Have a good day...
...tell you what, have 366 of them:
New Year's Day. Hangover Day. A holiday for most people in most countries, in
recognition of the fact that we'll take a 'sick day' off anyway.
This is The Seventh Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you seven swans a-swimming , a reference to the guests that you find drowned in your pool, following the previous night's party.
For a definition of 'true love' in this context, see December 26.
It is also the seventh and last day of Kwanzaa, celebrating faith. Trust me on this.
The Day after New Year's Day is a public holiday in Scotland and New Zealand. For the Scots, it
no doubt reflects the likelihood of a double-strength hangover, but why New Zealanders should be reluctant to start a new
working year, I'm not sure. I suppose if all you have to look forward to is sheep, it's difficult to get motivated.
This is The Eighth Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you eight maids a-milking , a reference to the firm that charges you a fortune for cleaning your home after the festivities.
This is The Ninth Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you nine ladies dancing,
a reference to the charges from a lap-dancing club that a wife finds on her husband's credit card account and which relate
to the Christmas Eve office party that he honestly cannot remember.
And on this day in 1959, Alaska became the 49th state in the union. It is one-fifth the size of all the other states combined, reaching so far to the west that the International Date Line had to be bent to keep all the state in the same day.
This is The tenth Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you ten lords a-leaping,
a reference to typical reactions when people go online and see just how much they've run up on their credit card over the
Today is Independence Day in Burma, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK on this day in 1948. Slightly smaller than Texas, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, between Bangladesh and Thailand, Burma has a population of nearly 50 million. Although a resource-rich country (petroleum, timber, copper, precious stones, natural gas, hydropower and more) Burma is one of Asia's poorest nations, suffering from decades of government corruption and oppression. Under British administration, Burma was one of the wealthiest countries in Southeast Asia, and was once the world’s largest exporter of rice. Now it is the world’s second largest producer of opium (after Afghanistan) and is a major source of illegal drugs, including amphetamines. Intrepid tourists still go there, mainly to see the Buddhist pagodas.
And on this day in 1896, Utah became the 45th US state admitted to the Union.
Now I want you to concentrate:
Today is World Hypnotism Day…
You will observe World Hypnotism Day…
This is National Bird Day, or so the Avian Welfare Coalition would have you believe.
They recommend "10 Things You Can Do to Make Your Bird Happy", including "being included in family activities
like watching TV or movies, preparing meals, playing cards or games". Presumably this morale booster doesn't
work if you're having omelettes, but if the movie's a real turkey, that's fine. Sometimes the days just fly by,
don't they? OK, that's enough Bird Day jokes.
This is also The eleventh Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you eleven pipers piping , a reference to the earful you get when your partner sees the credit card balance you've run up over the holidays, whereas your partner only spent on 'essentials'.
Tonight is Twelfth Night, confusingly enough, because during Christmastide nights precede days. As an aid to understanding, I have written this Christmas jingle:
Now the first night of Christmas is the night of Christmas Day,
And as, at Christmas, days (as sure as night must follow day),
Must follow nights and not, alas, around the other way,
It follows then that twelfth night is eleven days away.
I hope that helps.
Epiphany, from a Greek word meaning reveal. It refers to the infant Jesus being revealed
to the magi (if you believe Matthew) or shepherds (if you believe Luke) or both (if you believe both). Also known
as Three Kings Day, for those who believe neither. Interestingly, the Bible makes no mention of
royal visits and nowhere states that the visitors were three in number. The shepherds left no gifts, but it's the
thought that counts. The magi left three gifts: two things that are difficult to spell and gold. Joseph
must not have invested the latter wisely, because years later he was still working as a carpenter. Question:
Why did Joseph work as a joiner? Answer: To make ends meet.
This is The twelfth Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you twelve drummers drumming, a reference to the repo men that are banging on your door.
In Britain, traditionally, today is when Christmas decorations are taken down and people realize, with a sinking heart, that there are only about 350 shopping days to Christmas.
Today is Christmas Day in the Eastern Orthodox Churches and Oriental Orthodox Churches, because they
still use the Julian Calendar.
Today is Saint Distaff's Day, in the Western tradition. A saint's day with no saint. The distaff was a spindle, and this day marks the return of women to their traditional occupation of spinning after the end of the Christmas period. Admit it, you have no idea what I'm talking about.
Also the Memorial Day of Saint Reinhold. He supervised the building of a monastery in Cologne and, because he worked harder than the stone masons and made them look bad, they beat him to death with hammers. Useful lessons can be learned from studying the lives of the saints.
And the Memorial Day of Saint Emilian of Saujon, a Benedictine monk who lived in Bordeaux and had a wine named after him. I suspect that, like Reinhold, he was famous for getting hammered. I think we know how to celebrate this memorial day.
The feast day of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Isn't that a wonderful name? In New Orleans,
the devout pray to a statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor whenever a hurricane threatens. An alternative strategy
would be to get the Hell out.
And talking of the Big Easy, The Battle of New Orleans, the final major battle of the War of 1812, took place on this day in 1815. American forces under General Andrew Jackson repelled an invading British army, despite being greatly outnumbered. The joy of victory was not in the least tempered by the fact that the war had already ended, resolved by The Treaty of Ghent - signed on December 24, 1814 - the news of which would not reach New Orleans until February. His victory in this battle helped get Jackson elected President.
Today is Stepfather's Day. Is there no limit to the ingenuity of greetings card manufacturers?
On this day in 1788, Connecticut became the fifth state to join the United States. Connecticut has the highest per capita income and median household income in the country, but has a cost of living to match. Its nicknames include The Constitution State and The Nutmeg State, and the official State Song is Yankee Doodle.
And on this day in 1863, the first section of the London Underground Railway opened. The London Underground, or Tube as the locals call it, is a railway system that serves a large part of Greater London, England, and some neighboring areas. It is the world's oldest and biggest underground railway system. The first escalator in the network was introduced in 1911. A wooden-legged man named Bumper Harris was employed to travel up and down the escalator to demonstrate how safe it was. Harris had lost his leg in an accident on the London Underground.
The feast day of Theophan the Recluse in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It's nice to know I'm
not the only person famous for not getting out much.
Today is Margaret Thatcher day in the Falkland Islands. A working day, of course.
|January 11||Today is Proclamation of the Republic Day in Albania. The tyrant King Zog I had been overthrown to be replaced by a 'People's Republic'. If you don't want to go down in history as a tyrant, you shouldn't call yourself 'King Zog'.|
|January 12||National Youth Day, India. According the The Hindu, India's national newspaper, 'The day's functions focussed on imbibing Indian culture among the present day youth.' Imbibing? I'll bet this is one popular Youth Day.|
Saint Mungo's Day. Mungo is the patron saint of Glasgow, Scotland, but probably should not take
all the blame. He miraculously restored a dead robin to life. A great man, no doubt, but with no sense of
Also, Saint Knut's Day in Scandinavia. One of a wide assortment of Knuts, this king of Sweden gained fame with his decree that merrymaking should continue for twenty days after Christmas. After today, decorations are taken down and any remaining candy is eaten. They call it 'plundering' the Christmas tree (they are after all, Vikings -- what they do to the little angel perched on top of the tree I shudder to think).
|January 14||Today was The Feast of the Ass in jollier times. A donkey would be ridden into church (in France, of course, the prettiest girl in the district was chosen as the rider) and stood by the altar while mass was said. At the end of the mass the priest, instead of his usual solemn Ite missa est, brayed like a donkey (hee-haw!) three times and the congregation responded likewise. Although this was not to be the last time that a priest made an ass of himself, the Church eventually decided the whole thing was unseemly and the festival was dropped. A version of it is still practiced in the British Parliament, however, at Prime Minister's Question Time.|
This was The Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. His memorial day is observed on the third Monday
of January. His teachings are ignored throughout the entire year.
Also Paul the Hermit's Day. When the Roman Emperor Decius and his own family started giving him a hard time, Paul went off into the desert, and set up home in a cave. Surviving on fruit and water and wearing no clothes, he lived to be 113, thus demonstrating that the secret of longevity is to live a crushingly boring life. Oddly enough, he is the patron saint of weavers, despite being their worst customer.
Today is National Religious Freedom Day. A useful reminder that you're supposed to have it.
It is also The Feast Day of Saint Henry the Hermit, of Cocket. Henry performed many miracles, perhaps the most startling being that he once admonished a man for refusing his wife sexual intercourse during Lent, even though the knave had not actually confessed to the crime. Falling ill one day, Henry rang his hermit's bell for help, but by the time help arrived, he was dead, still holding the bellrope in one hand and a candle in the other. I like to think they buried him that way but I have no supporting evidence.
|January 17||Today is The Feast Day of Saint Anthony the Great, known as The father of All Monks, although not of course in any literal sense - his greatness was of a different kind. He lived a life of extreme isolation (rather like I do), was constantly tormented by temptation (rather like I am) but always managed to overcome it (two out of three's not bad). He is the patron saint both of pigs and butchers, which must lead to divided loyalties, not to mention divided pigs. He lived to 105, which goes to show how long you can suffer temptation if you never give in to it.|
Today is Winnie the Pooh Day, on which we encourage the kids to break with their usual routine and to sit
on the couch, eating sweet things and watching Disney cartoons.
And on this day in 1778, Captain Cook became the first European to discover Hawaii. Cook called the islands The Sandwich Islands, a choice of name that proved prophetic when the natives ate him. It was one time a cook really did put his heart and soul into a meal.
|January 19||Today is The Feast of Saint Canute, a Danish bastard whose granduncle was famous for getting his feet wet. He tried to take his people into an invasion of a country that was actually no threat to them, but he was about a thousand years too early for that kind of thing so they revolted and killed him. They must have regretted it later though, because they made him patron saint of Denmark, a post he shares with St. Ansgar.|
Today is The Feast of Saint Sebastian, who was said to be very handsome but who nonetheless must have
hated having his portrait painted, because the artist always insisted on painting him stuck full of arrows.
And also The Eve of Saint Agnes, when young women who follow certain rituals - not looking behind them as they go to bed, for example, although I'm not sure why they would have wanted to do that, anyway - will this night be granted a vision of their future husbands. This superstition was the inspiration for a fine, although these days politically incorrect, poem by Keats. Now, young women are more likely to test-run potential husbands, and reserve their visions for future income levels and property ownership.
Today is National Hugging Day, trademarked and copyrighted by the Rev. Zaborney. True to the
spirit of the occasion, the good Reverend informs us "...in some instances the copyright holder reserves the right to
negotiate a royalty fee." so consult a lawyer before agreeing to hug someone. There is also an
International Hug Day on December 4, so it
might be safer to wait until then.
