The Thrill of Discovery- Alma Boykin

The Thrill of Discovery- Alma Boykin


I had not thought about how long its been since I delved into something really new until a few weeks ago, when I started reading a monograph on a very new-to-me topic. My hands and my mind actually started to tingle, there’s no better way to describe it, as I dove into new information. Every sentence was learning, challenging what I had been taught, complicating things as the best histories tend to do. Anyone watching would probably think me a bit touched in the head as I underlined, side-lined, made arrows to especially important points or pieces of data, and grinned as I though about how much this will improve my teaching on this topic.

Reading outside my usual field is normal. Reading something totally new to me is not so normal, or I should so common. I read to learn more about what I already know. It is comfortable, entertaining, and to be absolutely honest, does not require as many brain cells or as close attention. And it goes faster, although page count isn’t as important as it was when I had to read two monographs and a handful of articles per week.

Why am I even reading this monograph? Because it fills a hole and complicates my knowledge. I hadn’t realized just how long its been since that happened, until I got that happy itchy excited “oh wow this is so neat!” feeling.

Archival research can generate a similar “thrill of the hunt.” You read, chase leads, slog through documents, force yourself to keep going through yet another round of zoning-permit change requests and turn the page once more to find . . . exactly that little nugget of data that locks everything else into place and proves or disproves that which you were trying to prove or challenge. Those nuggets, or the occasional surprise windfall or “What on earth?”* moment are the reward for digging, the proof that your effort has and will continue to pay off. You meet the challenge and master it.

Despite what some activists keep propounding, humans are not herbivores. We are not able to talk to plants. We did not live our entire existence as a species browsing on fruit and nuts with the occasional carrion chaser until some eeevil male/spirit/monotheistic impulse/capitalist introduced poor, weak victims to fire-charred mammoth tenderloin. We can be relatively content with browsing, especially if that browsing includes lots of really juicy blackberries or wild strawberries that were hiding in a large patch of clover on a mist-damp hillside that smelled of new-mown hay and clouds and— Ahem. Sorry. Memory dump. Where was I? Oh yes, humans are omnivores who hunted as well as scavenged. We have not always been the top of the food chain (still aren’t in some areas. Africa, India, parts of North America). And the pleasure of pursuit and capture remains with many of us, just sublimated.

Our minds have not changed that much, either. The excitement of tracking knowledge lures so many of us on, especially difficult knowledge. Do you think the serpent in the garden would have been as successful if he’d lured Eve to the Tree of the Presence of Good and Evil? Or the Tree of Three Foods Guaranteed to Keep Your Husband’s Cholesterol Low? Nope, she’d probably have called for Adam to come and bring a large snake-stick with him. The serpent offered her knowledge. The different groups lumped together as Gnostics all argued that people needed additional, restricted knowledge in order to escape this vale of tears. How many books and stories are premised on the lure of forbidden knowledge, of “Things No Man Should Know!!!”? Besides the entire Lovecraft canon, I mean. All the Faust stories, a fair amount of fantasy, including the Earthsea books and Tamora Pierce’s third and fourth Song of the Lioness novels, those are just the titles that come quickly to mind. We hunt knowledge.

Knowledge does not mean wisdom, but it often helps build wisdom. I suspect that is why I get the shivery excited feeling when I read things that counter the traditional historical narrative or apparent general knowledge. The human condition is an endlessly fascinating topic to study, trying to sort out how and why and just what did happen, in an effort to better understand then and today. The more I learn, the richer the world seems to be and the better I can assemble the pieces to give my students and readers that richness. It may be a tidbit about language, such as “this alien species has an inflected language, but it is also based on caste and sex, so that vocal pitch and upward or downward inflection informs the listener of the speaker’s sex and birth-rank.” So what do humans do when presented with an alien who looks one way but literally sounds like a very different person? What does an alien do when something causes her voice to change, illness or accident? The ambassador suddenly has the voice of an untouchable – how does this complicate the story?

Or in this case, certain African tribal groups in what is now Ghana not only actively encouraged the slave trade, but they controlled the Europeans who tried to manage it. And the first Europeans in the area discouraged the slave trade because they wanted gold and ivory, not people. The native Africans called the shots for a hundred fifty years or so. Boy oh boy does that upset a lot of conventional apple carts about “agency” and Europeans’ place in the long-practiced system of slavery in west Africa, at least in this region.

How about Spain’s colonies in the New World being much closer to the Medieval mind-set than the Early Modern approach of the people north of the Rio Grade and east of the Mississippi? Instead of being settled by people who assumed responsibility for their own actions and the events of the world (within limits), the dominant mental world remained that of a system where everything depended on those in power, up to and including the Almighty. And if that becomes entrenched and absorbed into the general bulk of culture, that ninety percent that lurks below the surface, what are the odds that a society of laws and of personal responsibility, of individual rights and freedoms, is going to grow and flourish? Probably a bit longer than in that strip north of the Rio Grande and east of the Mississippi River.

That is the kind of thing that makes my eyes light up, and makes me grin at my books and annotate margins with strange and obscure notes and cryptic abbreviations. And I fear it is the kind of thing we are choking out of the younger set, both by presenting everything as “set and settled,” and by discouraging curiosity and the thrill of the intellectual hunt. Hunting is hard. Learning what you don’t know so you can start filling in the spaces is tedious and requires a large dose of humility (or being hit firmly with the cluebat. BTDT got the skull lump.)

Most people are content with knowing what they know, and learning only what they need for survival. That’s fine. That’s normal. Society needs a lot of normal people doing normal things before it can support Odds like academics.

People read in their comfort zone. I do it too. Why do I have a gazillion books about the Habsburg Empire and central Europe? Because I know a lot already, so I don’t work as hard on the new stuff.

But when that little tease of the chance for new knowledge floats by, when the prints of that long-sought animal come into view, ah the thrill of the chase! The excitement of the hunt! Squirrell!!


*I really do need to go back and find that enormous city commission minute about the search for the sick cow and the owner’s attempts to hide it, and write an article based on it. The story is just too good to let slip into obscurity.

