Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Columbian Exchange: A Reading of 1493



This month's reading group selection is 1493 by Charles Mann, which takes the reader on a very personal journey of the afermath of Columbus' "discovery" of America.  Mann covers much of the road himself, similar to Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, illustrating how profoundly the discovery of America reshaped the global map.  Not just in terms of geography, but it terms of "ecological imperialism" and the advent of "globalization" with the discovery of silver and its use as currency in exchange for Chinese silk.  Feel free to discuss the issues raised in this book.

98 comments:

  1. I'm on p 260 of this illuminating book. Aside from my usual complaint of small print (sorry, old age), I thought the narrative spent too much time on scientific technicalities. Instead of spending so much time on scientific terminology and explanation of scientific processes, it would have been better for the layman reader if the author used general explanations for the inventions made by scientists and engineers.

    There are lots of good photos and illustrations such as this gem:

    http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/books/rando-ems/1493-Kid-eating-SP-250.jpg

    It does look like the little guy is eating ice cream - but is eating something far more wholesome!

    While the book is subtitled 'Uncovering the New World Columbus Created', the author points out that is many instances, it was also a world he destroyed.

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  2. Sorry to hear that, Trippler, although it's always fun to have different opinions of a book. Makes it much more interesting to discuss.

    I only read the beginning back when we decided on the book but enjoyed it so far. He does sort of build on the work of Diamond as Gintaras suggests but, more to the point, he really is rewriting/adding to the work of Alfred Crosby. But unlike 1491, which also built on the scholarly work of others, he acknowledges Crosby's work and his influence up front (I loved Crosby's book). And as I noted earlier, how can you resist the story of the tomatoes?

    And at least in the opening Mann paints a full picture (for me at least) of the settlements that Columbus established. I had never read any of this before, so found it fascinating. Maybe I'll change my mind and take this book with me instead of one of the others and I can read the rest of it on the plane.

    I hope others can join us. Should make for an interesting discussion.

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  3. There are a lot of scientific allusions, but this book seems to be primarily one of economic history thus far. Seems Mann is mostly interested in the early globalization attempts. Interesting the way he interprets Jamestown, one of several English joint stock company to make claims in America. A lot of this is well-trodden history, but he does provide some new wrinkles.

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  4. Mann went with the conventional wisdom on Columbus' birth. This has been hotly debated over the years, including a Portuguese historian who has written a book claiming Columbus was of mixed Polish-Portuguese origin.

    http://portuguese-american-journal.com/manuel-rosa-surprising-revelations-about-columbus%E2%80%99s-true-identity-interview/

    Apparently, Columbus guarded his birthright so it is difficult to say for certain where he came from.

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  5. ''how can you resist the story of the tomatoes? ''

    Actually I like that - it's just the depth that he goes into in describing some of those processes.

    There are some people today who argue ''genetically engineered food'' is some kind of hazard. That any innovations represent some threat to humanity's well being. In fact, Rocker Joe Jackson had a song about that called ''Cancer'':

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEzcLTAMrRA

    The reality, as Mann points out, is that such science has existed for THOUSANDS of years and it has always benefited humanity. Further, such progress answer the Malthusian myths which assert that humanity is doomed because of over population and limited resources. Such cynical nonsense has no basis in reality. And Manns' two books illustrated that truth.

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  6. ''Little Ice Age''

    I remember studying this in my high school Earth Science class (this may have been my favorite topic as a school kid). But my studies taught me that this era began in 1300. When I initially read Mann's account, it appeared that he believed it started a lot later on or about 1550. I re-read that segment and see that he did mention the Maunder Curve but that it was the technical progress of that era which aggravated the problem. Strangely enough, Mann's idea is not exclusively his as shown in this study:

    http://www.eh-resources.org/timeline/timeline_lia.html

    This is an amazing conclusion and shows that human caused global warming can be very real.

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  7. I thought it was an interesting thesis that "forestation" may be linked to the Little Ice Age, but then later he talks about the settlers' "deforestation" reducing Powhatan's natural forests, along with the tobacco farming and livestock grazing that followed.

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  8. Trip, I see what you mean about malaria. More info than necessary. It was enough to note the two strains of malaria and that the English settlers probably brought one type with them in the 17th century. My guess is that malaria was already there thanks to the Spanish, who had settlements all the way up the Atlantic coast, which Mann noted. St. Augustine was founded in 1565.

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  9. I started the book over on the plane, and am glad I did because I had forgotten some of what I read earlier. What I found most fascinating was the earth worm story. I can't imagine a part of the world without them, and am wondering what it must have looked like (although he does a pretty good job painting a picture of leaf litter, etc).

    I'm at a meeting on the big island of Hawaii, in a hotel atop a giant lava field. I wonder if they import worms to get the imported soil mixed in ... I'll have to ask.

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  10. I was also intrigued by the fire and Little Ice Age connection. He covered some of the fire story in 1491, but thought it fit in well here. The two side-by-side maps were really interesting. I'll have to show these to some of the wildfire researchers I work with.

    The Rocky Mountain region was entirely shaped by fire, man-caused and "natural." Fire suppression over the last 100 years has totally reshaped the forested landscape, and put us at risk of catastrophic fires. Not sure what it's doing to the climate, although the climate is playing havoc with the forests.

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  11. I agree the mosquito business was a bit much, but I think he's just showing off his science bona fides. That was one reason I assume Crosby had trouble publishing his book (I hadn't heard that before) -- it's more a history of micro-organisms or history of science rather than a history of men.

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  12. Something else that jumped out at me was all the debt that Spain took on attempting to fund its expeditions, all of which had a modern feel to it. I'm now reading about how the English attempted to do something similar -- send out parties on a shoestring secure riches and trade with China.

