Talk Like a Pirate Day

[This article was first published in 2013 on website that has since gone defunct.]


A sketch of Jean Laffite by Lanie Frick

What is it about pirates? Why are people so attracted to them? Why is today, September 19, celebrated by some people  as talk-like-a-pirate-day?

In the past, pirates held no attraction for me, as I believed they were mere robbers of the sea. I was not interested in thievery, I was not interested in treasure, and I had no desire to talk like Long John Silver from Treasure Island.

But in the past two years, as I became immersed in the life story of Jean Laffite, I think I came across the real reason people are so interested in pirates. Pirates live by their own rules, often form their own governments and offer an alternative way to mete out justice. Many of the people that we think of as pirates today – people like Jean Laffite – were actually privateers. They performed as private navies, doing the work that real naval officers would not do, for a fraction of the cost.

Laffite’s real crime before the battle of New Orleans was tax evasion. He and his brother Pierre came to Louisiana as smugglers. They got around the Embargo Act which outlawed all international trade. They were importers of goods people wanted, but could not get. When the Embargo was lifted, they avoided customs, and brought ashore goods to be purchased by the citizens of New Orleans. Everybody was grateful for what they did – except two groups: merchants who sold for a higher cost and the United States government’s Revenue Service.

Now, supposedly, the Revenue Service was collecting taxes so that it could finance the United States Navy in the War of 1812. But when the British came to recruit Laffite, he gave all the information about the British to the local authorities who turned it over to the U.S, Navy. And the Navy went on the attack – not against the British – but against Laffite’s Baratarian privateers. They cared more about tax evasion than an invading army. They looted the stores with all the goods belonging to the Laffites and sold them for profit. Commodore Patterson and his men took privateering ships that could have been used for the national defense and sold them for money to line their own pockets.

When despite all this, Laffite saved the United States from the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the goods the Navy confiscated from him were never returned. So, I ask you, who is the real pirate here?

People say that pirates – real pirates – are bad and they are against them, but that they enjoy putting on costumes and saying “Aargh” for a day. Just for fun. Doesn’t mean anything. But the real attraction of “pirates” is the one we seldom acknowledge – that they are a welcome alternative to the tyrannical governments that rob us every day of our hard earned cash – not in order to fight an invasive enemy – but just to line their own pockets.

Copyright 2013 Aya Katz


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Gleaning from the Book of Ruth

When I teach a course in Biblical Hebrew, I always base it on the Book of Ruth. Why? Because it’s a short book, uses simple and poetic language and is very down to earth. There are no miracles or divine appearances, no angels and no visions. It is about ordinary people, how they deal with hardship, their feelings of loyalty and love, and their customs and way of life.

Naomi and her husband and two sons left their hometown, Bethlehem (which means House of Bread) during a famine. They went to live in Moab, which was a different country, with different customs and ways of life. The sons married local women. But the family fell on bad luck. The husband and the two sons got sick and died, leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law. Naomi decides to go back to Bethlehem, because she has heard the famine was over. She suggests to her two daughters-in-law that they leave her and go find themselves some new husbands. One daughter-in-law agrees. But the second one – – Ruth – – decides to follow Naomi home. “Whither thou goest I shall go …” This is the best remembered line from the book and is sometimes quoted in a romantic context, but it was originally spoken by one woman to another.

So they go back to Bethlehem, where the barley harvest is currently in progress. And because they are poor and hungry, Ruth goes a-gleaning after the reapers. What is gleaning? That is actually what I want to talk about. It is a way to feed the poor that does not rob the rich.

And that’s what I really want to focus on here: not Ruth’s romantic encounter with Boaz, which occurs in the context of gleaning – but the context itself. The people who wrote this book of the Bible took it for granted that everybody hearing the story would know the customs of the times, but today we could gain a lot of perspective by reviewing them.

During the harvest, after all the bulk of the grain had been reaped, there were some grains left unharvested. If it were up to the wealthy landowners, these grains would simply go to waste. So the poor were allowed to come on the property and follow the reapers and pick up the left over, squandered grain. However much they gathered in a day was theirs to keep. They were even allowed to roast it and eat it on the spot. It made a good meal, because the grain contained fats, proteins and carbohydrates, enough to supply all the body’s needs. Nothing went to waste, and nobody lost anything by following this custom. The rich did not lose money, and the poor did not get rich, but those who really needed it got something to eat, without hurting anyone else. And they got it by their own efforts. They worked for it!

