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The Black Plague of 1348. Any connection to SARS and Coronavirus?

Prior to 1347, there had been plague in Eur­ope, but its effects were geographically limited. Peasants worked for noble landlords in exchange for prot­ection and use of land i.e a feudalist sys­tem. Thus most peasants were impover­ish­ed serfs who never travelled.

Catholicism was all-powerful in Europe. Dying the good death was the ideal situation for any Christian; a prolonged sickness, or advancing old age, would give an individual time to consider his sins, confess and repent. But what if disease was sudden and unexp­ected? Clerics were the only Church-approved medical prac­tit­ion­ers, so many Catholics relied on the Church for healing.

Before the Crusades began in 1095, Europeans rarely travelled to the Near East. Then the trade increased, population grew, commun­ities urban­ised, living conditions became unsanitary and health care failed. Once Eastern commodities were rediscovered, an increased desire for new trade routes to Asia was ignited. Trade between con­t­inents became more common and then expanded again in the C13th, increasing urbanisation and dense living conditions.

Thus Europe’s population outpaced the development of its resour­ces. Infrast­ruc­t­ure like sewers crumbled, result­ing in people sharing water sources and in waste running through streets. People inter­act­ed with disease carriers like rats.

Gilles Li Muisis, 1272-1352. 
The burial of the victims of the Black Death,
Tournai Bibliothèque royale de Belgique

The Great European Famine of 1315-17 caused by the popul­ation increases and crop failures, led to the deaths of c10% of the pop­ulation. In the 1330s, central Asian kingdoms suffered terrible plagues while exp­loring new trade routes. In 1346 plague-ridden Tatar Mongols assailed trading centres on the Crimean peninsula, populated primarily by European traders; those traders in turn spread the plague when the victims fled back to Europe. The war­time conditions during the Hundred Years’ War of 1337­-1453 between Eng­land and France caused chaos; sold­iers caught the disease in battle and spread it on returning home.

In early 1347, the Black Death spread via land-based trade routes to eastern Europe and via sea-based trade routes to Medit­erranean nations. In late 1347, following its spread to Sicily, Greece and Cons­t­antinople, the plague spread to Scandin­avia. Trade declined and the social order collapsed.

In the decades after the pandemic, Europe experienced significant economic, social and religious changes. The first economic change was the shift in the value of land and goods. Many workers had died, creating difficulties for land owners; it was more difficult to produce goods and to obtain goods through trade. Both caused an inflation in prices for goods, just as land val­ues deflated.

When the labour supply plummeted, the peasants could demand slightly higher wages. How ironic that the pandemic inspired peasants’ ex­ploration of revolutionary ideas and the creation of Poor Laws. Peasant rebellions started in France in 1358 and in Italy in 1378. Wat Tyler's Rebellion in England took place in 1381.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c1562
The Triumph of Death, 117 x 162 cm
Prado Madrid

There was a growing mistrust of the weakened Catholic Church. The Church lost many clergy members during the pandemic and without their spiritual help, people needed medical support from diff­erent sources. People questioned why they were not saved from God’s punishment, even though they’d been good Catholics.

People quickly realised the inevitability of death. Art started to show death’s grim influence eg Triumph of Death by Piet­er Bruegel. Artists coped with the devast­at­ion by creating a new dark genre: the Dance of Death. The possibility of sudden, miserable death evoked a hysterical de­s­ire for human activity, while they could. The Dance of Death was like the mediaeval mystery plays, strongly advising people to always be prepared for death.

Death and his infected victims moved in groups, dancing as their bodies twitched with spasms. People who engaged in this activity were in a frenzied trance! In fact the people afflicted by this obsession could die of exhaustion or hunger. The survivors could fall into a state of permanent mental illness and tremors. More about a specific death dance in a later post.

Medical practice improved after the pandemic. While medical pract­ice was still outlawed from non-Church staff, more people turned to independent practitioners. Plus many European governments created efficient public health protocols. Early forms of quarant­ine were developed and infected ships had to wait in the harbour.

The physicians were unable to treat the plague, so the impact of the Black Death on the medical profession was largely after the plague ended. Having revealed the shortcomings of the existing medical system in Europe, the top medical pract­itioners had to focus on theories of causation and prevention of disease. Physicians had to both develop treatments for the plague and take measures to secure their status by pushing for the regulation of medical practices. The Black Death did not completely destroy the existing medical system. Education based on the works of Hippocrates and Galen survived in the univ­er­sities, however the teaching of surgery and anatomy were gradually included as well. Thus the Black Death helped shape medieval medicine's course of development.

The Orchestra of the Dead, 1493
woodcut by Michael Wolgemu

Europe’s population outpaced the development of its resour­ces in the C14th. Infrast­ruc­t­ure like sewers crumbled, result­ing in people sharing water sources and in waste running through streets. At least the peasants who survived the plague were able to get better wages & working conditions! So while the Black Death was a catastrophe, the shattered feudal system, winding down of serfdom, more sophist­icated medicine and a better economic system.. all cont­rib­uted to an improvement in European life in the long run.

But what can we learn from the Black Death about the transmission of plagues, quarantine and treatment of C20thinfections. SARS (2003 from China), MERS (2012 from Saudi Arabia) and Coronavirus (2020 from China) are viruses and not bacteria, as the Black Plague was. But the speed of aeroplanes these days makes world travel an even more critical issue. 

Tongji Hospital Wuhan, 2020  
inundated with people waiting for testing kits, and confirmed cases.


the amazing Anna Pavlova in Australia - 1926 and 1929

The Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881–1931) was initially believed to be too tall and not athletic enough to succeed at ballet, yet still graduated from the Imperial Theatre School in St Petersburg in 1899. In 1906 she was promoted to prima ballerina. Although she performed in the opening season of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in Paris in 1909, she did not join the avant-garde outfit. Instead, in 1911, she form her own company which toured until her death in 1931. This star had my three most important qualities, being Russian, a great artist and an independent, strong woman.

