Goodness, how delicious, eating goober peas!
It lacks the stirring power of the Battle Cry of Freedom. It's not as enduring as When Johnny Comes Marching Home. As far as Civil War songs go, it certainly ain't no John Brown's Body. But Johnny Cash could make anything sound good:
Gouber pea. Ground nut. Ground pea. Earth-nut. Pindar nut. Ground bean. The peanut had a legion of names before the war; today, only "goober" reminds us of that tasty, unpretentious legume's long travels.
(Before we go any further, let's be clear: the peanut is not a nut. It's related to beans and peas, and marked by the distinct oddity that after fertilization it pushes itself underground to mature. If we were going to give Arachis hypogaea an English-sounding name, "ground pea" makes perfect sense - and, as Johnny Cash notes, for some older Southerners that was the name. Alas, accuracy lost that linguistic battle. But just for the record: A peanut is a legume.)
Peanuts were brought to America by way of the Atlantic slave trade. Remember the triangular trade patterns you might have learned about in high school? Finished goods to Africa, slaves to the Americas, raw materials to Europe, repeat.
Reality, of course, was a little more complicated. As ships criss-crossed the Atlantic, many New World items were sold to Africans — including the peanut.
The plant was native to central South America, and spread throughout that continent in the precolonial era. It made it as far north as the Aztec empire, where it was known as the ground cocoa bean, or tl?lcacahuatl. (One Spanish word for peanut: cacahuate.) And it thrived in Brazil, where it was called manobi or mandubi and was readily adopted by Portuguese settlers. (Portuguese for peanut: amendoim).
Spanish galleons and Portuguese traders brought this sturdy crop back across the Atlantic, but it didn't really catch on in Europe (Europeans still aren't really peanut fans, to American farmers' chagrin.) British colonies in America also didn't appreciate the plant; Andrew Smith notes in Peanut that early colonial references to "ground-nuts" were to an unrelated tuber.
In Africa and Asia, however, peanuts were a hit. In West and Central Africa, particularly, they became a staple crop, adopted by communities who appreciated the plant's resilience and quickly worked it into their cuisine.
And when Africans were enslaved by the millions, they brought peanuts with them.
So a crop native to South America was picked up by Spanish and Portuguese traders, brought to Africa and raised locally, and carried on slave ships to what's now the U.S. — a very roundabout way to travel a few thousand miles north. On that final leg of the trip, peanuts brought with them their most recent names — nguba, in Kongo and Kimbundu (named for the resemblance to a kidney); mpinda, in Kongo. These inspired some of the first English words for the true peanut: "goober" and "pindar."
A Peanut By Any Other Name Would Be As Unappreciated
In the 19th century, peanuts were grown by slaves for their own sustenance, or else fed to hogs; white Americans didn't regard them as good eating. The subtext of "Eating Goober Peas" is that Confederate soldiers were really struggling when that's all they had for sustenance.
That might be why, for many years, the kinds of Americans who wrote in books and newspapers didn't bother to pick a standardized name for the plant. "The ground pea of the South, or as it is sometimes called, the gouber or pindar pea," said one patent application in 1848. "The earthnut, groundnut, goober, pindar or peanut" is how the Department of Agriculture phrased it. An 1884 guide referred to the "mandubi, pea-nut, monkey nut."
Amid this swirl of synonyms, the triumph of "peanut" was far from guaranteed. "Pindar" had a head start — the Oxford English Dictionary lists a first reference in 1684, predating "peanut" by more than a century. "Earth nut" was a serious contender:
But by the 20th century, "peanut" had won, despite its horticultural confusion.
And as the peanut went from being an unappreciated slave food to a multimillion-dollar crop the other words fell out of use. "Pindar" lingers in only a few corners of the South. Earth-nut, ground-pea and other variants are all but gone.
But "goober"? Goober hangs on. Throughout the South, you might eat goober pie, goober cake or plain old roadside goobers, freshly boiled. And then, of course, there was Andy Griffith's Goober Pyle: Gomer Pyle's cousin, the good-hearted, dim-witted gas station attendant who really, truly did not have a gift for impressions.
And when applied to people — Goober Pyle or otherwise — the word retains a little of the food's old bad reputation. Peanuts might be respectable now, but goobers are hardly high-brow. A goober's a doofus, a goofball, a few legumes shy of a full meal. You might say it with affection — "What a goober!" — but it's never praise.