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  13. John Rolfe as importer of earthworms? North America having no indigenous species of these creatures?? (p 39)

    Not likely. From my past readings on earth science, land isn't so tillable without them. And much of North America was either forest or farm land. The Ice Age did wipe out native species of worms as it did with much animal life. But creatures moved as the ice sheets receded. Therefore, it is likely that earthworms gradually moved back into tillable lands cleared of ice. After all, the Ice Age also affected Europe. If worms survived there, they could surely survive in North America as well. Moreover, snakes survived so that worms should also have survived.

    John Rolfe may have made other contributions or depredations but I seriously doubt he could take credit for originating the existence of earth worms here.

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  14. I think he said something like "for sure" the New England area and the Midwest, suggesting maybe others.

    Frankly I wouldn't believe it either if he were just stating it as fact, but he talks to a couple worm experts so I am assuming they know what they are talking about. And doesn't he quote a description from the time as well supporting this idea?

    It's a wild idea that on the surface flies in the face of how the earth "works," but I'm inclined to believe him given the evidence he presents.

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  15. An interesting endnote says that the Ice Age didn't kill all North American earthworms, but that earthworms in America today are of European and Japanese origins.

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  16. Very plausible, as he describes the very different farming practices. Powhatan's tribe relied on naturally existing plant foods, that were already adapted to marshy soil, like tuckahoe. Obviously, the European imports and wide-scale farming practices weren't going to survive here without draining and tilling the land, as a result Powhatan's staple foods sufferd terribly.

    What was interesting to me was to read that sugar cane was imported. Always thought of this as a uniquely Carribean product, but was brought in by the Spanish.

    When Mann gets out West, we'll see that the natives practices dry farming, relying on river banks.

    I suppose that lacking historical facts to base many of his arguments on, Mann relies more on scientific theories to bolster his arguments.

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  17. Beyond the earthworms and honeybees, I thought Mann's description of Jamestown as an early corporate town well done. He's on surer ground here. It's funny how we are taught this whole nonsense of America founded on religious freedom, rather than the sad fact that it was nothing more than a trading posts that were established in the early colonies. Plymouth had that sense of religious destiny in the early going but it would be a century later that the Great Awakening saw many persons coming to America for religious reasons. What we got in the beginning was essentially a bunch of riff-raff from Britain.

    I am fascinated by how Mann is trying to explain institutions such as slavery from an ecological perspectives. The chapter on "Evil Air" puts slavery in a "survival of the fittest" context with African slaves proving better resistant to malaria than English and Scottish endentured servants. I would think the "Little Ice Age" would have made it difficult for mosquitos to spread so far north, but he seems to have quite an array of supportive information to back his theories on how malaria strain came from Europe to America, and spread like wild fire in the colonies. Yellow fever proving to be an even more effective killer in the Carribean islands.

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  18. It is interesting how history has been taught as myth for so long, and then the conservatives cry foul when historians try to inject a sense of reality into how things really happened. I enjoyed the description of the entire stock scheme, where the people "manning" it were but cogs in the system. Lose a few thousand, send a few thousand more.

    He mentions the destruction made by pigs, but in a book I read awhile back -- I think it was called New Lands, New Animals, or something like that -- the writer goes into great detail about the destruction animals caused when they were introduced. Pigs were left to run free and fatten themselves, generally by digging up Native gardens.

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  19. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the way Mann described the tobacco issue. While he credits the Taíno tribe with introducing it to the Spaniards, he describes its use as ''a fad''. Based on my study of Caribbean history (I am partly descended of Taínos) we were taught two things: first that the cigar (something I smoked for several years - and if my health permitted it, I would be smoking one right now) was invented in Puerto Rico*; second that the tobacco used in those times may have had some degree of entheogenic properties (that is, it may have had had some cannabis like properties). But this was not hinted at by the narrative.

    Shortly after Rolfe entered the scene, tobacco was harvested in the Virginia area and exported to Europe. This brand had far less entheogenic value (the narrative indicates it was ''intoxicating'') and it was the one which remains in use to this day. Much later in the book (p 303) Mann briefly discusses peyote which is a cactus found in the Southwest used by Indians for ritualistic and transcendent purposes. I am on p 328 at the moment and would have liked to see just a bit more on this matter including some discussion of coca, its use, how it impacted commercially, and its impact as a commodity used by colonialists.

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  20. * to this day the best cigar I ever had was a home grown, non commercially produced one from the hills around my home town of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Even though it was not wrapped up in plastic or cellophane, it was left out in the open for what must have been at least one year. I smoked it and it was not dry inside, had full flavor, was very smooth, and left my mouth feeling very good.

    Gosh, how I wish all cigars were this tasteful!

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  21. Not a smoker, but have always liked the aroma of a good cigar. As I understood, it was rather low grade tobacco they grew in Virginia, but it satisfied a growing market back in old England, much the way cheap cigarettes do today. It was the nicotine that hooked them.

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  22. http://books.google.com/books?id=c4wHBI7mZGIC&pg=PA68&dq=astor+exported+drugs+into+turkey&hl=en&ei=TBu6TuOTKZHViAKjpKXJBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Sorry for the long URL.

    This blurb shows what I felt should have been discussed at greater length by Mann: how $$$$ or ₤₤₤₤ by the multiple of millions entered into the pockets of elites such as Astor, Forbes, Queen Victoria, and the Russells because of the European and American drugs wars on the Third World. Further, he should have discussed at greater length the tremendous cost in terms of lives, resources, and infrastructural damage (not just the ecological damage) was caused by this type of imperialism. I realize this was not the actual scope of his book but the subject would have added to it.