Pavlova and her own company of dancers made two tours to  Australia in 1926 and 1929 when they toured for the famous JC Williamson organisation. During her first tour in 1926 Pavlova and her 45 dan­cers visited Melbourne where His Majesty’s Theatre was the venue for the first season. Pavlova and her own company of dancers made two tours to  Australia in 1926 and 1929 when they toured for the famous JC Williamson organisation.

During her first tour in 1926 Pavlova and her 45 dan­cers visited Melbourne where His Majesty’s Theatre was the venue for the first season. Her partners were Laurent Novikoff and Algeranoff. The debut performance attracted a packed audience of thousands. The Fairy Doll was to be performed first. Algeranoff recalled that while climbing the steps to take up her position as the Fairy Doll, Pavlova said to him, “Perhaps they like, perhaps not, who can tell?” And he recalled that friends of his in the audience told him that people were bewildered because, at first, she merely stood still: but from the time she started dancing, the success was amazing. The Melbourne Argus (15th March 1926) noted in its massive, enthusiastic two column review that Australians had never seen such art.

Anna Pavlova
by Harold Cazneaux,  March 1926
gelatin silver photograph, 20.4 x 15.5 cm
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

The final night in Melbourne surprised the company with an Australian custom, the throwing of paper streamers, which flowed from every part of the theatre. The success of the Melbourne season had been beyond all expectations. Australasia Films had planned to make a movie of the company while they were in Melbourne, and a number of short films were made in the grounds of Sir George Tallis’ home in Toorak. The stills were printed in newspapers and magazines.

Anna Pavlova at Central Railway Station Sydney, April 1926. 
From left: Laurent Novikoff, Victor Dandré, Lucien Wurmser (musical director), J.C. Williamson rep
National Library of Australia

So famous was she that ten thousand people welcomed her on arrival by train at Sydney's main railway station. [No-one other than King George V himself received such large and welcoming crowds]. Later they presented about 15 ballets and 39 divertissements (short pieces like The Dragonfly and The Swan, for which she was particularly renowned). She presented 15 ballets where a teenage Robert Helpmann (1909–86) was one of the extra Australian dancers, hired for the event. Finally she continued on this section of the company’s world tour in Brisbane, Adelaide and New Zealand, again to rapt acclaim.

For her second Australian tour in 1929, Pavlova travelled thousands of ks in Queensland, on a special train that was proudly provided by the Queensland state government. They visited the rural cities of Rockhampton, Mackay and Bundaberg prior to her Brisbane opening in the newly completed His Majesty’s Theatre. This was followed by more star appearances in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

Who did the photography? Harold Cazneaux (1878–1953) came to Australia from his native New Zealand when he was 11. The family settled in Adelaide, where Harold began working as a photo retoucher in 1897. In 1904, he moved to Sydney; five years later he held his first solo photographic exhibition, which happened to be the first solo photographic exhibition in Australia. He was the leading photographer for the Home Magazine from the early 1920s onward, and his photographs of Sydney over a number of decades have become key images of aspects of Australian history.

Apart from Anna Pavlova, his portraits of other famous artists (eg Hans & Nora Heysen, Lionel and Norman Lindsay, Nellie Melba, Yehudi Menuhin, Margaret Preston) also became famous. National Library of Australia has c200 Cazneaux photos; National Gallery of Australia has c400.


Brilliant dogs rescue some koalas from Australian bush fires.

I love dogs, especially those trained as service animals, and I love koala bears. As bush­­fires ravaged Australia this summer, there were many human her­oes that stepped up to defend their communities. But now the world has became entranced by the service dogs saving koalas dec­imated by the blazes.  Here are some newspaper articles from late 2019-early 2020.

A burnt koala brought into a protected environment

The native animals’ homes were already burned to the ground in Queensland and most nat­ive animals in the burnt areas had died. A blue-eyed border-collie named Bear made international head­lines after helping rescuers save injured and orphaned wildlife. Bear walked around wear­ing socks to protect his four paws, and then sat very still to alert the handler when a koala was near. Already in late 2019, Bear was praised for his ability to sniff out both koala scat-droppings and fur. The animal charity International Fund for Animal Welfare/IFAW shared photos of Bear in action.

IFAW campaigner Josey Sharrad explained why Bear's job was import­ant. Now, more than ever, saving individual koalas was critical. With such an intense start to the summer bushfire season, it has been weeks and months before some/all of these fires were put out. In the meantime, wildlife continued to need to be rescued and treated, and had to remain in care for some time. The road to recovery for the burned koalas was long.

The wildlife experts trialled different survey methods and the most effective by far was using the detection dogs. The dog helped find the scats, such that the ex­perts could then start focusing on the canopy and doing an intense search to locate the koala. Bear roamed around burnt-out areas and sat very still to alert his hand­ler when a burned koala was near. The detection dogs were thus incredibly essential.

Now another hero, a specially trained dog named Smudge, was assis­ting animal rescuers in the New South Wales/NSW Blue Mountains. Smudge was also helping to save injured koalas by sniffing them out in the bush after their habitat had been devastated by fires. This dog had been spec­ially trained to track down koala scat, finding twice as much scat in five minutes as a team of three skilled searchers would in an hour. Tragically thousands koalas already died in the Blue Mountain fires alone.

BEAR located koala scat and waited for the wildlife experts to search for the koala
Note his socks, protecting his paws from the burnt ground.

Burned trees, after the Callignee fire went through,
destroying koalas' food supply and sleeping spaces

The wildlife experts knew they needed help to rescue injured koalas. Research­er Dr Kel­lie Leigh was working alongside Smudge and said dogs like him made it far eas­ier to search for koalas in dense bushland. Clearly the Blue Mountains were really diff­icult hab­it­ats to survey: the trees were big, the can­opy was dense and the koalas could not be located just by looking.