150 thoughts on “The Thrill of Discovery- Alma Boykin

  1. Learn something NEWwwwwww? Has it escaped your attention that two-thirds of that word is Ewwwwwwwwwwww?

    Acquiring new knowledge ALWAYS poses the risk of learning that old knowledge was incomplete or, more troublesome, partially wrong or, even worse, in need of reconsideration! Do you not realize the dangers such attitudes pose? Thankfully we have a Mainstream Media dedicated to protecting us from heresies of that sort, ensuring that any new information is thoroughly run through extensive narrative filters so as to arrive at our attention pre-digested and guaranteed to incite no discomfort.

    1. We also have an academic Establishment dedicated to protecting us from going off into the weeds. “Hey, I’ve got a great new theory! I need someone to critique it!” “Don’t bother me, kid, I’m trying to get tenure”.

  2. We can be relatively content with browsing, especially if that browsing includes lots of really juicy blackberries or wild strawberries that were hiding in a large patch of clover on a mist-damp hillside that smelled of new-mown hay and clouds and— Ahem. Sorry. Memory dump,

    Blueberries. Small low growing wild blueberries on top of a mountain in the northeast. Crisp fresh air and a view of mountains, mountain and more mountains unobstructed. Not a bit out of breath, being young, healthy and full of hope and beans… Sigh!

    What was that were you saying?

    1. High-piled blackberry canes in a field of coyote mint along a slow-moving stream somewhere north of Mendocino on a very warm summer day. You can’t get to the berries without walking through the mint; the berry cobbler at dinner is nearly indescribable.

  3. Hunting is hard. Learning what you don’t know so you can start filling in the spaces is tedious and requires a large dose of humility (or being hit firmly with the cluebat. BTDT got the skull lump.)

    Hunting? Covering the same ground time and again from numerous angles until you notice something which has been hiding in plain sight, which never stood out before, and an understanding of the picture as a whole shifts. You find there is so much more to learn and, dang it, a bit to unlearn as well.

    1. Oh yes. One book on the Habsburg-Ottoman wars completely changed my understanding of eastern European goings on. (And heavily influenced the Powers novels [forthcoming, starting in December.])

  4. We are not able to talk to plants.

    Here, I fear, must I disagree. We are able to talk to plants; we can talk to planets — but when we do, do they pay us heed? The preposition for this proposition ought more properly be “with” — we are not able to talk with plants.

    Except on the internet, where it sometimes seems all I talk with (other than in this Hoytian Haven, are plants. And not even lively, interesting plants such as cacti but merely aggressive intrusive plants bristling with thorns or calm, complacent ones capable of producing nothing more than squash.

    Henry the IntraVenous, Part I Act 3, scene 1, 52–58:
    Glendower: I can call the spirits from the vasty deep.
    Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?

      1. And decades later, he was talking to a dead tree in the form of a chair… and the Empty Chair doesn’t listen, either…

    1. “I can call up the spirits from the vasty deep”.

      “But if they come, will they obey you?”. 👿 👿 👿 👿

    2. And the more advanced of us talk to computers (mostly unprintable). And the even more advanced (the fools) created software that let the computers answer.
      Seeing as computers run on Silicon, that means that we are talking to rocks and they are answering us. This is disturbing.

      1. Cars. And traffic. To her horrified shock, Momma discovered that I could cuss like a long shore man …

    3. We can talk (i.e., send messages) with plants. If I give you a rutabaga, it means “I don’t like you”; if a garlic bulb, “eat this and annoy your friends”; if a toadstool, “DIE!!!!!!!!!!!11111!!!!!”. You just have to know that language.

    4. King George III would like to point out that the tree over there wants you to know that it disagrees with your statement.

    5. How do you get complacent plants? My plants are not complacent. (This year, the squash was suicidal, the tomatoes were sneaky, the ground cherries were bellicose, and the mint was psychotic because mint is ALWAYS psychotic.)

  5. It’s very depressing, but often when I work with teenagers, they manifest an attitude that can only be described as amused condescension for people who have “bothered with” or “wasted their time” learning about anything not immediately related to sports or entertainment. They seem to regard cultural and scientific knowledge as quaint at best; usually they use the word “stupid.” I never noticed this among my peers, even the less academic ones, during my own youth. Anyone else want to testify?

    1. Interesting that they use the word “stupid.” It would seem to apply to them much more than to those trying to show them interesting new things. As for regarding things they don’t already know as “quaint,” I think that’s pretty much par for the course among teens. The inability/refusal to admit the utility of anything they don’t already know is an indication of an internalized insecurity, I suspect. The teens know that they aren’t as experienced or knowledgeable as their elders, but don’t want to admit it to anyone (including themselves).

      1. It’s vocabulary, or rather their lack thereof. They don’t mean ‘stupid’. They just don’t have a word for what they do mean.
        Ask them why is it stupid and I bet that when they fumble around a few one or two syllable words for a while it’ll come down to that they don’t have the background knowledge to begin to understand anything scientific or cultural. It’s totally incomprehensible, like putting on a foreign language radio station when you have no familiarity with the language. Even if you start to pick out syllables and groups of syllables that might be words, there is nothing to tell you what they mean.

        Yes, I work with teens, as a volunteer. I see a huge knowledge gap between even the best of the public (charter) schooled kids here and the home schooled kids. The charter kids always have a lot of parental involvement, so do some of the regular public school kids, but that’s not enough.

    2. In my youth the attitude was more bewilderment. Sort of “You actually enjoy leaning about this stuff? Why???”

      1. So much of that. “Chemistry is boring.” Riiight. Only because the information on nitrates is… well, heavily redacted and quite circumspect, now. Once upon a time it was more detailed with a note that read, roughly, “If you do something stupid, it’s your own damn fault if it hurts and you lose bits of you.”

        1. The rest is interesting, too, generally, but often taught in a terribly dull way. And I don’t mean that it’s not all showy demos, but that it starts with theory rather than common experience. Theory is grand and useful, but it helps to have something to relate it to.