Also The Feast of Saint Agnes, although anything of interest in this regard has already happened during yesterday's Eve. Poor Agnes was abused and beheaded for refusing to marry a pagan. If you want to express your condolences, you will find her severed skull in the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone in Rome.
Today is Saint Vincent's Day, in honor of a saint who was cruelly martyred and had his body tied to a
stone and cast into the sea. It nonetheless washed ashore, and was given a decent burial. That did not
prevent various bits of Vincent turning up as relics in Lisbon, Paris, and elsewhere. It's remarkable how many
stories of saints relate the trouble followers went to to give them a proper burial, yet their body parts subsequently end
up displayed as relics in churches, cathedrals, etc, all over Europe. You could assemble two and a half Saint
Sebastians from French relics alone.
The Church of Saint Vincent and Saint Anastasius in Rome is the proud owner of the head of Saint Anastasius, another Christian martyr who is celebrated today.
Today is National Pie Day in the US. Well, you can't blame the American Pie Council for trying,
can you? I wonder if they elect a Miss American Pie.
Also, the Commemorative Day of Salamanes the Silent, about whom little is known, for obvious reasons.
Welcome to The Most Depressing Day of the Year. Psychologist Cliff Arnall, of the University of
Cardiff, Wales, has discovered that a combination of winter weather, failed New Year resolutions and Christmas credit
card repayments make this the most Welsh day of the year.
On a brighter note, today the sun rises in Barrow, Alaska, the most northerly city in the US. That may not seem a big deal to you, but the good people of Barrow have not seen the sun since it set on them back on November 18. If you want to take advantage of Daylight Saving Time in Barrow, you have to put your clocks forward 2 months.
|January 25||Usually, Burns Night is held tonight, as this was Robert Burns' birthday. It is celebrated throughout the world, wherever there are large numbers of Scots, which is everywhere except Scotland. It's a chance for expatriate Scots to declare what a wonderful place Scotland is and how glad they are they've left it. The night features plenty of fun things, plus bagpipes. After a huge vat of cock-a-leekie (don't ask) is consumed, a ritually-slaughtered haggis that has been steamed in a bronze cauldron is ceremonially carried to the table, to the accompaniment of the pipes, which convincingly simulate the poor creature's death-cries. Burns' Address to a Haggis is then recited ("...Great chieftain o the puddin'-race..."). The haggis is eaten with tatties and neeps (if not available, potatoes and turnips can be substituted). The hurdies (buttocks) of the haggis are considered the tastiest part, and these are reserved for the Clan Mother, who sits, stubble-chinned and petulent, propped up at one end of the table. This main course is followed by Tipsy Laird. Everything is swilled down with plenty of whisky without an 'e'.|
Today is Australia Day.
When thrashing the English cricket team became too commonplace to merit celebration, the lucky country
sought another excuse for getting drunk. After all, it's almost a month since New Years'. Alert to the
sensitivities of the Aboriginal population, they chose to commemorate the day in 1788 when the British first set about
turning the country into a vast penal colony, seeding it with some 700 convicted felons. Sadly, the indigenous
peoples have failed to enter into the spirit of the day and refer to it as Invasion Day. To make
amends for stealing the country and to brighten things up a bit, the invaders had introduced rabbits to Australia.
When the rabbits turned out to be the biggest natural disaster the country has ever suffered, 2,000 miles of fencing was
erected to control them which, although it had no effect at all on the rabbits, was the basis of a great 2002 movie
(Rabbit-proof Fence) that provided profitable employment for several Aborigines. So some good came of it all.
Now the government has established a Reconciliation Australia department so everything is going to be
fine. It's all one nation now, so throw a few more witchetty grubs on the barbie and give a friendly Australia Day
wave to the fella on the other side of the fence.
Today is also Republic Day in India, a national holiday celebrating the day in 1950, when the constitution of India came into force and the country became a sovereign state. Independence from the UK was achieved on August 15, 1947 but Republic Day has come to be the big celebration. It is one of only three national holidays in India, although they more than make up for that with a large number of Hindu festivals. India is a sub-continent rather than a country, being about one-third the size of the US. Big as it is, it’s overcrowded, having a population of more than a billion. To relieve the pressure, many educated young Indians are going to work in the UK and the US, where they obligingly reduce labor costs and release the native intelligentsia for work flipping burgers and driving taxis. If you want to talk with any of those whose English is too poor for them to emigrate, just contact any call center. In the late twentieth, early twenty-first centuries, the Indian economy has been spectacularly successful. India is now the world's twelfth largest economy at market exchange rates and the third largest economy in purchasing power. All is not perfect, however. There is enormous economic disparity, and in the northwest, at the border with China and Pakistan, is the Kashmir region, which is the site of the world's largest and most militarized territorial dispute, with portions under the de facto administration of all three countries. None of this bothers the Indians however, as long as their cricket team is doing well.
Today is Thomas Crapper Day. Contrary to popular belief, Thomas did not actually invent the
crapper, but he was the first to manufacture and market a successful working model. He is thus the Henry Ford of
the thunder-box. Nor do we derive the word 'crap' from his name, as you might think. His devotion to, as it
were, easing the lot of his fellow Man was fated by his family name. Much can be told about a household/nation/race
by the manner in which it exploits Crapper's legacy. In the culture in which I was raised, for example, a 'posh'
person was defined as someone who flushed after merely urinating. Here in Los Angeles, the time expended on the
average dump correlates closely with the length of the Sports section in that day's LA Times, and an 'upscale
restaurant' is one which has a door on the toilet. In Amsterdam, a 'public urinal' is a suggestion only -- the
whole city is customarily used for the purpose. The Dutch, who for the most part live below sea level, are by
necessity a nation of plumbers, so one would think they would observe due process, but there you are. The
alternative to Crapper's wondrous product is the Asian toilet, but as the the identity of the original inventor
of a hole in the ground is a matter of some dispute, there is no commemorative day for him or her.
Today is also Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom, a national event first held in 2001, dedicated to the remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust, today being the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration camp, by troops of the Soviet Union in 1945. The Holocaust is the term generally used to describe the killing of approximately six million European Jews during World War II, as part of a program of extermination carried out by the Nazi regime in Germany. Today was designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual international day of remembrance, by an official resolution of the UN General Assembly in 2005. Some countries, including Israel, have their own national memorial days, on different dates.
|January 28||Today is The Feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Thomas was known as The Dumb Ox but went on to become World Heavyweight Theology Champion. He espoused the Abominable Fancy, which holds that Heaven's residents will be rewarded with a grandstand view of Hell. Now that's something to look forward to, isn't it? He said, "In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them…they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned…the blessed in glory will have no pity on the damned." Rather like being online to a webcam in Delaware. If you want to know more about Thomas, you will find his right arm in the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, and a bone from his left arm in the Cathedral of Naples.|
Kansas entered the Union on this day in 1861. It was purchased much earlier, at a flat rate no
doubt, as part of the Louisiana Purchase. History does not record if the Osage and
Pawnee people, whose homeland it was, were involved in the sales negotiations, but I'm sure they were properly
Today is The Feast Day of Saint Juniper, Servant of God. He was a follower of Saint Francis, who quipped that he wished he “had a whole forest of such Junipers". The story is told of him that a sick man expressed a wish to have a meal of a pig’s foot. Juniper duly went and cut off a pig’s trotter and cooked it for the man. The pig’s owner was understandably furious, but Juniper went to him and told him what a wonderful act of charity the whole thing was. So convincing was he that the man agreed to donate the whole pig (who proved easy to catch). Juniper was known as "The Jester of the Lord" and is sometimes called the Saint of comedy. The pig was not amused.
Today is The Festival of Charles, King and Martyr, the only person to be canonized by the Anglican Church
since the Reformation. King Charles I was a tyrant and art sponsor to whom we owe two bloody civil wars and some
very fine paintings by Anthony van Dyck. He stubbornly adhered to his beliefs but not to his head, from which he
was separated on this day in 1649. The revolutionaries sportingly allowed the head to be sewn back on, but it was
And on this same day in 1661, Charles’ enemy, Oliver Cromwell was executed. It was a somewhat empty gesture, given that Cromwell had already died, in 1658. His body (there is some doubt it was really his) was exhumed and subjected to the ritual of a posthumous execution, on the same day of the year that King Charles I had been executed, to make some kind of point. The corpse was hanged in chains, then beheaded, the body being thrown into a pit, and the head displayed on a pole outside Westminster Abbey for many years. Afterwards the head became something of a collector's item, changing ownership several times, before eventually being immured in the anti-chapel of Sidney Sussex College, his old Cambridge college, in 1960. You need a good head on your shoulders, or even off them, to go to Cambridge.
Today is Nauru Independence Day. The world's smallest republic, Nauru survives on the proceeds of
a huge phosphate mine, which I assume will eventually obliterate the entire island. They should stop mining when
everything is at sea level, then sell it to Donald Trump to develop into a golf course.
Also, The Feast of Saint Aidan of Ferns, an Irish priest who went to Wales to study under Saint David. Aidan is said to have taken his own beer with him, an example all visitors to Wales would be wise to follow.
Where I come from in England, it is the custom to say "Rabbits! Rabbits! Rabbits!" on this day. In
other parts of England (and some former colonies) the custom is to say it on the first of every month. I swear I'm
not making this up.
Today is The Feast Day of Saint Veridiana who, in the thirteenth century, had herself confined to a tiny underground cell for 34 years, possibly in an ill-advised attempt to be the first person in the Guinness Book of Records. She remained there alone, except for the last few years of her life, when she was joined by two snakes. Come to think of it, that's probably why they were the last few years of her life. On this day, celebrants do what she never did - feast - and ask themselves, "What was she thinking?"
Also, The Feast of Saint Brigid of Kildare, one of the patron saints of Ireland. Among the many miracles credited to her is that she once changed her bath-water into beer to satisfy the thirst of a visiting clergyman. This recipe is still used to make Bud Light. Brigid rests in pieces alongside two other of Ireland's patron saints, Columba and Patrick, apart from her head, which some knights took on vacation with them in 1283. They dropped it off in Lumier, Portugal, where it can still be seen. She was said to be very beautiful, but it's a little hard to tell.
Today is Candlemas, now known by various names like The Purification of the Virgin, The
Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, etc, by different Christian denominations. It became associated with the
ancient Pagan festival of Imbolc, which celebrates early signs of spring. Both Candlemas and
Imbolc involve flames and light.
