Mary Beth Writes

I read that today, February 17, is FACT Day!  I get excited about FACTS! You get enough genuine facts and you get a REALITY that works for humans. As opposed to a reality built on greed, drama, megalomania, injustice, and prejudice, which, as you may have noticed, makes life suck.  

Oh, you thought I was talking about the current administration?

Nope. Right now, briefly, let me tell you something I read a few weeks ago. My source, as ever, is Alan Taylor’s “American Colonies; The Settling of North America.”  This is history of Central and North American from 1492 until 1800ish. (Taylor won Pulitzers for other books he wrote.)

If you think I am reading this book slowly because I get bored, think again. I read an hour or two until my heart is racing and I am so angry and upset that I have to stick the book back down at the bottom of my pile. 

The indigenous people who lived in our hemisphere BEFORE the Europeans arrived? No day at the beach. There was plenty of war and bloodshed.

But what the Europeans brought with them was unintentional and intentional holocaust. Waves of disease wiping out 90% of the population. Enslavement. Massive beheadings in the name of Jesus. Babies skewered on swords. Rape upon rape upon rape.  Torture, cheating, and did you know the Maya had a library of 3000 books that the conquistadores burned? The cruelty and loss was stunning.

All in the name of wealth and power. 

You know what? Wealth and power eventually bites back.

Here you go:

The Spanish learned that there was gold and silver in America. They found small existing mines, enlarged them, and then enslaved tens of thousands of indigenous people to work these mines. The work was so dangerous, toxic, and relentless that most of these people died within a few years.

But for the Spanish, unbelievable wealth was shipped from the New World back to Spain, making Spain “phenomenally rich” (American Colonies, Taylor, pg 63) “Between 1500 and 1650 the Spanish shipped 181 tons of gold and 16,000 tons of silver.” One fifth of this went to the Crown, which became 25% of the total revenue of Spain throughout that 150 year period of time.  Spain became stunningly powerful and emerged as a superpower.

This is the story of what that wealth did:  

*Everyone wanted herbs, spices, and cool stuff from the Far East. Spain bought LOTS of that and brought it back to Europe to sell. This eventually glutted the market with formerly-pricey stuff, now it sold at less of a profit.

*Prices of necessities/food increased 5-fold because there was so much money.  Wealth increased faster than ordinary goods and services could be increased.  Example: If you have people who can afford to buy bread at $5 a loaf, you are not going to sell it for $1 a loaf. But if the wealth doesn’t “trickle down” into the great majority of your population that was already living at a subsistence level – then they can’t buy any bread at all. Starvation leads to loss of humans who could have farmed or manufactured stuff.  Eventually the ordinary people express their -- disloyalty and unrest.

*Wealthy Spanish could buy goods from anywhere, so they didn’t invest in local farms, production, or communities. The rest of Europe, not as afloat in the same incredible wealth as the Spaniards, WERE producing textiles, ships, tulips!, scientific endeavors, and growing new crops that fed more people more efficiently – such as corn, potatoes, cassava, and tomatoes from the new world.

*The wealth encouraged Spain to start wars in and against North Africa, Italy, and the Netherlands. Wars eat wealth. If the wars are not won, and often even if they are, there is no recouping the wealth squandered.

*Self-satisfied, sanctimonious, morality-spewing Catholic royals directed their conquistadores to “build Christianity” while they were raping and pillaging. A huge amount of wealth was spent to send missionaries and build missions.  

*Avast Pirates! Guess what ships filled with gold and silver attract? Spain had to defend her ships, which required INCREDIBLE expenditures.

*Sets a precedent. Because Spain was becoming so powerful and war-mongering, other nations felt threatened. The only way to protect themselves, most thought, was to sail to the new world to decimate the locals and start their own colonies. Which they did.

The Spanish stole stunning, incredible, monumental mountains of wealth from the New World into the wallets of Spain’s super-rich and into the coffers of royal Spanish government.  Within 150 years this wealth decimated the nation; they never recovered the power or position they once had.

Wealth and power used for personal and familial gain will ruin families and nations.

Obscene wealth and violent pirates. I think we know this story. 

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Mountain Top Toddler

We drove to Chicago to help care for our 2-year old granddaughter. There is a lot going on in their family as is true of any family with a toddler, a new infant, and two working parents. Such as; my daughter went back to work the same week their daycare center closed for a 10-day break. A perfect storm of domestic hoopla. 

We only watched her from 7:30AM until 4PM on Monday and Tuesday. When our son-in-law came home from work, he took over. Other relatives are watching her the next few days. 

Here are three things I noticed about taking care of a toddler.

"Death Comes for the Archbishop" and How to drive to the Y without a map.

I read Willa Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop” when I was in high school. I heard it was an important book which made me curious (still does), so I borrowed it from the library and read the whole thing.

It was mud. I didn’t care about the characters; two middle-aged priests who go to the American southwest to build and strengthen the Catholic church. Snooze. Nothing cohesive happens. They do a bunch of walking around in the desert followed by episodes of trying to be helpful a few days here, a few years there. Yawn.

When Weaving is NOT a Metaphor

I wrote this 12 years ago.  It's long and even I get confused as to what I wrote when one gets about half way through this  - and I was there!   But some of you will be interested to read how those "ethnic weavings" from Guatemala begin.  Next time you buy something hand woven, for less than $20, you will understand that price is not right.

.....

Retirement Smackdown

I just made a list of fourteen friends who have retired in the past five years. Of the fourteen, SEVEN retired early and abruptly when their employer’s business practices, for various reasons, changed or failed.

There is a myth out there that retirement is a fixed event with a date one knows years in advance. Then at the desired retirement age there will be a company party where one gets a memento from their employer - and after that they live aimlessly, trying to find purpose.  

Cahokia

Last week we went to Cahokia with our pals, Otis and David. Our Corps of Discovery (not to be confused with Lewis and Clark’s expedition of the same name) started because, at my daughter’s request, Otis had sewn a quilt for her. Len and I decided it would be fun to drive to the central Illinois village where he lives to pick it up, thus saving them the fortune it would cost to ship it.

And if one is going to be tootling down along the Mississippi River, why not hop on down to Cahokia, across from St. Louis?

I mean, how much further can it be? 

4th Thoughts

I’m reading a new book about the Upper Midwest, late 1500’s - 1750ish.  The book is Indian Women and French Men; Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes, by Susan Sleeper-Smith - and I am reading it as avidly as my granddaughter listens to story hour. 

This is from the introduction: “In kin-based societies, behaviors change as people struggle either to attain or retain symbolic capital – what people sense as honor, prestige, respect, or authority.”

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