Friday, June 24, 2016

U.K. Referendum Disaster

The result of yesterday's referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union was both disturbing and disappointing.  It does not bode well for world harmony.  It is a victory for the xenophobic, anti-immigration forces - at least for now.  It's quite sickening to see how United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) LEADER Nigel Farage and his ilk are celebrating.

This is a time of sombre reflection for those of us who want to build bridges, not walls.. What went wrong?  Well, I've been following the referendum news from my perch here in Canada and it seems that the REMAIN side was complacent and ill-prepared.  They didn't expect to be defeated.  They didn't think it would happen, but it did.  REMAIN won 48.1 percent of the vote, while LEAVE THE EU won 51.9 percent.

The REMAIN forces had the advantage of the economic argument for staying in the European Union..  The UK is far better off economically within the EU   .  However, that argument alone wasn't enough to win the referendum.  Perhaps the pro-EU forces should have campaigned harder and more passionately.  Unfortunately, there will be a price to pay for taking victory for granted and the cost of such negligence will be high.  It's tragic because the stakes were too high for such complacency.

The repercussions of yesterday's referendum are many.  The deep divisions within the UK have been exposed.  Scotland, Northern Ireland and the London area voted strongly to remain in the EU.  The majority of dissenting votes came from outside of London and in Wales.

Without Britain, the European Union could fall apart.  Other countries could decide to leave the EU too.  Of course, the 28-nation bloc is not perfect, but why not reform it rather then tear it asunder.
At the moment, the dream of a united Europe is in tatters.  This saddens me deeply.  I worry about a domino effect.  I'm also concerned about the uncertainty and instability that the referendum result has caused.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has taken responsibility for his part in the debacle.  He has resigned, as he should have.  For the sake of Britain and the rest of the world, Cameron's successor must show strong leadership during this crisis and its aftermath.  The referendum result is bad news economically and politically.  Nevertheless, world-wide opposition to xenophobia and anti-immigration policies must continue.  It is vital that the new British Prime Minister fight for those values with passion and vigour.

After yesterday's events, it's more important than ever that the xenophobic Donald Trump does not win the presidency of the United States.  The world can ill-afford such a disaster.

- Joanne

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Mysterious Death of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great may have conquered much of the ancient world, but he was not successful in living a long life.  In fact, he was only 32 years old when he died.  Death was the one thing, it seems, that he could not conquer with his military prowess.

Alexander III, was a Greek king of Macedon.  He was born in Pella, the affluent capital of the kingdom.  While a teenager, Alexander was tutored by the philosopher Aristotle.  He ascended the throne in 336 B.C. when his  father, Philip II, was assassinated by his chief bodyguard, a young Macedonian noble named Paunsanias of Orestes.  The assassination occurred at a wedding ceremony in Aegae, the old capital of Macedonia.

After his father's death, Alexander built one of the largest armies in the ancient world and created a huge empire that stretched from Greece to northwestern India.  He spread Greek culture and many places bore his name, the most famous being the city of Alexandria, Egypt.  It all came to an end, however, with his shocking and unexpected passing.

The exact cause of Alexander the Great's death remains unknown, although it has been the subject of scholarly debate for centuries.  His demise has been attributed to poison, malaria, typhoid fever, alcoholic liver disease and a variety of other disorders.  The circumstances surrounding his death have also been the subject of much debate and speculation.  There is no agreement as to whether Alexander died of disease or whether he was secretly murdered.  The only undisputed facts are that he died in early June of 323 B.C. at the palace of King Nebuchadnezzer II in Babylon after experiencing an illness for days.

In May of 323 B.C. Alexander arrived in Babylon, an important city in ancient Mesopotamia, near present-day Baghdad,  After 13 years of military campaigning and building an empire, he decided to take some time to rest and plan his next conquest.  While in Babylon, he attended a dinner party at the home of his friend, Medius of Larisa.  There was a great deal of drinking late into the night.  After complaining that he did not feel well, the warrior king fell asleep with a high fever.

Below is a brief excerpt from an account Alexander's "ten day" illness.  It was written by Arrian, a Greek historian, about 350 years after Alexander's death.  Arrian's account is based on the Royal Diaries, journals of Alexander's campaigns, written by contemporaries of the prominent military leader.