Notice that when Naomi came back to her hometown, nobody said she was a parasite. Nobody thought it was bad that she had left during a famine and came back when the harvest was good. Nobody tried to shame her. It is natural to leave your hometown during a famine. It is right to take your family to where there is plenty of food. You do not help anyone by sticking around and starving. But it is also natural that when things get better, people want to return home. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

The reason today so many supporters of the welfare state think it’s not okay to drop out of the system when it suits us and then drop back in when that seems right for us is because their system is based on taking from one person and granting another. But under gleaning, nobody was robbed in order to feed anyone else. Nobody exploited anyone else. And one person’s salvation did not come at a cost of another’s life. It was a win/win situation.

We don’t have to hate the rich to help the poor. And we need not despise the poor to save ourselves.That is what we can all glean from the Book of Ruth!


Books by Aya Katz — Order Here

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Watching The Sunrise Behind The San Bernardino Mountains

Last Sunday I decided to finally get up early and capture the sunrise on camera. I have seen more stunning sunrises than this one, but as it continued it did become a bit more vibrant.

The orange glow of the sunrise from behind the San Bernardino Mountains. The silhouette of the trees is visible along the ridge.

At around 5:49 the sunrise was still quite subdued.

The sky became a bit pinker a few minutes later.

The sun rays are visible across the eastern sky above the San Bernardino Mountains.

One sun ray illuminates a small cloud above a larger cloud cluster.

Light pink and orange are visible in the sky that is starting to become light blue.

The orange hued clouds were my favorite part of this subtle sunrise.

I always seem to make it outside to watch the sunset, well at least several nights per week, but I seem to have a difficult time getting up to watch the sunrise. I am so glad I allocated time for documenting the sunrise this past Sunday. The slideshow below will give you a glimpse of the ten minutes I spent watching the sunrise between 5:50 and 6:00 in the morning.


The video contains live motion footage of the sunrise behind the San Bernardino Mountains.

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Putting Long Hair Into A Messy Bun

Usually, I do not wear my hair up, but someone asked if I could style my hair this way. Thus, I decided to put my hair in a messy bun. This is not a hair styling tutorial per se, but more of a hair styling thought post. Perhaps it will give you inspiration on trying new updos. The reason I never really tried updos was that I always felt like these had to look formal or precise, but messy buns are quite popular. As my hair gets longer, I also find I am more apt to put it up when cleaning so it does not drag the floor when I bend over to sweep.

This is how my messy bun turned out.

To create this bun style I simply put my hair in a pony tail, and then I twisted it around on top of my head. I used a tiny bit of Yves Rocher traditional tiare oil to help smooth down my hair. I remembered that this coconut tiare infused oil is easier to use on hair than unrefined coconut oil, the latter which has to be heated because it can often solidify. However, I have played with the idea of perhaps making my own gardenia infused coconut oil one of these days, but there is really no need to do that since Yves Rocher makes a great product for us to purchase online.

This messy bun style is fun to try for people who just want to throw their hair up.

So here is a speed motion video illustrating how I put my hair in a messy bun for anyone who is thinking about trying updos for the first time in years.

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Support Your Local Musical Theater

Support Your Local Musical Theatre

Aya Katz

[This pub was first published on Hubpages in 2010. Due to the current ban on dueling by Hubpages management, I had to move it to PubWages.]

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The first musical I ever saw was עוץ לי גוץ לי (pronounced Utz Li Gutz Li). I was five years old. I liked it so much that I asked to see it again. My parents bought the record, and they copied it onto reel to reel, and I listened to the songs over and over again throughout my childhood, no matter where we lived.

The book and lyrics to Utz Li Gutzli were written by אברהם שלונסקי (Avraham Shlonsky), and the music was composed by Dubi Zeltzer. The play is based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm called Rumplestiltskin, but it’s really nothing like the scary children’s story, except in the bare bones plot. Instead, it is a satire and a social commentary. And the intended audience? Children and their parents.

