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The First Dominican Sugarcane Crop and Hitchhiking Insects *

Europe doesn't know it yet, but it is going to develop a big sugar tooth in the coming years. Sugar was first introduced to Europe when the Crusaders brought back a gritty plant product from the Holy Land called "al-zucar" which is the Arabic word for sugar. Sugarcane was domesticated thousands of years ago on the island of present day New Guinea, Indonesia. This year, sugarcane has reached the Dominican Republic and one other thing has been introduced... a new type of insect. Scale insects have a waxy coat and since they are new to the environment, the normal plant defenses are useless and the insects have no natural predators. Their growth rate becomes astronomical. Scientists call this an "ecological release" but most people call it an explosion. [1] [2] [3]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
People of the time didn't notice the new insects but rather wrote about the sudden increase in native insects such as the local fire ant which looks different from the imported fire ant we see in Texas. The native fire ant protected these new scale insects because of the sugary substance they produced. With the increase in nourishment, the fire ant population increased exponentially. Santo Domingo was abandoned for a time as the people ran before the stinging explosion of fire ants. Later, a different imbalance in the environment will result in a massive increase of carrier pigeons and buffalo, but that is a story for another time. [4] [5]

FYI, much of the information I present here comes from Charles Mann's excellent book, "1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created." It largely documents the introduction of new plants, insects and diseases back and forth between the New World and the Old and the consequences thereof.

The Founding of the Pope's Swiss Guard

The new Pope is known as the "Warrior Pope". Pope Julius the 2nd understands the importance of military power as part of the papacy after his predecessor barely survived the Italian War between France and Spain. The French army came marching into Rome with Swiss mercenaries leading the way. The Swiss had recently thrown off the Hapsburg rule and have established a reputation for fearsomeness. The Pope needs more protection than the walls of St. Peter's Basilica. He will have the Basilica rebuilt and Michelangelo will put a new coat of paint on the ceiling. The Pope will also establish the Swiss Guard. The Guard will remain with the Pope through the centuries and maintain his security into the modern day. [6] [7] [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
There is a reason why the Pope travels in a "Pope Mobile". It is a security measure imposed after the attack on Pope John Paul the 2nd on May 13th, 1981. While greeting the crowd in Saint Peter's Square a Muslim assassin got off several shots at the Pope before the crowd knocked the assassin to the ground. The Pope took four bullets and lived. The assassin (whose name is a mouthful) was pardoned at the request of the Pope in 2000. The assassin returned to the scene of the crime in 2014 to lay white roses on the tomb of Pope John Paul the 2nd. [9] [10]

Christopher Columbus Dies Rich and Bitter

Over the years Christopher Columbus has been sidelined by the King and Queen of Spain. Other explorers have followed the path he has blazed and have eclipsed his accomplishments. Columbus certainly has his faults, but he has become rich despite it all. For many people that would be enough but not for Columbus. He has spent his last years in frustration and dies this year from a parasite he likely picked up on his second voyage to the New World. [11]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
WARNING: The information we have for these years is suspect. Thus, if you like Columbus, you can find enough information to cast doubt on his critics. On the other hand, the general timeline suggests that he was goofing up the administrative end of things rather badly since he was eventually relieved of his responsibilities as governor. Simply because a man is good at one thing doesn't mean he will be good at everything. Or as my father used to say, "A man is promoted higher and higher until he is eventually incompetent at his job."

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1506, Wikipedia.

See Also


* The asterisk in the section header indicates that it was read on the podcast.
  1. sugar - definition of sugar. The Free Dictionary (2015). Retrieved on 22 January 2015. “A sweet crystalline or powdered substance, white when pure, consisting of sucrose obtained mainly from sugarcane and sugar beets and used in many foods, drinks, and medicines to improve their taste. Also called table sugar. (Middle English sugre, from Old French sukere, from Medieval Latin succarum, from Old Italian zucchero, from Arabic sukkar, from Persian shakar, from Sanskrit sarkara, grit, ground sugar.)”
  2. The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macors (BOOK), Riverhead Books. “The Dominicans were one of the first sugar producers in the Americas. The original colonists tried it, harvesting the first Dominican sugar crop in 1506.” 
  3. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (BOOK), Knopf. ISBN 9780307265722. “Overwhelmed and terrified, Spaniards abandoned their homes to the insects. Santo Domingo was "depopulated," one witness recalled. In a solemn ceremony, the remaining colonists chose, by lottery, a saint to intercede with God on their behalf -- St. Saturninus, a third-century martyr.” 
  4. Fire ant - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 22 January 2015.
  5. Red imported fire ant - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 22 January 2015.
  6. Swiss Guard - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  7. Castel Gandolfo - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  8. Pope Julius II - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 21 January 2015. “...he commissioned the destruction and rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica, plus Michelangelo's decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.”
  9. Pope John Paul II assassination attempt - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 21 January 2015.
  10. Clancy, Tom. The Sum of all Fears. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1991. ISBN 0399136150. (NOVEL) quote="Eighteen-fifteen. Everybody knows that! After the final settlement of the Napoleonic Wars, the Swiss had to promise never to export mercenaries. I'm sure we can finesse that. Excuse me, Dr. Alden. The Pope's guard detachment is composed of Swiss mercenaries. So was the French king's once--they all got killed defending King Louis and Marie Antoinette. Same thing nearly happened to the Pope's troops once, but they held the enemy off long enough for a small detachment to evacuate the Holy Father to a secure location, Castel Gandolfo , as I recall."
  11. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (BOOK), Knopf. ISBN 9780307265722. “The delighted monarchs awarded him (Columbus) honors and wealth. He died in 1506, a rich man surrounded by a loving family; nevertheless, he died a bitter man. As evidence had emerged of his failings, personal and geographical, the Spanish court had revoked most of his privileges and shunted him aside. In the anger and humiliation of his later years, he slid into religious messianism.” 

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