Sunday, April 22, 2012

Some thoughts on Earth Day

SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2012

Let me enjoy the earth no less
Because the all-enacting Might
That fashioned forth it loveliness
Had other aims than my delight.

- Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), English novelist and poet
From Let me Enjoy [1910]

Today is Earth Day and for those who care about the environment, these are discouraging time.  Right wing governments such as Stephen Harper's here in Canada and rabid Republicans in the United States are doing  their best to scuttle most of the protective measures on the environment.  Yet, we have to keep trying to protect our home planet.  We owe it to ourselves and to future generations.  Every day should be Earth Day.  

I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use our natural resources, but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or rob by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.

- Theodore Roosevelt
26th President of the United States

Why should I care about future generations?  What have they ever done for me?

- Groucho Marx  (1890- 1977), American comedian and film star?

There would be very little point in my exhausting myself and other conservationists themselves in trying to protect animals and habitats if we weren't at the same time raising young people to be better stewards.

-Dr. Jane Goodall, ethologist and anthropologist

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors.  We borrow it from our children.

- Native American proverb

I wish the term "tree hugger" didn't have such a negative connotation.  It is often used in a derogatory, condescending and patronizing way.  Why should caring about the environment be ridiculed?  It should be lauded.  Being called a "tree hugger" should be regarded as a badge of honour.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

- John Muir (April 21, 1838 - December 24, 1914), Scottish-born American naturalist, conservationist and author

Now there is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it.

- R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 -1983), American designer and architect
From Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth [1969]

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything

- William Shakespeare
From Ass You Like It, Act 2, Scene 1

The earth does not argue,
Is not pathetic, has no arrangements,
Does not scream, haste, persuade,
threaten, promise,
Makes no discrimination, has no
conceivable failures,
Closes nothing, refuses nothing,
shuts none out.

- Walt Whitman (1819-1892), American poet
From A Song of the Rolling Earth [1881]

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names streets after them.

- William E. "Bill" Vaughan (1915-1977), American columnist and author

- Joanne

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lucrezia Borgia: Was she really wicked?


Today marks the 532nd anniversary of the birth of Lucrezia Borgia, the reputed femme fatale of the Italian Renaissance.  Born in the town of Subiaco, near Rome, on April 18, 1480.  Lucrezia was the daughter of a cardinal of the Church and his concubine.  Her father, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, became Pope Alexander VI on August 11, 1492 when Lucrezia was 12 years old.  It has been alleged that he used bribery to win his election to the papacy.

The Borgias were of Spanish origin and Rodrigo Borgia was born at Xactiva, near Valencia.  His birth name was Roderic Llancol de Borja but it was later changed it to its Italian form.   Rodrigo's parents were Jofre Lancol and Isabella Borja, sister of Cardinal Alfonso Borja,   In 1455, Alfonso Borja was elevated to the papacy as Pope Callixtus III, making Rodrigo the nephew of a pope.

Rodrigo studied law in Bologna and after his uncle became pope, the young man was ordained a deacon.   His rise in the ecclesiastic ranks was rapid.  In 1456, at he age of 25, he was created Cardinal-Deacon of San Nicola in Carcera.  The following year, in an act of shameless nepotism, he was appointed vice-chancellor of the Holy Roman Church.  Rodrigo was ordained a priest in 1468 and by 1471, he was consecrated bishop and appointed Cardinal-Bishop of Albano.

Although a man of the cloth who had taken a vow of celibacy, Rodrigo was a notorious womanizer.and he sired many children.  One of his mistresses, Vannozza dei Cattanei, was Lucrezia's mother.  Vanozza was an Italian noblewoman, born in 1442 in In Mantua.  She moved to Rome where she was the landlord of several inns.  Her connection to Rodrigo Borgia, with whom she also had three sons (Giovanni, Cesare and Gioffre) began in 1470.  Rodrigo openly acknowledged the children as his own and devoted himself to them.

Alexander VI's family meant everything to him.  He loved his children very deeply.  All the historians agree on that about him.  His love of his children was so excessive that it led him to many of his worst mistakes, particularly with Lucrezia, certainly his favourite.

- Richard Drake, Ph.d,, University of Montana

Pope Alexander VI  (Rodrigo Borgia)

Before she was three years old, Lucrezia Borgia was removed from her mother's house and raised by a cousin of her father.  The young, golden-haired Lucrezia received an education in music, poetry and the reading of the classics.  She later lived for a time with her father's mistress, Giulia Farnese, who had replaced Vanozza in his affections. Giulia gave birth to a daughter, Laura, half-sister to Lucrezia, in 1492, the year Rodrigo became Pope Alexander VI.