Shlonsky was warned that it would be a flop. They tried to convince him to simplify the language, so that children “would be able to understand it.” He used the very highest kind of Hebrew, the kind you find in the old testament, and he used it to poke fun at politicians. How could children possibly understand what a deficit is or that trying to balance the budget by printing more money might be a questionable practice? Who would even want to see such a play? The lyrics were not just peppered with archaic words, they were grammatically challenging. Who even uses the dual anymore? And does it really seem like a good idea to make fun of local place names, substituting “House of Womb” for “House of Bread” (Bethlehem)?

Shlonsky insisted on the original text. And the play was a great success. I was there. I was five years old. And from that day forward I was hooked on musical theater.


The Advice Song

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Utzli Gutzli is derived from Rumplestiltskin

The first musical I saw was an original Hebrew language play by Shlonsky based on the Grimm story "Rumplestiltskin:

The first musical I saw was an original Hebrew language play by Shlonsky based on the Grimm story “Rumplestiltskin:

My Fair Lady

The next musical that made a really big impression on me was My Fair Lady. The play was by George Bernard Shaw. The lyricist was Alan Jay Lerner. The composer was Frederick Loewe. I was ten years old. The location was Ann Arbor, Michigan. My music teacher in the local school took the whole class to see the dress rehearsal for free.

For a fictionalized account of that event, you might want to read my short story The Punky-Wunkies.

Again, this play was not really written for children. It deals with complex social issues. It speaks of the idle poor, the idle rich and middle class morality. It has lyrics like “A man was made to help support his children, which is the right and proper thing to do, but with a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck, they’ll go out and start supporting you.”

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With A Little Bit of Luck

The cover to the book by Shlonsky

I own the book by Shlonsky (אברהם שלונסקי)

Living Without Theatre

It seemed that my early years were spent in an atmosphere rich in culture, where important works were readily accessible, and where going to the theatre was a very normal and natural part of life. Nobody I knew thought children were too simple minded to understand satire or to care about social issues. And it did not require a superhuman effort to get to the theatre. It either didn’t cost much or it didn’t cost anything. It was no big deal.

And then we moved to Grand Prairie, Texas, and all that came to a grinding halt.

I don’t really know why it happened. It’s not because of the location. We were in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. There was theater in Dallas. There was theater in Ft. Worth. We could have gone. But for some reason we didn’t.

I remember distinctly that my mother said she might take me to see Yul Brynner in The King and I, but then when it turned out that it would require us to drive to Dallas, she changed her mind. Something happened to us. We just stopped going.

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Current Day Production of Utz li Gutz li

It is in production in the Cameri Theatre.
It is in production in the Cameri Theatre.

The Cameri

The Cameri Theatre
The Cameri Theatre
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The Dream of Broadway

For years now, I’ve had this dream of taking my daughter to see a Broadway play. When I got confined to the pens, I even thought of sending my daughter to visit a friend who lives in New York  so that they could attend a Broadway play together. Then my friend told me that she has not  seen a Broadway play herself in years, since the tickets are way too expensive.

Do you have to be rich to enjoy theater? Since when? And if that is the case, is it any wonder that the arts are languishing?

But there’s also another issue. There’s the content.

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Modern versus Ancient

Among the literati, there are a lot of left-wingers. This doesn’t just affect their politics. It seems to affect their language, too. The idea that children could not understand archaic Hebrew — one suggested to Shlonsky, but rejected by him — is closely related to the idea that the “masses” can’t understand anything, and you have to dumb things down for them.

As a result, much of modern theater isn’t really like Utz Li Gutz Li or My Fair Lady, and it’s not worth the inflated prices they are charging for it. Rather than making modern drama accessible to the masses, they have succeeded in making it inaccessible to anyone.

If they made it something that everybody might like to see, they could probably afford to lower the price of the tickets.

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Support Your Local Theater

Forget about New York! Or Tel Aviv! Or London. Or Paris. Wherever it is you live, there is a local theater within driving distance. Why not go there? That’s what I’ve decided to do. Tonight, I am taking my daughter to Springfield, Missouri to see the opening night production of Treasure Island, a musical. The cost of the tickets? Twenty dollars.

