Saturday, August 13, 2011

What Columbus wrought

I have so many things on my mind lately, politics in particular since the Race for the Presidency is off and running.  But, there’s plenty of time for that, right?

I listened to a re-broadcast of Fresh Air with Terry Gross this afternoon (  She interviewed the author of 1493: Uncovering the World Columbus Created.  Not only is there a vast amount of history that we are never taught in school, or see on television or in the movies, but the author, Charles C. Mann, delves into how drastically ecosystems in both the New & Old Worlds were changed by this epic event.  You can go here:  for more information as well.  

Did you know that the New World did not have smallpox, malaria, measles or influenza?  Why?  Because there were NO DOMESTIC ANIMALS in the New World.  

Did you know that by exporting bird guano (aka bird poop) to the Old World to use as fertilizer, along with potatoes from Peru that the Irish Potato Famine was put in motion?  More about the Irish Potato Famine here:  I never realized just how terrible things got in Ireland until I watched an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?”.  A celebrity, and I don’t remember who it was, was searching for his/her roots and the path went back to Ireland.  The celebrity’s ancestors lived and died during this period.  

Many years ago I started reading The Conquest of Paradise by Kirkpatrick Sale.  After reading how Columbus and his men cut off the hands of the indigenous people and/or set loose dogs on them to tear them apart, I stopped reading.  I’m going to have to find that darn book and do my best to make it all the way through. 

But, what I take away from all this, now more than ever?  We do not know the full consequences of our actions, even when they are seemingly benevolent.  And, throughout the Fresh Air broadcast, the argument over native/non-native species is really, pretty much, moot.  European bees caused the die-off of native bees.  Earthworms did not exist in the Americas and caused native trees to die off, allowing new species, like pines, to replace them.  So, to all you cat-hating scientists out there, let’s talk about cattle, goats, sheep, horses, earthworms, bees, etc. in addition to cats when we start bemoaning the damage done by non-native species.  Then again, had the Europeans just stayed home, few if any of these non-native species would be here today. 


  1. Fabulous post! My first thought is that the most problematic non-native species is the human being.

    Have you read the book "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond? It touches on many of the same themes and totally changes my view of the world. The book is a bit of a slog though as it's intended audience is an academic one. But they made a series of documentaries based on it which are available streaming on Netflix. And his follow up book (also on Netflix) called "Collapse" was also amazing.

    Oh, and I totally LOVED the series "Who Do you Think you Are"... I loved it SO much in fact that after I watched every episode of the American version, I found the Australian version (the original) online and watched every Australian episode. That was a total eye opener too because I knew nothing about Australian history before that.

    Anyhow, I think you're thinking about the Rosie O'Donnell episode, which was wonderful.

    This also reminds me of a documentary I saw called the Mannahatta Project, which was an attempt to discover what Manhattan was like before we got there. I couldn't find the documentary, but here are a few clips about it:

    I'll have to check out that Down to Earth interview, and the book too.

  2. You're right, it was Rosie O'Donnell. Coincidentally (which seems to be a recurring theme in my life), Rosie's episode was rerun last night. I was going to update this & then didn't.

    What's so frustrating is that there is just so much we don't know & aren't taught. I realize that no school can possibly teach us everything, but school's could do a better job. And the result, IMHO, would be that we might possibly learn from our mistakes. At the very least, we might make better decisions in our lives, when we go to the voting booth, or even in the food that buy & eat. It's heart-wrenching.

  3. I totally agree, yet I've come to accept that people are really stupid. They vote with their emotions... which are easily swayed by propaganda, rather than their brains (which are generally empty from our catastrophic educational system).

    My dad is a huge history buff, and he has a saying which I have come to believe is unfortunately very true:

    "If we learn one thing from history, it's that we don't learn from history."


  4. Humans are, without a doubt, the dumbest of animals. We have, however, managed to take over the world despite our collective stupidity. So, I'm on a mission to give people as much information as I can in hopes they will open their minds and search for even more knowledge.

    I think I'd modify your dad's statement - no disrespect intended - "If those of us who study history learn from history, it's that those who don't know history don't learn from it." Example: just knowing the story of Icarus is enough to prevent me and, hopefully most others, from putting on a set of wings and trying to fly like a bird. Dumb example, but the first one that came to mind. Another - no one has won a war in Afghanistan. Why try?

  5. Ha! I like your modification. Here's to opening some minds...