A few days later he (Alexander) had performed the divine sacrifices (those prescribed for good fortune and others suggested by the priests) and was drinking far into the night with some friends. He is said to have distributed sacrificial victims and wine to the army by detachments and companies. Some state that he wanted to leave the drinking-party and go to bed, but then Medius met him, the most trusty of his Companions, and asked him to a party, for he promised that it would be a good one.

Day 1
The Royal Diaries tell us that he drank and caroused with Medius. Later he rose, had a bath and slept. He then returned to have dinner with Medius and again drank far into the night. Leaving the drinking, he bathed, after which he had a little to eat and went to sleep there. The fever was already on him.

Another account of Alexander the Great's death, written by Greek historian Diodorus Siculus during the 1st century B.C., states that the Macedonian king was struck with pain after imbibing a large bowl of unmixed wine as a tribute to the Greek god Hercules.  According to Diodorus, Alexander "shrieked as if smitten by a violent blow." after drinking from the cup.

. . . and finally, filling a huge beaker, downed it at a gulp. Instantly He shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow and was conducted by his Friends, who led him by the hand back to his apartments. His chamberlains put him to bed and attended him closely, but the pain increased and the physicians were summoned. No one was able to do anything helpful and Alexander continued in great discomfort and acute suffering. When he, at length, despaired of life, he took off his ring and handed it to Perdiccas. His Friends asked: “To whom do you leave the kingdom?” and he replied: “To the strongest.” He added, and these were his last words, that all of his leading Friends would stage a vast contest in honour of his funeral. This was how he died after a reign of twelve years and seven months. He accomplished greater deeds than any, not only of the kings who had lived before him but also of those who were to come later down to our time.

There are several accounts of Alexander the Great's death and some mention the theory that he met with foul play such as arsenic poisoning.

In 2014, Dr. Leo Schep, a toxicologist from New Zealand's National Poisons Centre, released the results of his research into Alexander's death.  Dr. Schep's research shows that Alexander may have been killed by toxic wine made from an innocuous-looking plant.  Schep contends that it was most likely Veratrum album, a poisonous plant from the lily family, also called white or false hellebore.  He contends that his theory would be compatible with Diodorus' account of Alexander's death.

Veratrum album was used by the ancient Greeks as part of an herbal treatment to induce vomiting. According to Dr. Schep, that would account for the long period it took for Alexander to die, the toxicologist  rules out arsenic as death would have occurred sooner.  Despite his findings, however, Schep does not claim to have completely solved the mystery of Alexander's death.  He is quoted in The Independent, a British online paper, as saying that, "We'll never know, really."  He admits that his theory and the actual cause of Alexander's death, can never be conclusively proven.

Alexander the Great died undefeated in battle.  After his sudden death, there was no immediate successor.  His empire, therefore, was divided among four of his generals (known as the "diadochi" (successors). This led to a series of civil wars and the empire eventually fell apart.


* Due to some descriptions of Alexander the Great in ancient documents,  there is reason to believe that he had a medical condition called heterochromia of the eye (eyes of different colour).  British scholar Peter Green surmised that Alexander had one blue eye and one brown eye.

* In 327 B.C., Alexander married Roxane, the daughter of a Persian nobleman. Roxane was from Bactria, a province of the Persian empire located in modern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Alexander met her when he conquered Bactria between 329-327 B.C.  Roxane was pregnant at the time of Alexander's death  Their child, a son, became Alexander IV.

Here is how the Greek historian Plutarch describes the meeting and marriage of Alexander the Great and Roxane:

As for his marriage with Roxana, whose youthfulness and beauty had charmed him at a drinking entertainment, where he first happened to see her taking part in a dance, it was indeed a love affair, yet it seemed at the same time to be conducive to the object he had in hand. For it gratified the conquered people to see him choose a wife from among themselves

Below is a 1756 painting of Alexander and Roxane by Italian Baroque artist Pietro Rotari.

Alexander IV and his mother, Roxane, were killed circa 310 B.C. by Cassander, one of the four generals (diadochi) who had succeeded Alexander.  A peace treaty had been signed stipulating that young Alexander would be sole ruler of the empire when he came of age in 305 B.C.  However, Cassander became king of Macedon that year instead.

- Joanne

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Tom Longboat: Canadian champion, Aboriginal hero

Though most young Canadians have never heard of Tom Longboat, in the early 20th century he was one of the most famous athletes in the western world.