We have a choice. We don’t have to buy into expensive and pointless drama written by and for the intellectual elite, who for some incomprehensible reason live in large, crime infested cities with a high tax rate and vote against everything we believe in. We could go local. And instead of letting them think for us, we could be trend setters.


(c) 2010 Aya Katz


6 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana


I don’t think it is fair to blame the decline of theatre on the preeminence of the left.

Bernard Shaw and Shlonsky were both leftists, the former a utopian socialist and the latter a member of the marxist wing of the Israeli labor party. You could say that the problem is that the left’s standards have been dropping.

This is a phenomenon not confined to the left. How do Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin compare to Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater? If this is a false comparison, what prominent figure on the right do you see as comparable to Ayn Rand or to Barry Goldwater?

I think the real problem is a change in the way intellectuals see their role. Shlonsky was a leftist, but at least, he was a pioneer.

Aya Katz 
Aya Katz
6 years ago from The Ozarks

Nets, you may be right. I knew that calling the current intellectuals “left-wing” was problematic, but I just didn’t know what other term to use, since that’s how they identify themselves, and they are clearly nothing like George Bernard Shaw, not just in their writing, but in their politics, too.

The far right of today aren’t anything like Rand or Goldwater, but then, didn’t Ayn Rand say that she wasn’t a conservative? Wasn’t Goldwater a different breed of politician? In what way was he right wing?

Utopian socialist, huh? I’ve heard that about Shaw. But… isn’t he the guy who proposed to solve the poverty problem by putting to death all the poor? Is that utopian? For that matter, is it socialist?

Doesn’t make me like his play any the less, but I tend to think of him as an eccentric free thinker. I doubt seriously if he were alive today if any current day leftist would want anything to do with Shaw.

As for Schlonsky, aren’t there parts of his play that seem to hint at the idea that a balanced budget is a good thing and that excessive government expenditure is a problem that rulers and commoners alike are responsible for?

6 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana


Is supporting a balanced budget inconsistent with being a leftist? Can’t you be for a budget that is balanced but big?

The most striking parts of Shlonsky’s book for me are the ones that mock concern with national security.

Pri frbi qi ge nhfz

Lzbe eecne sl ofz.

Aya Katz profile
Aya Katz
6 years ago from The Ozarks

Nets, I have yet to meet a leftist who supports a balanced budget in the sense of not inflating the currency. But then, maybe I haven’t met enough leftists. Anyway, Schlonsky made the king’s spending seem frivolous, including the money he wanted to send to the poor woman who had triplets, but he seemed to think that spinning gold out of straw to solve the problem was also somehow wrong.

As for the injunction to be fruitful and multiply for the sake of the army, I’m afraid that one went right over my head. I took it literally. But then, I was just five…

Aya Katz profile
Aya Katz
6 years ago from The Ozarks

Mixim mixim fofd mixim, fla hxim ol ekixim.

Sounds like a tax protest.

6 years ago from USA

Aya, thank you so much for this hub. I totally enjoyed The Advice Song. Though I am on the level of a child with Hebrew (10 years in Israel gave me a nice Hebrew, but now 10 years of not using it …), but I understood and enjoyed every word of it! “Zanavotaim”- loved it! Was it young Zeev Revach singing?

You are so right about the high level of understanding children are able to possess. My mother took me to see a ballet for the first time when I was 8. I loved it so much!

My son manages to attend some of the performances in Milwaukee (and they have great theaters there!) only thanks to his student ID ($10 student rush), otherwise we won’t be able to afford it.

Our local community theater is very good (I volunteer there as a stage crew when I can) and they perform on a very high level!

drbj and sherry
6 years ago from south Florida

You were lucky, Aya, to have been exposed to theater as a very young child. That love of the theatrical, whether professional or amateur, will sustain you forever. Thanks for this fascinating read.

Aya Katz profile 
Aya Katz
6 years ago from The Ozarks

Reuvera, thanks. Glad you enjoyed “The Advice Song”. Yes, it was Ze’ev Revach and Yosi Gerber performing it. It’s great that you are able to be involved in your local community theater. I wish we could, too, but it was a two hour drive to the theater.

Aya Katz profile 
Aya Katz
6 years ago from The Ozarks

Dr. BJ, thanks! It’s odd, but I never really focused on this love of the theatrical before. I just took it for granted.