This is also Groundhog Day, when Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow on Gobbler's Knob, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to predict the weather for the rest of winter. If little Punx casts a shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. Otherwise, there will be an early spring. Similar rituals are held in Canada and parts of Europe. I have uncovered a fragment of ancient verse that expresses these primitive beliefs:
If this day be overcast,
You know that spring's approaching fast.
But if your shadow you do see,
Then stay indoors and watch TV.
All of these festivals of this cross-quarter day (approximate half-way point between solstice and equinox) are to do do with welcoming spring. Face reality, people! You have weeks of cold, drizzle and gloom before anything resembling Springtime is going to brighten your lives (unless you are in the southern hemisphere, of course, in which case you have months). I just don't want you to waste your cheerful optimism in a hopeless cause.
Today is The feast of Saint Blaise, patron saint of throat illnesses. Hence the phrase, "I
wish to Blaise's I could get rid of this cough". On this day, Roman Catholics go to church to get their
throats blessed. All this came about because Blaise, an Armenian bishop, was on his way to being martyred when he
took a few moments off to cure a little boy who was choking on a fish bone. This is a huge day of celebration in
Dubrovnic, Croatia - the biggest of the year in fact. People dress in traditional costume (the girls look
as pretty as you could wish) and throng the streets as the saint's relics (skull, hands, right foot and a bit of his
throat) are paraded through the city.
This was The Day the Music Died, in 1959. Buddy Holly, 22, Jiles P Richardson (The Big Bopper), 28, and Ritchie Valens, 17, died in a plane crash shortly after take-off from Clear Lake, Iowa at 0100 local time. The pilot of the single-engined Beechcraft Bonanza was also killed.
Today is Independence Day in Sri Lanka, a popular tourist destination with some fine golf courses, but
watch out for Tamil Tiger Woods.
Also World Cancer Day, another excuse to quit smoking.
On this day in 1783, Britain declared a formal cease-fire with the United States of America. (Probably because they had lost).
This was formerly The Feast Day of Saint Veronica, but I am afraid you must now wait until July 12 before you can celebrate that.
Today is Constitution Day in Mexico. You need a really strong constitution if you're going to eat
in a Tijuana restaurant.
Today is also The Feast Day of Saint Agatha, patron saint of Catania, Sicily. It's thanks to her that Mount Etna doesn't erupt, and despite her when it does. Her martyrdom involved having her breasts cut off and so she is often depicted carrying a platter with her two breasts on it, something now seldom seen outside of Hooters. Some people, seeing these pictures, mistook the breasts for bread, hence the custom of blessing bread on this day. Others mistook them for bells, hence Agatha is patroness of bell-founders. Fortunately, not everyone who saw these pictures was completely clueless, so she is also patroness of wet-nurses.
On this day in 1777, the first Constitution of Georgia was agreed upon. Georgia the American state, that is. It decreed, among other things, that members of the State Legislature shall be of the Protestent religion and that All male white inhabitants, of the age of twenty-one years, and possessed in his own right of ten pounds value...shall have a right to vote. The Constitution was not submitted to the people for them to vote on. Thus the bonds of British tyranny were broken and a new age of democracy and equality for some was begun.
Today is Waitangi Day, or New Zealand Day, depending on how much you want to upset the
indigenous Mäori. National days are a problem everywhere in the New World, as one people's gaining of a
country was another people's loss of a homeland. The Treaty of Waitangi, between the British Crown and the
Mäori, was signed on this day in 1840 in Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands. Its intent was to
squeeze out the French, make New Zealand a British colony, and guarantee the rights of the Mäori. The latter argue
that it was two-thirds successful. White New Zealanders, or Pakeha, have made various attempts to rename
the day as New Zealand Day, have the Prime Minister rather than the Governor-General (a representative of the Crown) in
attendance, and other changes that would distance the country from its colonial past and emphasize its independence.
But the Mäori want to keep the focus on the original treaty. The resultant annual battle of the flags ("My
flagpole's bigger than yours!") and wrangling over political correctness are a joy to behold. Rather more fun is
the pub crawl (that's British for bar hopping) undertaken by expatriate Kiwis in London, on the Saturday nearest this
date. They take the Circle Line (a subway line) and stop at a dozen pubs on the way. Most don't
make the full circle and end up at Westminster, where at 4 pm there is a haka (a traditional Mäori
dance) which the pub crawlers are too drunk to appreciate. As with Saint Patrick's Day and Saint
Andrew's Day, expatriates are the most enthusiastic celebrants of this day. In New Zealand itself, the
celebrations often involve the playing of Bob Marley's music, especially his politically appropriate One
Love, for this is also...
...Bob Marley Day, as this was the great singer's birthday in 1945. Bob followed, and outshone, Desmond Dekker as the bringer of Jamaican popular music forms to the wider world, in the 1960s and 70s. Bob was that wonderful thing, a mulatto. As he put it himself, "Me don't dip on nobody's side. Me don't dip on the black man's side nor the white man's side. Me dip on God's side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white." Amen to that. He fathered 11 children by 9 different women, and died tragically young (36) of cancer. Among the items buried with him was a bud of marijuana. May you trip through eternity, Bob!
Grenada Independence Day, commemorating the day in 1974 when this Caribbean island (known as Spice
Island) gained its independence from the United Kingdom. The population of Grenada consists almost entirely of
the descendents of African slaves, brought there by European colonists. The indigenous Caribs had all
killed themselves in the 17th century rather than live under the French. After the island's independence, it was
still supposed to be under British protection, but when the US decided to invade Grenada in 1983 they did so despite
Britain's protests. The invasion resulted in a great deal of destruction, but the nutmeg harvest soon recovered, so
that's all right.
Also, The Feast Day of Saint Luke the Wonderworker, one of the first saints to be seen levitating.
On this day in 1971, Switzerland granted women the right to vote. Yes, that's 1971. The law was passed despite stiff opposition from The Swiss Women Against Voting Rights Association.
Today is Nirvana Day, a Buddhist festival celebrating the ultimate enlightenment - and death - of the
Buddha, at the age of 80. I'm so glad he made it on time.
Also, this is The Feast Day of Saint Cuthman of Steyning , a shepherd from Cornwall (or Devon), in England. His father was dead and his mother was paralysed, so Cuthbert put her in a wheelbarrow and pulled her around on ropes wherever he went. He then realized that his destiny was to build a church, so he dragged his bewildered parent in her wheelbarrow two hundred miles across England to Steyning, in Sussex, where he set about building his church, even though he had neither building skills nor planning permission. I can't help wondering why he couldn't just have built one in Cornwall (or Devon). However, there is now a very fine statue of Cuthman in Steyning, sat on a rock admiring his handiwork, Saint Andrew's Church, from across the road. His success was partly due to the fact that he managed to convince the locals they would suffer divine punishment if they did not help him - an effective motivational technique.
On this day in 1910, The Boy Scouts of America was incorporated. My only experience of Scouting was a Weekend Camp back in England, where I helped as a volunteer. Rather than repeat the experience, I would peel all the skin off my body and dive into a vat of chili sauce, but that's just me.
This is The Feast Day of Saint Apollonia, whose martyrdom involved having her teeth knocked out.
She is thus patron saint of dentists and those with tooth problems - although you might also want to consider a good
dental plan, just in case. Bits and pieces of Apollonia can be found scattered throughout Europe, but there is a
particularly fine tooth in the Cathedral of Porto, Portugal.
Also, The Feast Day of Saint Teilo of Llandeilo, a Welsh bishop famous for quitting his country when it was ravaged by yellow plague and going to Brittany to plant fruit trees. He stopped off in Cornwall to tame a troublesome dragon, which he tethered to a rock out at sea. When he died, the three unpronounceable Welsh towns of Llandeilo, Penally, and Llandaff each wanted his relics, so his corpse miraculously triplicated itself so that they could all be obliged, which is why relic spotters can now check off three different sets of Teilo. Hint: the best example of his head is in Llandaff.
On this day in 1964, The Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. More than a third of all Americans tuned in to listen to the audience screaming.
The Feast of Saint Paul's Shipwreck, a public holiday in Malta. A shipwreck may seem an odd thing
to celebrate, but when an island relies so much on tourists, who cares how they arrive?
On this day in 1863, Tom Thumb married Lavinia Warren. Yes, Lavinia gave her hand in marriage to a Thumb. They went to live on the Thimble Islands in Connecticut. They lived happily together until Tom's death in 1883. Little people they were, but big hearted.
Iran National Day. The first day of the Ten-Day Dawn festivities marking the anniversary
of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Among the achievements of the Revolution are the veiling of women and the
unveiling of a nuclear strategy.
Also, National Foundation Day in Japan, celebrating the founding of the nation and the imperial line by its mythical first emperor Jinmu, in the year 660 BC. Like all National days, it relies on an imaginative view of history.
On this day in 1752, Pennsylvania Hospital admitted its first patients. It was America's first hospital, intended to care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia. Its original inscription was Take care of him and I will repay thee, which has since been updated to As we strive to provide quality care, we must be mindful of insurance and payment issues.
Lincoln's birthday. The birthday, in 1809, of Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth (and first Republican)
President of the United States.
Also Georgia Day in the US state of Georgia, commemorating the day in 1733 when HMS Anne brought the first settlers to the last of the thirteen original states.
And The Feast Day of Saint Julian the Hospitaller, patron saint of innkeepers and travelers, so travel to the pub to drink to his health. He never actually existed but since when did we let that spoil a good saint's day? His legend was the subject of a wonderful story by Flaubert, in his Trois Contes. Flaubert's story is very long winded and tough going in parts, but also beautifully written and the climax, the hospitalling bit, is great. So as not to spoil the story for you, I'll say no more about the legend.
And also The Feast Day of Saint Marina the Monk. Marina masqueraded as a male, and lived in a monastery, from early childhood right up until her death. At one point, she was accused of getting the local innkeeper's daughter in the family way. The "I cannot be the father - I am a woman" defense appears to be airtight but she failed to employ it and so spent the rest of her life doing penance and caring for the child.
The Feast Day of Licinius of Angers, for which he had good cause. On his wedding day, his bride
contracted leprosy. Licinius promptly became a monk and did quite well at it, eventually making Bishop.
His good works appear to have been good even by saintly standards and he is thus well-loved and justly celebrated, but his
feast day does have a habit of hopping about all over the calendar. I believe its last move was from November 1 to
On this day in 1866, the James-Younger gang committed the first daytime robbery of a US bank during peacetime, thus earning themselves a place in The Guinness Book of Criminal Records.