    During the Vietnam era the exploitation of the Third World by the West was always discussed at great length. That war, like so many others, profited the rich while all else suffered. What is going on today in Iraq and Afghanistan is precisely the same thing. And now the West wants to invade Iran. These wars can be avoided if people would awaken to the truth that they are being fought for the good of the elites, not for anyone else. While Mann does illustrate that to some extent, I would have liked to see a bit more details on this.

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  23. I see Mann made no mention of Gavin Menzies account of the Chinese circumnavigating the globe. He noted quite a few Chinese historians though. Very impressive bibliography.

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  24. I'm really enjoying his chapters on the "trade war" between Spain and China. Fascinating study on early global politics and economics.

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  25. Here's a review of Crosby's The Columbian Exchange,

    http://www.gilderlehrman.org/historynow/06_2007/historian2.php

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  26. Looks like a very good history quarterly. Good article on Jamestown,

    http://www.gilderlehrman.org/historynow/06_2007/historian4.php

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  27. coffee - sugar - tobacco - opium

    All intoxicants which generated huge profits for exploiters (they used to be called explorers in the old days) and the royalty that sent them on those overseas missions. Not only were indigenous people enslaved, exploited, and killed, Europeans were taxed in order to finance these criminal activities. And, of course, ship and import companies generated huge profits at their expense!

    "Free" market be damned!

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  28. 17th century muskets:

    http://www.engerisser.de/Bilder/Waffen/Musketen.jpg

    http://www.cmhg-phmc.gc.ca/cmh/book_images/high/v1_c3_s06_ss00_02.jpg

    very heavy, gave tremendous recoil, cumbersome esp in bad weather - bu tit largely got the job done in defeating indigenous people who only had bows and arrows

    17th century flintlock:

    http://www.dandbmilitaria.com/ekmps/shops/dandbmilitaria/images/flintlock-rifle--7608-p%5Bekm%5D1289x350%5Bekm%5D.jpg

    lighter and allowed the shooter more mobility

    While it, too, had its shortcomings, Native Americans especially in the South bartered for it in their quest to defeat invading Europeans.

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  29. The Chinese section was fascinating, covering a lot of ground I wasn't familiar with. Again, it always amazes me how many people were killed in the name of commerce and trade. Oh, and profit.

    I think the most interesting bit for me in the first section was how Scotland was lured into the empire by assuming their debt from the "new world" bubble. Another thing I had never read.

    I also found his idea of black slavery tied to malaria convincing. I had read that one reason Native Americans were not kept as slaves was because they so easily escaped and blended back into their country. But he makes a convincing argument that Africans may have been the only slaves in the south to survive. I don't remember reading that in Crosby.

    I'm enjoying this one a lot more than Mann's first book, since he keeps his sources transparent and because he's covering a lot of new ground for me. So far he's done a good job of synthesizing a lot of research around unlikely topics, like the potato or the mosquito. He has been a good travel companion.

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  30. Gosh, I sure miss RWhelan's many posts on our readings. He sure livened up the proceedings. Hopefully, he will be able to join in and liven things up.

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  31. I dropped Robert an e-mail but haven't gotten a response. I hope all is well.

    I've read about the Scottish attempts to ford the isthmus of Central America before. They called it Darien at the time. T.M. Devine gets into it in his book, A Scottish Nation, 1700-2000. Very good book. He notes that this is specifically what led to the Treaty of Union, as Scotland was essential bankrupted by this venture, having invested everything it had in an effort to become a king maker.

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  32. Rubber ball:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GRuzaMwvrA

    I have not been able to stop thinking of this great classic song since reading accounts of rubber balls for sport in Mann's book. Evidently, once the Spaniards saw how useful it was they adopted it for sport. Perhaps this is why that country is so proficient in handball and football.

    Up to this time, I thought rubber was used for sports by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Actually, they used leather or inflated pig bladders which also bounces. I guess this is what Europeans used when ''playing'' mêlée (precursor of rugby and modern American football) and when Chinese played cuju (precursor of modern day association football or soccer).

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  33. "Blame it on El Nino,"

    It really is interesting how Mann is exploring climate and agriculture as impelling forces in shaping history. At first, I was a bit put off by this as he seemed to be giving too much store to the "Little Ice Age," especially when some of the situations he presented appeared to contradict his thesis, but as he moves forward his arguments become more compelling.

    The history he presents of China is relatively new to me. The way he describes all the forced migrations and how this greatly impacted farming and arable land, with the greater than usual rainfall, one can see how all this would have had a devastating impact on the country. The shift from rice and wheat to corn and potatoes in the high country illustrates how quickly countries could change their diets. Tobacco appears to have had the same devastating impact on China as it did in the Virginia colony, as persons turned to cash crops to lift themselves out of poverty, despite the ecological damage these crops yielded.

    There are any number of movements today that try to return land to its original agricultural products, but it seems like a losing battle, given how powerful the forces are here. Not just the big agricultural conglomerates, but nature itself. How did you retract 500 years of the Columbian Exchange?

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  34. Speaking of agriculture, I never heard of Jethro Tull as an ag activist:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e0/Jethro_Tull_%28agriculturist%29.jpg/250px-Jethro_Tull_%28agriculturist%29.jpg


    Evidently, he made full use of the Columbian exchange in order to promote reform which advanced European agriculture. His work proved Malthus' mysticism was incorrect as scientific advances were able to overcome population booms.

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  35. I suppose at the time Malthus was positing his theory, food and people seemed like a zero-sum game.