6 years ago

I agree–we can just support our local theaters instead of forking out costly sum. Another reason for supporting them?–they’re in dire need of funds. Thanks for sharing.

Aya Katz 
Aya Katz
6 years ago from The Ozarks

Anglnwu, thanks. I agree. The same money applied locally could make so much more of a difference.

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Primates and Primatologists

Primates and Primatologists

Note: This is a Vlog Post. The text comes from the video embedded below. It is in a spoken register of English.

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I have a lot of comments on my videos, especially the videos of Bow. And a lot of them are very positive. And most of them are about — you know — how cute he is, and how wonderful it is to work with him, and how somebody else might like to experience that. But I also receive some negative comments, and if they’re really nasty I delete them, but I don’t delete every critical comment. And recently I had one that I think needs addressing.

It was basically: “You are not a real primatologist. And you are not engaged in an official study.” You know, with any university or any other official place, and I don’t remember what the rest of it was.

Okay, so first of all let’s address what a “real” primatologist is. A real primatologist is a scientist who studies primates — usually nonhuman primates, but lately the primatologists that I know have been forced to study humans, because those are the only primates who are available to study.

The primatological studies happen in a number of disciplines, which include biology, psychology, anthropology and, in my case, linguistics. So I have a PhD in linguistics from Rice University in Houston. And my PhD is about as “official” as it gets. But you’re right. I am not engaged in an “officially” sanctioned study. And neither is anyone else. [When it comes to ape language studies.]

So what’s happened is that there has been a political movement that said that humans and apes, or other nonhuman primates, should not interact with one another.  The kind of primatological studies that are now being allowed to take place, usually not on university campuses, because the great apes have been pretty much banned from university campuses, but at other institutions such a zoos and other research facilities, they are studies involving cognition, studies involving biology. Oftentimes, if it’s anything resembling language, it is computer mediated. And the researchers are not allowed to form a relationship to the research subject.

For some things, that’s fine. If you’re just giving them intelligence tests, if you’re just trying to see if they can solve a problem, even a linguistic problem, in a very formal way, then, yes, it’s fine not to have a relationship. But if you want to see whether they can develop language — not become linguists and solve a linguistic problem in a very abstract way — but develop language for the purposes of communication, then you need to replicate the situation that is available to humans when they acquire language.

So if you take a child and separate the child out from society, from other people, make sure that all the child’s needs are met, and go in there with a mask to feed the child, and you treat the child as if it were some kind of biological object, not a person, and you don’t talk to the child, and you don’t allow the child any means to talk to you, then that child will not develop language. It’s true for humans, and there’s no reason to suppose that it’s not true for chimpanzees , [bonobos], gorillas, orangutans and lower order primates.

So, if your particular interest is language, and mine is, it’s important to have that relationship. And right now no official study is doing that! And those people who used to have official studies — and there are people, and I’m following in their footsteps — have been forced to leave the academic world in order to pursue these things, and often they are forced out of their institutions, and they lose custody of their apes, because they are not allowed to own them, and all of this is going in a certain direction. And it’s not a direction that will ever allow us to test the hypothesis that other apes are capable of language.

So while this is not an official study, this is a study that is very important to the development of science. And believe me, science is not an “official” thing. It never was, and it never will be!





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The Parents Behind the Relationship

This cartoon from the New Yorker, posted on Facebook by a friend, and shared by the Vacuum County fan page had a caption saying: “Before we go any further, I should let you know that I have parents.”

Everyone, at one time or another, has had parents. Or parent surrogates, if the actual parents were not around.    But sometimes it is hard to imagine that someone we are having a relationship with also has parents.  Do the types of parents we have had determine the way we view love? Can we look at someone’s parents and learn more about their way of loving?

They say that what we experienced with our parents as children affects what we expect from a romantic relationship — that the sort of love we got affects the sort of love we expect to receive  — and to give —  in the future. Here in the video embedded below is the School of Life’s take on this issue.

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A salient excerpt from the video suggests that our first glimpse of  love was with a parent:

Our idea of what a good loving relationship should be like and what it feels like to be loved, doesn’t ever come from what we’ve seen in adulthood. It arises from a stranger, more powerful source. The idea of happy coupledom taps into a fundamental picture of comfort, deep security, wordless communication and of our needs being effortlessly understood that comes from early childhood.

