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Letter 16 (page 7)

Guns, germs and steel

I was enormously impressed by Roman achievements two thousand years ago and what stone masons were doing in the 1200s. The Chinese were doing similar things at similar times. I read a book on European exploration and conquest up to 1600 and was astonished to learn that a few hundred Spanish conquistadors defeated the Aztec and Inca empires, each with millions of subjects. There was no Iron Age in Australia or the Americas and in the Americas, only the Maya developed writing. Why didn't the aborigines discover Captain Cook instead of the other way around? The question is important as we might think that Eurasians are smarter than Africans, native Americans and Australian aborigines but that is essentially racist.

Jared Diamond has written a Pulitzer-prize winning book attempting to answer this question and I urge you to read it: Guns, Germs and Steel: Fates of Human Societies. He argues it is largely due to the plant and animal species available for domestication and the shape of the continents. Indeed, they are smarter than us. See a summary.

Other items of interest

You will hear a lot later this year about the centenary of the Wright brothers' first flight. You probably won't hear that others including a New Zealander possibly and an American probably have a better claim on the title but their PR wasn't as good.

We saw the film Rabbit Proof Fence about 3 Aboriginal children that were taken from their family If you are Australian and haven't seen it, make sure you rent a video.

Don't mention the war: Those pesky weapons of mass destruction haven't turned up but the American public doesn't seem to careNote 3. I support overthrowing evil dictators but I'm wondering when the US plans to take on Robert Mugabe. Perhaps it was about oil after all. Oh I'm cynical.

Bumper stickers:

  • Lord, help me to be the person that my dog thinks I am.
  • People who are different change the world; normal people keep it as it is.

Well, this is the end. Depending on the job situation and whether United Airlines is still flying, we might be home for Christmas.

Previous: France, part 3

Note 3: For something refreshing, try Weapons of Mass Salvation originally published 29 Oct 02.