Three special dogs, Tommy, Emma and Becky, and their trainer Steve Austin, searched scorched land for injured koalas in NSW. Like other detection dogs, Austin’s team was also trained to find injured koalas by tracking the scent of their scat. So far this fire season, Austin's dogs have located 16 koalas. Experts then came in to rescue the burned animals which were treated at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in Sydney.

Note the koala named Flash that was found in Taree in northern NSW with burns so severe, he had to be sedated before treatment. Meanwhile, heart warming footage has emerged of firefighters giving a drink of water to two koalas they rescued from catastrophic bush­fires. Lester Miles was on his way to relieve day shift crews fight­ing a blaze burning for more than a week at Spicers Gap in Maryvale, Qld, one night when he saw the koalas surrounded by flames. The Brisbane fire fighter said the koalas would have been burnt alive if they hadn't been spotted and saved. They had nowhere to go since there was fire all around them. Coming up through there, the men had to go through the fire itself. Even more dangerous, there were a lot of trees falling over.
Now a totally unplanned, unexpected saving of a koala. A gallant golden retriever has been hailed a hero after saving an aband­oned baby koala’s life, by letting it snuggle in her fur. Proud dog owner Kerry McKinnon was shocked after discovering the tiny koala joey snuggled up with her five-year-old golden retriever As­ha. The dog owner from Strathdownie in Western Victoria said the koala probably became separated from its mother during the night and wandered onto her back porch, finding comfort in Asha’s warm fur. With early morning temperatures plummeting down to 5c, Kerry McKinnon said that the helpless koala never would have made it through the night if it hadn’t been cuddled up to Asha. The retriev­­er’s heroic feat in honour of the koala has since gone viral on social media.

 Asha the golden retriever saved a baby koala's life by keeping him warm all night.

The Word Wildlife Fund said that 30,000 koalas may have perish­ed, although the final toll won't be known for months. Worse still, koalas are known to breed so slowly that it could take 100 years for the population to rebuild. This meant that every animal that was rescued from death was crucial.


Was Lucrezia Borgia a political pawn or Machiavellian villain?

Rodrigo de Borja (1431-1503) was born into a Spanish nob­le fam­ily in Aragon.  He moved to Italy where the Borg­ia family enjoyed great success - Rod­rig­o's uncle was made bish­op of Valen­cia. Uncle Alonso became the first Bor­gia Pope Callixtus III in 1455, ensur­ing nephew Rodrigo worked his way up through bis­h­op­rics. In 1456 Alonso promptly made his young nephew a cardinal.

So how did a man who openly made a fort­une out of his family connect­ions in the papacy, and who op­enly fathered 3 children early on, brib­e his way through the entire college of card­inals! Later his lov­ed mist­­ress Van­ozza dei Cattanei had four more children with Rodrigo.

The second Borgia pope, Pope Alexander VI

In 1492 Pope Innocent VIII died, leaving disorder and insolvency. Our Borgia man was elected the next pope, Pope Al­ex­ander VI (1492-1503). He may have risen to St Peter's throne by dubious means, but Alex­an­der VI did have some important achieve­ments. To make Rome a fitting centre of world Chris­t­endom, he became a prin­ce­ly pat­ron of architecture and monuments.

Nepotism was already common in the pap­acy; af­t­er all, a pope could trust his own family marg­in­al­ly more than strangers. But the Borg­ias rais­ed nepotism to NEW heights. His children did very well: Juan (1474-97) was made a Duke and marr­ied into the King of Castille's family; teen­age Cesare (1475-1507) was given the Spanish Archbish­op­ric of Valen­za; Lucrezia (1480-1519) was regent whenever the Pope left Rome; and Joffre (1482-1517) was mar­­r­ied to a Neapolitan princess.

In 1497, Juan Borgia rode to the Vatican with his brot­her Cesare, but was never seen alive again. The weeping pope called his beloved Juan “the centre for his dyn­astic hopes”, but Cesare denied killing his brother.

Renaissance Italy was made up of city states, most at risk of in­vas­­ion. In 1499, Cesare led a force of foreign and papal troops into Italy. Cesare was sent by his father as a delegate to papal cities, to re­turn law and order to large parts of Italy. This more military role suit­ed Ces­are per­fectly, so in 1498, he gave up his cardinal's hat and became a French Duke. France was allying itself to the pap­acy, a link the Borgias wanted to foster.

Lucrezia was well-educated in Latin, Greek, Italian, French, music and poetry. But Renaissance women had to be obed­ient to their fathers and then their husbands. Even those who were heiresses saw their estates given over to their husband's control. The Borgias were determined to arrange a mar­­riage for Lucrezia that would fur­ther their territorial interests. Her first proxy wedding at 13 was to some Spanish grandee. But when that political alliance no longer serv­ed a pur­p­ose, Pope Al­ex­ander dissolved the un­ion and married her off to more imp­ort­ant families.

In 1493 she married Giov­anni Sforza, nep­hew of the power­ful Duke of Mil­an. Their wedding was a splendid, lavish wedding at the Vatican Palace. Surprisingly this turned out to be a very good marriage.

But again, the Borgias found they no longer needed the Sforzas! The Pope wanted advantageous polit­ical allian­ces, so Giovanni had to go. The Pope decided to have Lucrezia's marr­iage annulled but young Sforza was forced to signed a confession of impotence and annulment. In revenge, he blackened his former wife's name so her much loved second husband was strangled by Cesare’s men.

Portrait of Lucrezia Borgia 
painted by Bartolomeo Veneziano, c1500

Lucrezia's next marriage (in 1498) was to Duke Alfonso of Aragon, son of King of Naples. This was another polit­ical arrangement as her papal father needed to ally himself with Nap­les. Luckily Alfonso and Lucrezia fell in love.