At the best moments of childhood, if things went reasonably well, a loving parent offered us extraordinary satisfaction. They knew when we were hungry or tired, even though we couldn’t usually explain. We didn’t need to strive. They made us feel completely safe. We were held peacefully. We were entertained and indulged. And even if we don’t recall the explicit details. the experience of being cherished has left a profound impact on us. It’s planted itself in our minds as the ideal template of what love should be.

This conception or gestalt of what love consists of is by no means as universal as “The School of Life” would have us believe. But there is a certain segment of the world’s population that does hold to this view and that  can conceive of no other type of love.

Here are few properties of this kind of love: 1) It is one-sided 2) It’s a feeling of “satisfaction” with another’s perceived state of mind  and not the feeling of love for another, because  it’s the experience of “receiving”  love rather than the emotion of loving and 3) it involves having basic needs like food and shelter being met by someone else in return for nothing. There is the fallacy of the stolen concept here, because the satisfaction of being loved presupposes a   perceived love by another that remains undefined. But also, it’s an appeal to attachment love, as opposed to limerent love. 

There is a developmental fallacy inherent in supposing our first experience of love is of being loved by a parent, rather than loving that parent ourselves. Babies are born without a concept of self and other. When they first discover that the parent is not a part of themselves, they have still not yet worked out for themselves a theory of mind. So it is much more likely that the baby first loves the parent, before ever realizing that the parent returns that love. To feel your own love for another, it is not necessary to read another person’s mind. The raw feeling of  loving someone is directly linked to physical sensations from the reward center of the brain. To determine that someone else loves us is a much more convoluted act of abstract  inferencing, based on indirect evidence. A baby can experience preference for a particular caregiver’s face at about six months of age. Having a complex theory about another person’s feelings and thoughts does not happen until much later.So despite popular opinion to the contrary, we probably experienced being in love before we experienced being loved.

Even if we do get our first taste of a satisfying experience of being loved from our relationship with a parent, it’s not necessarily the nurturing, mind-reading all powerful being who took care of us in early infancy. It’s not always the one who held us peacefully and indulged our every need. That maternal, “unconditional” love that so many assume is the only “real” love gives way to other pleasures. There is the parent who threw us up in the air and excited, rather than calmed us. The one who encouraged us to test our wings, who engaged us in logical argumentation when we were only in preschool and corrected us when we erred, who when the other parent was trying to force us to cower indoors,  told us that, yes, we could go out walking alone at night, and here was a gun to protect ourselves with. There is the parent who treated us with respect, like a real person, while the other parent wanted to spare us all suffering,  stunting our growth.  In short, we could model our view of love on the typically more paternal parental role.

Not all mothers are nurturing, and not all fathers empower children toward greater independence. Sometimes the roles are reversed. Sometimes children have only nurturers and no challengers. Sometimes there is only the challenging parent, and not the nurturing one. But whichever way being loved is first experienced, our model for adult love should not be of an all powerful person who filled our every need and asked nothing of us in return. This is not because adults and children are so different. It’s because even chidren are not nearly as passive and dependent as this model assumes.

In our modern society, when people speak of love, they often have a skewed model of what love is, based on a misunderstanding of the parent/child relationship. Not only is the adult relationship nothing like the ties between a newborn infant and its mother, but also most of childhood is nothing like the helplessness of the newborn. Even at a few weeks old, an infant starts to give back to a caretaker and is not only and merely ever taking. If you’ve ever cared for an infant, you know it’s not all selfless service to a clueless, entitled being. They do give back first with smiles and teasing glances, but later with offering to help sweep the floor and wash the dishes, before they ever conceive of those tasks as a chore.  Toddlers long to grow up and be contributing members of the family. Unfortunately, in today’s society, children are seldom given a chance to make real contributions before adulthood. A parent’s ideal relationship with a child is not all giving and no taking. The more the parent respects the child, the more the relationship will be a two way street. Even when their positions are inherently unequal, good parents empower children to face difficulties and challenges, rather than fixing everything for the child so it goes smoothly.