Valentine's Day. Who does not know the thrill of receiving a card on this day? Well, me,
for one. Today, magazines and websites are crammed with various explanations of the origin of this day, all
of them spurious. This lack of authenticity has led to Saint Valentine's Day being dropped from
the Roman Catholic calendar, but it continues to do very well on the Hallmark calendar. As Stalin
once scathingly enquired, "How many exclusive marketing rights does the Pope have?"
The Roman Catholic church now celebrates this as Saints Cyril and Methodius Day, but who wants a card saying, Will you be my Cyril and Methodius? They were brothers, bishops and boring. They are however, huge in eastern Europe, where they have even named their alphabet after Cyril.
On this day in 1912, Arizona was admitted to the Union, the last of the contiguous states to be admitted.
And on this day in 1859, Oregon was admitted to the Union, having been stolen from the British, who had in turn stolen it from the Bannock, Chinook, Klamath, Nez Perce...
National Flag of Canada Day. The Canadians take their flag very seriously, and who can blame them?
Among their official flag etiquette, we find that "the National Flag of Canada should not be used as a
seat cover", and that when flying the flag, "the upper part of the leaf should be up". So now you
Also, John Frum Day on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, a group of islands in the South Pacific. Large numbers of GIs occupied the island in during World War II, impressing the natives with their wealth and power. The islanders were quick to learn that this wealth was regularly replenished by air cargo, so they set about constructing 'landing strips', trodden-down tracts of land with fires lit alongside for landing lights. They even constructed little huts and had someone sit in them with a 'headset' made of bamboo, just like the radio operators they had seen. They then patiently waited for cargo to arrive. Sure enough, it worked, because the GIs generously handed out part of their supplies and, after the war, tourists continued to bring wealth to the island, although not, I hasten to add, using the natives' landing strips. The name John Frum was chosen for their God because, whenever they asked a GI what his name was, the reply was often, "Ahm John frum Missourah," (or wherever). The national anthem of Vanuatu, by the way, is "Yumi, Yumi, Yumi".
Independence Day in Lithuania, celebrating its first independence from Russia, in 1918. They had
to go through the whole thing again in 1991. Unless you are a Lithuanian, you cannot name a famous Lithuanian.
Now consult a list of famous Lithuanians. See? You still cannot name a famous Lithuanian.
If they want to make their mark on history, they must either invent a lot more things or simplify their surnames.
On this day in 1959, Fidel Castro became Premier of Cuba. He later became patron of the Whiskers Club in Derbyshire, England, after promising not to shave his beard off until his country had "a good government". This was one of the few promises he kept.
On this day in 1923, Howard Carter entered the tomb of Tutankhamen, without being invited. The interior resembled a Bill Gates garage sale, only dustier. There was however, a curse attached, as evidenced by the fact that everyone involved in the expedition has since died.
On this day in 1972, President Nixon departed on his historic visit to China. Unfortunately, he
came back on February 28.
Also on this day in 1904, Puccini's Madame Butterfly premiered. It's a beautiful opera, but be prepared to cry and cry and cry...
And on this day in 1930, Ollie the cow became the first cow to be flown in an airplane. She was milked on board, which has been the fate of airline passengers ever since. Her milk was sealed in paper containers and dropped from the plane attached to little parachutes. No, I have no idea why.
Gambia Independence Day. The Gambia is about twice the size of Delaware and almost as interesting.
It is the smallest country in Africa and the longest-thinnest in the world, strung out as it is along the flood
plain of the Gambia River. You can thus travel the length and breadth of the country just by traveling the length.
The Gambia's highest elevation is given as "Unnamed location", which is in the extreme west and reaches a
giddy 53 meters (174 feet) so don't go there for the skiing.
On this day in 3102 BC Kali Yuga, the Age of Darkness, began, in the Hindu calendar. It is an age characterized by evil and materialism. The bad news is that it lasts 432,000 years, so we have some way to go yet.
On this day in 1878 a patent for the phonograph was issued, by Thomas Edison of course (did anyone else
ever invent anything?). The first thing he recorded on it was "Mary Had a Little Lamb". Since then,
of course, the sound quality on recording media has improved immeasurably. The quality of the content, alas, has
just as surely declined.
On this day in 1942, there were two Japanese air raids on Darwin, Australia, in which hundreds of civilians and military personnel were killed or wounded. The second raid followed about an hour after the first and Japan's apology arrived 70 years after that.
On this day in 1962, John Glenn orbited the Earth, the first American to do so. He went round 3
times in less than 5 hours, so he couldn't have seen much.
On this day in 1725, the first recorded instance of Europeans taking Indian scalps occurred. In response to raids, the governments of New Hampshire and Massachusetts had offered a bounty of 100 pounds for each Indian scalp. Captain John Lovewell, of Dunstable, led a party that tracked down a group of 10 sleeping Indians, and then there were none. This heroic act earned the Europeans 1,000 pounds. Lovewell could have lived well on his share, but chose to lead another raiding party on the Piggwackett Indians on May 8, 1725. This time, it was his turn to be ambushed and killed.
On this day in 1972, President Nixon arrived in China, having stopped off in Hawaii and Guam en route.
This is also The Feast Day of Saint Peter Damian, a Benedictine monk of the 11th century. He opted for a bare-cells, bread-and-water type of monastery and it must have suited him, because they made him Prior. Among his innovations were frequent flagellation and a morning siesta, both of which the monks seemed to take to. In his "Book of Gomorrah" Peter railed against homosexual practices and masturbation, which apparently some clerics were indulging in when they would have been better employed flogging themselves and each other. He also admonished the Bishop of Florence for playing a game of chess. As a model of how to live one's life, when not employed in prayer or flagellation, he spent his time making wooden spoons. So please, whenever you feel a bestial urge come upon you, to play chess or coax the cucumber, get whittling.
Also The Memorial Day of Saint Robert Southwell, an Englishman who became a Roman Catholic priest at a time when that was a capital offence. He was a poet of some merit, and many of his best works were written between tortures, when imprisoned in the Tower of London. I'll never complain again about being a struggling poet.
Today is George Washington's Birthday. America's first President was actually born on February 11,
1732 but when the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1752, that day became February 22. No wonder historians
refer to 1752 as the year of confusion. In his first inaugural address, Washington declined his salary,
saying that he would work for expenses only. However, he later allowed himself to be talked into accepting it, thus
demonstrating a commendable flexibility that his successors have striven to emulate.
On this day in 1997, Scottish scientists announced the birth of the world's first successfully cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep. I have tried to count how many sheep have been cloned since then, but I keep falling asleep.
And on this day in 1857, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World was born. Hence this is World Thinking Day for Girl Scouts. That could result in some real smart cookies.
This is also Celebrity Day, a holiday in the Church of Scientology. Well, if you can't celebrate celebrity, what can you celebrate?
Today is The Feast Day of Alexander the Sleepless, who certainly never lacked enthusiasm. When he
should have been minding his own - or God's - business as a monk, he took some time off to burn down a pagan temple.
He gained his freedom from the subsequent imprisonment by converting the prison governor to Christianity.
Just getting started, he joined a band of robbers and turned them into a band of monks, converting their robbers' den into
a monastery, thus reversing a centuries' old trend. He then formed a troupe of travelling monks, dividing them into
six groups, who took turns singing, so that the noise continued 24/7. When he died in 430, everyone finally got
On this day in 1945, US marines raised the Stars and Stripes over Iwo Jima. Joe Rosenthal's photograph of the event is the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize in the same year it was taken.
Today is Flag Day in Mexico, a focus of patriotism and an excuse for a fiesta. San José del
Cabo in Baja California Sur is the place to go to party.
Also, Dragobete Martisor Day in Romania. A day for romantic Romanians. Their equivalent to Valentine's Day. Dragobete was a handsome (of course) youth, who inspired love and a general good mood in everyone he met. His mother was the formidable Baba Dochia ("Old Dokia"), who believed that no one was good enough for her son and so gave his wife a hard time. In late February, she sent the poor lass into the forest to pick berries, knowing full well it was too early in the year. Thinking to help her, God appeared in the guise of an old man and miraculously made a bunch of berries appear. Unfortunately, the poor, simple girl took this as a sign that spring has arrived, and led her herd of goats into the mountains, where she, her goats and her young son all froze to death. So this is basically a "Hurry up Spring, I'm sick of Winter" festival. It is known as "The day the birds get engaged", and you are supposed to stop work and feed the birds today, so that they can concentrate on 'engaging'. (Interestingly, Chaucer, in his Parliament of Fowls, describes birds getting together for this same purpose on Valentine's Day, this being the first recorded association of Valentine's Day with love). On Dragobete, Romanian girls pick snowdrops (the first flowers of spring) and young men light fires (literally and metaphorically). If you don't 'engage' today, tradition has it, you won't do so all year. So get that fire lit and pluck that snowdrop.
On this day in 1797, the last invasion of Britain was thwarted, thanks partly to a Welshwoman with a
pitchfork. An American, Colonel William Tate, led a French force that intended to land at Fishguard, but a single
shot from the harbor cannon caused the fleet to turn tail and land on a beach further down the coast. The invasion
resulted in a few deaths and some damage, but lasted only three days. Twelve of the invaders were captured by
Jemima Nicholas ('Jemima the Great'), who was armed only with a pitchfork. The formal surrender document
was signed in a local pub. The next American-led invasion of Britain, by Starbucks, was far more
This is also The Feast Day of Saint Ananias III (it was a popular name), in the Roman Catholic church. Ananias, a priest, was imprisoned for his beliefs and while awaiting execution, he converted his jailor and seven soldiers, all of whom were executed along with him. I suppose we must count that a success.
On this day in 1987, the Church of England General Synod voted in favor of the ordination of women
priests. So far as I can tell, the sky has not fallen in nor the oceans turned to blood as a result.
On this day in 1991, Tim Berners-Lee introduced WorldWideWeb, the first web browser. It was later renamed Nexus to avoid confusion with the World Wide Web itself.
And on this day in 1993 a truck bomb parked below the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City exploded, killing 6 and injuring over a thousand. Nasty, but nastier was to come.
This is also the Feast Day of Saint Porphyry of Gaza, history's most reluctant bishop. He was kidnapped and forcibly consecrated. I suppose if you're a small, remote Christian community in need of a bishop, you can't stand on ceremony. Anyway, he seems to have accepted his lot and stayed in the job. He didn't ask to be a saint, either.
Today is Dominican Republic Independence Day, the country having gained its independence from Haiti on
this day in 1844. The economy is now flourishing, thanks in part to money-laundering services for traffickers of
ecstasy and other drugs from Europe and Colombia, en route to the US. But there is still much poverty, as evidenced
by the fact that large numbers of illegal migrants cross the sea each year to Puerto Rico in search of a better life.