Now mar­ried to the King of Navarre’s sister, Cesare had just allied him­self with the King Louis XII of France. King Louis was planning another inv­as­ion of Italy, to recl­aim his inher­it­ance of Milan and Naples, and needed Cesare. Town after town fell to Cesare in the 1490s.

Later in 1502, the bride was married off again. Her third husband was Al­f­onso d'Este, son of Duke of Ferrara, an Italian family with a superior lineage to the Borgias. Alas Ercole d'Este had impov­erished his duchy by providing huge dow­ries to his daught­ers Is­abella and Beat­r­ice d'Este, as well as building ex­tensive arch­itecture. So the Pope persisted, giving the d'Este family a HUGE dowry. Within 2 years of her marriage to Alfonso d’Este, Lucrezia’s father died. Ce­s­are was arrest­ed, fled Rome in 1507 and died in a Spanish war at 31 .. or was murder­ed.

Lucrezia flourished in her Ferr­ara court. As a patron of art­ists, musical and lit­er­ary men, she loved poet-scholar Pie­t­ro Bem­bo and painter Dosso Dossi most. And the relat­ives Fran­cesco Gon­zaga and Isabella d'Este of Fer­rara gave her great praise for her virtue and charity. How amazing! This was the anti­th­esis of her scan­d­alous reputation! However after a long history of comp­lic­at­ed pregnancies, Lucrezia died birthing her 10th child in 1519, at 39.

Strangely Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in his book The Prince that Cesare was the model statesman for It­aly. He was most impressed with Ces­are's sup­erb library, patr­onage of art­ists and in­vitations to scholars to live in the court.  Once Cesare’s conquest of central and northern Italy was comp­l­ete, he im­posed good government on the captured cities. Machiavelli said that Borgia’s rule was the best Italy had seen for ages. Band­itry ended, taxation was balanced and roads were improved. But remember he had the total backing of his father, the Pope, and his monarch King Louis XII of France.

The Este Castle, Ferrara, 
the amazing home of Lucrezia Borgia

Even more strangely Lucrezia Borgia supposedly poisoned her lovers via a ring in her bed­room, slept with her brother and had a baby with her father. Being a woman, she was a particular target for every sexist hist­or­ian, politician and cleric, becoming the dumping ground for the criticisms that would have otherwise been directed at the men.

Despite Lucrezia's sup­erb library, patr­onage and in­vitations to scholars to live in the court,  women of significance were always judged more harshly than men when they deviated from their path. But mainly it was because other famous papal dynasties eg the Medicis & Farneses, behaved in much the same way as the Borgias – all promoted undeserving sons and nephews, most ignored celibacy and all were accused by their enemies of nasty crimes. However the Borgias were foreign and, unlike the local dynasties, had no descendants to reinvent their historical image. Poor Lucrezia.

Lucretia Borgia According to Original Documents and Correspondence of Her Day was written by Ferdinand Gregorovius and first published in 1874. Now on Kindle.


History of Mensa - from Britain to the world

 Soon after WW2 in Oxford (1946), two men met on a train and started talking. One was Roland Berrill (1897–1962), an Australian ex-pat bar­rister who never practised at the Bar but lived on the payments from his investments. The other was Dr Lancelot Lionel Ware (1915–2000), work­ing in law and science. They began talking about intelligence testing, a topic of great interest to Ware, who was working at the National Institute for Medical Re­search.

In Oxford, they discussed the formation of a club dedic­ated to intelligence. There they formed The High IQ Club, with Berrill doing the funding. They chose the name Mensa because it meant altar tab­le in Latin and was also suggestive of the Latin words for mind and month i.e monthly meeting of great minds around a tab­le. Berrill had the first Mensa literature printed in Oct 1946 in Caythorpe Lincolnshire.

 Roland Berrill and Lancelot Ware

The constitution of Mensa International was formulated and the first international elections were held in 1964. The constitution listed the organisation’s main purposes: to
1. identify & foster human intelligence to benefit humanity.
2. encourage research into the nature & uses of intelligence.
3. provide an intellectual & social environment for members.

Other goals of the organisation were the further­ance of literacy and programmes to develop the minds of gifted child­ren. Mensa also provided contact between people of high intellect, both for professional and social purposes.

There were no educational requirements for membership, nor stip­ul­ations about gender, age, race, creed, colour or national origin. The majority (66%) of members were male, the youngest memb­ers just 2 years old and the oldest members were 100+. Members have included both obscure and famous persons, including writers and scientists.

Intelligence was measured by the Stanford-Binet IQ test, in which an IQ of 132 was the minimum acceptable score. Other standardised intel­lig­ence tests could be used eg the Cattell Culture Fair Intel­ligence Test. To become a Mensan, the only qualification was a score at the 98th percentile. And that the appr­oved intel­l­igence test was run and supervised by a qualified examiner.

Unlike upper-class Ware and Berrill, Londoner Victor Serebriakoff (1912-2000) left school and worked as a clerk for a timber company and then as a manual labourer, but unemployed in the Great Depression. In the standardised Army intelligence test during WW2, he achieved a very high score. After the war he went back to the timber business, invented a mach­ine for grading timber, wrote a book British Saw Milling Practice and became a saw mill manager. He joined Mensa in 1950, and then married another Mensan, Winifred Rouse. Just as Ware and Berrill were called the founders of Mensa today, Serebriakoff became known as the builder of Mensa.

 Victor Serebriakoff, 1960s 
International Secretary of Mensa 

Clearly intended as a non-profit social club for people among the highest intellect in the human population, the founders expected an aristocratic gathering of intelligentsia. Were they dis­appoint­ed to find that many members were mostly from humble origins? I hope not.

