Planet Earth

"Gay girl in Damascus" has "esoteric" interests

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanJun 13, 2011 3:11 AM

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I've been vaguely following the "mystery" surrounding A Gay Girl in Damascus blog. Turns out that "she" is a "he", a 40 year guy who lives in Georgia. But that's not why I'm mentioning this. The article linked above is from The Washington Post, and the author notes:

Other links between Amina and MacMaster quickly surfaced. In 2006, both were active participants in a Yahoo message group for people interested in the esoteric subject of “alternate history,” debating what might have been if major historical events had different outcomes.

Now, as someone interested in alternate history dating to the late 1990s (yes, I've read Harry Turtledove, and I used to check the Uchronia site periodically) I accept that this topic is 'esoteric.'

But perhaps if the writers and editors at The Washington Post had more 'esoteric' interests they wouldn't make bizarre errors such as the one below

(screenshot in case they fix the mistake):

Here is the entry for "Austro-Goths" in the Uncyclopedia:

The Austro-Goths settled the upper Danube, around modern-day Vienna and are thought to have been much influenced by early Iron Age electronica, such as Kraftwerk. They also submitted to the authority of Rome and seemed particularly keen to sample the misery that enslavement could bring. It is thought that the Austro-Goths spoke a language largely similar to the Hissy-Goths but with a heavier accent and a less accusative tone. Militarily their tactics appear to have differed very little, centring on unenthusiastic shrugging and barely disguised loathing. They did not join the Hissy-Goth assault on Rome as they were grounded at the time. Nevertheless, they gave heavy backing to the attack by creating a Facebook support group.

What he went to study at Emory was almost surely the Ostrogoths. As someone with 'esoteric' interests I would have known this when I was eights years old, as a fascination with Attila the Hun as depicted in The Last Pagan led me to a series of books on the "Dark Ages" and the period of the 4th to 6th centuries (this did not turn me into an emo or goth, though it did make me aware of the fragility of civilization). I suspect that a typical person of the educated class a generation ago would have known that what sounded like "Austro-Goths" over the phone actually referred to "Ostrogoths," because they would have had a passing familiarity with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, in which the Gothic confederations had a starring role. But that's not a mandatory part of the curriculum today, and unless you have "esoteric" interests the major events of Western history may be uncharted territory for you. Note: I am aware that "Austro" and "Ostro" have the same root. You know that they don't know that. P.S.: This seems like a less frivolous version of the "Libertarian Girl" and "Hot Abercombie Chick" hoaxes. Related: I think this is much more embarrassing than Malcolm Gladwell's confusion surrounding "igon values". I think it is totally expected than an educated person is unfamiliar with higher level scientific and mathematical terminology. Basic non-technical geography and history is a different matter.

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