          1. this. whether its chemistry of matter or of people, lectures on theory are not great when the student doesn’t have any access to or experience with the practicals

          2. I’m under the impression that some chem teachers set things on fire to keep interest, and because setting things on fire is fun.

            1. Had one fellow who did the ‘burn the magnesium strip’ demo… it was bright. He, however, well… held the strip directly in his fingers and finally realized the problem as things got hot for him.

              1. The chemistry teacher at “my” school does the “put things in water and watch them explode” on the paved area right in front of the administrative offices. Never have decided if that’s just close to the chem lab or if it is an ongoing secondary experiment to see how high the business manager and admissions director can jump.

                1. I used to throw lumps of sodium into the stock pond near the school. It was amusing to watch the frogs jumping out…….

            2. Yeah, my chem teacher was 1st year out of college/1st teaching job, liked to make things interesting — clock reactions and multicolored smoke from the demo bench in front of class, explosions on the lawn outside the classroom windows. Since many of them were quiet, you didn’t dare lose focus or you might miss the weekly fun!

        2. Chemistry *was* boring – because we were only ever allowed to read about it and none of the experiments were done by the students. The teacher demonstrated – equipment was too expensive.

          That, and the chemistry teacher was one of the more religiously fanatic – supposedly Seventh Day Adventist, but I was never sure of anything other than his being a pain in the ass. He would spend most of the class talking about religion, passed out Chick Tract like comics and managed to turn a student into a deeply brainwashed firebreathing fanatic who hung on his every word and needed to be taken out of school for deprogramming midyear. I only found out after the student came back – his hair had turned mostly gray and he looked aged. Most of the other students were avoiding him, but we nerds welcomed him back, surprised that he was in school; we thought he’d moved overseas. He quietly admitted to us what had happened because he knew we wouldn’t make fun of him; and shared that he had been so bad that he had been terrifying his mother and sister because they were ‘responsible for the sins of Eve.’

          We quietly told him that the teacher had twisted religious belief for his own power, and that he had been fired because he was more interested in building up a cult of followers than actually teaching. The guy looked relieved then suddenly volunteered that the teacher had hated me because I was unwilling to even give his rambling lectures the time of day- all the other students did in the hopes of not getting in his bad side from politeness, or sucked up to get good grades, but I just flat out did not care. “That time you got all those quiz answers right when you had been asleep in class convinced him you were a witch. He said only a witch woman could do that.” There was no magic involved; I had only been half asleep, and his former victim laughed.

          1. Yeah, teachers like that are why I brought Erik van Daniken books to class.

            And I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who can keep up in class from the Dreamlands. 😎

            I was actually snoring when the teacher woke me up and asked me a question involving the class discussion. When I was able to answer it, she had the good sense not to try it again….

            1. The teacher and the class were keen to have me embarrassed. It backfired badly – I waited by the door and to a breathless audience told him in a clear, unforgiving tone that he was never to try that again when he he tried to walk past. The scene attracted the attention of other teachers; and I had a reputation for being honest so I told them what happened. A couple of other students who had gotten scared corroborated my report.

              He was reprimanded for it and I was requested to report on him if he wasted class time discussing religion; as well as kept more discreet tabs about his religious posturing. However, the school got the complaint about his having dangerously influenced that student and another had been close to it so he was fired with help of some of the tracts I gave to the faculty – actually I had expressed annoyance to my homeroom teacher and she asked if she could have them. He actually confronted me in a rage because he had been thwarted and gotten fired by a ‘woman who didn’t know her proper place.’ I warned him that if he tried to attack me outside of school I would gut him (ok I said I would gut him and strangle him with his own entrails) because the threat in his tone was VERY clear. I don’t think he expected that because he got really scared and then said he wouldn’t desecrate his hands with an unholy witch like me.

              I was being dramatic but I said “Unholy? Are you certain of that?” – he had been fond of theatrics to impress students; so I reversed psyched him out and he actually left without a word.

            2. Before we switched to home school one of the Daughtorial Unit’s teachers asked us to please instruct the D.U. to hide her reading material inside an opened text as the other students were taking the wrong lessons from her example.

          2. passed out Chick Tract like comics

            I still feel cheated that I never learned any REAL magic spells from playing D&D.

              1. yup. Slightly refined magica, which is of course using the occult properties of things.

                You do know that “occult” means “hidden”?

                  1. I thought that meant that anyone whose horoscope was affected by that (now hidden) star gained magical powers.

                    Well, you live and learn, eh?

              1. Yeah but only being able to use it once a day if you’re low level (and you are if you’re using Magic Missile) meant you could off like a rat or a spider. After that you had to hope the Fighters, Clerics and thieves would cover your sorry butt until the spell reset. And all you had was a dagger and a crappy cloak. Life expectancy for start up magic users is REALLY short :-).

                1. Once you get some levels, Magic Missile turns into a machine gun, as I recall. PLUS, you have the higher level spells to alternate.

                  At Georgia Tech in the Seventies, startup MU’s were considered an investment. You coddled them and babied them and kept them alive, so they would one day be able to return the favor with interest…

                2. I’d have to make sure I was under one of those RPG systems that had something like spell points that regenerated over time. 🙂

          3. Did he (the teacher) ever end up committed in an institution? Seriously. (I attended SDA schools and never encountered any teachers near that, um, off the reservation.)

            I lucked out; I got to set up the chemistry demonstrations, even come up with new ones, as long as he approved the more energetic ones.

        3. I remember that the ES to FL volume of the Encyclopedia Americana in my middle school library contained, under the ‘Explosives’ subject, a detailed explanation of the process of making nitroglycerin. More recent editions, not so much. :/

      1. Considering the native inquisitiveness of most tykes, the increase of that attitude with advancement through the schools is peculiar. It is almost as if the purpose of the system was to suppress intellectual curiosity.

        But what kind of mad culture would do a thing like that?

    3. As a teenager myself I would like to say at least some teens like learning new things, although I’ve also been home-schooled since 3rd grade, that may have helped. I don’t actually like sports or most forms of entertainment except for some exclusions, because their are always exclusions.
      But yes, teens who aren’t interested in learning are prevalent and loud.