The gestalt of love is not the same for everyone. Failing to define what you mean by love can lead to many misunderstandings.  There is great danger of miscommunication in assuming  that love is universally experienced as selfless provision of service by a being far superior to ourselves. This view of love creates an undesirable effect of turn-taking in adult relationships. Since adults are expected to give as well as receive love, lovers who conceive of love as selfless take turns being the “good, giving” partner, instead of giving and taking simultaneously based on the pleasure of  complementary, though somewhat asymmetrical sex roles. That is, such partners assume they can’t both be happy at the same time, and that one person’s happiness is at the “expense” of the other.

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The fallacy at the heart of this view of love is a misunderstanding of “taking and giving” as necessarily consisting of two separate acts. It is very difficult to give someone a hug and not get a hug back somehow. It’s not possible to touch someone and not be touched in turn.  Even in unreciprocated love, there is a great pleasure that comes from loving someone else. The idea that “getting” must involve exploitation of a “giver” is at the heart of this misconception.

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The selfless conception of unconditional love has ramifications well outside the family and sex roles. When people speak of universal love as a desirable goal for society at large, this can often be a shorthand for socialism and the nanny state. That’s why when someone starts waxing eloquently in praise of “love” and how all the world’s problems can be solved “by love, sweet love”, it might be a very good idea to ask them which kind of love they mean exactly. If it’s the selfless kind, ask them how they think everyone can sacrifice himself selflessly to everyone else and how any society could possibly function that way.


Reciprocity and Turn Taking in Love

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Distinguishing Dogbane from Milkweed

When I was writing about the species of milkweed that is found in the Middle East, the Sodom’s Apple plant. I mentioned that I had spotted something that looked like milkweed in my pasture.

This is Dogbane. It is not Milkweed.

But it was not milkweed. It was dogbane — Apocynum cannabinum.

Dogbane buds before they bloom.

Dogbane and milkweed look very similar, before they bloom. They both have waxy leaves and both give a milky discharge if they are injured. Here are some tips for telling them apart.

Milkweed plants (asclepias) are bigger than dogbane and their leaves are broader. There is a slight reddish tinge to the vein that runs through the middle of the leaf, dividing it in two. The leaves are more “waxy” on the milkweed than the dogbane.

Even before the flowers bloom, the flower buds are bigger on the milkweed than on the dogbane plant, and they are placed much closer together, to make a composite flower. The dogbane cluster is looser, and there are fewer individual buds in each cluster.


When the leaves of the milkweed are injured, the white sap that comes out looks like Elmer’s glue.

The dogbane flowers, when they open, are usually white.

Dogbane flowers opening

In contrast milkweed flowers are more colorful. The can  be purple, pink or orange, depending on the variety.

Milkweed flowers have bright colors

Dogbane flowers are tiny and delicate. They are easy to overlook.

A tiny sweat bee is bigger than a single dogbane flower

A sweat bee when it lands on a dogbane flower entirely obscures it from view, the flower is so small. Large butterflies, like spangled fritillaries, can sit on milkweed flower, and still most of the flower is visible. Of course, those are composite flowers we are looking at.

Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies on purple milkweed

Even though the flowers are arranged in clusters on the  dogbane, too,  they don’t quite form a larger composite flower, as their stems are longer, and they each seem to be going a different way.

Each tiny flower in the bunch seems to be going its own way Dogbane florets are individuals

But even when in bud, the milkweed flowers form a collective, single entity.

The milkweed flower buds are bunched so closely together that they seem to act as one. Different bunches will form different composite flowers on the same plant.

By the time the flowers bloom, the difference between the the dogbane and the milkweed is unmistakable. But before we see the flowers, a closer examination of the leaves can help.

Copyright words and images 2017 Aya Katz

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Recognizing Milkweed

I  have been fixating on milkweed. Two years ago, I found  plenty of milkweed on my property. There was purple milkweed, with its pinkish blooms. There was common milkweed, with its less brilliant kind of purple. And there was even butterfly milkweed, which was sort of orange. But all the milkweed disappeared last year. And along with it went the butterflies that I used to watch feeding on the milkweed flowers.

This year there has been massive flooding in our state, and with the rain, there also came a lot of growth. In a completely different spot in my unmown pasture, a bunch of plants have come up that have leaves just like my old milkweed. Well, not exactly like my old milkweed, and they have yet to flower. So I am hoping they are milkweed, but I’m not sure.

