Searching for Exoplanets with Christopher Columbus

by Leanne Ogasawara

Imagine finding out that intelligent life had been discovered in our galaxy. To learn that across the endless ocean of intergalactic space there exists a planet filled with new forms of life –and riches unimagined: this was how it must have felt for the people of the Renaissance, when Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. After all, there was a reason why the people of the time called it the New World, instead of just the new continent. For this was a revelation; not just of new land, but of sought-after minerals, like gold and silver. It was a new world of tastes. From potatoes to tomatoes and chocolate to corn, the dinner tables of Europe would be transformed in the wake of Columbus’ trip. There were animals never seen in Europe, like the turkey and bison. And there were wondrous new plants and flowers. There was even a new shade of red. Made from the female cochineal insect, this new dye became– after gold– the second largest import from the New World.

Perhaps most astonishing were the people. At a time when Europe was itself organizing into nation-states, often under all-powerful monarchs, Columbus found in the Americas, what seemed to his eyes, to be free and egalitarian societies. Not only did the people not use money, but even more remarkable was their lack of private property. Private property was, after all, the bedrock of the new banking system back home.

And theologically, how were the Europeans to explain a population of people who could not be descended from Noah’s three sons; of human beings ignorant of the New Testament for over a thousand years? Read more »

Burmese Days

by Maniza Naqvi

“… How does our affair progress? I hope that, as dear Mr. Macgregor would say—U Po Kyin broke into English—eet ees making perceptible progress?”

Burmese-Days-3Burmese Days by George Orwell remains relentlessly relevant and a touchstone for cynics eight decades after it was written. The novel opens with U Po Kyin at age 56 thinking of his achievements with satisfaction—and plotting intrigue to further his interests. He thinks back to his first memory of the British troops with their weapons entering victoriously into Mandalay in 1885. “To fight on the side of the British, to become a parasite upon them, had been his ruling ambition even as a child. He does this by playing one side against the other, planting intrigues and solving them, always putting himself in the position of the problem solver, the loyalist to all—taking bribes and ruthlessly controlling everyone.” U Po Kyin's memory of British troops marching into town is set in the moment in which the oil company Burmah Oil is born in 1886 and when Burma became a province of Imperial India. (here, and here and here.)

George Orwell was in Burma in the Indian Imperial Police from 1922-1927 Eric Arthur Blair or George Orwell was born in India, on June 3, 1903 in Motihari Bihar (here). Orwell’s novel follows the trajectories of the ambitions and the psyches of Imperial administrators, their military officers, wives, concubines, their merchants and those who served them. The title of “U” has been bestowed on U Po Kyin for his services enroute his own trajectory from a lowly clerk to a minor official to a Sub divisional magistrate, through planting seditious activities and creating rebellions and quelling them himself so that he can demonstrate his loyalties to the Imperial masters by jailing adversaries while havig his fingers in every pot in his subdivision for personal gain and pleasure.

His good works of building Pagodas will ensure his next life. But in this life his most ardent desire is to be a member of the British Club:

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