Many believe Lucrezia was a depraved and nefarious woman.  She was alleged to have spiked the wine of her enemies with poison at elaborate dinner parties.   It was even rumoured that she possessed a hollow ring in which she stored the poison.  There was also speculation that she had incestuous relationships with both her brother Cesare and her father.  Was she the personification of evil or was she the victim of slander?  Were the tales about her really true?

It can be argued that Lucrezia was merely a pawn.  Her defenders contend that her family took advantage of her loyalty and used her to further their ambitions.  She married three times, each time to to advance the political and territorial agenda of the power-hungry Borgias.  Her fist husband was Giovanni Sforza of dAragona, Lord of Pesaro.  Alexander VI arranged the marriage in order to forge an alliance with Sforza's powerful Milanese family.  The couple were married by proxy on June 12, 1493 and the official nuptials took place in a lavish ceremony at the Vatican in 1494.  Lucrezia was a child bride of just 13 years old and the groom, born in 1466, was 26 or 27 years old.

This union with Giovanni Sforza eventually became a political liability to the Borgias.  They no longer needed any ties to the Sforza family of Milan.  In search of a more favourable union, Alexander allied himself with Naples while Milan joined forces with the French.  A frightened Giovanni fled Rome in disguise.  Alexander then declared that his daughter's marriage had not been consummated and was, therefore, invalid.  He sought an annulment on the grounds that Sforza was impotent and offered Giovanni all of Lucrezia's dowry as part of the agreement.  Sforza responded by accusing Lucreza of incest with her father and brother.  The Sforza family urged him to accept a deal, threatening to withdraw their protection of his life if he refused.  In December of 1497, having little choice and  fearing the loss of his fiefdom of Pesaro, Giovanni Sforza signed both a confession of impotence and the documents of annulment.

In June of 1497, while waiting for the annulment to be finalized, Lucrezia secluded herself in a convent San Sisto for a time.  Her retreat to a convent only served to intensity the scandal and there were rumours that Lucreza had hidden there to conceal a pregnancy.  It is known that a child named Giovanni Borgia was born in 1498.  The parentage of the mysterious child, known to historians as the "infans Romanus" (Child of Rome). remains unclear to this day.  It was thought by some that the Giovanni was the result of a liaison between Lucrezia and Pope Alexander's messenger, Pedro Caleron, also known as Perotto.

In February of 1498, Perotto was murdered.  His body and that of a maid, Pantasilea, were found in the Tiber River.  In 1501, two contradictory papal bulls were issued.  The first recognized Giovanni as the son of Cesare Borgia, conceived prior to his marriage (Cesare wed in 1499 and the child was born in 1498)..  The second papal bull, which remained secret for several years, declared him to be the child of Pope Alexander VI.  After Alexander's death, Giovanni stayed with Lucrezia for awhile and was acknowledged as her half-brother.

Soon after the annulment of Lucrezia's marriage, Pope Alexander VI arranged a second marriage for his daughter, this time to 17-year-old Alfonso of Aragon, an illegitimate son of Alfonso II of Naples.  The young Alfonso was Duke of Bisceglie, an important principality within the Kingdom of Naples.

Lucrezia and Alfonso wed in 1498.  Although the marriage had been arranged, Lucrezia was clearly content with her new husband.  She gave birth to a son on November 1, 1499 and named him Rodrigo, after her father.  The couples' happiness, however, was short-lived.  Their problems began when Lucrezia's brother, Cesare, allied himself with France through his marriage to the French princess Charlotte d'Albret on May 10, 1499.  This alliance did not bode well for Alfonso as King Louis XII of France had claims on both Naples and Milan.  Cesare Borgia became one of the French king's prominent generals and a commander of the papal armies.  He used French force to capture the lands of Romagna, located near the Papal States.

In July of 1500, while visiting Lucrezia's family, Alfonso was wounded on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica by a group of armed men.  He was brought into the Vatican apartments where a distraught Lucrezia tended to him.  While recovering from the assassination attempt, he was strangled to death, allegedly by one of  his brother-in-law Cesare's henchmen.

