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What I Learned More or Less Today -or- Of Obsessions Run their Course

One thing that the “What I learned today” feature has taught me in its all of two days in existence is that there’s a lot of random rot out there in the literary realm that doesn’t add a single blasted thing to my “what I learned” list and really, isn’t at all enjoyable.  Over the past few months I’ve been very much in the mode of consuming every book that I could get my hands on.  As a consequence I’ve finished quite a few books that really didn’t deserve my attention past the 10th page.  So the upshot of this…. a few simple rules:

1.  Taken at random, 90% of books are not worth reading.  Don’t hesitate to pass over obvious garbage.

2.  If a book feels like a vacuous incoherent mess after 10 pages, it’s going to be a vacuous incoherent mess even after 400.  So put it down and move along to something else.

3.  A truly good book is good all the way through.  The number of “diamonds in the rough” is vanishingly small so if a book looks like a stinker at first then it probably is.

4.  There is a practical infinity of great literature to choose from.  Given that the amount of reading time is finite, it is therefore illogical to spend any unnecessary time on anything but quality writing.

And with those four simple realizations, which I’ve made a dozen times in my life but never properly codified, I’ve thrown out a fair number of books in my “to be read” queue.  More importantly, I’ve given myself permission to judge a book by its cover plus 10 pages.

Alright, moving on, I have a few notes from the past several days on a couple of topics.  Pirates…. yes, an increasingly complex subject and since I started taking notes half way through the Pringle book on pirates it’s hard to say much of anything without giving a fair amount of background.  In the effort to make sense, I give you background.

The primary problem with defining piracy is that it is very easily confused with the concept of a privateer.  When this trade started in the 1500s, countries hired sailors to set out on the high seas and pillage the shipping of other countries.  For example, England might issue a charter to a ship that they were to pillage the ocean-going trade of every country except England.  In essence, they were hired pirates.  So the difference between a privateer (a hired pirate) and a real pirate is justifiably rather sketchy.  Remember, this is in a time when communication doesn’t exactly travel at light speed (no pun intended).  It’s also worth noting that justice itself is rather impaired since the government and judicial systems (by today’s standards) were absurdly corrupt.  What you end up with is a vast ocean teeming with scalawags, some of whom under the hire of some legitimate ruler, some who might THINK they’re under the hire of some legitimate ruler and some who are just doing their own thing.  A right and true mess one must admit especially when you consider that a privateer hired by one country will be considered a pirate by any other country.

Starting in the late 1600s piracy saw its peak and decline.  In 1696 England issued the Navigation Acts which said, in a nutshell, that the American colonies could only ship goods using British shipping and only buy and sell goods in British markets.  This, as you might imagine caused quite an economic uproar.  The tiny country of England couldn’t possibly consume the output of the entire eastern seaboard of America.  So, skirting these laws, the nascent colonies turned to piratical shipping to get their goods to market.

When this practice began to impact the pocketbooks of English industry, for the first time really in history, England began to take notice of piracy and make an effort to stamp it out militarily.  Early in 1700 a few successful military raids were made to combat piracy and the whole practice began to subside quickly.  At their hearts pirates were only really interested in easy spoils.  When the risks for the practice began to increase, they quickly slunk into the woodwork.  It didn’t hurt that the British navy paid their sailors better wages during this time.  As always, the skilled labor goes where the money is.

Changing topics violently, I also made a bit of headway in the “Super Brain” book.  While this book needs a LOT of help in the realm of a title, it nonetheless has some good points to make about how our brains work and how we can get them to work for us rather than against us.  Early on it is still in the mode of dispelling myths about how the brain operates.  In accordance to popular belief, one brain cell dies every second.  Contrary to popular belief one brain cell is also born every second.  One point it makes about our failing memories as we grow older is that memory is closely tied to emotion.  If, as we age, we become more and more nonplussed about what’s going on around us, then from a chemical standpoint our brains are of course not going to remember.  So it encourages us not only to learn but to be damned excited about it if we want to retain what we just stuffed into our heads.

And with that tidbit we close.  I must admit that I cannot help but feel that with the last few entries this blog has become absurdly random.  Of course, in a way, that is what the Tattered Thread is all about.  Any outside reader would be hard pressed to figure out what exactly the thread is connecting any topic from one day to the next.  Such is my journey through life.  I’m rather randomly interested in … well, just about everything.  I’m not sure if that makes for a good blog or a bad one but here it is for better or for worse.

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