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  36. I have always felt Malthus was a bigoted preacher from the hate filled Church of Satan. Evidently, I am not and never was alone in this belief:

    http://www.bookrags.com/biography/thomas-robert-malthus-dlb2/2.html


    "The contention that individuals and not the injustice of societal institutions were responsible for poverty likewise solicited bitter reactions. William Hazlitt's A Reply to the Essay on Population (1807) refers to Malthus's works "in which the little, low, rankling malice of a parish-beadle, or the overseer of a workhouse is disguised in the garb of philosophy," and William Godwin's Of Population (1820) describes Malthus as "a dark and terrible genius that is ever at hand to blast all the hopes of mankind." William Cobbett's Sermon on the Sin of Forbidding Marriage (1822) calls Malthus the preacher of "a doctrine of devils." Speaking to the House of Commons on 11 August 1834, Cobbett branded Malthusianism "a base and filthy philosophy." Karl Marx's famous outburst in Theories of Surplus Value (1861-1863) claims the people of England "were confronted not with a man of science but with a bought advocate, a pleader on behalf of their enemies, a shameless sycophant of the ruling classes."

    .............

    It could well be that Malthus was trying to promote hysteria in England and Europe to justify expansionism and the ruthless exploitation of the Third World. History shows there was much poverty and want in those countries. Evidently, the Poor Laws were insufficient in correcting the problems of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. Therefore, certain enterprising types created justifications for imperialism designed to ostensibly bring Christianity and Western ''enlightenment'' {sic} to the Third World. However, the real reason for these ruthless barbarities was to exploit those nations, enrich the wealthy, secure political appointments for careerists, entrench certain monarchies, and increase militarization - all the while at taxpayer expense. The cost in terms of blood and resources lost to the Third World remain incalculable.

    .............

    Populations do NOT outgrow their resources. Advancements which create hybridization of commodities such as rice, potatoes, greens, and others are available in every continent. This is the same for potable water and medicines. As Mann points out this has happened in past generations in various cultures. Humanity can readily overcome any inequities in the distribution of these resources. Therefore, people in underprivileged areas of the developing world need not be deprived of these goods. On that basis there is and never was any justification for Malthusian mysticism.

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  37. I think populations can and do very much outgrow their resources, or at least their ability to cultivate them. Jared Diamond cites quite a few examples in Collapse.

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  38. All populations do -- it's mysticism to think they can't. And it's not just lack of food. A series of bad winters can wipe out most of a population, or a severe drought. Life on this planet is resilient, but not immune to disaster. If we ever needed a Malthus, it is now when the population just hit 7 billion.

    There has been a series on Marketplace this week on feeding all the people on the planet and as many as 11 billion projected on the horizon. It will not be easy. And that's not even taking into consideration climate change which may make this even more difficult.

    The only way I know Malthus is through his influence on Darwin. He gave Darwin the kernel of the idea of having to compete for food to survive (Lyell gave him the idea of deep time).

    But Malthus was looking at the poor, and saying _they_ had too many children to support, which understandably did not sit well with social reformers. Not sure I would call him the preacher of the church of satan, but maybe more the precursor to our modern conservative movement.

    If you read Engel's book on the English classes you'll see something similar about the Irish. And I think of Engel as generally working on behalf of the poor, but he also had his real prejudices.

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  39. But to bring it back to Mann, I think you can see examples of new products like the potato supporting population growth in places like Ireland and China. It must have seemed at the time like a miracle food.

    But then we know what happened to Ireland, and the descriptions of Mao trying to squeeze life out of a huge country like China that Mann describes as lacking real arable land, it seems the handwriting is on the wall.

    Humans are extremely inventive and resourceful, but not sure where the next potato is going to come from since there are no more "new lands" to conquer and occupy. Or even more worrisome, the next source of water.

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  40. Water as much as arable land is the real issue here, and Mann does a very good job of describing conditions. When you think of all the fresh water supplies we have contaminated in the States and the serious problems they have out West with the rapid expansion of cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, you can see how water is very much an issue at home, much less in Africa where population growth already stretches well beyond the abilities of many of these countries to handle food and water supply. These countries rely heavily on corn and grain imports.

    I suppose GM foods adapted to arid climates will eventually have to be considered on a broad scale, as much as most people hate the idea of it. Norman Borlaug won a Nobel Prize for maize and wheat seeds he developed that had greater germination rates a disease resistant in arid climates. They were a lifesaver for many, many people.

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  41. ''Not sure I would call him the preacher of the church of satan, but maybe more the precursor to our modern conservative movement. ''

    To this I say a resounding TOUCHÉ!

    The resources both in terms of food commodities, potable water, and medicine are there and can be multiplied many times over. Dr Norman Borlaug's work proves that. All it takes is the will to create and distribute them. Unfortunately, the world concerns itself with delusionalisms such as the ''war on terror'' and the quest to ''save'' or in Ann Coulter's words ''purify'' 'infidels'. We need to redirect our efforts from those stupidities into the type of constructivism that will multiply those resources and make them available world wide.

    Yes, it can be done.

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  42. Slightly off topic ...


    perhaps my all time favorite album:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2MgU7PNHgw&feature=related

    ----------


    "Cup of Wonder'' ~

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vs-ZiRs_isM

    note the lyrics:

    '' ... pass the plate to all who hunger.
    Pass the wit of ancient wisdom, pass the cup of crimson wonder.''


    Most of the songs in this great album deal with abundant living and sharing especially during Beltane.

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  43. The chapter on the potato is proving very interesting. I was surprised it was so late, 19th century, that the potato took root in Europe after three centuries of being treated as a novelty item. The story about Drake and Ralegh was a good one. I'm tented to dig up this book on potatoes that Mann referred to. Can't remember if this is the one,

    http://books.google.com/books/about/The_history_and_social_influence_of_the.html?id=EV4YE_0RsywC

    At over 700 pages, probably more about the spud than I care to know.