      1. The goal of most home-schooling families is to train their pupils as auto-didacts, people who learn how to learn and thus are adaptable to economic and social fluctuations.

        Our industrial public schooling philosophy is based on a Prussian approach that was designed to make suitable cannon fodder soldiers and industrial workers, adept at following orders and disinclined to ask inconvenient questions.

        Look at the adages employed by home-schoolers, such as “In public school they study a topic for a pre-determined period of time and then move on; home-schoolers study until it’s been learned and then move on.”

        1. I’ve mostly seen “autodidact” used as an insult.

          I guess the people who only slowly and laboriously learn via having others hammer stuff into their heads get resentful of people who can learn with just a book…

            1. Seriously – an insult? Well, I’ll be …
              I’m an autodidact myself, especially when it comes to American history. I might have been more methodical about it all if I had gone through one of the approved “Official Historian” training programs, with free access to academic archives, and the insights of some particularly gifted lecturers to draw upon … or not.

              Curiously, I have never yet felt at any intellectual disadvantage in meat-space when it comes to matters American frontier historical, in discussion with those who do have all those advantages … although last year, in a Texas meet-up with some of the other Chicagoboyz contributors, I did feel a little bit the country-bred innocent when it came to certain topics. But that is neither here nor there.

              I’ve always felt that being an autodidact was a pretty fine and independent thing to be.

              1. and the insights of some particularly gifted lecturers to draw upon

                There’s the rub, ennit? people always tend to assume those lecturers will be particularly gifted when a reasonable consideration of the percentages suggests they are as likely to be time-killing drones deadening all interest in the subject matter.

                I have the same suspicions when I hear talk about decreasing class sizes in the schools. Take 120 kids in four classrooms and make that six classrooms of 20 kids each — a one-third reduction of class size at the cost of a fifty percent increase in classrooms. Except you have added two teachers who previously couldn’t make the grade, diluting your instructional competence.

                Assuming the four initial teachers comprised one gifted teaching thirty students and three competent teaching ninety, the new make-up is one gifted teacher with twenty students, three competent teachers with sixty students and two mediocre (we’ll be generous) teaching forty students.

                I fail to see how this is a benefit to those forty, and is probably not much improvement for the twenty remaining in the gifted teacher’s care.

                When (for example) Major League Baseball increased the number of teams by 25% (circa 1960) it was widely accepted that the quality of play decreased. One might think the brilliant, highly educated folks crafting our education policy could grasp the lesson.

                1. If I had lecturers like Victor Davis Hanson — that would have been electrifying, I am certain.
                  The best history teacher that I recall was a guy who did modern history at Glendale College (a no-name local junior college in the 1970s.) He was amazing, for he did history as an endlessly complicated and fascinating narrative. He was so riveting that he had students auditing his classes, sitting outside, under the open windows.
                  His regular classes rather loved him for the theatrical presentation of his lectures. He would come in with a page of notes on the aspects that he would cover during the hour, copy them onto the blackboard … then wad up the notes and toss them towards the wastebasket. We quite loved this – would cheer when he made the toss successfully. Just before Christmas one year, another student came in with a joke gift for him – a miniature basketball backboard and basket, and clipped it onto the wastebasket.

                  Sigh, Education used to be fun. Not a grueling forced march over endless fields of political correctitude.

                  1. Sigh, Education used to be fun. Not a grueling forced march over endless fields of political correctitude.

                    THIS. I made a comment to your first post in this line, and here you have it.

                  2. I once had a history guy so good that when I was seriously ill, and coming to classes anyway, I was disappointed that I passed out because I missed part of the lecture.

                  3. A friend of mine constantly told me he could see me as a history teacher, making history come alive for the students.

                    I had to give up the idea after taking up a teaching course. I couldn’t get away with things like that now, and I’d have to have a rather significant reputation in order to do so.

                    I heard stories of historian Ambeth Ocampo teaching classes; listened to them with tears of envy in my eyes. You see, there are people who try to elevate Rizal to… more than sainthood, both as a cult, and as a historical figure. Apparently, whoever had designed the curriculum that year was one of those fanboys. Brother* Ocampo reportedly walked into the room, with the recommended course reading already sitting on the table. The windows were open, and as the class watched, he picked up the books which he considered completely garbage (a book was said to be ‘A to Z with Rizal – as in, A B C type children’s book) and forcefully defenestrated, decrying WHY they were garbage – particularly because they tried to make Rizal more than he really was. The Rizalista fanboys tried to have him penalized for ‘desecrating valuable Rizal books’; but it happened that he wasn’t part of the teacher’s union, and had been invited to teach the course as a replacement for a different professor.

                    He’s the professor who also had an exam where he asked the students to ‘describe the Battle of Mactan, from the POV of an indio, a bird, a tree, or a fish.’ The legendary test reply that won a 110% grade was a test notebook full of ‘blub blubblub’ ending with *Disclaimer: I do not speak fish.”

                    Ocampo’s the kind of historian who doesn’t like inaccuracies – especially the sort who whitewash history into nice, neat, clean narration; or elevate historical figures into sainthood for worship, or seem to make them into superheroes. He is said to bring history to life – the stinky bits included, to keep students from imagining that it was ‘so much better back then!’

                    *He was also an ordained monk, and would sometimes conduct class in full robed habit.

                    1. Brother Ocampo and I must come from the same g-g-g-g-g-ancestor. There are times when I will stop and say, “OK, pens down. Your textbook is in error. Here’s why. Here’s the current/correct/archival scoop. Here’s where you can find it if you want to double check.” Because its not fair to teach students the wrong thing when I know it’s wrong and I have multiple sources about why the book is wrong.

                    2. Yep. While history does tend to erase the icky bits, I find myself somewhat annoyed because I’d actually LIKE to find out the gritty details at times.

                      Btw, if you have Spanish somewhere in the bloodline, it’s entirely possible to have a shared ancestor. At least, that’s what I was told.