Earlier this week, the FBI posted a video on their website. It's a 25-minute movie called Game of Pawns, based on the true story of Glenn Shriver, an American college student who was recruited as a spy by the Chinese government.
According to the FBI's website, the film is aimed at college students about to study abroad themselves. The message is obvious: Don't be a spy. The rationale is that a dramatic movie will capture young people's attention better than public service announcements or PowerPoint.
In recent years, the FBI has been making movies to get their message across — both to the general public and their own agents. In fact, the FBI spends between $500,000 and $800,000 each year on videos for training and development.
"They really demand accuracy," says Sean Paul Murphy, the film's screenwriter. He tells NPR's Arun Rath "they want something that is as close to reality as possible."
When it came to actually writing the script, Murphy says FBI agents were far easier to work with than Hollywood types.
"Generally, everybody's on the same page, and you're not being pulled in different directions by people's egos. On this, everyone was pulling in the same direction."
Murphy has written movies for two other FBI films. Betrayed, his first film, is about an inside threat in the intelligence community. His other film, called Company Man, is about selling trade secrets to foreign powers. Both are short, dramatic narratives that emphasize the importance of national security.
In the week since its release, Game of Pawns has generated a lot of Internet ire and snark. Critics call it cheesy and cliche.
"I think it actually has very decent production values," Murphy says. "Some people were complaining about cliche dialogue, and some of the things they cited as examples were things that Glenn had actually said in the interviews."
Shriver himself cooperated extensively with the FBI in the making of Game of Pawns. Murphy says Shriver was pleased with the final result.
"He didn't like the way his father was presented," Murphy says, "but other than that, he had no complaint that I'm aware of."
In a classroom across from the coal mine exhibit at the Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, students are huddled around tables, studying petri dishes of bacteria.
But these aren't school-age kids — these students are all teachers, responsible for imparting science to upper-elementary or middle-school students.
That's a job that many here — and many teachers in grammar schools around the country — feel unprepared for.
"That's why I'm here," says fifth-grade teacher Joel Spears. "I teach all the subjects. I went in not knowing how to teach science, really. I didn't have the materials or the know-how to even teach it properly."
Once a month, Spears and dozens of other teachers come to the museum for a day of lessons and materials to then take back to their classrooms across the Chicago metro region.
Teacher Jonathan Fisher, a philosophy major who avoided life science in college but now teaches it to fourth-graders, taught genetics to his class with an activity he learned here.
"The students used Styrofoam blocks and different body parts — so limbs and dowel rods and different-sized eyes — [and flipped] coins to figure out which genes would be passed on to their kids," he explains. "The classroom couldn't have been more excited."
Sparking Kids' Interest At The Right Time
Today, the teachers here at the museum will be given diagrams of cells, petri dishes, bottles of Glo Germ (a lotion that exposes bacteria on hands), and even instructions for a simple incubator that enables students to grow bacteria from their own dirty hands.
"One of the challenges in the U.S. in getting kids engaged in science is that we don't have enough really high-quality science teachers in the middle grades," says Andrea Ingram, who oversees education at the Museum of Science and Industry. "And that's kind of like the early childhood of science. We either capture kids' enthusiasm there, get them committed to science, or we don't."
Ingram says museums are important partners in improving science instruction, especially given tight school budgets. Museums are popular with business and civic leaders, for one, and where else can you find tornadoes, lightning and real cow eyeballs to dissect?
But the real test of this teacher training program is in schools like Sawyer Elementary on Chicago's Southwest Side.
Graciela Olmos, a teacher at Sawyer, first saw a lesson about mechanical engineering taught with marbles and rulers at a class at the museum. Now she's teaching it to her eighth-graders, who are rolling marbles down incline planes and measuring how far the marbles push a little Styrofoam cup.
Olmos says she's used to being told to teach to higher standards. The museum program, she says, has shown her how.
"They model for us, 'This is how it's going to look.' And that's something that we lack," she says.
That's not the only thing she lacks, she says. "We need so many things. We need to have science labs with gas lines and sinks."