Membership benefits included participation in discus­sion groups, social events and annual meetings. Mensa Internat­ional offered 200 Special Interest Groups devoted to a variety of scholarly dis­cip­lines and recreational pursuits. Individual Mensa chapters organis­ed workshops and special events, published newsletters and held annual conferences. Local chapters participate in community activ­ities, often communicated via Mensa newsletters and other forums.

The first members in the USA were expat Britons, or Am­ericans who had learned about Mensa while visiting UK. John Wilcock was a reporter who had attended a meeting in Britain, and on his return home, The Village Voice published his column about Mensa. A medical writer in New York, Peter Sturgeon, read the col­umn and contacted the Mensa Selection Agency. Sturgeon joined up in May 1960 and was authorised in August to formally start a New York branch This was the first recog­nised Mensa division outside the UK and it evolved into American Mensa. Its nat­ion­al office is now in Arling­ton Texas, with divisions in large cities like Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Mensa Education & Research Foundation was established in 1971 to pursue excellence in the study and use of intelligence. With its focus on education, awards and scholarships, this non-profit, phil­anthropic arm of American Mensa and of Mensa Intern­at­ional gave an average of $60,000 in scholarships through a programme across the country. Yearly awards were also given to recognise research, education and publicity regarding intel­ligence and creativity. And it published the Mensa Research Journal. 

Victor Serebriakoff met Peter Sturgeon

The Mensa Genius Quiz Book helps the reader find out if s/he is genius or not.

Mensa International is the umbrella organisation for national groups found in 100 countries. With c134,000 members world-wide, the USA has the most members with Germany second biggest. In Australia, the organisation was started in 1964 by a number of mem­bers of British Mensa who had moved to Australia. Today there are 2400 members. In 1966 in Tor­on­to, a committee was set up to form a Canadian Mensa, in time for the nation’s Centennial. Today Canada has 2000+ members.

Mensa provided very important social and intellectual activities for adults, but what about for young people? Brain Blogger reported a 2004 study measuring 140 American eight-grade students; it concluded that self-discipline was more relevant to academic results than IQ scores. And a British psychometric study measured the correlation between Emotional Intelligence and academic per­formance in 650 students. It concluded that Emotional Intelligence had increm­ental validity over cognitive ability and established personality traits in predicting achieve­ment and behaviour.

Is membership respected and impressive, or is it a certain way to lose friends and alienate people? If a healthy self-image and a good self-discipline achieved better ac­ademic results than a mere high IQ, was having a Mensa-level intelligence the last word in helpfulness?


American Prohibition: well intentioned but doomed to fail

A wave of C19th religious revivalism swept the USA, leading to in­c­reased calls for temperance. In 1838 Massachusetts passed a temp­er­ance law; it failed but a num­ber of other states followed suit by the time the Civil War began in 1861. In all calls for temper­ance, the movement was driven by Methodists, progress­ives and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (1873).  Temp­er­ance appealed to women most; alcohol was seen as a destructive force in families and marriages. [I might have agreed with the women, except I drink a glass of wine each night].

Irish immigrants faced religious discrimination and xenophobia from the longer-settled Protestants. Protestant groups, who believed the Irish were constantly drunk, gravitated toward the Republican Party that sometimes promoted the prohibition of alcohol sales. In resp­onse, Catholic immigrants like the Irish felt targeted and blamed.

By the turn of the century, temperance societies popped up in com­munities across the USA. In 1906, a new wave of attacks began on the sale of liquor, led by the powerful Anti-Saloon League (1893) and driven by urban growth, the rise of evangelical Protestantism and the view of culture as ungodly. And many factory owners supported prohibition, to increase the effic­iency of their workers.

New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John Leach, right, 
watching agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid, 1921 

Police clearing private home of booze, 1930 
History Channel 

Home liquor still c1920 
to make alcohol for home consumption or to sell illegally.

Large beer breweries included Pabst Brewing Co. built by German im­migrants, as were Valentin Blatz, Joseph Schlitz, Miller and Weston, all in Milwaukee. In St Louis, a German immigrant Eberhard Anheuser purchased a brewery and joined with a brewery supplier, his son in law Adolphus Busch. Busch renamed it Anheuser-Busch which, with its Budweiser beer, went on to be the largest beer brand in the world. The successes of these “immigrant” companies bred resentment and xenophobia in Eng­lish speaking families, particularly once Germany became the enemy in 1914. How much did this xenophobia help bring about Prohibition?

In 1917, after the USA entered WWI, President Woodrow Wilson ins­tituted a temporary wartime prohibition in order to save grain for producing food. That same year, Congress submitted the 18th Amend­ment which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of al­cohol, for state ratification. The amendment received the sup­port of the necessary 75% of US states in just 11 months! In Oct 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act.

Governments struggled to enforce Prohibition throughout the 1920s, initially assigned to the Internal Revenue Service, and later tran­s­ferred to the Justice Department. In general, Prohibition was en­forced much more strongly in areas where symp­athetic rural popul­at­ions lived.

Those who wanted to keep drinking found very creative ways. The illegal mak­ing and sale of liquor/boot­legging increased, as did nightclubs selling alcohol/speakeasies, the smuggling of alcohol across state lines and the production of liquor/moonshine in homes.

A rise in gang violence led to waning support for Prohibition by the late 1920s. The Chicago gangster Al Capone (1899–1947) earned a staggering $60 million annually from bootleg operations and speak­­easies! Chicago’s St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 saw several Capone men, dressed as policemen, shoot and kill an enemy gang.

The high price of bootleg liquor meant that the working classes were even more restricted during Prohibition than they usually were. Even before the Depres­sion hit. Given the dire ec­on­omic sit­uation brought on by the Great Depres­s­ion, by 1932 the fed­eral government could not afford to forego the gov­ernment tax rev­enues from the production and con­sumption of al­coh­olic drinks. Before Prohibition, many states relied heavily on excise taxes in liquor sales to fund their bud­gets. In New York, 75% of the state's revenue was derived from liquor taxes. With Pro­h­ibition in effect, that revenue went down and the cost of en­for­cing the law went up.