                    3. Yeah – I’ve been told in comments, over and over, after some of my history posts – that I should be a history teacher, or work up a history textbook, because I made it interesting, riveting, explained stuff!

                      No – my thing is focused on making it interesting and accessible thorough writing accurate historical fiction about it. Make it engaging, make it REAL to readers. Grab their attention, their sympathy , their understanding …

                      Historical fiction is a gateway drug to an interest in history.

                      Read it, and come on in.

                      We have cookies …

                    4. *chuckle* Shadowdancer, Spanish/Iberian may be the only thing not in my bloodline, unless a soldier marching north to the Netherlands along the southern Rhine in the late 1500s added something to the family tree that no one dares to mention. 🙂

                  4. I have heard (and, from seeing his tv shows on history, can likely agree) that riveting lectures was one of the benefits of having RoboCop/Buckaroo Banzai as a Professor, as well. I can certainly see it in VDH.
                    Almost makes me think I shoulda went to college.

              2. The have the chance to study with gifted lecturers and access to academic archives could be lovely, but the navigating the effects of the present philosophy of modern academia I don’t know if it would be worth it.

    4. High school. Two of my friends and I were excitedly going off on speculative discussion about the potential for genetic manipulation in gene splicing, spurred by the big research paper on DNA we were supposed to do in biology. Most of the other students shied away from that field because it sounded scary and complicated but being the resident Nerd Brigade we glommed onto it, aware that research material for the topic was going to be easier to find. Our discussions were so involved and detailed that the students attending the nursing college asked us if we were visiting lecturers. (Their shock that we were at least eight years younger than they was funny to see!) We were excitedly wandering off into science fiction theories and having a grand time imagining what could be done with genetics – from the absurd (everyone will want white skin – a desirable trait in the Philippines because milky or alabaster skin is attractive) to what if cancer were curable only at manipulations of the cells’ genetic code; since cancer was something of a mutation, or splicing genes would develop food plants and animals that would be resistant to disease and be more fruitful in yield. I don’t think we were even remotely close in facts but were just having fun chasing ideas down rabbit holes; so we didn’t really pretend to be. (Though we did concede that breeding for desired traits in plants and livestock is already done, just not at, as far as we knew, at the genetic level. Little did we know!!!)

      One of us had a classmate who would tag along after her, one of the girls deemed ‘uncool’ by the school social butterflies because she wore thick glasses, had a button nose and didn’t dress ‘up’ – though to my jaundiced eye she looked fine really – neatly dressed and her grades were average and she spoke English enough to follow our conversations. After a week of listening to us spend lunch and recess sharing our latest nugget of info for our papers and the resulting wandering off into the discussional bullrushes, she actually shouted in frustration. We were startled and asked her what was wrong.

      She burst out that she couldn’t believe how we could be so interested in something so boring. Puzzled by that, we replied that how could reading about the latest news we could get about medical and scientific advancement could ever be boring!! She said that ok it was important but we were just teenagers! It was stupid of us to be interested in such things.

      Very confused at this point, we asked her what *were* we supposed to talk about?

      She grabbed and held up one of her magazines and exclaimed “Boy bands! Boys! About how cute they are!”

      My then-boyfriend pointed out he wasn’t gay, to which she replied FINE! Can’t we talk about the music at least?

      I hadn’t heard any; prompting my two fellows to say that Backstreet Boys had some nice songs; but Westlife’s lyrics were better… I went ‘oh okay.’

      Silence fell.

      “That’s it????!” the other girl asked. “That’s all you can say?!”

      What else were we supposed to say? We listened to soundtracks, Enya and Yanni and Japanese anime theme songs, and what little trance/electronica music we could get then. Pop music was fine for when we were in the mood for it, but…? *shrug*

      1. Heh. The Daughtorial Unit, by that age, was already well-versed in the Childe Ballads and could have discoursed at length of the lessons to be learned therefrom … especially about handsome young men travelling through …

        it’s of a brisk young butcher as i have heard them say,
        he started out of london town all on a certain day.
        says he, “a frolic i will have my fortune for to try,
        i will go into leicestershire some cattle for to buy.”

        when he arrived at leicester town he came into an inn
        he called for a hostler and boldly he walked in
        he called for liquors of the best and being a rambling blade
        he quickly fixed his eyes upon the lovely chambermaid.

        when she took up a candle to light him up to bed
        and when she came into the room these words to her he said,
        “one sovereign i will give to you all to enjoy your charms.”
        and this fair maid all night did sleep all in the butcher’s arms.

        ’twas early the next morning he prepared to go away
        the landlord said, “your reckoning, sir, you have forgot to pay.”
        “oh, no,” the butcher did reply, “pray do not think it strange
        one sovereign i gave your maid, and i haven’t got the change.”

        they straightway called the chambermaid and charged her with the same,
        the golden sovereign she lay down for fear she’d get the blame.
        the butcher, he then went home well pleased with what was past,
        and soon this pretty chambermaid grew thick about the waist.

        ’twas in a twelvemonth after, he came to town again
        and then as he had done before he stopped at that same inn.
        ’twas then the buxom chambermaid she chanced him for to see
        she brought a babe just three months old and placed him on his knee.

        the butcher sat like one amazed and at the child did stare
        but when the joke he did find out, how he did stamp and swear
        she said, “kind sir it is your own, pray do not think it strange,
        one sovereign you gave to me, and here, i’ve brought your change.”

        so come all you brisk and lively blades, i pray be ruled by me,
        look well into your bargains before your money pay
        or soon perhaps your folly will give you cause to range.
        whenever you sport with pretty maids you’re sure to get your change.

          1. In similar but contrasting vein, this song gives the Irish band Patrick Street their name:

            Patrick Street

            You sailors all come lend an ear and listen to me song.
            Tis of a trick was played on me and it won’t detain you long.
            I came home from sea the other day, and a girl I chanced to meet,
            She asked me up along with her to dance in Patrick street
            Says I me pretty fair maid I cannot dance too well,
            Besides, I’m bound for Newry town, my parents they do dwell.
            I’ve been at sea these last few years, I’ve saved up fifty pounds,
            And my parents are expecting me tonight in Newry town.

