January 17, 2003
Breaktime: Arthur Shapiro Talking butterflies and politics
|Professor of entomology, evolution and ecology and eccentricity Art Shapiro eyes a butterfly specimen in his lab. The longtime faculty member is in his 26th year of hosting his annual butterflies-for-beer contest.
Its what Im supposed to do. I couldve been good at being a bum if I wanted, but I ended up in research. As a child I was fascinated with butterflies. You see, my parents had a bad marriage, so I spent a lot of time outdoors exploring. And I found butterflies.
My graduate student Matt Forister and I found that 70 percent of 23 low-altitude butterfly species are emerging into their first flights earlier now than they were 30 years ago. This seems related to temperature and possibly global warming. Were hoping to publish our results soon.
One was J.H. Powells Bring Out Your Dead, a history of the yellow fever that struck Philadelphia in 1793. In our times, its interesting to understand how an epidemic can bring about a social breakdown. The other book was E.H. Carrs What Is History? It describes how history is intellectually similar to evolutionary biology as a discipline.
Im a registered Republican and always have been. No, I dont donate to them. When somebody accuses me of being a pinko or Commie, its helpful to note my political registration. It throws them off balance. Also, in primary elections I like to vote against any Republican candidates who walk with their knuckles scraping the ground.
Id roll back what the White House is doing in international relations and in the environment. Id delete from history the "Axis of Evil" speech.
I dress the way I do because I believe in the supremacy of content over display. Im also more comfortable. But if anyone wants to know my political beliefs, they can just read Isaiah Berlin, an Oxford political philosopher.
Otherwise, Im pretty well domesticated with a wife Ive been married to since 1969 and two teenage children. I walk to work on campus as I live only a few blocks away.
Once I had a colleague shout from his lab bench as I was returning from a trip with my butterfly net, "Arthur, are they still paying you to collect butterflies?" Doing the field work is the most fun.
Dealing with administrative follies like automatic flush toilets. Theyre dumb and expensive.
Im worried about the cultural illiteracy of students. Some of the most educated students I meet on the UC Davis campus are from overseas.
We need to do a better job with educating our young people about the world they live in and all its different cultures, places and people. Its called responsible citizenship.
Once I had a student ask, What century did Stalin live in?
Not only the United States but the world could all too easily be driven to catastrophe by the combination of ignorance, arrogance and greed in high places and the apathy and willingness of the citizenry to be led. These are very scary times.
Well, I know a few hoboes, and the hoboes are complaining that the younger generation of hoboes is going to pot.
The old ones are saying you cant trust the young ones, that they do drugs, steal and so on. Same thing every generation says about the one coming up. Thats the kind of world we live in where the hoboes think the young ones are dragging it all down.