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  44. Drake was a very interesting character. A hero to Britain and a pirate to Spain. While he did impose depredations wherever he went, to his credit he helped promote the potato which helped feed a lot of people. Strange how he was regarded in Germany as introducing it to Europeans. Prior to reading the book, I had not heard of the "Potato War" of 1789. Thought Europe was mired in Napoleonic conflicts all that time.

    The term ''"potatoes fueled the rise of the West'' seemed like an oversimplification. Advancements in military power and the maritime industry were more likely the reason for that rise. But that's a different tale for a different day.

    Photo on p 206 which showed the wide variety of potatoes was quite interesting. The variety is just amazing.

    I liked the note Mann gave about Adam Smith praising the Irish as healthy and strong due to their consumption of potatoes [p 210]. Indeed, it is a very healthy food staple.

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  45. Here's an interesting table showing when potatoes were first introduced in each European country,

    http://www.potato2008.org/en/world/europe.html

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  46. In the West Indies we have other varieties of tubers and one is called yautía (yow-TEE-ah):

    http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/1492/figs/tannia-fig31.gif

    https://encrypted-tbn3.google.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSCqjM8pOSwBmp5RLZLlr3gm5fJQJTntoWw4rfsqINw8WmOBGZ9aw

    http://karmafreecooking.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/yautiatuber.jpg

    https://encrypted-tbn2.google.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRnzYK9AZutX0QWRaF3EqaK3U9noqnsLg296NyBM1uOloFv1_cE


    They may not look entirely appetizing to most folks from North America. But trust me, they are! When they are mashed and used in a meat pie, the flavor and smell is beyond all description. Sometimes they are cooked as fritters and served with mojo sauce (minced cilantro, garlic, onions, with salt, olive oil, vinegar) or as alcapurrias:


    http://www.whats4eats.com/appetizers/alcapurrias-recipe

    How I long to eat some now!

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  47. We get such a limited selection of potatoes and bananas in America and Europe, when there are so many varieties. I can't even find sweet potatoes over here anymore. They had for a while in the grocery stores but I guess there wasn't enough interest expressed.

    Reading about how Ireland went almost completely mono-culture in the 1840s, shows we haven't learned from our mistake. As Mann said, we have made food crops into an agro-industrial complex, relying way too heavily on nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides. His story of the Guano islands was pretty amazing.

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  48. Confession: I was fascinated by the guano segment in Mann's book. Just imagine the logistical challenges imposed by the harvesting and processing of that product. The smell alone would pose quite a hazard. But the acidity would be even more dangerous. Then, if the acidity didn't burn through the containers and hull of the ships, consider how difficult it was to remove it into containers in the European harbors. I bet that wouldn't help the tourist industry in such a location.

    So sad that slaves were forced to work on that stuff. But imagine if one fell on a mound of that and the acidity causing so much harm on one's skin. Ugh!

    The term ''guano barons'' for those who capitalized form it is amusing but telling. Governments fought wars to keep those guano islands and Peru as we know it today has as its foundation upon that smelly industry.

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  49. You can definitely write a long book on this subject alone. What fascinated me was the US laying claims to "guano islands" in the Carribean in an effort to break the British hold on the Peruvian guano islands. Of course, the whole thing is so appalling. The way these "guano barons" lured Chinese indentured servants to this heinous work because they didn't want to risk losing their valuable slaves, and then to have dig, sleep and often die in this shit. It is really hard to imagine, but there are the photos to bring the story home. Mann really has an eye for telling stories, and lets them speak for themselves.

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  50. As an anecdote, years ago an archeologist and I wanted to take a closer look at some Anasazi ruins at Bandelier National Park in New Mexico. You can smell the stench from the bat guano from a long distance away. We thought we might be able to handle it, but as we got closer the stetch was so overpowering that we had to retreat. It was simply impossible to deal with that smell, and to read of persons literally having to mine this shit is almost impossible to imagine.

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  51. Rubber baron Fitzcarraldo:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/ae/Fitzcarraldo.jpg

    A documentary was made about how this movie was made. The highly temperamental Klaus Kinksi kept shooting his mouth off at the director and his assistant. Unknown to him, the local natives offered to kill Kinski for his distemper. Luckily, the offer was declined.

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  52. Mann failed to discuss how cannabis was brought into the so called New World. Over the years I have read where it was introduced to the West Indies by Columbus but other accounts say it was brought in later on. There have also been accounts of wide production and use in Jamestown, Va at the time reported in Mann's book. A discussion of its medicinal properties and production for that purpose would have been a fine addition to the book.

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  53. I think Hemp was used mostly for clothing and rope, at least in the early American colonies. Apparently, hemp was first introduced in America at Jamestown in 1619, but the Spanish could have just as easily introduced it earlier. I don't think its medicinal qualities were discovered until much later.

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  54. According to this paper, "The crop was first brought to South America in 1545, in Chile, and to North America in Port Royal, Acadia in 1606."

    http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-284.html

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  55. I think Pollan talks about marijuana plants in his Botany of Desire. He also talks about the potato. I didn't look at the references, but assume at least some of the potato stories in Mann's book come from Pollan -- particularly the scorched-earth techniques involved in growing them (message: only organic potatoes please; same with strawberries).

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  56. ''At that time many Spaniards believed parents passed their ideas and moral character'' unto their children.