- Historica Canada

Thomas Charles Longboat, one of the greatest athletes to wear the Maple Leaf, was born at the Six Nations Reserve in Ohsweken, Ontario (near Brantford), His birth date has been disputed, but it is generally thought to be June 4, 1887 (Some sources, including The Canadian Encyclopedia), state that he was born on July 4, 1887, while others cite June 4, 1886).  If the June 4th, 1887 date is correct, then the celebrated long distance runner came into this world 129 years ago today.  He was a member of the Onondaga people, one of the original five constituent nations of the Iroquois.  His native name was Cogwagee, which means "Everything."

Tom Longboat was the second of three children and his father died when he was five years old.  At about 12 years of age, he was enrolled at the Mohawk Institute Residential School, where he was pressured to relinquish his native culture and language. Longboat deeply resented the school and escaped to the home of his uncle.  In later years, when he was invited to speak at the institute, he remarked with disdain, "I wouldn't even send my dog to that place."

Longboat began racing competitively in the spring of 1905 when he ran in the Victoria Day Race at Caledonia, Ontario.  He was noticed by another Six Nations runner, Bill Davis, who had finished second in the 1901 Boston Marathon.  Davis was impressed with Longboat's athletic talent and they began training together in preparation for the Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton, Ontario.  On October 18, 1906. Longboat won the Hamilton event by over three minutes.  It was his first significant competitive victory.

On April 19, 1907, at the age of 19, Tom Longboat competed in the prestigious Boston Marathon against 123 other runners.  It was a cold and rainy day, but throngs of people lined the streets to witness the event.  Longboat won the world-renowned race in spectacular fashion, setting a new course record that was five minutes faster than the previous one and earning himself international recognition.

Here is the front page of the Boston Post with its headline on the 1907 Boston Marathon.

Here are two excerpts from the Boston Globe's report on the 1907 Boston Marathon.

From the Boston Globe, April 20, 1907

Caffrey's Time Improved by About Five Minutes
Fowler, Himself a Mark-Shaver, Half-Mile Behind at Finish

Thomas Longboat, a full-blooded Indian from Hamilton, Ont., won the famous B.A.A. Marathon race of 25 miles from Ashland to Boston yesterday in 2h 24m 24s, beating the record for the course 2h 29m 23 3-5s, which was made by J.J. Caffrey, also of Hamilton, in 1901, when the latter won the race for the second time. 

                                                                       * * *

The thousands of persons who lined the streets from Ashland to the B.A.A. were well repaid for the hours of waiting in the rain and chilly winter weather, for they saw in Tom Longboat the most marvelous runner who has ever sped over our roads. With a smile for everyone, he raced along and at the finish he looked anything but like a youth who had covered more miles in a couple of hours than the average man walks in a week. Gaining speed with each stride, encouraged by the wild shouts of the multitude, the bronze-colored youth with jet black hair and eyes, long, lithe body and spindle legs, swept toward the goal. 

After his victory in Boston Marathon, Tom Longboat focused his attention on the 1908 Olympics in London, England. Unfortunately, the 1908 Olympics marathon ended in heartbreak and disappointment for the young competitor.  It was a hot day and the route was a lengthy 26.2 miles. Longboat and some other participants collapsed from exhaustion, including Italian runner, Dorando Pietri.  Longboat was in second place when he collapsed near the 20-mile mark. He was forced to leave the race. Pietri's collapse occurred in the final metres of the race, when he was leading the field. After receiving assistance from officials, he was able to cross the finish line in first place. American Johnny Hayes, who had finished second, protested the results.  Pietri was subsequently disqualified.and Hayes was awarded the gold medal.

Below is a photo of Tom Lomboat (No. 72), leading the pack at the 1908 Olympics in London as the runners leave Windsor Castle.  Behind Longboat is Dorando Pietri (No. 19)/

After the Olympics, Tom Longboat decided to turn professional, competing indoors for prize money. As a professional, Tom became king of the match-race circuit at a time when there was a public craze for long-distance running.  On December 15, 1908, he challenged Dorando Pietri, who had already beaten Johnny Hayes in a rematch between the two.  The setting was Madison Square Garden in New York City. With six laps left, Pietri collapsed and had to be removed from the track.

On December 28, 1908, Tom Longboat married Lauretta Maracle, a Mohawk school teacher on the Tyendinaga Reserve. The ceremony was held on stage at Massey Hall in Toronto.  Soon after, on February 6, 1909, he went head to head with prominent British runner Alfred "Alfie" Shrubb in a contest to determine "the World's Professional Marathon Champion."  Their highly-publicized showdown took place at Madison Square Garden before a sold-out crowd of 12,000 and it was billed as the race of the century.  Shrubb took a ten-lap lead, but Longboat, came from behind to pass him and win the race.