If you visit the Dominican Republic, be sure to eat a goat meat dish. They feed the goats on oregano, so
they come ready-flavored.
And on this day in 1900, the British Labour Party was founded. It survived until 1994, when Tony Blair became leader.
On this day in 1991, Operation Desert Storm came to an end, with the surrender of the Iraqui
forces. President George Bush announced "This war is now behind us". Unfortunately, he forgot to tell the Iraquis.
This is also the Feast Day of Saint Oswald of Worcester, nephew of Oda the Severe. I hold him in special regard because he was Bishop of Worcester, my home town. Although he traveled a lot in his job as Archbishop of York, he never forgot Worcester and he would often return for the holidays, which he would spend washing the feet of the poor, to this day the most exciting thing to do in that city. It was in the act of washing the feet of one of the good citizens of Worcester that he keeled over and died, on February 29, AD 992. Hygiene was never their strong point. As it would be unfair for other saints to have four times as many feast days as Oswald, he is celebrated today.
There isn't a February 29 (unless the year is a multiple of 4, in which case there is (unless the
year is a multiple of 100, in which case there isn't (unless the year is a multiple of 400, in which case there is))).
There is a tradition in English-speaking countries that women may propose marriage to men on this day, something that would normally have been unthinkable. Men are obliged to accept or pay a forfeit. Strangely, a tradition of the woman buying an expensive engagement ring did not take hold.
|March 1||Today is Saint David's Day, the national day of Wales. David was known as David the Waterman, because water was all he drank. If you've ever tried Welsh beer, you'll understand that that was no great sacrifice. David and his day are associated with leeks, although no one seems to understand quite why. Welsh schoolboys take leeks to school today, and compete for who has the biggest, who eats them soonest, and who vomits the furthest. Being of partly Welsh descent, I celebrate this day, albeit with beer rather than water, followed by leaks rather than leeks. When I try to explain to Americans what this day is, they have no idea what I'm talking about. They will concede that there is a place called Wales (the existence of Tom Jones makes it difficult to deny) but will go no further. Anyway, regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil or the US Naval Observatory have to say, as far as I'm concerned, this day is the real start of spring.|
On this day in 1969, the world's first (and still only) supersonic airliner Concorde made its maiden
flight. Concorde's final commercial flight was on October 23, 2003. Although this Anglo-French
project was a great technological success, its commercial success was limited, because the United States refused to allow
supersonic flights over its territory, for very sensible environmental reasons. Of course, when Boeing
decide to build a supersonic airliner, those reasons may not look so compelling.
And on this day in 1836, The Texas Declaration of Independence was signed. The document itself is a splendid piece of writing and among the charges it laid against the Mexican government was "the support of a national religion", resulting in "the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood". Now you know why Texan politicians, to this day, are so keen to keep religion out of politics.
And on this day in 1956, Morocco gained its independence from France This Sunni Muslim country is America's oldest friend, as the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship was signed in 1786 by Thomas Jefferson, and is America's oldest unbroken friendship treaty. There is now a free trade agreement between the two countries. Moroccans subsist mostly on couscous and cannabis, and are fond of the old proverb You can't catch two frogs with one hand. How can you not love 'em?
Today is Doll's Festival in Japan. Also called Girl's Festival. Dolls depicting a
Heian Emperor, Empress and attendants are put on display in the best room of the house, a practice intended to
guarantee future good luck for the girls of the family.
And on this day in 1845, Florida became the 27th state of the USA. America's appendage had been in the hands, as it were, of the Seminole and Miccosukee for a long time before being claimed by the Spanish, then the British, then the revolutionaries, then the Confederacy, then the Union. It managed to avoid most Civil War fighting but has had less success in repelling Cuban refugees, Russian mafiosi, British vacation home owners and hurricanes. I had better not say anything else because, like most people, I'll probably end up retiring there.
On this day in 1791, Vermont became the 14th state of the USA. It is the only New England state
with no Atlantic coastline, and one of only five US states or parts of states to have once been an independent nation, the
Vermont Republic. But then, Vermonters are a very independent lot -- last time I checked, their state
capital, Montpelier, was the only state capital that did not have a McDonald's restaurant. Alas, it has a
And this day in 1865 saw Abraham Lincoln's second Inauguration, notable for his marvelous inaugural address and for the behavior of the vice-president Andrew Johnson, who was drunk as a skunk. Johnson managed to stumble his way through a very embarrassing speech but was unable to swear in the new senators, and so that task was delegated. Johnson thus became the most embarrassing vice-president until Dan Quayle.
And on this day in 1634, Samuel Cole opened the first tavern in Boston, Massachusetts. It was another year before the first public secondary school opened, so they had their priorities right.
On this day in 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugurated as 19th President of the United States, despite
having lost the popular vote. He had already secretly taken the oath of office on Saturday, March 3, 1877, in the
Red Room of the White House. This was the most bitterly contested presidential election result in US history,
which is saying something. Surprisingly enough, one of the most closely contested results was in Florida.
Can you imagine that? His wife Lucy Webb was the first lady to be called "First Lady", although she
was also known as "Lemonade Lucy" on account of her teetotal ways, which resulted in booze being banished from
the White House. Hayes was known as "Rutherfraud", on account of his dubious election.
This is Saint Piran's Day in Cornwall, England. Saint Piran is the patron saint of tin-miners (a big industry in these parts for many centuries) and is generally regarded as the 'national' saint of Cornwall. Of course, Cornwall is a county, not a nation, but who's counting? Piran was Irish, and his attempts to convert his heathen countrymen to Christianity impressed them so much that they tied a millstone around his neck and threw him into the sea. Miraculously, he and the millstone floated, all the way to Cornwall. Washing up on the beach, he began by converting the local animals to Christianity, before progressing to the more difficult task of converting the Cornish people. One day, he lit a fire on a large black hearthstone. The heat smelted the tin ore and the metal rose to the surface of the rock, forming a perfect cross-shape. Thus, in one blaze of glory, Piran invented tin-smelting and the Cornish flag, which is a white cross on a black background. Now, Cornish folk are petitioning to have Saint Piran's Day declared a 'national' holiday in Cornwall, and have made Piran the figurehead for their brave struggle for independence, which extends to every aspect of their lives (except of course the huge grants they receive from central government).
This is the Feast Day of Saint Fridolin of Säckingen, the Irish Wanderer. On his
wanderings, he found the remains of Saint Hilarius, funnily enough, and built a church to hold them. Hilarius
subsequently appeared to him in a dream, and gave him directions to an island in the Rhine, Säckingen. Off he went
in search of it, founding a trail of churches in honour of Saint Hilarius along the way. Arriving at last at
Säckingen, he prepared to build a church there. The inhabitants of the banks of the Rhine however, who grazed their
cattle on the island, took him for a cattle-rustler and promptly kicked him off. But he showed them a note from
the Emperor and they let him back on, so that he was able to found a church and monastery there.
On this day in 1836, the Battle of the Alamo came to an end, after 13 days of fighting, or rather, 13 days of siege followed by the battle itself, which lasted about an hour. The Alamo was a mission, converted into a fort and defended by about 200 combatants, and the final assault involved about 1,800 Mexican troops, so it is not surprising that the battle was swift and decisive. The Mexican commander, Santa Anna, was merciless toward the combatants, but spared the lives of the women, children and slaves that were also in the mission, guaranteeing them safe conduct and giving each a blanket and 2 dollars. In real terms, that's more than most Mexican migrant workers now get for a day's work in Texas.
And on this day in 1957, Ghana achieved independence, the first sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to do so. It has been among the world's top producers of cocoa, gold and military coups.
On this day in 161, Marcus Aurelius became co-Emperor of Rome. He's the kindly old gent you saw in
The Fall of the Roman Empire and The Gladiator.
And on this day in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone . United States Patent No. 174,465 was granted today, having been applied for on February 14, Valentine's Day. There was no love lost however, between Bell and a rival inventor, Elisha Gray, who had the same invention but whose attorney arrived at the United States Patent and Trademark Office just a few hours after Bell's. Just think, we might have had the Gray Telephone Company, etc.
Also on this day in 2004, an investiture ceremony was held in Concord, New Hampshire, for Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop. His name is actually Vicky Imogene, as his parents expected a girl.
On this day in 1917, there began the February Revolution in Russia. How can that be, you
ask, as this is March? Well, Russia was still on the Julian calendar, while most of us had moved on to the
Gregorian calendar, so March 8 was February 23. The next major stage in the Russian Revolution was the October
Revolution, which took place in November, that same year. Famine, war and oppression were the causes
of unrest, rather than dissatisfaction with the calendar, and it was the women, taking to the streets on International
Women's Day, who sparked things off, for...
...today is International Women's Day, dear to my heart, as I have always taken a keen interest in women's movements. The celebration of this day began in the US in 1909, courtesy of The Socialist Party of America, and it was for a long time associated with left-wing organizations, who quickly adopted it throughout the world. Now, it's a day for Feminism rather than Socialism. During the Cold War period, the good citizens of the socialist countries tended to ignore the propaganda claptrap and treat this day as a kind of Mothers' Day cum Valentine's, with flowers and chocolates and all those good things. Mind you, the roses were red.
On this day in 2005, Dan Rather presented his final broadcast of the CBS Evening News, after it
was confirmed that his letter of resignation was not a forgery.
And on this day in 1782, there occurred the Gnadenhütten massacre, in which 96 Christian Munsee (Moravian Indians) had their skulls crushed with a mallet by Pennsylvanian militiamen under the command of Captain David Williamson. The Christian Munsee were a branch of the Delaware Indians who had converted to Christianity and were living at the Moravian Mission in Gnadenhutten, Ohio. The militiamen accused them of taking part in raids into Pennsylvania, a charge the Indians truthfully denied. The Pennsylvanians decided to kill them all anyway. The Munsee, informed of the decision, spent the night of March 8 in prayer and hymn-singing. The next morning, they were killed, their skulls crushed with a mallet. In all, 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children were killed and then scalped. Two boys, one of whom had been scalped, survived to tell of the massacre.
On this day in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful voice transmission over his new invention,
the telephone. Speaking to his assistant, Thomas Watson, who was in the next room, he uttered the famous
words, "Mr. Watson, come here -- I want to see you." That was it. No please, or would
you mind? or how's your father? Just come here. Telephone technology has improved
immeasurably since then -- unfortunately, the manners of the people using it have not.
