CE&C RENOVATION EXPERIMENT SEVEN: DUNG BEETLE STALKING PREY – CHAPTER 5.4

[First post in this Novel: Dedication]
[Previous post in this Novel: Chapter 5.3]

At the end of her exhausting and enlightening first full day, Clorice was looking forward to meeting the rest of the team at dinner. Dinner protocols differ from site to site – and in many ways set the ambience for working relations. Whereas breakfast and lunch were self-serve ad hoc affairs, the P.R.I.K.s religiously ate dinner together in the manner of the infamous Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell. Dinner was served on the very long table adorned with crisp pink linen tablecloths and napkins (anything white turned pink from the iron in the local water), chipped bone china, tarnished silverware and mismatched crystal glasses. A civilized tribute to the early days of colonial exploration.

The simple but delicious traditional recipes prepared by Fatima were generally followed by one of Archie’s delicate desert dessert delicacies. On this day an orange creme anglaise topped with a sprinkle of dark chocolate and a chocolate butter cookie, the edges of which were covered in ginger-flavored popping sugar, was served. As he had indicated when first meeting Clorice at the hotel, he really did have a talent in this area. While Fatima was busy in the kitchen, her two delightful dark-eyed nubile daughters served the expectant and appreciative crew.

After dinner the assembled academics moved outside the dining room to the courtyard to discuss the events of the day in an atmosphere reeking of obsession. The air was so stiflingly thick with the mildly autistic idiosyncrasies that define Ph.D’s generally that an outsider would not have been able to see through it, even if they had the inclination.

While Clorice had worked in Egypt for about ten years, her studies had all been in the more trendy archaeo-research playgrounds around the Giza plateau and the Sinai desert. Although she had been peripherally aware of some the work being done in other parts of the country she did not personally know the majority of the researchers that were working in Kharga except through reputation and academic publications.

Clorice had been forewarned by Jesse to be very wary of “Poop and Scoop” Boernwhore. According to Jesse, Poop and Scoop was a publication whore of the worst type. His strength as an academic was in raising money to fund his students’ research, which he would then appropriate as his own. Rumour had it that in return for financial aid, all his students and postdoctoral fellows had to agree that his name would always appear as first author when they were working in his laboratory, and as second author if material gathered during Poop and Scoop’s financial assistance was to be used in any way after the student/postdoctoral fellow moved on. Poop and Scoop insisted that each student or postdoctoral fellow he took on sign a legal agreement to insure that there would be no slippage in this regard. Students agreed to this because: 1) funding was very hard to get; and, 2) few beginning students really understood the nuances of the academic publication pumping game. Poop and Scoop was able to leverage “his” extensive publication record, good looks and an exceptional ability as an entreating albeit vacuous public speaker and media darling to develop an academic superstar aura. He had archaeo-political schmoozing down to a fine art.

According to Jesse, while Poop and Scoop was shrewd and a master at writing grant proposals, he was not himself an original academic thinker. His Ph.D. thesis work focused on using a technique developed by his Ph.D. advisor to study the Cohen modal haplotype genetic markers on the Y chromosome – of the Buba sub-clan of MaLemba males. The team that he worked with found that a significant percentage of Buba males appeared to have Yemeni Jewish ancestry. His work added additional, albeit incredibly incremental evidence that the Buba may have been one of the lost tribes of Israel and had helped build Great Zimbabwe in present day Zimbabwe, which was a large city from 1270-1550 A.D. and traded with merchants as far away as China. His genetic work supported a growing body of ethnographic evidence such as historic linguistic evidence, oral histories, dietary habits, male circumcision, the wearing of skull caps and carving the Star of David on their gravestones, and, archaeological evidence including models of circumcised male organs, Jewish burial positions, architectural styles, and irrigation methods that supported a Jewish link to the greatest archaeological site in sub-Saharan Africa. However, in Poop and Scoop’s mind, his essentially incremental contribution to this large multidisciplinary study that had been ongoing for over 100 years was the only one of significance.

Having published in a top scientific journal, albeit as the fourteenth out of fifteen authors (just ahead of the graphic illustrator), at the end of his doctoral studies Poop and Scoop obtained a junior tenured position at the University in Kingston. Once he had landed what was to be his first and only job to date, Poop and Scoop spent the next few years using the same single technique from his doctoral advisor, without modification. It was as if he deliberately chose to stop learning after completing his Ph.D. and was spending the rest of his career re-doing his thesis on different poo-poo samples, from different countries – but always looking for the lost tribes of Israel using the same genetic markers. Many of his students however did develop innovative approaches in the competitive world of paleo-fecal research, which of course Poop and Scoop claimed as his own.

However, as Jesse noted: “He must be given credit for his consistent failure to impress, and always living up to his reputation. Like the rhythm method of birth control or abstinence.”

After his student work in Great Zimbabwe, and prior to his work at Kharga, Poop and Scoop went to work in Nunavut to try and prove, not test as a scientist should, that the Inuit were another lost tribe of Israel. After just three months in the field, Poop and Scoop had the honor of being the first academic to be asked never to return by both the Inuit and the territorial leaders. He achieved this distinction due to his inability to be respectful of his Inuit colleagues whom he not so secretly, in the tradition of Cecil Rhodes, saw as being inherently inferior savages. It was at this point in time that Poop and Scoop decided to focus on using his good looks, arrogance ability to write very good grant proposals for others to his advantage.

