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AMERICAN MOSAIC - New York Museum Show Just Crawling with Spiders

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A rare 100-million-year-old fossil of a spider in limestone
A rare 100-million-year-old fossil of a spider in limestone

Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

I’m June Simms.

On our show this week, we tell play a few songs from new albums by Green Day, Mumford & Sons and Lupe Fiasco.

We also tell about a Native American man working to help keep his culture alive.

But first, we go to a New York City museum to learn about some eight legged creatures.

What has eight legs, comes in forty-three thousand species and has a serious public image problem? If you said a spider, you are right!

The spider family has lived on Earth for about three hundred million years. But it has had trouble making friends with people. A new show at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City hopes to improve those relations. Christopher Cruise has more.

“Spiders Alive!” includes live examples of twenty different spider species. Visitors can get up close and personal with arachnids including the famed tarantula, the small but powerful black widow and the little known fishing spider. And there are many more spiders to learn about at the exhibition.

The American Museum of Natural History claims the largest collection of the animals in the world.

Most people think of spiders as insects. But insects have wings and antennae. Spiders do not. And spiders’ bodies are made up of two parts while insects have three. Finally, spiders, like all arachnids, have eight legs. Insects have six.

Scientist Norman Platnick has been gathering and studying spiders for more than forty years. He was responsible for organizing the exhibit.

Mister Platnick says people need spiders because the creatures help keep the insect population down. He says they can eat more than thirty-five kilograms of bugs each year on about less than half a hectare of land.

“If the spiders were not here, we might not be here either because insects would have devoured all those crops.”

Another interesting fact about spiders: they can live after the loss of a leg.

“And, in fact, if it happens young enough when the spider still has several molts before it becomes an adult, it can even regrow that leg. So clearly, if you lose them, having more is an advantage.”

The show explains the strange spider method of capturing and eating its food. Human beings begin to break down food inside our mouths. But most spiders do not chew. So they break down food before it enters the body. A spider will inject its victim with a poison that very quickly makes the prey unable to move. Then a spider spits digestive fluid into the body of the prey. This turns the food into a liquid that the spider can suck up.

It sounds like a horrible death. But spiders can also have what seems like a soft touch. For example, some spiders carry as many as one hundred young around on their back for up to a week. And although most spiders carry some kind of poison, few can hurt humans. In fact, says Norman Platnick, some spider venom may be good for human health.

“So, for example, some spider venoms or some component of the venoms of some species of spiders seem to be able to inhibit the transmission of certain nerve impulses across synapses. So people are looking at those kinds of venoms as potential cures for certain kinds of neurological diseases like epilepsy that involve those kinds of transmissions.”

The new exhibit is a good start at undoing the web of mystery and misunderstanding that surrounds the spider. The show closes December second.

In the middle to late seventeen-hundreds, special schools were opened on Native American reservations in the United States. The goal was to make young Indians become Christian and accept other parts of European culture.

The use of native languages and culture was not supported in the schools. Over time, many Indian children grew up knowing little about their culture or languages.

But, Tsimshian tribesman David Boxley of Washington state is working to keep his native culture alive.

Mr. Boxley is a dancer, songwriter and wood carver. He is also an ambassador for Tsimshian culture and heritage.

"We call it art now, but it was a way for people to say, This is how I am. This belongs to me, or this is my clan, this is my crest, this is my family history, carved and painted in wood."

Mr. Boxley was raised by his grandparents. He says the influence of Christian missionaries was strong while he was young, so he learned little about his native culture.

After college, he went to work as a teacher. He also began to research Tsimshian wood carving in museums and other cultural collections. In nineteen eighty-six, he left teaching to spend his time on wood carving and bringing attention to Tsimshian art and culture.

“I guess I came along at the right time. Our people really needed a shot in the arm. Our culture wasn't very prominent after all that missionary influence, and years and years of not having anybody be in that kind of position to guide."

David Boxley works at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington on one of the totem poles that he created with his son
David Boxley works at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington on one of the totem poles that he created with his son

​​

That was almost thirty years ago. Since then Mr. Boxley has created seventy totem poles. Totem poles tell a story. Earlier this year, he finished carving an especially important totem pole, made of red cedar wood.

"The title is Eagle and the Young Chief."

The totem pole tells the story of a young chief who rescued an eagle caught in a fishing net. Years later, when the chief's village was starving, the eagle repaid the chief for his kindness.

"A live salmon fell out of the sky, and he looked up and he saw the eagle flying away. And every day for days and days, the eagle brought salmon to feed the village."

“The Eagle and the Young Chief” was transported to Washington, DC. It now stands at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, as part of its permanent collection.

Mr. Boxley says a totem pole that he carved in honor of his grandfather is closest to his heart. But, he says, the one at the museum is a close second.

"This one is going to be seen by millions over the next hundred years. And it is not just me and my son; it is all of my people that are proud. My tribe."

Some huge names in music released albums this month. We decided to take a listen to a few of them in one show. Mario Ritter has more on the new records from Green Day, Mumford and Sons and Lupe Fiasco.

Green Day’s new album “Uno!” is the first of a series of three albums. “Dos!” And “Tre!” are to follow. The California band had spent most of the last few years producing the rock opera “21st Century Breakdown” and a show for Broadway, “American Idiot: The Musical.”

Most critics say “Uno!” is a return to Green Day’s punk roots. The single “Oh Love” entered Billboard Magazine’s American rock songs chart at number one.

Lupe Fiasco’s real name is Wasalu Muhammad Jaco. The thirty-year-old has been performing hip-hop music for over ten years. He became a star in two thousand six with his first album, “Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor.”

Lupe Fiasco performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans last year
Lupe Fiasco performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans last year

​​Now comes the release of album number four, “Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Part One.” The album is political just like its singer. Fiasco raps about unfair treatment of blacks and Native Americans in the United States, as well as the struggles of oppressed minorities around the world.

But like most musical artists, unreturned love is also a theme, as in Fiasco’s song “Battle Scars.”

Finally, Mumford & Sons new album “Babel,” is having huge sales in album stores and digitally. Billboard Magazine reports six-hundred thousand copies of the album are expected to sell by the end of its first week released.

The British band helped put folk music back in style with the first group’s first album “Sigh No More,” released in two thousand nine. Mumford & Sons continues to favor soft, quiet lyrics and mostly non electric versions of guitar, banjo, accordion and other instruments on “Babel.” We leave you with the album’s first single “I Will Wait.”

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