After Alfonso's assassination, Alexander left Rome to campaign against the Colonnas, a powerful Italian noble family.  During his absence, 21-year-old Lurezia was left to administer the Vatican and the Church.  It is fascinating to think that this young woman was the de facto ruler of the Holy See.  Upon his return, the Pope was anxious to marry off Lucrzia again.  This time Cesare Borgia made the selection for his sister's third and final husband.  He chose 24 year-old widower Alfonso d'Este, Prince to the duchy of Ferrara, a city-state bordering on Cesare's province of Romagna.  Ferrara is located in present-day northern Italy,

Alfonso d'Este agreed to the union in return for a sizable dowry and the revocation of his papal tax.  He wed 21-year-old Lucrezia Borgia on December 30, 1501 and they settled in a luxurious palace in Ferrara. where Alfonso was a great patron of art.  It was for him that Giovanni Bellini painted his magnificent The Feast of the Gods in 1514.  Bellini's student, the artist Tiziano Vecelli (known in English as Titian), also created portraits for the Duke of Ferrara..  In 1529, about a decade after Lucrezia's death, Alfonso created the most impressive art gallery of his era.  It was referred to as his camerino d'alabastro (small alabaster room).

The union of Lucrezia and Alfonzo endured for over 18 years and the couple had six known children together.  Neither partner, however, was faithful to the marriage.  Lucrezia had an affair with her brother-in-law, Francesco Il Gonzago, Marquess of Mantua, as well as a relationship with the poet Pietro Bembo, although it is not known for certain whether the relationship with Bembo was more than platonic. What is known is that they exchanged some very beautiful love letters to each other.

Lucrezia's affair with brother-in-saw Francesco ended abruptly when he contracted syphilis.  As for the poet Bembo, he left Ferrara for Venice and by 1505, his association with Lucrezia had ended.  Although they continued to correspond with each other from time to time until the final years of Lucretia's life, their letters became more formal and there is no evidence that they ever saw each other again.

During her latter years in Ferrara, Lucrezia Borgia was well-liked and respected.  There is every indication that the Duchess was a model citizen.  Her flamboyant and controlling father, Pope Alexander VI, died on August 18, 1503 at the age of 72.  He and Cesare became ill with fever a few days after dining with Cardinal Adriano Corneto (on August 6).  Although Cesare recovered, Alexander did not.  He made a confession and the last rites were administered to him.  He was apparently quite repentant before his passing.

Despite Alexander's misdeeds, Lucrezia stood by her father and never denounced him.  Neither did she denounce her brother Cesare.  She suffered another loss when her son Rodrigo passed away in August of 1512 at the age of 12.  Lucrezia herself did not enjoy a long life.  She was only 39 years old when she died in the city of Ferrara.  Her death, on June 24, 1519, came from complications giving birth to her last child, Isabella Maria d'Este.  Isabella Maria died on June 14, 1519, ten days before the passing of her mother. Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara outlived his wife by many years and died on October 31, 1534 at the age of 58.

There is not enough knowledge of the historical Lucrzia to categorically confirm or deny whether she was complicit in the criminal activities of her father and brother.  The allegations of poisoning, of which centred on Lucrezia, were made by enemies of the Borgias and have never been substantiated.  Lucrezia Borgia was certainly no saint but neither was she evil incarnate.  It must also be remembered that she lived at a time when women were expected to remain in the background and they were considered inferior and untrustworthy.  According to Professor Richard Drake of the University of Montana, Lucrezia was not the most depraved woman who ever lived, but the most unfortunate.

- Joanne

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Edward John Smith: Captain of Titanic


When anyone asks how I can best describe my experience in nearly 40 years at sea, I merely say, uneventful.  Of course there have been winter gales , and storms and fog the like, but in all my experience, I have never been in any accident of any sort worth speaking about . . . I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in a disaster of any sort.

- Edward John Smith
Excerpt of an interview with Captain Smith in 1907 after he brought the Adriatic to New York on its maiden voyage

Who was Edward John Smith, the captain of the ill-fated Titanic?  What was the background of the man who commanded the famed ocean liner on its doomed maiden voyage?  To what extent was he responsible for one of the most horrific maritime disasters of all time?  Many people are not familiar with Smith's name.  They simply refer to some faceless captain of Titanic.  As the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic draws near, it seems appropriate to explore the life and background of Captain Smith.  The 62-year old British naval reserve officer was closing in on retirement when he took command of the RMS Titanic in April of 1912.  He died in the tragic accident and his body was never recovered.

