Arielle Schecter's blog

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Stories of Life, Told in Time: A Commentary on the Bible

    In a few days, the mainstream global community will experience the annual change that signifies the “New Year.” In Times Square, a million people will count down to the beginning of the 2,007th new year. The Jewish people celebrated the 5,767th year back in September. The Chinese Buddhist calendar will assign a pig to represent the 4,705th year in February. Seemingly everyone has a different idea of how to count the passage of time, and what is conventionally accepted as the correct year by Western cultures differs significantly from other versions of time record. What exactly are we counting when we say it is the X New Year? Years since the birth of Jesus Christ? Years since humans started observing and recording lunar cycles? Years since The Buddha invited the animal kingdom to a mythical new year’s feast?
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Sea-Monkeys!

Sea-Monkeys can be viewed as a vast commercial expression of eugenics. Their production company’s founder, Harold von Braunhut, was alleged to be a financier of white supremacist groups and himself never denied such claims.[1] The concept of genetic enhancement is one of great scientific interest. From Gregor Mendel to Josef Mengele, humans have been fascinated in their attempts to explore genomic “dominance” and use their subject species to experiment with the creation of a perceived dominant specimen. Sea-Monkeys are clear - well, pinkish and fairly opaque - examples of manipulated genetic artifact, though more in terms of life cycle interruption rather than genetic interference. True, Sea-Monkeys are a special type of sea animal rarely seen in nature. However, the examination of this “live” animal in the context of academic coursework about the study of life is where the true interest of this paper lies.
When Sea-Monkeys were first marketed to the public in 1956, consumers were told to be unafraid if the product were to enter the sewage system (read: flushed down the toilet while still alive) because Sea-Monkeys would not survive outside of their very specific, chemically enhanced environment-in-a-box. While the science behind Sea-Monkey technology largely has been kept a mystery to the public, the idea of suspending in time a creature’s lifespan begs inquiry about the specific natue and definition of life that allows these animals to “come alive” when placed in salted tap water. The official Sea-Monkey website makes some excited claims about this idea:

Sea-Monkeys® are a true miracle of nature. They exist in suspended animation inside their tiny eggs for many years. The instant-life crystals, in which the eggs are enclosed, preserve their viability and help to extend still further their un-hatched life span! Sea-Monkeys are real Time-Travelers asleep in biological time capsules for their strange journey into the future! [2]

One semi-obvious secret should be revealed in the interests of this inquiry: These “instant-life crystals” are actually eggs of the sometimes-asexually reproducing hybrid brine shrimp, or Artemia salina. The U.S. patent for Sea-Monkeys describes the process as “hatching brine shrimp or similar crustaceans in tap water to give the appearance of instantaneous hatching.” [3] This is achieved by placing Sea-Monkey eggs in specific environments that allow the unhatched shrimp to enter cryptobiosis, a reversible state of suspended metabolism in a living form. [4, 5]
Owners of Sea-Monkeys are instructed to release over the course of two days the contents of the Sea-Monkey packaging into a tank of tap water. Day One’s share of the contents, known as the “water purifier” package contains Sea-Monkey eggs in a salty powder. Day Two’s additions, known as the “instant live eggs” package, includes more eggs, epson salts, borax, soda, yeast, and blue dye used to visually enhance the eggs’ hatching. The Sea-Monkeys are fed a powdered mixture of yeast and Spirulina,. The “boost” packages included in Sea-Monkey kits contain a sort of aphrodisiac salt for the purpose of promoting reproduction among the shrimp, which, once hatched, have a “lifespan” of one year. [6]
The idea that shrimp can be scientifically interrupted in their life cycles with the aid of just salt and yeast holds some very interesting promise for a similar idea as manifested in mammals, specifically humans. A famous example in the field of cyryptogenics is Walt Disney, who purportedly had himself frozen before he died so he could one day “come back to life,” presumably when the technology allowed. In a true science fiction future, if scientists were to apply Sea-Monkey science to human eggs, the social problem of unwanted pregnancy could be avoided, as the female would have to wait to inject her eggs with salt before anything alive could come out of them - though as a relevant side note, sperm contain salts. Perhaps we are already living in that science-fiction-or-fact world, and there’s clearly lots of room for monkeying around in it.

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Dissection and Vivisection: Animals as Classroom Tools

Each year, American students are responsible for the deaths of millions of animals in the interests of science education. Frogs, fetal pigs, cats, and cows’ eyeballs bear the brunt of the education industry’s demand for vivisection education, which may be defined as the act of dissecting or injuring animals for purposes of scientific investigation or experimentation. [1] While alternatives to classroom dissection do exist in the form of instructional videotapes and other “hands-off” materials, cutting up a dead animal remains a rite of passage for students around the nation.

An estimated six million animals are killed for classroom dissection each year; these animals are often collected from the wild, contributing to anthropogenic ecological consequences not easily visible from the microscope of a seventh grader. [2] Another method of obtaining animals for dissection is through special breeding facilities that also cater to the pharmaceutical, cosmetology, and even automobile industries. A quick Google search for biological supply companies yields lists of available “organisms” for sale, both “preserved” and “live.” An individual can set up an account with, for one, the Carolina Biological Supply Company - which touts itself as “world-class support for science & math [instruction]” - and become eligible for a 25% discount off her first order of trademarked “Carolina’s Perfect Solution Rats” or “Carolina’s Perfect Solution Pigs.” [3]

On its website, Carolina cites the National Science Education Standards, a set of education benchmarks copyrighted by the National Academy of Sciences, claiming that its equipment - animals - directly aids a child’s exploration and knowledge of the natural sciences by allowing the child to determine how life systems work and by providing information about an “organism’s characteristics.” [4] The company’s unabashed presentation of formaldehyde-stuffed frogs as valid consumer and educational products is not unique. Many such companies exist to fill the demands of schools across the nation.

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Gaia: The Earth Lives with Us

Whether for spiritual, scientific, or ontological purpose, the matter of defining life is an ancient and serious quest. The Gaian theory of earth science – so named for Gaia, the Greek goddess of the Earth – proposes that the physical Earth upon which we live is just as alive as we animals and the plants are. The scientist James Lovelock proposed in the mid 1960s that the Earth, far from being just a mobile mass in space hospitable to animal and plant life, is a self-regulating ecosystem that calls on the fields of geology and physiology to explain its potential status as a live organism.

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