And on this day in 1785 Thomas Jefferson was appointed minister to France, succeeding Benjamin Franklin. And, appropriately enough...
...it was on this day in 1804 that a formal ceremony was conducted in St. Louis to mark the Louisiana Purchase, the transfer of ownership of the Louisiana Territory from France to the United States.
Also on this day in 1496, Christopher Columbus concluded his second visit to the New World as he left Hispaniola for Spain.
And on this day in 1629 England's King Charles I dissolved Parliament.
And on this day in 1848 The US Senate ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the war with Mexico.
And on this day in 1864 Ulysses S. Grant became commander of the Union armies during the American Civil War.
|March 11||This is Johnny Appleseed Day, at least for some people. Others celebrate it on September 26, Johnny's birthday. Either way, they celebrate by eating apples, apple pie, or whatever. I'm opting for a jug of apple cider. Johnny (John Chapman) lived 1774 to 1847 and spent most of that time wandering barefoot around the frontier lands of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, planting apple trees wherever he went. He wore rags and lived frugally, believing that the more one suffered in this life, the greater one's reward in the next. I for one hope he was right.|
|March 12||Today is Mauritius Independence Day A rare African success story, Mauritius gained its independence from the United Kingdom on this day in 1968. Its economy has done rather well. This island, east of Madagascar, was the sole residence of the Dodo, a flightless, harmless, clueless bird that did not survive the arrival of Man. It was the domesticated animals introduced by the settlers that put paid to the bird, rather than the settlers themselves, as the one thing the poor creature had going for it was that it tasted disgusting.|
Today is L. Ron Hubbard's birthday, a holiday in the Church of Scientology.
Also in the Twilight Zone, on this day in 1997, a number of people in Arizona and Nevada saw The Phoenix Lights in the night sky, and ascribed them to UFOs. It’s amazing how many UFO sightings are within flying range of top-secret air bases, and so everyone draws the obvious conclusion when they see them -- they must be from outer space.
On this day in 1852, Uncle Sam made his debut as a cartoon character in the New York Lantern, drawn by Frank Henry Bellew. Uncle Sam, as a personification of the United States, had already been around for a few years, but Bellew was the first artist to portray him. It was not a particularly flattering depiction. The cartoon showed John Bull actively involved in supporting Britain's shipping industry, while Uncle Sam did little to help the American shipping industry.
This is White Day in Japan, on which men give women chocolates. A month earlier, on
Valentine's Day, Japanese women give
men chocolates. Today, the favor is returned. It's called White Day because the gift was originally
This is also the Feast Day of the Martyrs of Valeria, two monks who were hanged from a tree 'by the Lombards' (ouch!) on their birthday. The scene was witnessed by none other than Pope Saint Gregory I the Great , who reported that after dying, the monks could be heard singing psalms. There will be no tasteless jokes about psalm trees.
The Ides of March. The Romans called the 15th day of some months, and the 13th of others, the
ides. All that would probably have been forgotten had not Julius Caesar been assassinated on this
day in 44 BC, despite being warned by a seer to "Beware the ides of March".
And on this day in 1820, Maine became the 23rd US state. Maine boasts the largest blueberry crop in the nation and has made it its State Berry.
In Japan, today is Honen Matsuri Harvest Festival, a fertility festival involving a huge wooden phallus and vast amounts of sake. The wooden phallus is carried from one shrine to another, amid great ceremony and polite jostling. Penis-related goods are sold, including appropriately-shaped candy, which I wince to think of. There is a corresponding festival at another shrine, celebrating female genitalia, but that is less outstanding.
On this day in 1621, Samoset, a Mohegan, visited the settlers of Plymouth Colony, and
startled them by speaking in English and asking for beer. They gave him food and 'strong water' (whatever
that is) instead. He had learned his English from fishermen that had visited the coast near his home. As
Samoset's very limited vocabulary included the word 'beer', I would guess that they were Cornishmen.
And on this day in 1190, there occurred the notorious Massacre of the Jews in York, England. Christians were forbidden to charge interest on loans and so the Jewish community made a good living as moneylenders. The downside was that the Christians would occasionally seek to wipe out their debts by slaughtering the Jews. This time there were Crusaders and a monk present to give the affair some legitimacy. The Jews were holed up in the keep of York's castle, and were offered the choice of Chistian baptism or death by torture. Most chose to kill themselves, the others were put to death. Some 150 died -- men, women and children. Despite all that terrible violence, Mel Gibson is unlikely to make a movie about it.
Saint Patrick's Day. The known facts of Patrick's life are as reliable as those of most saints,
and need to be punctuated with frequent cries of "Tis the God's honest troot oim tellin' ye!" He was born
in Scotland (or Wales, or somewhere else) and died in England (or Ireland, or somewhere else). Around AD 400, the
Irish were fond of raiding their fellow Celts in western Britain, and on one of these raids they captured and enslaved
young Pagan Patrick. After six years of tending sheep, during which time he became a Christian, he determined by
hook or by crook to escape, so he walked 200 miles to the coast, where he hopped aboard a ship carrying hunting dogs to
France. In France, he studied for the priesthood and, although he was a poor scholar, his shepherding skills must
have qualified him to be a pastor and he was duly ordained. He convinced the Church to send him to Ireland, where
he preached the Gospel. Chistianity already existed in Ireland but came a poor second to Paganism. Patrick
promoted his cause by banishing all snakes from the island, a heroic feat tempered only slightly by the fact that Ireland
had no snakes in the first place. His mission was successful and he set about establishing parishes on the British
model. In fact, this did not suit Irish tastes and, post-Patrick, a more monastic style of Chistianity evolved.
Nonetheless, they made him Patron Saint of Ireland (and of Nigeria, for good measure). His day
is now celebrated throughout the world by everyone of Irish descent or inclination, and is marked by drinking heavily and
In Boston, Massachusetts and thereabouts, this is also Evacuation Day, which refers not just to the effects of drinking too much Guinness, but also to the withdrawal of British troops and Bostonian loyalists from the town in 1776. They actually left on March 26, but the coincidence with Saint Patrick's Day, Boston being a predominantly Irish town, was too good to resist, so this day is now an official holiday in that part of the world.
Today is Oil Expropriation Day in Mexico, celebrating the seizure of foreign-held oil wells in 1938.
Observed throughout the year in Tijuana, where oil is still stolen from foreign tourists, only now they take the
car along with it.
But if your oil is fast disappearing, take heart, for today is also National Biodiesel Day, chosen because it is the birthday of Rudolph Diesel, who originally built his engine to run on peanut oil, claiming that one day, vegetable oil fuels would become more significant than petroleum products.
Today is also Aruba's National Day, a day to celebrate the national anthem and flag of Aruba.
And on this day in 3952 BC, according to the Venerable Bede, the world was created. This differs from the date of October 22, 4004 BC, given by James Ussher. I'm with Bede on this one -- I mean, if you were creating a Universe, wouldn't you do it in springtime and not fall?
Today is Saint Joseph’s Day. Most saints are famous for doing God's work -- with Joseph, it's the
This is also the day the swallows return to Mission San Juan Capistrano in southern California. The birds are reputed to return from migration on this day each year. Their first job is to evict the sparrows that have taken up residence in the abandoned nests during the winter. The beautiful city of San Juan Capistrano (a favorite of mine) celebrates the return of the swallows with parades and other festivities. The birds' supposed departure date is October 23, formerly the feast day of San Giovanni da Capestrano, the Italian inquisitor for whom the mission is named. Sad to say, he was responsible for inciting several mass murders of Jews in 15th century Europe, but that shouldn't prejudice us against the swallows -- unless you're a sparrow, of course.
|March 20 is usually the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere (and autumn equinox in the southern), but sometimes it occurs March 21. An equinox is when the sun appears directly over the equator and night and day are the same length (although, strictly speaking, the day is slightly longer, because the sun gets a sneak peek above the horizon before it is fully risen, and a lingering glance after it has set). So, astronomically speaking, this is mid spring (mid autumn in the south) but, because the Earth takes time to warm up and cool down from sunlight, this is climatologically more like the start of the season. This is often referred to as the 'official' start of spring, an absurd conceit -- Mother Nature starts and ends the seasons when she feels like it.||March 20||
On this day in 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was published and became the
best-selling novel of the 19th century. It was credited with starting the American Civil War, and people haven't
stopped fighting over it since.
And on this day in 1899, Martha Place struck a blow for female equality when she became the first woman to be executed in the electric chair in the United States. The prison doctor at Sing Sing said it was "the best execution that has ever occurred here", but there will be no tasteless jokes along the lines of the Ohm's place is in a woman.
Today is Benito Juárez's birthday, a Mexican holiday. Juárez was a Zapotec Indian who
became President of Mexico (1861–72), the only full-blooded Amerindian ever to achieve that. He was a reformer who
did much to replace the Empire with a Republic. To accomplish that, he had to struggle against Santa Anna,
Maximilian and Cochise, among others. Educated in a seminary, he later rejected Roman Catholic
teaching and challenged the power of the church in Mexico. He was a Freemason, an involvement that played a great
part in his thought and in his career. In his last years, he showed himself capable of the kind of tyranny he had
fought against but, as with all national heroes, that is largely forgotten in celebrating his life.
And this is Spring Equinox Day in Japan, a national holiday. The Japanese seem very fond of their spring holidays. I suppose it's all that blossom that inspires it.
Today is also Truant's Day in Poland, a day on which Polish students traditionally cut class.
And on this day in 1925, The Butler Act was signed into law in Tennessee. It made it illegal "to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals" and led to the infamous Scopes trial. A careful reading of the above extract shows that the law does not actually prohibit the teaching of evolution (although that was its intent). It only refers to the creation of Man. Other orders of animals could have evolved one after another, like the tiers of a wedding cake, then Jehova could have planted Adam and Eve on top, like the figures of the bride and groom. Clarence Darrow should have thought of that. The law, by the way, remained on the books until 1967.
This is United Nations World Water Day, dedicated to conserving the precious liquid. So do your
bit and drink only beer today.
Today is the earliest possible date for Easter. Easter Sunday can be as early as today or as late as April 25.
This is also the Feast Day of Saint Darerca the Widow, sister of Saint Patrick, and mother to about 20 kids, thus demonstrating that there are more enjoyable paths to sainthood than fasting and flagellation..
And on this day in 1963, The Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me. I bought it, and remember thinking what a great drummer Ringo was, as evidenced by his work on "Love Me Do" . In fact, the drums on that track were played by Andy White.
