinct level. The party sends a man to the precinct convention to tell the locals what they are going to decide.

I have always been a believer in free enterprise, religious freedom, individual rights and limited government. There isn’t a party that fully represents my convictions, but if there were one, it would probably be the Libertarian Party. But as everyone knows, the Libertarian Party does not have enough members to elect any important candidates. For this reason, libertarian-minded people often try to exercise their rights as citizens by joining one of the two major parties who can elect candidates.

In my case, I usually join the Republican Party, because they are close to me in those values that affect the economy. And we all hope and pray that their social values agenda does not get passed or that it will somehow be overruled by the courts if it does pass.

The first time I went to a precinct convention, I had a list of things I wanted to pass as resolutions, but the man from the party already had his own list, and everyone had been instructed to listen only to him because he came from party headquarters. So as a result of my opposing the party dictates, I was not chosen to go to the district convention, and my exercise of my rights as a citizen before the general election ended there.

The next time I participated in a precinct convention, I made sure to find out who the guy from the party was and to form an alliance with him, agreeing to support his platform, in return for a place at the District Convention. I went to the District Convention, and since I was such a good little soldier, I eventually made it to the State Convention.

I was even allowed to be a delegate on the convention floor – – as long as I did exactly as told, so that we all voted as a block. I did not get to the national convention, because no one in our group did.

But as you can see, as far as exercising any control over party platform, I had absolutely no power. I could speak my mind and get eliminated, or not speak my mind and go on the the next level. But there was no room for self-expression or the meaningful exercise of a vote.

By the time we all get to the polls to cast our vote at the general election, all the important decisions have already been made, and we are asked to choose from one of two parties that we do not support – – or we could vote our conscience and get completely disenfranchised.

But really, weren’t we disenfranchised right from the very start?

Copyright 2013 Aya Katz – – Words and Picture

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The Monarch Butterfly and the Thistle Flower

For years, I have been seeking in vain for a clear view of the elusive Monarch butterfly.  Only this year, with the milkweed on the the decline and the thistle on the ascendancy, did I get a good, close look at a Monarch.

A monarch butterfly with wings spread, enjoying a thistle flower in my pasture.

Since the Monarch butterfly is closely associated with the milkweed plant, I had expected to see it feeding on milkweed nectar, but that was never the case.


I saw many a Great Spangled Fritillary  on the milkweed plants, but never a Monarch.

By the same token, whenever I posted images of the austere thistle flower, I was told: “That’s an invasive. Get rid of it!”

I did not get rid of the thistle flowers, because that’s not the way I operate. I let nature decide what plants grow in my pasture. I did not plant the thistle flower there. Even if it came all the way from Scotland, who am I to say it cannot live here?

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I am amazed when some environmentalists advocate open borders for people, but they want to stop plants and animals from crossing borders. Do you think that if you put up a wall it will keep the butterflies from migrating? Or the thistle seeds from spreading? What nonsense is this?

This year, the deer destroyed all the milkweed flowers, leaving them to propagate only through the roots. But this did not prevent the Monarch caterpillars from enjoying the leaves on the milkweed.  And by the time the Monarch was ready to be a butterfly, there were no milkweed flowers for it to visit. But there were plenty of thistles.

Today we had the first frost of the year, but the Monarchs are probably all well on their way to Mexico. No wall is going to keep them from crossing the border. But as fellow migrants, they took what nectar they could get from the Scottish thistle flower, without ever asking to see its visa.


We all should strive to be more like the Monarch and the thistle, finding work and sustenance where we can, and cooperating with others whenever we find that it is in our best interest to do so.


I, too, am seeking sustenance wherever it can be had. This is why I made this T-shirt.

There are those who read my novels, but not my nature posts. There are those who like nature, but not literature.  There is something to be said for each. It’s all interconnected!

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Taking a Hiatus

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The Meaning of The Comforters by Rudyard Kipling

This is a copy from my personal edition of Kipling’s verse

Last night, on my “Fans of Rudyard Kipling” fan page on Facebook, I had a message from  a fan of Kipling’s poetry who lives in India.

Can you please explain the poem ‘The Comforters’ of our dear Rudyard Kipling?I pondered too much over it but failed to understand completely..
but I, kind of, need to understand it, for its impressing initial lines…
Kindly, please please help me!

Waiting for favourable reply!

Local time 7:01 AM
Studied at University of Allahabad
Lives in Allahabad, India
From Mau, India


Until thy feet have trod the Road
Advise not wayside folk,
Nor till thy back has borne the Load
Break in upon the Broke.

Chase not with undesired largesse
Of sympathy the heart
Which, knowing her own bitterness,
Presumes to dwell apart.

Employ not that glad hand to raise
The God-forgotten head
To Heaven, and all the neighbours’ gaze—
Cover thy mouth instead.

The quivering chin, the bitten lip,
The cold and sweating brow,
Later may yearn for fellowship—
Not now, you ass, not now!

Time, not thy ne’er so timely speech,
Life, not thy views thereon,
Shall furnish or deny to each
His consolation.

Or, if impelled to interfere,
Exhort, uplift, advise,
Lend not a base, betraying ear
To all the victim’s cries.

Only the Lord can understand
When those first pangs begin,
How much is reflex action and
How much is really sin.

E’en from good words thyself refrain,
And tremblingly admit
There is no anodyne for pain
Except the shock of it.

So, when thine own dark hour shall fall,
Unchallenged canst thou say :
‘I never worried you at all,
For God’s sake go away!’

I find that many of Kipling’s most ardent fans live in India. This person really seemed to need an answer right away, so I answered at once:

“Fans of Rudyard Kipling:
The poem means that when people are suffering, in pain or grieving, and they do not want your help or sympathy, you should leave them alone. They might be ready for your friendship at a later date, but not now. Show respect for their wishes and don’t try to cheer them up. You will be thankful when your time to suffer comes, if they do not bother you.”

This is something Kipling understood, but so many well meaning people do not. Good intentions do not mitigate the harm that is caused by unsolicited “comforting” words and deeds.


If you enjoy Kipling’s poetry, you will like OUR LADY OF KAIFENG.



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Can I get a toy and a senior discount on my Happy Meal?

Freedom and slavery are but illusions. Freedom is just an illusion where order is arrived through informed consent and slavery is simply order
where consent is irrelevant.

We like order, but we implicity understand that it is not perfect. We celebrate the outlaws in America, because we see them live free lives,
unencumbered by the constraints to which we ourselves do not fully consent to.

Slavery is a part of every earthly order just as surely as is freedom. How can everyone agree? How can everyone consent to every rule of our order?

The simple truth is everyone doesn’t agree as to what our order should look like. How could everyone agree to every rule of our order in every

We can only agree to pursue a more perfect order. There is a fear that comes with understanding and agreeing that the present order is not
perfect. At one level we know it as surely as we know our name, but at another level we fear the anarchy. In this fear at every upset, a call by
the emotional mob for a new law is made, making consent to our order, ever further removed from our reach.

We are called to embrace slavery by every order imagined while at the same time ignoring our desire for a freedom from its’ very constraints.

Why is it we can’t meld these illusions? Why must one man tell another man how to live?

The trick is we can meld them. The construct lost to the ages and the slavemasters is that we can meld them and that we have little need for one
man to tell another how to live.

“We must have a king” was not a call for freedom, but rather a call for slavery. The people gave in to their fear of disorder, for a more rigid
and much less perfect order.

Heaven is thought to be many different things by many different people, but the common thread among them is, that it is a perfect order where
every heavenly being knows and wants to do what is right, and in that they are free.

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