Now consider the Unintended Consequences of Prohibition. When the law went into effect, Prohibition's supporters expected sales of household goods/clothing to skyrocket. Real estate developers and landlords expected rents to rise, as saloons closed and neighbourhoods improved. Snack food companies and rest­aur­ants expected growth, but they failed. Theatre prod­ucers expect­ed new crowds but they also failed. The closing of breweries, dis­tilleries and saloons led to the elim­in­ation of thousands of jobs, and thousands more jobs were eliminated for barrel makers, waiters, truckies and other related trades.

And consider the loopholes in Prohibition legislation. While the 18th Am­endment prohibited the manufacture, sale and transportation of in­toxicating beverages, it did not outlaw the drinking of al­co­hol. Furthermore pharm­acists were all­ow­ed to disp­ense whiskey by prescription for ail­ments ranging from anxiety to influenza. [The number of registered pharmacists in New York State tripled during the Prohibition era!] And because Americans were also allowed to obtain wine for rel­ig­ious purposes, enrolments rapidly rose at churches and synagogues.

Home stills were illegal, but Americans could purchase them at many hardware stor­es, while instructions for distilling were found in public lib­raries. The law that was meant to stop Am­ericans from drinking alcohol .. instead made them distilling experts.

Pub­lic health was damaged. As the trade in illegal alcohol became more lucrative, the quality of alcohol on the black market declined. On average 1000 Americans died every year during the Prohibition from drinking tainted liquor.

Anti-Saloon League paper American Issue, 1919 
Celebrating with the heading: US is voted dry 
Westerville Library Ohio

A legal medical script for whiskey during the Prohibition

For over a decade the law was meant to foster temperance, but it fostered int­emperance and illegality instead. So the final con­sequence was this: since Prohib­ition made crim­inals of mil­l­ions of ordinary Americ­ans, courts and gaols over­flowed. Many defendants in proh­ib­ition cases waited over a year, just to be brought to trial.

Only by re-legalising the liquor industry could they create jobs and imp­rove revenue. Calling for Prohibition’s repeal, Democrat Franklin D Roosevelt easily won victory over President Her­bert Hoover. FDR’s victory meant the end for Prohibition, and in Feb 1933 Congress proposed a 21st Amendment to the Constitution that would repeal the 18th. It was ratified by the end of that year and the amendment was submitted to the states. In Dec 1933 Utah provided the 36th and final necessary vote for ratification.

Prohibition was an excellent tv series produced by PBS in 2011.


Stunning C19th hotel in Sorrento Italy - Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria

The Romans, lovers of great beauty, valued the spectacular scenery and temperate climate of Surrentum, hovering over the cliffs of the Sorrento Peninsula. Romantic Sorren­to stands on the grey rock on the south­ern side of the Gulf of Naples. In time, the nobility and the artists of all media arrived, to enjoy the Mediterranean climate and amazing scen­ery, and to find renewed inspiration for their work.

Sala Vittoria/Breakfast Restaurant 
frescoed ceilings

But Sorrento was also a place of history and culture, commen­cing from the Greek-Roman town plan that is still preserved. There are archaeological relics in local mus­eums or along the roads of the town centre, as well as beautiful churches and aristocratic palaces. Note, for example, the C14th Cloister of St Francis with Arab travertine inter­lacing arcades. Fam­ous visitors of the past were very learned eg Ibsen and Goethe.

Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria is located in the town centre and sitting on a high cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples and Mount Ves­uvius, it is the very same place where the Roman Emperor Aug­ustus’ own attractive villa had been. You can still see the C18th columns, frescoed ceilings and antiques displayed throughout. Easily recognisable from the sea, the hotel's three classic C19th build­ings are just above the town harbour, on a cliff top location, and surr­ounded by the lush greenery of a Mediterranean garden.

 Terraced gardens, statues and bay views

The hotel occupies the site where Roman Emp­eror Augus­t­us once had a beautiful villa. Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria has been owned by the Fiorentino family since its opening in 1834, and had their three independent build­ings built from 1834 on, in fin-de-siècle style. Note that 1834 was a time when Italy was not yet a unified country! And note also that the family's 5th gener­at­ion is still running the hotel today, maintaining a long tradition of warm Italian hospitality.

A quick elevator ride moves visitors up from the port, directly to the hotel. From the main terrace, the lift descends directly down to the pier in the harbour below. Visitors go to the pier if they want to hire a motor boat to travel along the beautiful peninsula coastline, or take a trip to Capri, Naples and the Ischia islands.

The sumptuous interiors still contain a great number of the orig­inal pieces of antique furniture first used to decorate the hotel, including beautiful pieces of the inlaid wooden furniture from local cabinet makers. The great majority of the 92 suites lead out on to a balcony or terrace where to enjoy views of the Bay of Naples or the sweet scented orange grove which surrounds the hotel.

The luxurious suites retell the story of the many famous visitors. Over the years, the hotel was part of the Grand Tour and has welcomed monarchs, politicians, artists, celeb­rities. Some royals were regulars eg Queen Victoria of Sweden (for whom the hotel was named), King Louis of Bavaria, Prince of Wales, Catherine Grand Duchess of Russia and King Rama VII of Siam.

Caruso Suite

Aranci Suite overlooks the hotel's orange and lemon groves. The Enrico Caruso Suite retains the same décor and furn­ishings as when the famous Italian tenor stayed there for more sev­eral months, in 1921. Pompeii Suite is decorated with frescoes inspired by Pompeii’s attractive villas.