    Historically, this analysis is correct. Because Spanish royalty was so eager to rid Spain of Jews and Muslims, they imagined their society to be ''stained'' by these people and used that notion as justification for banishment. Somehow, having any form of ancestry from these groups were held to be some form of 'ineradicable inner stain' which could contaminate or jeopardize society. The ''immoral heresy'' of Islam and the ''corruption'' of Jewishness promoted the authorities to exile all who were not held to be 100% Castilian or old style Spanish. Though not stated in the book, the old law was that one had to prove that they were not tainted in any manner by having this type of bloodline for the past 500 years. Failure to do so was sin. That is why so many were exiled into the New
    World.

    Mann also included a line about Indians as possibly descended of Jesus or of biblical Jews. However, he did not elaborate. He undoubtedly was making a reference to the discredited notion Mormons make about that connection which has clearly been proven to be false.

    pp 315, 316

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  57. Doggone it! I was trying to remember what the old term for Spanish blood that was not ''tainted'' by Jewish or Muslim blood and hoped to include it above. After posting it, now I remember --- the term is ''Cristiano viejo rancio''.

    Those who read Cervantes might possibly remember the term because Sancho Panza indicated his pride in being of incorruptible blood. That was the term he used to describe himself because the village they were from was Quijo (pronounced KEY-hoe) which was a Spanish-Arabic village.

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  58. Sorry to say Robert won't be joining us in this discussion. He wrote a short note and said he is still having a lot of problems with his vision and needs another 6 months recovery time. Please send him your best wishes.

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  59. I hadn't realized Fitzcarraldo was a real person. I loved the movie. I long heard what an ordeal it was to make it, given the infamous character of Kinski and the grand ambitions of Herzog, but have yet to see Burden of Dreams.

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  60. Thanx for the update about RW. I just sent him a note. His posts always had much insight and were always a pleasure to read.

    Hopefully, he'll soon have a complete recovery & join us again in a few months.

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  61. I have read several books by the great author James Michener. One of his best writings was "Caribbean":

    http://di1-4.shoppingshadow.com/images/pi/5b/e9/e4/2000833353-260x260-0-0_Caribbean_by_James_A_Michener.jpg

    In this classic he writes of Maroons and their quest to be free of British imperialism and the slavery suffered under colonial planters. British maritime strategists would employ collaborators to infiltrate the Maroon communities in order to spy on them. More often than not, however, the Maroons would get wise to their ways and soon put the torture to these spies. The unhappy fate they suffered was quite painful. Evidently, these communities existed not just in the Caribbean as shown by Michener. They existed throughout much of Brazil and other countries in South America as shown by Mann. In Brazil they are called "Quilombos" and remain very active to this day. (In other parts of Latin America they are called "Palenques".) Sadly, there remain numerous land claim disputes between Quilombos, Native Americans, and certain land grabbing financial interests. The courts often make determinations that are frequently unfavorable to Maroons whose families have worked those lands for generations. Their work shows how African agricultural methods were useful in turning rain forest land into tillable land. This illustrates how the Columbian Exchange was multifaceted.

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  62. I remember reading his book about the Chesapeake, but it was many moons ago. I think his best work was on the Pacific islands, before he became so formulaic.

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  63. My favorite book to explore the idea of "maroons" is Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom. Faulkner takes in quite a bit of the Caribbean in that book as well.

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  64. Speaking of Columbian Exchange, it led to Thanksgiving Day.

    A Happy Thanksgiving to all!

    http://images.hellokids.com/_uploads/_tiny_galerie/20100417/thanksgiving-turkey_c5v.jpg

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  65. Adam Smith condemned slavery both on moral and economic grounds. This was not ''free trade'' as slaves were not in a position to freely exchange goods and services. Because of this slavery was not economically feasible and a wage system was far more effective in producing income and advancing society's interests.* One of the things that facilitated this abhorrent practice was the fact that it existed widely throughout much of West Africa. In exchange for slaves, Westerners gave money and that was all the incentive needed by Africans to sell others. Mann suggests this was the only form of property that existed among Africans at that time. But this does not square with my knowledge of the cultures at that time or today. My understanding is that wealth was measured in terms of ownership of cattle or other livestock. Land was not necessarily the measurement as all had equal access to water. Some agricultural products was owned as well. I believe clans generally owned the tillable lands and that how farming products were produced. Barter was the means by which people thrived: live stock owners exchanged milk/meat for food from those who owned tillable land. Cash generally was not involved in those exchanges. Therefore (if Mann is to be believed in this regard), it would appear that as wealthier folks got money in exchange for slaves it gave them more incentive to participate in the abhorrent slave trade. I'm not sure I can accept this explanation for why Slavery grew in West Africa.



    * one wonders how this lesson was lost on the Antebellum South.

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  66. ''capitulation'' p 356 or 357

    Someone clarify for me what was the context when Mann used this term (I returned the book to the library and forgot why the term was used). If I recall correctly he used it to mean ''surrender'' as in the military sense when one is captured. From my study of the Inquisition the term meant when a Judio (Jew) converted to Catholicism and forever more renounced Judaism. Was this what he was actually referring to?

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  67. Mann offers a mighty fine study on the nature of slavery, charting its origins and growth. It was interesting to read about the early sugar plantations on Madeira and the Canary Islands, where slavery was introduced. I was curious why Europeans hadn't developed sugar beets (Beta vulgaris), which can be grown in colder climates. I see that they weren't first discovered as a sugar source until 1747,

    http://www.sucrose.com/lhist.html

    but today account for as much as 35% of the world's sugar. Sugar is one of Lithuania's top commercial exports.

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  68. I should qualify the above post by saying plantation slavery. Intensive mono-culture agriculture required a vast labor force and African slaves apparently proved the most cost-effective means for planters to grow crops like sugar, tobacco and cotton. Mann showed that Adam Smith's assertion only worked in less intensive agricultural societies, where you didn't need such a large workforce to plant and harvest your crop. This was why Mann said slavery never really took hold in the Northeast, and also why it was fairly easy to abolish.