            Well since you cannot dance too well then you can have a treat,
            You can have a glass of brandy, and something nice to eat.
            At nine o’clock this evening I’ll leave you to your train,
            And don’t forget to call on me when you come back again.
            She seemed to be so friendly I went an hired a car,
            We both went down to Patrick Street, and on arrival there,
            The people on the other side, I thought I heard them say,
            He’ll sure be in need of a jaunting car before he gets away.

            Well we had not been long in the room when whiskey it came in,
            And when everyone had had their fill the dancing did begin.
            Me and me love we danced around, all to a merry tune,
            While the other couples did the double shuffle around the room.
            And when dancing it was over for bed we did prepare,
            And after that I fell asleep, the truth I will declare.
            Me darling and me fifty pounds, me gold and all had fled,
            And there was I meself alone, stark naked lying in bed.

            In gazing all around me, nothing could I spy,
            But a woman’s skirt and jumper at the foot of the bed did lie.
            I wrung me hands and tore me hair, crying O what will I do?
            O fare thee well sweet Newry town, I’m sure I’ll never see you.
            When nighttime it was come again and daylight was away,
            I put on the skirt and jumper and I set off for the quay,
            And when I went on board the ship, the sailors all did say,
            O Jack has grown much prettier since last she went away.

            Is this the new Spring fashion that you went to buy on shore?
            And where’s the shop that sells them do you think they may have more?
            The Captain says now Jack I thought you were for Newry town.
            You might have bought a better suit than that for fifty pounds.
            I might have bought a better suit if I had had the chance,
            I met a girl in high street, and she’s asked me to a dance.
            I danced me own destruction and I’ve danced it so complete,
            That I vow I’ll never go back again and dance in Patrick Street.

            So come all of you young sailor lads a warning take by me,
            And always keep good company when you go on a spree.
            Be sure steer clear of Patrick Street, or else you’ll rue the day,
            In a woman’s skirt and jumper they will ship you back to sea.

      2. Being an outsider, In high school, I don’t recall talking science classmates outside of courses and lab. My family loved science, and tolerated experiments as long as they were safe. Learning was highly encouraged.

        By high school I was keeping up with American Top 40 because I like music and it had a shared culture aspect. I’d shove a transistor radio in my pocket and listen as much as I could doing farm chores. That said, I don’t recall anyone in high school obsessed with music groups or stars. That was something from junior high, something that was the domain of girls in our school and was quickly outgrown.

        As to why some teens go in that direction . . . shrug. Ours doesn’t understand it, either. I’m convinced it’s a different mindset.

        Such as my wife. She never went in for that kind of stuff, but my interest in science other than animal behavior doesn’t connect. She doesn’t say anything negative – usually – but she doesn’t get why I enjoy it.

    1. Yep … I had my mind absolutely boggled when I began researching early Texas, and the war for independence. Holy cow — it was just a sidelight to a Mexican civil war between centralists and federalists? And there was essentially a cold border war going on between Mexico and the Republic of Texas for the entire ten years … a war which flared up over and over again afterwards.

        1. Well, that and having a recession that totally ruined a bond issue that would have set the RoT on a more secure financial footing, and having a treaty with France that might have worked out – yes, that fell through. And it wasn’t strictly speaking, a straight annexation by the US. There was considerable opposition to Texas becoming part of the US, so it was at least as much a case of Sam Houston begging, pleading, threatening, negotiating …

      1. Then there were the filler ads on the Armed Forces network when I was overseas mentioning the defenders of the Alamo fighting for ‘American freedom’. WTH?

        1. Stretching a point, admittedly. They were fighting for freedoms that they had become accustomed to, under a Mexico which had been a republic rather like the American republic under the Constitution of 1824. There were two political factions in Mexico, fighting for supremacy; the Centralists, who were traditional, old-like, conservative and authoritarian, who wanted a strong central establishment governed from Mexico City. Then there were the Federalists – who were more liberal, and in favor of a federation of associated states with a high degree of local control, much like the US at that time.
          Then General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna – formerly a federalist – turned his coat, abrogated the Constitution of 1824 and declared himself essentially dictator. Half the states in Mexico promptly revolted, being Federalists in sympathy – and Santa Anna very brutally quashed all of them, but Texas.
          That’s the short version, basically. And an explanation of why there were Tejanos among the Alamo garrison (and the flag that flew over it was the Mexican flag with 1824 in the white stripe across the middle). They were Federalist rebels, right along with their Anglo neighbors.

          1. And part of the tension between the Federalists and Centralists came from teh Comanche raids on Mexico. The Federalists, especially those in the north, wanted to be able to organize and defend themselves whenever Comanches and others appeared. The Centralists preferred to send the Army once the Comanche had been reported and have the official government forces deal with it (and to disarm the northern ranchers and villagers). The northerners said that the Centralists were fools (and worse), because the Comanches hit and ran, moving too fast for the Army. It probably contributed a goodly amount to the on-going instability in northern Mexico from 1825 to 1860 or so. (Read a great masters thesis about it.)

            1. It didn’t help, of course – that to Mexico’s central government (and before that, of Spain-in-Mexico) that Coahuila-Tejas was the far *ss-end of nowhere, and a place almost impossible to garrison, or to induce their citizens to settle in.
              Initially, the Anglo settlers were invited in the hopes they would form a buffer-zone against raids by Comanche and other native tribes.

            2. Can’t have the locals armed and organized for self-defense! They might decide to defend themselves against the government!

              1. Can’t let them even begin to think they can cr*p without the Central-Gov standing by to wipe their bottoms – you just don’t know where that would lead!

                1. That makes it sound like Mexican politics had no major elements of nostalgia for the time of the Aztec Triple Alliance. Is that a fair description of when the United Mexican States was formed?

      2. But that would mean the United States didn’t steal Texas and etc. from the Mexicans! Next you’ll be trying to tell me that not just Anglos but Texians and Tejanos fought for independence from Mexico.

