Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

On Twitter someone recently asked, What book has changed the way you see the world?

I’ve just finished reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus — and it’s been that kind of book for me.

Written by Charles C. Mann and originally published in 2005, 1491 presents a view of the Americas before Columbus that is in sharp contrast to what most Americans my age learned in school.

This is a fascinating, well-researched, and well-written book. I’d read articles and extracts based on it, but the details included in the full text really drive home the author’s main points:
• that the indigenous population of the Americas before Columbus was much higher, diverse, and sophisticated than has traditionally been believed;
• that between the arrival of Columbus and the settlement of what would become the American colonies, disease swept through both North and South America, decimating these once-large populations and wiping out civilizations;
• that because of this, North America only appeared to be a “virgin continent” and relatively unpopulated;
• that Indians** acted as a “keystone species” essentially engineering much of the landscape to suit their needs — for example, burning off the undergrowth in New England forests, modifying land for agriculture, encouraging the growth of nut-bearing and other useful trees, and discouraging the proliferation of species that competed for these resources.

What we think of today as North American wilderness and the “primeval” Amazon are both, in large part, recent phenomena, existing only since disease eliminated indigenous cultures.

This is compelling stuff on so many levels. First and most obviously, that many millions of people died of disease — up to 95% of the population by some estimates – and hundreds (thousands?) of cultures simply vanished.

Apocalypse is a popular topic in science fiction. What happens to a culture when 95% of its people suddenly die off? Nothing works after that. Technology, history, the complex network of human interaction that allows food to be grown and goods to be produced and traded simply vanishes. Those few who are left will be left with very little and no real means to replace what was lost. Mann uses the phrase “Holmberg’s Mistake” to describe the conclusion of an anthropologist who studied a “primitive” Amazon tribe and came to believe that these people had lived thus for thousands of years, not considering the possibility that they were the descendants of a handful who survived a real apocalypse. (more…)

South Point

Monday, October 10th, 2011

At South Point, Hawaii. Notice the rock wall behind us, and the lighthouse in the background. I forgot to bring my hat on this trip, thus the bandanna–which worked quite well in the extreme wind.

The farthest point south in the United States lies at latitude 19°–slightly south of Mexico City, on the parallel that passes through the lower Yucatan Peninsula and Haiti/The Dominican Republic. This is the southernmost tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, and is known simply enough as “South Point,” though sometimes it’s called by its Hawaiian name Kalae which is an equally simple nomenclature meaning “the point.”

Over the weekend the husband and I visited South Point as another “bucket list” item. Getting to South Point isn’t a difficult trek–the road from the main highway is narrow, but it’s smoothly paved most of the way. Part way down there’s a “rough road” sign. Being from Maui, this made us laugh. At the end, the road is “patch paved” but it’s still not bad.

This is me, about as far south as I could go:

The area is hot, dry, and extremely wind-blown with severe offshore currents.

Farther down the coast there’s supposed to be a green sand beach. We didn’t venture that far, but we did see patches of green sand strewn on the shore. I can only guess that the density of the olivine particles is different enough from the lava and coral bits that they tend to drop out of the waves at the same time to make these patches. At any rate, I’m fascinated by the close up view of sand:

Several people were fishing from the top of a cliff, using scaffolds to (I presume) raise and lower the lines. The lines are held by floats, which seem to be pulled out to sea by the current.

The wind blew powerfully from the shore out to sea. Standing at the top of the seacliff, the ocean did not look flat, but looked much higher just a tenth mile offshore–a very strange effect.


Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Living in the Uttermost West, we operate on Hawaiian Standard Time (HST). Since we don’t do daylight savings in Hawaii, we are five hours behind the eastern USA in the winter, and six hours behind in the summer. The time difference with the west coast is two and three hours, depending on the season.

We are, for practical purposes, the last. There is another time zone beyond us, though I’m not sure if anyone lives there. Move just a little bit farther west and you cross the International Date Line and jump a day ahead.

One drawback of living here is when government or corporate reps forget there is a time difference and call at 5:30 in the morning. Business people will often have to be up for conference calls at 5:00am. And I’ve always thought stock traders must be challenged when they have to get up everyday at 3:30am for market opening.

One cool thing about living here that I’ve only recently become aware of is that our day overlaps in interesting ways with the days of other people around the world–something that’s become obvious to me by using twitter.

By the time I get up in the morning, generally around 6am, my twitter streams are full because people in the mainland USA have been awake for hours. It’s midday on the east coast and things are slowing down a bit. The Brits will soon be winding up their day.

Activity is pretty steady for hours after that. Very distracting! But towards evening here things can get very quiet as the mainland USA winds down. People from Hawaii seem to post a lot at this time. Ultimately, the Brits start showing up again. I follow a couple people in southeast Asia, but not closely enough that I’ve figured out their schedules yet.

Anyway, I enjoy the daily rhythm. And yes, I spend too much time online.