    It has often been said that the cotton gin led to the huge growth of slavery in the southern states as it made cotton a much more profitable crop. Statistics would tend to bear this widely held assumption true,

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3narr6.html

    but slavery existed on a broad scale in the South before the gin. Eli Whitney's invention simply expanded the market for plantation owners.

    One thing that Mann doesn't get into is that slaves often served as collateral in plantation owners getting credit. One of the reasons plantation owners supported the ban on the overseas slave trade is that it allowed them to maintain a higher value on their slaves and get larger loans to extend their holdings.

    A prime example is Jefferson. Creditors held numerous leins on his slaves,which was one reason so few were manumitted after his death, as Jefferson was so deeply in debt and his slaves were the only form of collateral he had.

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  69. Human beings as collateral? Ugh, what a thought. But then, so many from the past are guilty of this heinous crime. Consider Yale:

    http://hnn.us/articles/213.html

    and Harvard & Brown:

    http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2008/4/25/slavery-ties-left-unexplored-with-initiatives/


    Yes, even the finest universities in the Northeast profited from selling human beings. Shocking, but true.

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  70. Evidently, the ruthless exploitation of indigenous peoples in Brazil is still going on:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/brazil/8909937/New-pictures-of-Brazils-isolated-Amazon-Yanomami-tribe.html


    ''New pictures of Brazil's isolated Amazon Yanomami tribe
    New pictures of the Yanomami, an Indian tribe living in isolation in the Brazilian Amazon have been released by a non-governmental groups, amid warnings they are threatened by the return of illegal gold miners on their territory ... The Yanomami suffered years of oppression at the hands of gold miners. Violence and disease saw their population fall by 20 per cent in just seven years.''


    Terrible!

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  71. ... and human trafficking continues as well, not to mention all the sweat shops we exploit abroad. As my father liked to say, the only thing consistent is man's inhumanity to man. I think he picked it up from a Robert Burns poem.

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  72. I thought his short piece on how Cortes, Pizarro and other conquistadores actually married into royal Aztec and Incan families, wanting to graft their Spanish "nobility" to the native royal lines, producing quite a number of progenies in the process. I suppose this was their way of staking their claims to the new world. Makes you wonder about Rolfe and Pocahontas.

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  73. This was the first time I read of that despite having read a few books on the subject of Western imperialism in the New World. I guess the Columbian Exchange was more multifaceted than one normally imagines.

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  74. Mann uses the term ''chinos'' as if its use by Hispanics for all Asians is an anomaly (or so it seems). While it is true that the term is used in such a manner to denote Asians, it is no different from people calling all South Americans Hispanics. Hispanic is actually a reference to Spain whose original name was Hispania. Therefore, it is incorrect to call a Latin American a Hispanic. Furthermore, a large portion of the population of Chile and Argentina are either British, Central, or Eastern European. These people do not have Latin blood in them at all. This is the same for so many Blacks in Brazil, the Guianas, and the Caribbean islands.

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  75. If I could go back to Jethro Tull for a moment, there's a cool blog on this website re the group's music:

    http://playminstrelplay.blogspot.com/

    Awesome stuff!

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  76. Just realize that Gintaras' birthday was today. Happy Birthday!

    To stay on topic, I have read the first 4 chapters of 1493. The 4th one (about China trade, Manila and the mines) was so dry for me, that I decided to take a break and read fiction.

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  77. Thanks Marti. Yes, that chapter was a bit dry but the information was new to me. The latter chapters are much more interesting as he develops the innumerable connections in the early globalization of the world. This seems to be what Mann is driving at, how our world has long been globalized, and that we have returned to a "Pangaea." Of course, you could argue, especially during wartime, that it starts to break up again.

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  78. Gintaras ~ you share the same birth date as Mark Twain.

    Happy Birthday!

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  79. Not quite, Trip. One day difference. I was born on the 29th. Thank you just the same!

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  80. Happy Birthday, Gintaras!

    Marti, the book is sort of a hodgepodge of information, but I've enjoyed it (haven't read the last section but will try to get to it tonight). Above and beyond riding in the wake of Crosby's book, he demonstrates the strength of the idea of "the Atlantic World," where none of these countries/continents were independent of one another starting at a very early date in many instances. Even China which sort of surprised me, although I don't know why.

    He sure doesn't paint a very pretty picture of their agricultural practices. Although he's probably no one to talk, stepping off the plane from Brazil in the same potentially spore-contaminated shoes. He makes such a huge deal about the cost of malaria, which was carried by humans, not to mention the different blight on potatoes, I'd think he'd want to dump those shoes before leaving Brazil. It's not like he doesn't know any better -- disinfectant or not.

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  81. I do intend to continue reading this and I think parts of it are very interesting. But the fiction read I started is very long (5th and latest book in George R.R. Martin's popular Sonf of Ice and Fire series).

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  82. Thanks Av! That surprised me too. Why would he take such risks knowing full well their impact. He paints a very precarious picture of current agricultural practices. Interesting that the rubber tree spores are combatted if the trees are spaced further apart, which seems simple enough to remedy, but I suppose every acre counts in the pursuit for "natural rubber."

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  83. It has been awhile since I read Crosby, but this is one of the key take-away stories from his book as I remember it. There is certainly the globalization of food stuffs, tobacco, and all that gold, gold, gold that moves continent to continent, but it's the pathogens that are the real product of the exchange.

    We have that trouble here, too, with wealthy fly fishermen that travel the world, leaving spores and even mussels on their boots and boats that thrive in Montana trout streams. I've seen checkpoints driving into Idaho where anyone with a boat has to stop and have it checked. But these are not diseases that originated in Montana, they've been brought here by world travelers like Mann.