        Why, it’s almost as if everything we’re being told about Western European culture, with its emphasis on individual rights, property rights and unforced exchange, is slander.

        1. And that Californians of Mexican descent sided with the gringos when California left Mexico for the US (there was a California Republic in there for a short period of time, but there was never any doubt that the state would be joining the US).

    2. Kinda like the last major Barbary Pirate slaving raid against England being in the late 1600s. Carried off almost a hundred. At the same time, a raid against Ireland captured 300 or so and hauled them back to North Africa.

  6. A tidbit I found useful for one of my unpublished stories was the fact that Egyptian priests were largely responsible for the looting of Egyptian tombs. That makes watching Universal’s Mummy movies . . . amusing, to say the least.

  7. My weakness is “history at the time” documents, like the 50 and 100 years ago in Scientific American (before it went all eco-nutty). When I was at Penn State, I discovered a trove of old Baedeker travel guides from the mid-1800’s. No idea *why* they had this pile of old books, but it was SO COOL to know how you would summon a hansom cab from the Berlin train station, what was considered an appropriate tip, and the old pre-war (pre WWI) maps of the city.

    I also have three volumes of a sort of mini-encyclopedia, also quite old, I found when I bought my house (I think from 1910?) Winston Churchill gets one paragraph, as a promising young Sea Lord, but some preacher dude I never heard of got a page and a half. It is interesting to see what was considered important then and what was merely interesting 🙂

    1. Old reference books or guides, or magazines, are fantastic. A friend was helping a local county historical society catalogue a large number of ladies’ magazines from 1912-1920, and discovered a wave of articles from 1917-1919 about helping men with “shell shock” and how to deal with your combat-wounded or disfigured husband/son/relative. She was floored (she’s a veteran) at how pragmatic and realistic the pieces were. And there were even short-stories about couples dealing with the effects of war.

      If you can find the 1911 _Encyclopedia of Islam_ it is almost worth its weight in gold on the used book market. A whole bunch of historians want copies, because after that edition, things started to get “prettified”, shall we say.

      1. She was floored (she’s a veteran) at how pragmatic and realistic the pieces were.

        Those were simpler times and people then lacked the benefit of theories to explain such things; they had to rely on what demonstrably worked.

    2. I have about a 75% complete collection of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science going from 1905 to 1960.

      While they were supposed to be technology magazines, they covered some stuff in relation to regions and geopolitics. And some of it is *much* different from “commonly accepted history.”

      There’s a lot of stuff there, from about 1935 on, about “the coming war with Germany”, for example.

    3. Thanks to modern technology we now have those in electronic form, which can be updated whenever the fashions change necessary to reflect the most recent theories. This prevents busybodies like you from going back to the record and claiming: This is how that used to be, this is what people believed back then.

      Ye gawds, how are we to prove the evils of the White Patriarchy if people like you continually turn up evidence blowing holes in our theories greater than that torn in the Titanic by that iceberg?

    4. Primary source! Read primary source!

      In fact, I recommend to all who want to write that they read oodles of primary source, whether they are interested in that particular era or not. It’s not to gain information, except incidentally. It’s to open your mind to the possibilities (not to say knock your block off).

  8. I think the search for new knowledge is why I’ve read so much Chinese, Japanese, and Korean history over the last few years. With European history I can understand the mindset and have a sense of the cultural imperatives that helped shape that history but with eastern history I simply don’t so it becomes a hunt not only for knowledge but understanding of deeper differences.

    The shocking thing I finally realized was that the underpinnings of society and culture were roughly the same but the trappings and the expression of that culture were markedly different. Where I had difficulty was in translating those thoughts and also realizing that like European culture, eastern culture believes the lies they tell themselves (not everything is a lie, obviously, but the English lie about the French and the English, and the French lie about the French and the English. It’s just what humans do). But they don’t really believe the lies they tell themselves, they know it’s exaggeration and story telling. Neither do Europeans.

    However, the problem comes (at least for me) in looking at the culture and history from the outside and ascribing more faithfulness and more veracity than we would give to our own culture and history. Germans tell stories about the Italians and I would know that it’s probably not true, or not all true, and that the story exists for Germans (to build national pride, to tell an entertaining story, to shape what they their country to be). But with eastern history I ascribed a pureness of motive that was, quite frankly, bull crap.

    With that realization I’ve been able to read eastern history with a much deeper understanding and can sort of see what is a fact and what is an interpretation of fact to bolster reputations. Not that I always get it right, far from it, but I feel like I’m stumbling towards understanding rather than standing still and baffled in the middle of a bare field.

    1. Slightly OT, and I may be coming from waaay out in left field (OK, right field), but I suspect at least one reason the conditions in WW II Japanese POW camps were as horrible as they were was just such a dissonance between cultures. Though Japanese military culture was trying desperately and rapidly to modernize/Westernize (same thing?) there was still a very strong Bushido streak embedded in its makeup. Suddenly these men are confronted with a group of soldiers who not only surrendered, but are expecting to be treated *honorably*? WTH? If they’d had any honor they’d have done the right thing and suicided before capture. Yet these creatures expect to be fed, quartered, and given medical care. What’s up with that?

      1. Wainwright and his men got bottled up and they radioed for help. Marshall told them to hang on, help was coming. He kept telling them help was on the way any day now, until he quit replying to them.

        There never was any help coming. Marshall had lied to them, trying to set up a big slaughter for propaganda purposes. Wainwright fought until they were out of ammunition, then surrendered. And those were the soldiers who went on the Bataan Death March.

        Look up pictures of the Japanese surrender on the Missouri. There’s the iconic photo of MacArthur sitting at a desk signing a copy of the surrender. Standing behind him there are two really skinny guys, like Death in a medieval painting. One of them is Wainwright, yanked from a POW camp, hosed off, and flown in. The other is a Brit named Percival, who got screwed much the same as Wainwright.