Other suites were named after Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, Oscar Wilde, Luciano Pavar­otti, Andrea Bocelli, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe.The Sala Vittoria/Breakfast Restaurant sits inside the hotel's most beautiful rooms, with lovely frescoed ceilings, large wind­ows, late C19th decorations, early 20th furnishings and a baby grand piano. The tradition of frescoed ceilings and walls has been constantly up­dated by the resident artist. The ex­cellent orange marmalade is pre­pared with citrus fruits from the hotel's garden. The food is en­rich­ed with excel­lent local ingredients (tomat­o­es, virgin olive oil, citrus fruits, walnuts, cheeses, shrimps and loc­al Gulf fish). This food was designed for ME!

Sorrento, south of Rome

Occupying a once el­eg­ant green-house among the green ol­ive, lemon and orange trees, the hotel also established the Bout­ique Spa la Serra; it has citruses in their luxury spa treat­ments. Sorrento’s jagged cliffs are dominated by watch­towers, caves and enchanted bays, set against the clear Mediterranean Sea. It's a place that invites walk­ing-trails, water sports and places to bathe and relax in the Mediterranean sun.

World of Wanderlust has beautiful photos.


Highland and Lowland Clearances - shame, Scotland, shame

I assumed that the clearances were some of the most tragic, in­fam­ous bits of Scottish history, where heartless landowners forced suffering people from their lands and homes. The Highland Clear­ances in Scotland re­sulted from a shift from agric­ul­tural farming to sheep farming, swiftly and brut­ally. And it represented the end of hundreds of years of fiercely independent clans and of paternal land ownership! 

The Scottish Clearances (2018)  is by TM Devine. Covering the rural revolution of the 1600-1900 era, his book compared the more fam­ous Highland Clearances with those that occurred all over Lowland Scotland. Devine’s book was well supported by documentary evidence, the emph­asis being on economic and polit­ical issues during the critical era.

Between the early C18th and the late 1850s, Highland society was subjected to two long episodes of clearance. In the first cycle, up to c1815, landlords engaged in social and economic engineering to relocate population; they wanted to create extensive grazing lands for sheep so traditional townships were swept away and the people were removed. New crofting communities were created and based on fish, kelp, potato and military employment, all of which profited the landlords.

But having created the conditions for a famine in the late 1840s when the potato crop failed, this society collapsed. The ongoing clearance policy resulted in starvation and deaths of so many people, especially children and the elderly. Poverty-stricken croft­ing communities were swept away in this second cycle of clearance and emigration.

Thomas Faed,  1865, 
Last of the Clan, 
Fleming Collection, London

The Highland Clearances were much shorter lived than the Low­land Clearances, and resulted in lower overall numbers leaving Scotland. Some cleared families were fortunate enough to have their passage to a new land paid for by their land­lords. Nonetheless whole vill­ages were rem­oved from their beloved homes and ended up emigrating. Fortunately they could remain together in their new land, where they already had land, a living and a support network.

Even more importantly the book examined the forgotten history of The Lowland Clearances. The Lowland Clearances occurred from Scot­land’s Central belt down to the Borders, and affected huge numbers of people. I was grateful for the maps that gave a sense of the scale of these dispossessions.

Scottish Lowlands in white
Scottish Highlands in light grey
England in dark grey

Lowland Scots had lived off the land for centuries, until the clear­ances were triggered in response to the Industrial Rev­ol­ution. Tenant farmers or crofters rented land from the land­owners, worked the land, and paid a portion of their crop return to the landowner as rent. Tenant farmers hired cottars/day workers to do planting and harvesting, doing back-breaking work, for a subsistence wage.

I suppose at least the timing was good; the burgeoning industrial economy of Low­land Scotland absorbed some of the rural victims.  But in the clearances, carried out over a longer time, communal townships and old farms were elim­inated and a very eff­icient but heartless form of agriculture was impos­ed. Note that large-scale sheep farming encroached into this part of Scotland long before it was contemplated in the Highlands.

Lowland property-owners drew up very demanding leases for the ten­ants. At the end of the lease, many of the contracts were not ren­ewed. Or the landowner could simply terminate the lease, with­out appeal. Ind­ividual farms were replaced by larger, more com­mer­cial farms that yielded larger crops. The handful of animals were no longer put to pasture on the outskirts of the crop fields. Ins­tead large herds were grazed separately, with cottar support. An entire rung of rural society was wiped with arrival of the new leases.

TM Devine's book, The Scottish Clearances

Worse still, the option of paying rents in kind ended and the new requirement was for cash payments. Those unable to pay .. had their leases terminated. Plus the rents for the new, more mod­ern farms were much higher than they had been for the crofting fam­il­ies. This of course created another legal means of clearing people off their land.

The displaced cottars were forced into nearby towns to find work. But these men were unskilled in factory work and their adjustment to an unfamiliar life often had devastating economic effects.

The majority of Lowlanders emigrated over time, seeing that their best option for prospering was to leave Scotland and emigrate to the New World. Alas the Low­land farmers were given nothing; they were expected to pay their own passage. They had no guarantee of a job waiting for them when they arrived in the Am­ericas, although some had good luck and found available land. Large numbers of these Lowland Scots settled in Eastern Canada in the 1840s and 50s, especially in Nova Scotia, and in the USA after the mid 1850s. And given their miserable experience in Scotland, they tried to assimilate quickly.

There were 170,571 Scots documented as being ejected from their homelands. But landowners lied, and records were lim­ited. Perhaps two million Scots left their homeland in total and emig­rat­ed to lands with better opportunities, to make their mark there.

The very sad Emigrants Statue. 
Above the River Helmsdale (in the Highlands) and overlooking Helmsdale harbour 

The radical ideas of the Scot­tish Enlightenment (18th-early C19th) were always significant. But were there protests against the clearances? Yes there was extensive dist­urb­ances seen throughout the years of clearance, becoming more pol­it­icised in the Highland Land War of the 1880s. But it was very dif­ficult for powerless tenants to subvert the balance of power that favoured the landlords and the state. As well, there were endless Gaelic songs, poems and paintings.