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  84. STAR TREK episode, ''The Trouble With Tribbles'':

    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v501/hats_of_doom/vlcsnap-10294508.png

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ6LC-olw9Q

    Furry ball parasites are mistakenly brought into Enterprise and they multiply exponentially. Before long, the food supply is gone and troubles start. Unknown to Capt Kirk, there was yet two more menaces on board his vessel: part of a grain supply was poisoned which could have hurt his crew but was eaten up by the multiplying parasites, but there was a Klingon undercover agent who was seeking to kill everyone on board.

    Thus, the TV show was demonstrating how the future likely poses the problem of interplanetary Columbian Exchange --- what a hazardous nightmare that will be!

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  85. One of the many things I liked about the original Star Trek series was how it explored very real issues. I think I said before that in many ways the James Kirk's Star Trek voyages parallel those of James Cook's Endeavour voyages. Gene Roddenberry wrote some real gems.

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  86. ''pathogens that are the real product of the exchange''

    We have had similar problems here in Minnesota. Our lakes have been polluted with parasites such as zebra mussels from Russia:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Dreissena_polymorpha.jpg

    and Asian carp from China:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ee/Grass.Carp2web.jpg

    These invasive creatures cause much environmental damage. Great precautionary measures are taken to limit the spread and damage caused by them. Despite all those efforts, they spread like wildfire.

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  87. Another fun episode, "The Paradise Syndrome,"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LmpqhZp1SY

    which seems to play on the Pocahontas story.

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  88. WONDERFUL post Gintaras!

    The original STAR TREK dealt with so many issues of the day whose themes have been lost to today's audiences. The pertinent word was ''relevant'' - a term no longer widely used in our society. But it was back then.

    Over the years I have engaged in discussions with fellow baby boomers of the 1960s about ST episodes. We have had very interesting conversations. It would great if we could discuss a book or 2 about the show and the individual episodes on this forum.

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  89. It was a time when science fiction meant something more than special effects. Today it just seems to be how far you can push the CGI envelope. I thought the recent cinematic remake of Star Trek flat and dull beyond belief. You could talk about the original series. The episodes raised a number of salient points that are very worthy of discussion.

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  90. Another invasive species wreaks havoc!

    http://tinyurl.com/d7g5rpj

    Wild burros cross Mexican border and ruin Texas environment. State park officials load 'em up and shoot in order to save a few farms and goat herder profits.

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  91. Anymore ideas on Mann?

    I guess the bottom line to me is, there's nothing new under the sun. Today we see immediately environmental impact from transportation of things and people just as in past centuries. The impact is equally devastating but occurs must faster than it used to - plagues took decades or longer to move about. Today they only take days or weeks. But then, our methods of coping with disasters are created faster and generally more effectively as technology is so much better.

    Now, if only we would spend the bulk of our resources in improving upon things such as creating more food, potable water, and medicines. This instead of wars that only benefit the wealthy. What a world it would be!

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  92. Peace would be nice, but as long as there is a profit to be made by war, I'm afraid we are stuck with them. Interesting that the only GOP candidate calling for a reduction in armed forces is Ron Paul. All the others seem content with the $660+ billion annual budget.

    We do seem combat potential plagues pretty well these days. Each year you hear of some new flu virus which threatens to spread havoc around the globe, and somehow we managed to combat these more virulent strains, yet as many as 49,000 Americans succumb to seasonal flu each year,

    http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm

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  93. I thought his discriptions of the Brazilian quilombos fascinating and a very interesting way to close the book. It was amazing how big some of these "free" cities grew, and how the blacks and indigenous people melded together in their quest for freedom. Reminded me a bit of Diamond here the way he describes how the Africans were able to adjust to their new surroundings whereas the Portuguese so often succumbed to the tropical climate, unwilling or inable to adjust.

    I suppose that once you get past childhood, Africans are more or less immune to the viruses, as malaria's death toll hits children under five the hardest,

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0612_030612_malaria.html

    I remember my father had recurring bouts with malaria, having spent over 30 years in Southern Africa. Quinine was a really life saver,

    http://www.malariasite.com/malaria/quinine.htm

    He said they always had a "sundowner" of gin and tonic.

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  94. Perhaps the biggest, lasting impression Mann leaves the reader with is the fact that humanity is very capable of adapting no matter where one may go. The quilomobos were settlements which encompassed both city and country living. The Maroons adapted well to their new lands in the Caribbean islands or in the Guianas. The Chinese found Manila and other Asian cities well suited to their lifestyles and business interests even though they largely remained segregated from other Asians. Europeans took potatoes and adapted them to their soil where it was used to feed millions. Horses and cattle were taken to the New World where they were used in farming. Adapt, adapt, adapt ~ that seems to be the key to survival no matter where you go. History proves this has and always will be the lot of humanity.

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  95. Finally wrapped up the book, reading the two appendices and acknowledgements last night. The guy certainly gives credit where credit is due. Seems Mann developed a very nice relationship with Alfred Crosby.

    One of the things I took away from this book was how respectful Mann was to his fellow historians and to the subject matter. Really impressive.

    At times, I felt the narrative tended to drift. It probably could have used some tightening up, but then again I liked the free-form feel. In many ways, it was a travel book moreso than a history book with a great number of valuable insights.

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  96. I see that on this day in history, Drake set out on his voyage around the world (1577), becoming the first Englishman to do so in 1580.

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  97. Interesting that Mann chose not to discuss GMO foods, the latest breakthrough in agriculture. I suppose it is an issue in and of itself, but it also takes the Columbian Exchange into the realm of science and technology.

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