Edward John Smith was born in the town of Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, England on January 27. 1850 to  Edward  Smith, a potter, and his wife, Catherine.  The Smiths later became shopkeepers and young Edward attended Etruria British School.  At the age of 13, he went to Liverpool to start a seafaring career. In 1869, he apprenticed on a clipper ship called Senator Weber, owned by A. Gibson & Co., a  Liverpool company.

It was in 1880 that Smith joined the White Star Line as Fourth Officer.  He was given command of his first vessel, Republic, in 1887.  Through the years, he also commanded Coptic, Majestic, Baltic, Adriatic, Germanic and Olympic.  By the time he took charge of Titanic, Captain Smith had logged 46 years of experience on the sea, including captaining Majestic during the Boer War.  For his service during that war, King Edward VII awarded him the Transport Medal.

Regrettably, Smith's lengthy career was marred by some mishaps that happened under his command prior to the Titanic.  On February 16, 1899, while at New York pier, Germanic capsized as a result of an ice buildup in the vessel's rigging and superstructure.  On June 21, 1911, Titanic's slightly smaller sister ship, Olympic, was preparing for her maiden voyage when a tugboat, O.L. Hallenbeck, was sucked against her stern.  The reverse burst of Olympic's propeller caused serious damage to the tugboat.  White Star was sued for $10,000, but the case was eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence.

On September 20, 1911, less than a year before Titanic set sail, Olympic collided with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke in a narrow channel off the Isle of Wight.  The British war ship lost her prow (the forward part of a ship's bow).  As for Olympic, she managed to return to Southampton with one of her propeller shafts twisted.  The Royal Navy held Olympic responsible for the incident, contending that her huge size generated a suction that pulled Hawke into the larger vessel.

Despite the Hawke incident, White Star assigned command of Titanic to Captain Smith and continued to regard him as  a competent and experienced seaman.  The rapid increase in the size of ocean liners may have played a part in the previous mishaps that occurred under his command and the sinking of Titanic itself.  All of Smith's training skills and his vast experience at sea did not prepare him adequately for the advances in shipping and the sheer size of newer ships.

Captain Edward John Smith was a popular figure with a loyal clientele of passengers. Some voyageurs, particularly those of England's upper classes, would only cross the Atlantic on a ship that he captained.  Smith was well-liked by the management of White Star Line and by friends and colleagues.  They affectionately referred to him as E.J.  His salary was $6,250 per year and there was a "cash bonus" of $1,000 if any ship under his command were not damaged during the 12 months.  This was indeed a handsome sum in those days.

Captain Smith's personal life appeared to be very stable and content.  On January 13, 1887, he married 25-year-old Sarah Eleanor Pennington at St. Oswald's Church in Winwick.  Smith's wife preferred to be known by her second name, Eleanor, and she called her husband "Ted" or "Teddy."  The couple had one child, Helen Melville Smith, born on April 2, 1898 at 20 Alexandra Road, Waterloo, Litherland, near Liverpool.  Ted and his family eventually settled in Southampton on England's south coast, where the White Star office was situated.  They lived in a spacious two-gabled brick house named Woodhead,  Helen, known as "Mel," had just turned 14 years old when her father set forth on his fatal voyage on Titanic.

On April 10, 1912, the white-bearded Smith, wearing a bowler hat and a long overcoat, rode in a taxi from his home to the Southampton docks.  Shortly after12 noon, Titanic, the largest and most luxurious ship in the world set off for New York City.  Her maiden voyage got off to a shaky start.  As the grand ocean liner was leaving port, the suction caused the ropes of a docked ship nearby to break.  Tugboats were rushed to the scene in order to prevent a collision between the SS. New York and Titanic.

At about 11:40 p.m. on Sunday, April 14, 1912, Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland.  A lookout had apparently sighted the iceberg and rang a warning bell three times.   He then telephoned Sixth Officer James Moody and alerted him to the situation, but it was too late to prevent the fatal disaster.  The ship sank for over two and a half hours, killing more than 1,500 people.