Read a very different book review in the Irish Times.


Art Deco architecture in Napier, New Zealand

Far from the northern hemisphere cities where C20th design evolved, there is a small city that is uniquely New Zeal­and. In the heart of the Hawke’s Bay wine region on the north island, Napier suffered a massive earthquake in Feb 1931. At 7.8 on the Richter scale, the ground shook viol­ent­ly for only 3 minutes, yet 261 died and the buildings fell over. Thank you Jennifer Nalewicki and Tourism New Zealand.

Hastings St Napier
After the earthquake

Fires broke out across town, but the quake cut the firemen's water supplies. Afraid to enter their homes, surv­iv­ors camped in gardens, roads or beaches. During one fortnight, hundreds of aftershocks were felt in the reg­ion, so women and children were sent to live elsewhere.

Most of the town was destroyed. But since the city lay on one of the world’s most active tectonic fault lines, one wonders why the survivors didn’t leave the city as rubble, moving away for ever.

Thankfully Art Deco was already fashionable, especially for petrol stations, cinemas and bus stations; the style was increasingly inspired by the progress of science, mass manu­fact­uring and streamlining techniques. In reconstructing Nap­ier, Art Deco was both a safe and economical choice. The new con­crete build­ings defied earthquakes and fire, and Deco stucco relief ornamentation was cheap.

The Masonic Hotel

Four Napier architectural firms banded together after the earth quake, to share facilities and to create a united front for the rebuild­ing. Working in lengthy shifts, the design firms were: 1. E A Will­iams fav­our­ed the Art Deco style; 2. Finch & Westerholm designed mainly in the Spanish Mission style; 3. J A Louis Hay was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan; and 4. Natusch & Sons followed the growing modern movement. From their combined efforts, Napier was almost rebuilt within 2 years of the disaster.

Because the town’s ground level was pushed up 3-6’ by the earth­quake, the city’s footprint was increased. 111 new buildings were constructed in the city between 1931-3, the vast majority of the new buildings in the fashionable Art Deco style. But Stripped Classical and Spanish Mission  designs were also employed, as was the frequent use of patterns from Maori art.

Egyptian designs came with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, back in 1922. That style was known for its linear structure and intricate ornam­ent­ation, its geometric motifs favoured chev­rons and zigzags. It was also relatively inexpensive thanks to its basic, squarish designs. This was important since the earthquake struck right during the misery of the Great Depression.

Post-earthquake, a temporary corrugated iron hotel was thrown up. The proper Masonic Hotel was designed by Wellington architect W J Prowse in 1932. It was a sim­ple symmetrical structure on a curved corner, jazzed up only by its elaborate upper storey wooden pergola facing the sea. I liked its bold red MASONIC in Deco capitals, in the canopy at the entrance of the hotel. On the second storey, a balcony over­looks the sea, making this a popular holiday spot where Queen Elizabeth II stayed during her 1953/4 Royal Tour.

Daily Telegraph Building

The two-storey Daily Telegraph Building in Tennyson St was built from 1932 to designs by architect EA Williams, following the trend for symmetrical patterns and geometric design. Built of reinforced conc­rete, the building’s strong vertical lines, ziggurat frame around the front doors, zigzag pattern in the wrought-iron balcony above the entrance, and stylised palm-like designs on each of the pil­as­ters across the façade. Speed stripes acknowledged the age of motor car, and sunbursts suggested the dawn of a new age. By 1933 this two-storey building fun­ctioned as new offices and print fact­ory. The paper folded in 1999, merging with another paper, but The Daily Telegraph lettering still remains. 

Using the Spanish Mission fashion in style, the bright and sunny Criterion Hotel building was completed with spacious balcony in a curved style and Moorish aesthetics. The hipped roof and balcony attracted tourists outside, but the inter­­ior was even more special. A two-storey stairwell was given a stained glass window showing stylised Norfolk pine, and a vast entrance room had deep high fire­places at each end. This luxury hot­el was built in 1932 after the earthquake, and has recently been refurbished. 

Uniting Art Deco with traditional Maori culture, Auckland Sav­ings Bank building was one of the most famous in Napier. An example of the stripped class­ical style, the bank had local pattern in red, black & white forms, a frieze around the top of the walls and ceil­ing bays. The design was focused around the typical meeting house, with corb­els representing ‘the wealth of the tribe’ bord­er­ing the ent­rance. Nods to classical form were seen in ridged columns, criss-crossed knotted banners and gold-accented geometrical shapes.

Halsbury Chambers

The Halsbury Chambers was a modest single storey building. Built in 1932 and located in Tennyson St, the building was rich in decor­at­ion, proudly displaying its name above the entrance. The arrange­ment of rectangular decoration and the stepped roofline gave it a distinctive Deco feel. The photo was actually taken in Feb 1999 when Napier hosted the 5th World Congress on Art Deco – perfect!

The Temperance and General Building, with its rounded tower and clock, was built in 1936. It is now a boutique hotel. The thriving 1938 Municipal Theatre has its original chrome and neon fit­tings, and a cubist carpet faithfully recreated.

The Temperance and General Building

Today the results of the earthquake are still part of the fab­ric of Napier, in the cheerful pastel-coloured Art Deco build­ings that line the city’s streets and dominate Napier’s skyline. In fact Napier’s town centre is recognised as one of the largest coll­ection of Art Deco buildings outside Miami.

To help protect, preserve and promote the rich architectural heritage, the city formed an Art Deco Trust in 1985. Since then the Trust has held an annual Art Deco Weekend in Feb, with jazz concerts, par­ad­es, dances, vintage car shows and architect­ural walking tours. The City’s population is now 62,800.

Napier's Deco shops



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