According to Jesse, the only reason he permitted Poop and Scoop access to the field camp was that his father, John Boernwhore, had been the original P.R.I.K.’s field camp director, and though by all accounts he was a ‘uniquely’ unpleasant character himself, he had almost begged Jesse to give the junior Boernwhore a chance to cleanse himself after the Nunavut scandal. Against his better judgment, and with an extremely large financial contribution from Papa Boernwhore at a time when there was a distinct possibility the expedition would fold due to lack of funds, Jesse relented. Not a day went by that he did not regret this decision.

Though armed with this knowledge, Clorice was still unprepared for the warm steamy doggy baggy that is Poop and Scoop. Poop and Scoop was, on first impression, a rather attractive man. He was tall, well-muscled, though wiry – the way long distance runners tend to be. While drinking their ritualistic after dinner 20 year old Tawny Vinho do Porto in the courtyard of the field house, Clorice struck up her inaugural conversation with the paleofaecologist.

“We have yet to be introduced, I am Clorice Didactic-Descry. I just arrived here last night.”

“I know who you are.” Responded Poop and Scoop, his green-brown eyes coldly sizing her up.

“I read your student’s and your new paper in the Palaeo Genome Journal the other day on the plane ride over here.” Clorice tried again.

“Of course you did. But I should add I kindly let my piss poor excuse of a “doctoral student” (he said making quotation marks in the air) Safia be co-author to help her career. Not that she deserved this honor, as she really did not contribute much more than a very junior laboratory assistant would. Safia, if you have yet to meet her, is the rather chunky girl in the red t-shirt sitting at the far end of the courtyard with three of my other students who actually possess some academic talent.” Poop and Scoop hissed in a voice loud enough that everyone heard, turning his dark, military-buzzed cut head towards the students.

Clorice looked to where Safia was sitting, red-faced, her jaw dropping in a mixture of stunned hurt and shock. The courtyard went completely quite. You could hear a pin drop on the sand. Trying to change the direction of the conversation to a more neutral topic, Clorice asked Poop and Scoop what he thought about the US Government’s request that all DNA researchers deposit their data in the North American Security D.N.A. database. This topic had grabbed headline news for the last few weeks and was, albeit remotely, linked to his area of expertise.

“Well, I for one would not want any of my D.N.A. research to be used in anything so ugly as a policy instrument. In fact, now that I think of it, I will likely refuse to contribute the data I have. No self-respecting scientist would possibly consider contaminating their pure research with anything as vulgar as commercialism or public policy. There is no room in real science for policy.”

Clorice had a hard time biting back the verbal diarrhea of words that wanted so desperately to be excreted in response to his toxic personality.

Poop and Scoop kindly spared her the effort when he abruptly stood up, really looked at her for the first time, and clearly dismissed her as no-one who would be of any use to him and said, “All for now.” And with that very rude dismissal, he departed to his room – to everyone’s relief.

Poop and Scoop was a very ugly man. Perhaps the most vile man Clorice had ever met.

Once Poop and Scoop departed, Maxine Churcher went over to Safia and put her arm around her shoulders. Safia began to sob. Everyone else politely took their leave from the courtyard and went to their rooms.

Alone for a few moments in her room, Clorice took the opportunity to put the stick she had obtained from the International Incan Band Espionage Messaging Network in Cairo into her solar-powered laptop computer. The stick contained: a very detailed curriculum vitae of each researcher on the site; personal information such as marital status, children, jobs, incomes and detailed curriculum vitae of family members; all the P.R.I.K.’s published papers; and all the crew’s internet correspondences including emails and information posted on the web from all sources. Clorice often mused at how careless people were with their personal information.

Clorice looked up the information on Safia. Her suspicions were correct. Prior to working with Poop and Scoop, Safia had been on the road to an exceptional career. She had published two papers on her own, in very good journals, from her Masters thesis. She obtained a very generous four year public research grant and won a full university tuition scholarship. Clearly she was a talented hard worker.

Since she started her doctoral work, she had received prescriptions for anti-depressants, was taking yoga classes and was seeing a psychologist who was an expert in adult bully victim syndrome. While not absolute proof, coupled with what Jesse had told her, and what she had just observed, Clorice was confident that Safia was suffering from extreme bullying at the hands of Dr. Boernwhore. Clorice had Poop and Scoop’s number. He was not only a bully, but cruel to the point of being hated, and openly invited contempt. He was particularly cruel to those over whom he had power, as they were least likely to lash back. As a result he would never have any allies, nor would he command anyone’s loyalty.

Unfortunately, bullying was very common in the world of science, in academia, government science departments and museums. Other than walking away from the problem along with her thesis and her scholarship, there really was nothing that a victim could do. Clorice understood this unfortunate reality all too well from her own first-hand experience at the hands of her first Masters supervisor and from a boss she briefly had at the Canadian Archaeological Survey. She had eventually quit both of them, learning the hard way that people don’t quit jobs, they quit people.

Maxine walked into the room.

“How is Safia doing?” Clorice asked, turning off her computer.

“Shattered. Unfortunately she does not have the expertise I require in my study area, otherwise I would offer to take her on as my student. However, I will have her work with me for the next few days so she can heal a bit, and gently nudge her into quitting her current program. If she stays on with Poop and Scoop there is no way this will end well for her. Her only real option will be to restart a Ph.D. with someone else. I will also e-mail her department chair, an old friend of mine, and tell her what is up so perhaps she can have an alternative advisor and project on call when she returns home.” Maxine sighed.

It was not a great end to Clorice’s first full day.

[Continue reading]

chiceleg

One Comment

  1. This is hilarious! I love the description of Hamama – I think we have all seen people like her on TV. And Virginie Moncul – where do you get these names?!?

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