Alfie Shrubb became Longboat's greatest rival on the circuit.  The two engaged in a number of match races in front of enormous crowds with Longboat besting Shrubb at distances over 20 miles and Scrubb winning the shorter races.

Tom Longboat's rival, Alfred Shrubb

In 1911, after some much-publicized disagreements with his managers, Longboat bought out his own contract.  He was determined to use his own training methods, although he was criticized for his supposedly relaxed attitude.  In fact, his one-time trainer, Mike Flanagan, had walked out on him before his showdown with Alfie Schrubb, telling the Globe that Longboat was "the most contrary piece of furniture I have ever had anything to do with."  Despite the criticism, Longboat continued to have success as a professional.  By about 1912, however, the public's passion for marathon running began to fade and the outbreak of an international conflict,in 1914 changed everything.

In February of 1916, Tom Longboat enlisted in World War I.  During the war, he served as a dispatch runner for the 107th Pioneer Battalion in France, assigned to the dangerous task of delivering messages and orders between units.  He kept in competitive shape by  racing in inter-battalion sporting contests (He won the eight-mile-long race at the Canadian Corps Dominion Day celebrations).  According to Veterans Affairs Canada, Longboat was wounded twice during his service overseas. However, the injuries were not mentioned in his military service record.

Despite having been mistakenly reported dead, Tom Longboat managed to survive the war.  He was discharged in 1919, but upon returning home he soon discovered that his wife, Lauretta, believing him to be deceased, had remarried.  According to David Blaikie, author of Boston: The Canadian Story, Lauretta chose to remain in her new marriage,  Longboat later wed Martha Silversmith, an Onondagan, with whom he had four children.  According to a piece on the website of the Loyal American Hall of Honour, Bay of Quite Branch, Martha was the sister of Canadian First Nations actor Jay Silverheels, who portrayed Tonto in the old Lone Ranger television series.  Silverheels was born Harry J. Smith at the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford.  He was also known as Harry Silversmith.

After the war, Tom Longboat moved out west to secure a land grant in recognition for his military service.  He settled near Edmonton, Alberta, where he was a homesteader and performed odd jobs.  In 1922, he returned to Toronto. At first, he worked for the Dunlop Rubber Co. and then at steel mills in Hamilton and Buffalo.  He was laid of in 1926, but soon found employment with the City of Toronto's street-cleaning department.  According to an article by Peter Unwin in Canada's History magazine, Longboat toiled at that job "faithfully for 19 years"  He "drove horses, swept leaves, and collected garbage."

Tragedy hit the Longboat and his family in 1932.  Following Tom's participation in a radio interview at the Canadian National Exhibition , his five-year-old son, Clifford, was struck by a car and killed. Unwin's article in Canada's History states that the child's mother, Martha, saved the CNE pennant she had bought that day and kept it for the remainder of her life.

In 1944, Tom Longboat retired to the Six Nations Reserve where he died of pneumonia on January 9, 1949 at the age of 61 or 62.  Roger Robinson, I think, summed up Longboat's achievements best when he wrote the following in Canadian Runner magazine (May 16, 2014):

Tom Longboat was he only Canadian distance runner so far to prove himself definitively as the world’s best, and he did it three times: once at Boston and twice at Madison Square Garden. But Longboat’s historical importance reaches beyond Canada. He was the first world-class non-white marathon runner.


* In 2010, the Ontario Legislature passed a bill declaring June 4 Tom Longboat Day.

* Alfie Shrubb went on to coach the Harvard University cross-country team and the Oxford University Athletics Club.  Interestingly enough, he settled permanently in Canada in 1928, making his home in Bowmanville, Ontario.  He died in Bowmanville on April 23, 1964 at the age of 84.  The

* After his disqualification from the 1998 Olympics marathon, Dorando Pietri was awarded a gilded silver cup by Britain's Queen Alexandra.

* During World War II, Tom Longboat served as a member of the Veterans Guard and was stationed
at a military camp near Brantford, Ontario.

* Tom Longboat has been inducted into the Canadian Indian Hall of Fame and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.  A school in Toronto has been named after him.

- Joanne