        Marshall and the Pentagon wrote them off. But there were people who knew what had happened, and people told people, and strings were pulled, and Wainwright and Percival were there, a slap in the face to Marshall and Churchill and the office-chair generals every time they looked at a picture of the surrender.

        1. One reason Marshall lied to the defenders of Bataan was that there was no way the US could get a relief force there after the Pearl Harbor disaster. The Navy simply did not have the ships available. They were hard put just to defend Hawaii and Australia and had to keep a large part of the fleet in the Atlantic at the same time. We simply were not ready for war. If Pearl Harbor had happened 6 months later, it would have been a much different story.

          Marshall really wanted to send help, but right after the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, he tasked an obscure Lt Colonel, D.D.Eisenhower, to come up with a plan to send relief forces, and after a couple of weeks study, Col., Eisenhower concluded there was no way any meaningful help could come before the forces there were forced to surrender. Eisenhower did organize a small fleet of coastal ship to smuggle in supplies, but it was not enough to make any difference.

          1. They also couldn’t get any closer than Mindanao; subs were the only way to bring supplies to Bataan and Corregidor. Subs aren’t really designed to carry extra cargo.

      2. It’s been said that the war against Japan was very close to a war against an alien foe.

        The Japanese thought very differently than Americans (or Westerners).

      3. Not really. I actually stumbled across some reading on this just within the last month.

        Apparently during the war between Japan and Russia, surrender was viewed as perfectly fine by the rank and file Japanese soldiers. The problem emerged at the end of the war when the military leadership discovered that an embarassingly large number of Japanese soldiers had surrendered during a war that Japan had technically won (my understanding is that it was a very near thing as the Japanese likely would have run out of money if the US President hadn’t basically forced a peace deal). To counter that problem in future conflicts, a new philosophy that strongly discouraged surrender was pushed by the military leadership.

        This new philosophy then merged with other philosophies also being pushed at the time – most notably the racial superiority one (which, ironically, had started in a bid to put the Japanese and the Westerners on the same plane in recognition of the fact that Japan was the only non-Western nation to achieve technological parity with the West) – and produced the horrific results that were seen during the war.

      4. This was a major theme in Bridge on the River Kwai:

        “You speak to me of code. What code? The coward’s code. What do you know of the soldier’s code? Of bushido? Nothing. You are unworthy of command.”

        Later: I hate the British! You are defeated but you have no shame. You are stubborn but you have no pride. You endure but you have no courage.

        It should also be considered that while they starved POWs, the Japanese people were also starving.

        This does not make such as this right, but it points to areas which needed clearer understanding.

      5. During the early 1900s, the largest national Red Cross contingent was from Japan, with over a million members (it didn’t hurt that the Empress was a supporter of the organization). And involved with such things as properly dealing Russian POWs of the Russo-Japanese war, up into the 1920s or so. Its first overseas operation was raising funds to aid in relief to America following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

        Things changed between then WW2, not least of which the Imperial Japanese Army pretty much ignored the Geneva Convention and stopped allowing the Red Cross to work with POWs…

  9. “The Tree of Three Foods Guaranteed to Keep Your Husband’s Cholesterol Low?”

    Okay, now I’m picturing the Serpent as a click-bait headline writer…

    “Hey, do you want to eat the fruit of the Tree of the One Weird Trick to Lower Your Chariot Insurance? How about the fruit of the Tree to See What Esther Looks Like Now (It Will Leave You Speechless)? Or the Tree of 27 Mistakes Moses Made During The Parting of The Red Sea that You Won’t Be Able to Forget?”

    Temptation comes in strange forms in the Internet era…

  10. Some years back, I had been studying the relationship between three valued logic (True, false, maybe) and modal logic “Necessarily true” and “possibly true”. I worked truth tables, trying to reproduce the axioms of the Lewis systems of modal logic as theorems of three-valued logic and got some matches but not complete success. I searched the literature and found that it had been concluded that the two approaches were incompatible, but there was no clear explanation of why. So, I kept searching the literature and experimenting with truth tables, because the partial correspondence was a confounded nuisance: there had to be a pony in there somewhere. I eventually found an oversight in the various multi-valued logics, which led me to an approach that did work. I still remember the blinding flash of hindsight “OF COURSE IT MUST BE SO!” when I realized why a couple of highly desirable theorems don’t hold, and why they shouldn’t. (They have to be suitably restricted, and now I know how and why the two standard approaches are incompatible.) Back to the books, (and a few live professors). “Is it real? Have I found a genuine answer?” So far, silence. I seem to be off in the wilderness of unclaimed territory.

    1. It’s amazing what can happen when someone who is not immersed to the point of saturation starts looking at things. I think Alfred Wegner (plate tectonics) and the Alvarez guys (T. Rex and the Meteor of Doom) are the best known examples, but they’re certainly not the only ones.

      1. I’m not in total agreement with his attitudes, but physicist John Quincy Stewart’s “social physics” approach has contributed a number of useful models to the social sciences, particularly the “gravity model of X” (where X represents some demographic, geographic, economic question).

      2. William Smith and his geological map. He had a little background but he was a miner and a canal digger and studied rocks from that stand point. He noticed the blatantly obvious: Rock layers occur in pattern after pattern after pattern.

    2. Not to derail this threadlet, but did you ever publish, post, or outline your findings, ’cause now I’m curious…

        1. I don’t blame you…the standard approaches are dreadful. It was downright painful to see how *close* the pioneers in the field came without quite getting it right.

      1. I tried to to publish once, and got turned down with a disappointingly superficial rejection notice. (Notation too simple). I had it online for a while, but it seemed to attract no attention. For the reaction from academic logicians, see RES’s first comment upthread. However, I can put up a page on my website in a day or two.

  11. #CascadeMallShooting. Policeman hunts down, coldbloodedly kills five unarmed black men. #BlackLivesMatter.

    Seriously, it is challenging to come up with explanations for the variation in the intensity of the responses.

    Today I found a new model, less persuasive than earlier ones. Suppose it is an attempt to create a ‘boy who cried wolf’ effect, in order to enable future Einsatz Gruppen C type operations.

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