Today is Pakistan National Day. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan became an independent
republic within the British Commonwealth on this day in 1956. Pakistanis made full use of their freedom from the
tyranny of British rule by emigrating en masse to England. But there are still plenty remaining there, for
this country of twice the size of California has a population of 166 million. Among its tourist attractions are the
world's largest salt mines, in Khewra. Poverty and disease are widespread, the average life expectancy is
around 63, but they do have nuclear weapons, so it's not all bad news.
On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry delivered his famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech , which helped to garner support for the American Revolutionary War. And should you doubt that he was qualified to talk on the subject, let me assure you that he owned dozens of slaves, whom he refused to liberate even on his deathbed.
And on this day in 1933, Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany, a job he held for 12 years, before making his only useful contribution to Humanity, by committing suicide.
|March 24||On this day in 1837, Canada gave black Canadian men the right to vote. Slavery had already been phased out in the late 18th and early 19th century centuries (and was being eradicated throughout the British Empire).|
Today is Greek Independence Day, celebrating the day in 1821 when Greece gained its independence from the
Ottoman Empire. Greece, the cradle of European civilization, has been credited with inventing both
democracy and homosexuality. Of course, neither of those things actually originated there, and one at least
has had a hard time surviving there. But its cultural heritage is incredibly rich, its landscape exquisitely
beautiful, and its cuisine astonishingly unimaginative. It is a country you must visit, but be prepared for
plumbing that is too narrow, so that you cannot flush the paper after wiping yourself, but must leave it in a bin, from
which an Albanian refugee will collect it in due course.
On this day in 1807,The Slave Trade Act received the royal assent in Britain, the culmination of two decades of effort by William Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade.
|March 26||Today is Bangladesh Independence Day, celebrating independence from West Pakistan in 1971. Bangladesh is slightly smaller than Iowa but has a population about half that of the United States. Most of its people are employed in growing rice and all of them are employed in eating it. Their most important export is Bangladeshis, who go to find work in the oil-rich Arab states. They also produce and export a lot of jute and jute goods. Really, if it's jute you want, this is the place.|
|March 27||On this day in 1512, Juan Ponce de León sighted Florida, which he believed to be the legendary Bimini, an island that reputedly possessed the fountain of youth. Any visitor to present-day Florida can tell you this is not the place.|
On this day in 1979, a nuclear power plant on Three Mile Island suffered a partial core meltdown,
causing the worst nuclear accident the United States has ever seen. The accident at the plant caused no
deaths, but unfortunately occurred just 12 days after the release of the movie The China Syndrome, which had plot
elements uncannily like the real incident, and which starred Jane Fonda. There was no living with her after that.
Mind you, there was no living with her before that, either.
And on this day in 845, the tourist from Hell, Ragnar Lodbrok, sailed up the Seine and besieged Paris, accompanied by 6000 of his mates, in 120 ships. Charles the Bald paid him 7000 livres to go away. You could say Charles was scalped. Parisians have been exacting revenge on tourists ever since.
On this day in 1959, the movie Some Like It Hot was released. This classic comedy starred
Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. I suppose there is no such thing as the funniest movie ever, but this
could well be it, and I suppose there is no such thing as the most beautiful woman ever, but Marilyn Monroe could well be
And on this day in 1973, the last US combat troops left Vietnam. Vietnam never quite left them.
This is National Doctors' Day. I intended to give my doctor a gift, but she can't see me for
another three months.
And on this day in 1848, an enormous ice dam formed at the source of the Niagara River on the eastern shore of Lake Erie, and Niagara Falls stopped falling for a while. There was an Erie silence.
And, as if all that ice were not enough, on this day in 1867 US Secretary of State William H. Seward agreed to purchase Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, about 2 cents an acre.
On this day in 1774, the British Parliament passed the Boston Port Act, to close the port there.
The people of Boston had held a fancy dress party (most had dressed as Mohawks) which, although only tea was
involved, had got out of hand, and so they were grounded. Americans regard this as one of the so-called
Intolerable Acts. Others include Keanu Reeves in "Devil's Advocate".
And on this day in 1889, the Eiffel Tower, built for the Paris World's Fair, opened. The Prince of Wales did the honors. I've no idea why. Perhaps they thought such an occasion demanded royalty and, as they had beheaded all of theirs a century earlier, they imported one for the day.
|April 1||The Feast Day of Theosophilus the Invisible, in the Russian Orthodox Church. His relics are on display in the Kremlin, but no one can be quite sure where, exactly. The famed sculptor Ivan the Blind was commissioned to produce a statue of Theosophilus, but opinion is divided on whether the work was actually completed, or indeed started.|
On this day in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany.
This created a precedent for entering a war when it was nearly over, and claiming all the credit for winning it, but
unfortunately did not create a precedent for asking Congress' permission before entering a war.
And on this day in 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, British territory, and the Falklands War began. The war lasted less than 3 months, to June 14, and ended with Britain retaking the islands. 258 British were killed, and 649 Argentines. And so...
...it’s Veteran’s Day in Argentina, mourning the dead and looking forward to when they can repeat the folly and send another batch of young Argentines to their death. It all becomes understandable when you learn that there are oil reserves around the Falklands.
On this day in 1948, President Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan into law, authorizing
financial aid for 16 European countries (Iceland and Turkey are 'European' whenever there's money in
it -- just don't try to fish in Icelandic waters or free a Turkish political prisoner). The French are as grateful
as one might expect for their generous share of the pot.
And on this day in 1882, the outlaw Jesse James was killed with a shot to the back of the head, as he stood on a chair to clean a picture, from which we can deduce that Jesse was house-proud, short and a poor judge of who his friends were. His killer, Robert Ford, was himself murdered, ten years later.
On this day in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
But his dream will live for as long as there are people who dream it.
This is also Hungarian Liberation Day, commemorating liberation from the Nazis in 1945.
This is Senegal Independence Day , celebrating the day in 1960 when the country achieved independence from France. Senegal is the size of South Dakota, with a population of 12 million, and is the westernmost country - and its capital Dakar the westernmost city - in continental Africa.
And on this day in 1721, Sir Robert Walpole became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. King George I needed a Prime Minister because, being German, he spoke very poor English himself. Isn't that shocking? Imagine how Americans would feel if they had a Head of State called George who couldn't even speak...oh, never mind.
|On the 106th day after the previous year's winter solstice, which may be April 4, 5 or 6, Chinese communities celebrate Ching Ming, or Grave-Sweeping Day. Some communities fix one or other day as a set date for the celebration. Graves are given a spring cleaning and gifts of food and drink are offered to the departed. The food is often eaten by those paying their respects, and so it becomes a family picnic.|
|April 5||On this day in 1614, Pocahontas ("Little Wanton"), a Powhatan, married John Rolfe, an Englishman. Pocahontas died aged about 22, on a visit to England, probably from tuberculosis. The couple had one child, Thomas, who chose an English lifestyle, in Virginia. Although he in turn had only one child, subsequent generations were more productive, and so the descendants of Pocahontas are plentiful today.|
Today is The Queen's birthday in Denmark.
On this day in 1909, two Americans, Robert Peary and his assistant Matthew Henson, became the first people to reach the North Pole. Possibly. There is much dispute about whether they actually made it -- their claimed speeds were incredible and their navigation techniques highly suspect -- and, if they did make it, whether Peary or Henson was actually the first. They did however, leave a trail of illegitimate Inuit children behind them, the descendents of whom can be found in Greenland today, so some of their explorations bore fruit. The fact that Henson was black made people even more reluctant to credit his claim to be the first to reach the pole, but whether he was or not, he seems to have been the mainstay of the expedition, famous for his hunting and sledding skills and his command of the Inuit language.
This is also the Feast Day of Saint Brychan, a 5th century Welsh King who fathered twenty-four children, all of whom had unpronounceable Welsh names and became saints.
On this day in 1864, America's first recorded camel race took place at the Agricultural Park in
Sacramento, California. It is by no means the most bizarre contest the state capital has witnessed.
This is also World Health Day, commemorating the day in 1948 when the World Health Organization was founded. Cue the "WHO's day is this?" routine.
And on this day in 1949, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific opened on Broadway. It caused some controversy because it deals with miscegenation (interracial sex). Personally, I'm a great believer in miscegenation as a cure for many of the World's social ills and am willing to, as it were, stand up for my beliefs by making myself available to Halle Berry.
|April 8||On this day in 1994, Kurt Cobain was discovered dead in the spare room above the garage at his Lake Washington home, although he is thought to have died some 3 days earlier. The house is next to Viretta Park, where Nirvana fans gather every April 5th, to pay tribute to him. The park's benches are covered with graffiti tributes, including one from my daughter, who insisted that our trip to Seattle should include a pilgrimage to Kurt's home. If you do visit the park, please don't annoy the current residents of the house by trying to peer over the high walls -- the garage is long gone. I know, because I looked. Controversy surrounds his death, which was officially suicide but is reckoned by many to have been murder (although no one suggests it was a Hate crime -- in fact, quite the opposite). His post-mortem adventures have been as fascinating as his life, and death. My researches have so far accounted for about four-thirds of his ashes. Some were mixed with clay and baked into tsatsas (Buddhist votive objects), some were scattered in the Wishkah River. Kurt's widow, Courtney Love, was once asked by airport security what the puffs of dust were, drifting from her teddy-bear knapsack. "That's my husband", she explained. About the only place you won't find Kurt's ashes is on ebay -- but give it time.|
Today is the feast day of Saint Dotto, a 6th century abbot of a monastery in the Orkney Islands
of Scotland, and I can't for the life of me figure out why he was sanctified, unless it was just that he lived to be very
old, which is miraculous in the Orkneys, where death from boredom is endemic.
On this day in 1991, Georgia declared independence from Russia, for the second time. If you were shown a map of the world, without national boundaries marked on it, and asked to pick the most troublesome location, you'd stick a pin in the region occupied by Georgia. Stretching from the Black to the Caspian Sea, it is the crossroads between Arabia and Eurasia, between Central Asia and Europe, between Russia and...well, between everywhere and everywhere else. It has been occupied by the Romans, Persians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, the Ottoman and Persian empires (again), the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Despite all these tribulations, Georgians enjoy remarkable longevity, so they must be doing something right.
And on this day in 2003, the statue of Saddam Hussein, in Baghdad, was toppled. There was a false note when a Marine draped the American flag over the head of the statue, but the flag was quickly removed and, lesson learned, the US forces were careful never to upset the Iraquis again. The noose around the statue's neck, and the fact that the head was pulled off in the fall, were eerily prophetic of the executions of members of the overthrown regime.
On this day in 1912, the RMS Titanic left Southampton, England for her first and last voyage.