Yesterday I trudged in the rain-soaked pasture in high boots to get a closer look. Those look like flowers developing in the middle, at the top if the plant.

Then today a Facebook friend, Dave McClure,  a Scotsman who lives in Doha, Qatar, posted a photo of a plant and asked what it was.

Photo by Dave McClure

Photo by Dave McClure

Anybody know what this plant is? The seed pods are about lemon sized and puffy to touch and the leaves are round and waxen. Obviously it likes hot climates or it wouldn’t be wasting its time in Qatar,” Dave McClure wrote on his Facebook wall.

 It looks like a plant I saw in Israel, I thought to myself. But then I also thought, no, the leaves remind me of milkweed. So Missouri Aya kept insisting it was milkweed, like the rain soaked plant in the pasture, and Israeli Aya kept thinking it was a plant she had seen in her arid native land long. long ago. I had split brain syndrome. But wait, could it be both?

Attribution: Wilfredo Rodriguez

I looked up “milkweed, Qatar” and here is what I found:

“Found only in Doha” the site said. But not really only in Doha.  That’s just if you are looking for it exclusively in Qatar.  The asclepias procera is native to “North Africa, Tropical Africa, Western Asia, South Asia, and Indochina.”

The plant is a milkweed. It is even called “Giant Milkweed”. But it also goes by a number of other names: “Asclepias procera, mudar, osher, Sodom’s Apple, stabragh, ushaar, ushar”. The name Sodom’s Apple comes from the Hebrew תפוח סדום. And the fact that it even has a Hebrew name is a pretty good indication that, yes, this version of milkweed does grow in Israel as well.

In his Biblical Researches in Palestine, Edward Robinson describes it as the fruit of the Asclepias gigantea vel procera, a tree 10–15 feet high, with a grayish cork-like bark called osher by the Arabs. He says the fruit resembled a large, smooth apple or orange, hanging in clusters of three or four. When pressed or struck, it exploded with a puff, like a bladder or puff-ball, leaving in the hand only the shreds of the thin rind and a few fibers. It is filled chiefly with air, which gives it the round form. In the center a small slender pod runs through it which contains a small quantity of fine silk, which the Arabs collect and twist into matches for their guns. From the Wikipedia

If you look Sodom’s apple up in the Hebrew wikipedia, you will find that the plant has another name: פתילת המדבר הגדולה. Which loosely translated means “great wick of the desert.”

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That just goes to show once again that everything is interconnected. All flesh is kin. And when your intuition says it’s a milkweed — no, wait, I’ve seen it in Israel! — the answer should always be: Why not both? It’s a small world.

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Sign That Petition, Donate To This Charity

There seems to be a petition for everything these days, and although many have merit, there have been some ridiculous ones as well. Remember the petition to deport Justin Beiber because of his antics drinking and driving a few years back? I cannot believe people even signed that. So for all the meaningful petitions that actually do some good, I wonder, are we ever going a bit far with petition signing. What does it mean when we share we signed a particular petition, or that we donated to a specific charity?  Are we better people because we share this information with the world? So I had recalled that in the Bible is specified we are not supposed to brag about charity, and I decided to scout out the reference to this. Here are a few references from the King James Version:

Matthew 6.1:

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise, ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 6.2 

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

I am not telling anyone what religion to follow, but if you are promoting charity because of your faith or beliefs, this might be something to keep in mind. Even in secular society, we are made to feel the more exalted citizens volunteer for this organization, sign this petition, or donate to a specific charity. But lately I have been wondering, why is it in day to day life we are not more supportive of our friends or take more interest in what they are doing? I am not talking about doing this because you have to, but many people who boast about giving to charity or signing petitions do not seem otherwise interested the cool blogs or subjects their friends are writing about. People bump into each other and always say they should do lunch, but why just talk about it? There are many ways you can support others, and those doing it a bit more quietly because they want to just seem more authentic to me. I think giving to charity or signing petitions is cool if that is something you believe in, but in my attempt to broaden my scope of thinking in the last two years, I am just beginning to see sometimes it is not always black and white. Some charities and go fund me campaigns are not always what they seem, as well.

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