Helping Teachers Who Are Spread Thin
Another challenge, she says, is not being able to focus strictly on science. "If my specialty is science, well, let it be science," she says. "Don't give me so many other things to do aside of that."
Joanne Olson, a professor of science education at Iowa State University and president of the Association for Science Teacher Education, says that "has been a perpetual challenge for us in science education, particularly at the elementary grades."
For years, Olson has been advocating for schools to have science specialists, much the way many P.E. teachers teach only physical education.
"You have one teacher who's dedicated to that particular subject area, and that way the teacher can be very well-prepared ... and doesn't have to take on literacy instruction, math and these other areas," she says.
Olson says a majority of elementary teachers have gotten fewer than six total hours of science training in the last three years. "Anything that can be done to help is a good thing," she says.
The Museum of Science and Industry plans to train 1,000 Chicago-area teachers in the next five years. A study of the program by Michigan State University has found that the teachers trained there know more science than they did before participating — and so do their students.
Jordi Savall has made a career of reviving ancient music. Whatever the age of the songs, though, he doesn't play them as museum-piece recreations, preserved in isolation. Savall takes great pleasure in smashing together music from different times and different cultures.
At his concerts, it's difficult to predict what might happen — or who might show up. There might be musicians from Afghanistan or Africa onstage; those same musicians might perform an medieval French song or a Jewish lullaby.
His latest project, Bal-Kan: Honey and Blood, requires no such mashup of regions. Instead, he delves deeply into the music of the Balkans and uncovers a truly incredible variety.
Of Blood, Beauty And Belief
Savall says his fascination with the Balkans stems from the period when the region was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks were the first to give the region the name "Balkan," shortly after conquering it in the 15th century. As for what exactly that name means, well, dispute persists.
Not surprisingly, Jordi Savall prefers the poetic version: a combination of two words, "Bal" and "Kan." He explains, "'Bal' means in Turkish 'honey,' and 'kan' 'blood.' [The Turks] found a beautiful country, but they found also a very strong population who resist in a very exceptional way. And they tell that this is the country of the honey and blood."
Savall says the Ottomans gave locals a certain degree of independence, tolerating religious and cultural differences. Because it was essentially a place where East meets West, the Balkans were extraordinarily diverse. The region was home to more than 20 distinct ethnic groups, including Jewish refugees expelled from Spain. This gave rise to many styles of music, all of which could be played freely.
Out of the Balkans came music untouched by the Renaissance or the Baroque period. Despite its diversity, or perhaps because of it, the Balkans were a place outside of time — where songs may be a thousand years old and yet still swing like jazz. And as he studied the modern-day Balkans, Savall noticed how many cultural traditions remained, while in other places they had succumbed to globalization.
He says of the project: "It's a way to reflect this extremely big diversity of ways to sing, to play music — to believe also. And this is, I think, for me it's one of the most exciting projects that happened in the last 20 years."
The Musician's Language
It's a project that's too big to contain on one record. The three CDs of Bal-Kan come in a small book fit for the coffee table, filled with essays on the music, art culture and history of the region, along with photos and art reproductions.
His last several projects have been issued this way. It's all part of a master plan by Savall: In this day of downloads, he's trying to revive the idea of a record album as a thing to be held and experienced.
"This is something you can take your time to read, to listen," he says. "I think it's also important to bring to the music all the elements to understand the music — to know about the history, about the political situation. What are these societies? What are these people? What they represent in our world today, no?"
And it's impossible to shy away from the political history. The 20th century saw a lot of bloodshed in the Balkans. The different cultures don't mix as well anymore.
Remarkably, the inspiration for this Balkan project came from a performance in memory of the victims of the siege in Sarajevo. For that concert, Savall had assembled a potentially volatile blend of ethnicities. He lists them: "Serbian musicians, Bosnian musicians, Armenian musicians, Turkish musicians, Sephardic musicians, Christian musicians. It was clear to see in the ambience was a certain electricity. People was happy to be there, but many of these people had never played together."
But he says that after only a few hours of rehearsal, the atmosphere had completely changed. Between the different ethnicities, above the different melodies, a universal language took hold — a language common to all musicians.
"What makes one a musician is having sympathy to another musician," he says. "It's when he understands the other musician, has the same language as he has, the same sensitivity, the same virtuosity. Then it's a respect. And then it's creating something fantastic."