In "Titanic Research," an April 29, 2006 piece by Samuel Hepburn appearing in Encyclopedia Titanica, Hepburn ponders the question of how the Titanic could have unexpectedly discovered a solitary iceberg in its way.  He notes that the sworn testimony of Moody and Reginald Lee, another Titanic lookout, leaves the impression that only one iceberg was seen prior to the deadly collision.  He writes that "many people believe it to be improbable for the Titanic to have steamed deep into iceberg infested waters and suddenly find a single isolated iceberg dead ahead in its path."  Other icebergs, Hepburn points out, "should have been sighted earlier especially since we know that in the morning, after the sun came up, many icebergs were seen all around the area of the wreckage"

On the day of the disaster, Titanic received six ice warnings.  Unfortunately, the messages were all ignored by the wireless operator who was more concerned with transmitting passenger messages.  The weather was also a factor in the collision.  The moon was not out and the water was calm, making it difficult to spot the iceberg.  If the water had been less still, breakers would have formed around the iceberg, making it easier to see from a distance.

Captain Smith's final actions during the sinking of the ship remain uncertain and there is much speculation about the details of his death. Some historians maintain that Smith was on the bridge at 2:13 a.m. and that he went down with the ship.  Other sources, however, state that he went to the wheelhouse.  There are also sources that claim he was present in the radio room.  The stories vary and they conflict each other.  For example, some survivors of the disaster recalled having seen Smith on the ships's bridge and some claimed to have witnessed him jumping off the deck.

Just before 3.00 p.m., on Thursday, April 18, the following message was posted on the notice-board at the White Star office in Southampton.   The poignant words were from Eleanor, the wife of Captain E.J. Smith.

My heart overflows with grief for you all, and is laden with sorrow that you are weighed down with this terrible burden that has been thrust upon us all.  
May God be with us and comfort us all.
Yours in deepest sympathy
(Signed) Eleanor Smith

Captain Smith's widow remained in Southampton for a while after her husband's death.  She later relocated to London.  On April 28, 1931, she was run over by a taxi near her London home and died at the age of 70.  Helen Melville Smith married Captain John Gilbertson of Liverpool of Liverpool, England.  Gilbertson, the youngest captain in the British merchant navy, died of black water fever while returning from India on board his first command ship.

In 1922, Helen married Sidney Russell-Cooke, a stockbroker, at St. Mark's Church, Mayfair.  The couple had twins, a son named Simon and a daughter, Priscilla, born at Bellcroft, London on June 18, 1923.  Priscilla wed a lawyer, John Constantine Phipps, She died soon after of polio in Scotland on October 7, 1947.  Simon, who never married, was killed in battle during World War II on March 23, 1944.  Russell-Cooke, died in a hunting accident on July 30, 1930.

On July 29, 1914, Helen Melville Smith unveiled a statue of her father in Lichfield, England.  Its sculptor was Lady Kathleen Scott, widow of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott.  The plaque beneath Captain Smith's memorial reads: Commander Edward John Smith RD, RDR. Born January 27, 1850, Died April 15, 1912, Bequeathing to his countrymen the memory and example of a great heart, a brave life and a heroic death. Be British. (There is an apocryphal story that Smith's last statement to his crew was, "Be British.")

In 1934, Helen moved to the quiet country village of Leafield, Oxfordshire and died there on August 18, 1973.  Mel was 75 years old at the time of her passing.  Since both of her children died childless, she left no descendants. Thus ended the progeny of Captain Edward John Smith.


Smith was a heavy cigar smoker.  In May of 2011, a cigar box he once owned sold for 25,000 pounds at a Liverpool auction.

- Joanne

Sunday, April 8, 2012

All About Easter Lilies


I have a great fondness for Easter Lilies and I get them every Easter. On this Easter Sunday, Number 16 presents some facts about this beautiful symbol of the season.  Their white, trumpet-shaped flowers represent hope and regeneration.  

* The Latin name for the Easter Lily is Lilium longiflor.  The Easter Lily is also known as the Bermuda lily.

*  Easter Lilies are native to the Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan.  They were discovered by famed plant explorer Carl Peter Thunberg and delivered to England in 1819.  Missionaries and sailors brought the lilies to Bermuda in 1853, hence the name Bermuda lily,  A virus destroyed the crop in 1898 and production moved to Japan.

*  Before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, most of the Easter Lily bulbs were imported from Japan.

* A World War I soldier named Louis Houghton has been given credit for starting production of Easter Lilies in the United States.  Houghton carried a suitcase of lily bulbs with him to the southern coast of Oregon in 1919.  He gave them to friends when the supply was cut off after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The area along the California-Oregon boarder is now the "Easter Lily Capital of the World" and produces the vast majority of the bulbs grown in the world.

- Joanne