The first Arbor Day took place on this day in 1872 in Nebraska. The idea was that 'a special day be set aside dedicated to tree planting and increasing awareness of the importance of trees.' Nebraskans responded enthusiastically, planting more than a million trees. Today, all 50 states have an Arbor Day, on different days in keeping with the local climate.
And on this day in 1606, King James I granted the The First Virginia Charter. The charter authorized various adventurers to colonize Virginia, and James commended 'theire desires to the furtherance of soe noble a worke which may, by the providence of Almightie God, hereafter tende to the glorie of His Divine Majestie in propagating of Christian religion to suche people as yet live in darkenesse and miserable ignorance of the true knoweledge and worshippe of God and may in tyme bring the infidels and salvages living in those parts to humane civilitie and to a setled and quiet govermente'. Wasn't that thoughtful of them? It then goes on to describe how the settlers could exploit the ancestral lands of all those 'salvages'. There's no mention of tobacco, but I suppose, as James had come close to being blown to smithereens in the Gunpowder Plot of the previous year, nobody dared raise the subject of smoking.
Today is the Memorial of Saint Gemma Galgani, who died on this day in 1903, aged 25, of tuberculosis.
For a couple of years, she had the stigmata (wounds such as a crucifixion victim would have) appear on her
hands and feet regularly every Thursday evening through Friday afternoon. She also had daily visits from her
guardian angel and occasionally the Devil would pay her a visit also, but he would spoil things by getting her to spit on
a crucifix. Some of these details did not go down very well and there was opposition to her canonization.
But she was a harmless, long-suffering creature and so Pope Pius XI pulled rank and 'Saint Gemma' it is.
This is also the Memorial of Saint Stanislaus of Cracow, patron saint of Poland. He is a sort of Polish Thomas Becket, except that the Polish king had to do the deed himself, as his knights were reluctant to kill such a holy man. So, King Boleslaus the Bold, living up to his name, walked in on Stanislaus while he was celebrating mass and killed him, thus giving Poland a hugely popular martyr.
And on this day in 1689, William and Mary were crowned joint monarchs in London's Westminster Abbey. The 'Glorious Revolution' (so called because it was bloodless) that this event consolidated is seen by many as the start of the European Enlightenment and the beginning of modern democracy. Irish Catholics are likely to see it differently, so don't quote me when you are enjoying that pint of Guinness in a Dublin or Boston pub.
This is Cosmonautics Day in Russia. On this day in 1961, Major Yuri Gagarin became the
first human to travel into space. The Soviets made a movie based on the journey, subtitled "In space, no
one can grant you asylum".
Yuri's Night is an international celebration held on this day every year to commemorate Gagarin’s flight, and also the first Space Shuttle launch on this day in 1981, when Columbia orbited the Earth.
And on this day in 1606, the Union Jack was adopted as the national flag of Great Britain. When King James VI of Scotland added King James I of England to his titles it was decided that the union of the two realms, to be known as Great Britain, should be represented by a new flag. So the flag of England, a red cross on a white background, known as Saint George's Cross, was merged with that of Scotland, a white saltire (diagonal cross) on a blue background, known as Saint Andrew's Cross. This version of the Union Jack, together with seven red and six white stripes, made up the first national flag of the United States (the Grand Union Flag). The Union Jack part was later replaced by stars, representing the states, (probably because Betsy Ross was good at stars but never mastered diagonals). In 1801, when the Kingdom of Ireland merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the red saltire of Saint Patrick was added to the Union Jack, giving the version we know today. Hawaii incorporates this later version of the Union Jack into its state flag.
|The date, as well as the time, depends on where on Earth you are. When recording historical events, we obviously use the time and date where the event occurred. But what if the event does not happen on Earth? Do we record it as happening on the date and time that it happened to be in New York, or Sydney, or London? The usual convention is to use Greenwich Mean Time (why do the British always seem to be at the center of everything?) or Coordinated Universal Time, which is a more precise version of the same thing. The Apollo 13 explosion occurred in the early hours of April 14, Universal Time, which was still April 13 at Houston, where Mission Control was located. So it is more correct to say that the accident occurred on the 14th, but more dramatic to say the 13th, because all those 13s have a spooky ring to them.||April 13||
On this day in 1204, the crusaders of the fourth crusade sacked Constantinople, which is rather
odd, given that Constantinople was a Christian city and the crusade was supposed to be against Muslims.
Never mind, I'm sure they meant well.
And on this day in 1883, Alferd (or Alfred) Packer was convicted of murder. He had been charged with killing and eating five Democrats, in a part of Colorado that was already heavily Republican. In February, 1874, Packer (as guide) and five other men had set out to cross the Rocky Mountains. It was not long before they got lost, became snowbound, and ran out of provisions. Packer was the only one to come through it alive. According to him, one of the party had killed and grilled four of the others and was about to add Packer to the menu when Packer shot him dead. The story was not believed, partly because he kept changing the details. The bodies were found -- shot, axed and snacked on. After an arrest, escape, recapture, trial, conviction, death sentence, successful appeal, retrial and reconviction, Packer eventually served 17 years of a 40-year sentence for manslaughter. He was paroled in 1901. It is said that in the last years of his life he became a vegetarian. He died of natural causes in 1907, and was buried raw in Littleton Cemetery.
On this day in 1865, US President Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theatre by
John Wilkes Booth. Booth, a popular actor, got terrible reviews for this particular performance. He
made a dramatic exit backstage, but was tracked down and killed twelve days later.
And on this day in 1881, the Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight took place in El Paso, Texas. A suspected cattle rustler and his friend shot a Constable. The town Marshal responded by shooting the two of them plus an innocent bystander for good measure. The whole incident lasted about as long as it's just taken you to read about it. It would make a great movie but would be a bit short, even in slow motion.
And on this day in 1970, one of Apollo 13's oxygen tanks exploded, interrupting a journey to the Moon and somewhat disconcerting the three astronauts on board. Thanks to extraordinary skill and courage, they returned safely to Earth on April 17. And in case you're still not convinced that this is a bad day for traveling…
…it was on this day in 1912 that the ocean liner RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, on its maiden voyage.
On this day in 1912, the ocean liner RMS Titanic sank, in the North Atlantic, having
struck an iceberg the previous night. What a pity the Cameron movie didn’t sink as fast.
Today is the official deadline for filing tax returns in most parts of the United States. So I suppose I should have mentioned it sooner. Sorry.
Today is also the Feast Day of Blessed Father Damien of Molokai in Hawaii, this being the day he died in 1889. Elsewhere it is celebrated on May 10.
|If April 15 falls on a weekend, or on a State or Federal holiday, then the IRS extends the tax filing deadline by a day or two.|
|There is a Blessed Drogo of Baume, whose feast day is April 2, and the two Drogos seem to have become thoroughly confused. So if you want to cure a rupture or console yourself for being ugly, you'll need to invoke both Drogos, just to be on the safe side.||April 16||
This is The feast day of Saint Drogo of Sebourg. Among other things, Drogo is the Patron
Saint of unattractive people, ruptures and sheep.
Also the feast day of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. As a young girl, she reported eighteen apparitions of "a beautiful lady in a white dress". When Bernadette asked the lady her name, she replied, "I am the Immaculate Conception", which was remarkable because the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had been promulgated only four years earlier, and would not likely have been known to a peasant girl like Bernadette. Her visions have led to Lourdes becoming a major center of Christian pilgrimage (Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels in France after Paris). Bernadette died at the age of 35 on April 16, 1879, after a lifetime of poor health. When her body was exhumed 30 years later, it was found to be remarkably well preserved. In particular, "the ears were in a state of perfect preservation" and "The stomach had caved in and was taut like the rest of the body. It sounded like cardboard when struck. The left knee was not as large as the right." The body was washed and reburied. Ten years later, in 1919, the body was exhumed again. It was now mildewed and black, but still very well preserved (think an African Joan Collins). The Bishop of Nevers had a couple of Bernadette's ribs removed as relics before she was reburied. In 1925, the third and final exhumation of the body was conducted. Two more ribs were removed as relics. What was left of poor Bernadette was placed in a crystal coffin and put on public display. Among other things, she is Patron Saint of people ridiculed for their piety.
And on this day in 1881, Bat Masterson fought his last gun battle, in Dodge City, Kansas. One man was wounded in the fight. In fact, despite his fearsome reputation, Masterson only ever killed one man in a gunfight, although I admit that is one more than I have managed, and is in addition to those he killed while fighting in the Indian Wars. His legendary status as a gunslinger is owed more to his later occupation as a newspaper columnist, enabling him to write his own history. He may have died with his boots on, but he was sat at his desk, typing.
Today is Syria Independence Day, celebrating independence from France in 1946. Celebrations
include fireworks and air displays. Just what the region needs -- more explosions and military aircraft.
17 April, 1387 is the probable first day of the pilgrimage narrated in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales .
This day was also the first outing for Daffy Duck, in 1937, when he debuted in Warner Bros.' short, "Porky's Duck Hunt". The great Mel Blanc did the voices for both Daffy and Porky Pig.
And on this day in 1986, peace was finally declared in The Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years' War between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly, without a single shot having been fired. The dispute began when the Dutch got involved in the English Civil War, but actual fighting never broke out. The Dutch had declared war but forgot to declare peace, until 335 years later.
This is also the feast day of Pope Anicetus, the eleventh Pope, who died on this day in 167. He was very good at identifying and condemning heresies within the Christian Church. His most notable contribution to Western culture was forbidding priests to have long hair.
This is Independence Day in Zimbabwe, celebrating the day in 1980 when the country achieved
independence from the United Kingdom. Not that it has much to celebrate. Life expectancy at birth
is around 57 years, the rate of HIV infection - at about 17% - is among the highest in the world, economic growth is
around 3% and unemployment stands at around 80-90%. (Figures as at 2015). Due to hyperinflation, the Zimbabwean Dollar is essentially worthless.
If you want to see Victoria
Falls, wild elephants and how not to run a country, you could risk a visit to Zimbabwe.
And on this day in 1906, an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.9 destroyed much of San Francisco, California. The shock was felt throughout California and Nevada. As damaging as the earthquake and its aftershocks were, the fires that burned out of control afterwards were much more destructive. The disaster left more than 3,000 dead and 225,000 homeless. That's almost as many homeless people as there are in San Francisco today.
This is also the day of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, As made famous by Longfellow’s poem:
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year,
Or believes that year rhymes with hear and Revere.
Today is the memorial of Wernher the Glass-Blower. Wernher was a house servant who was
kidnapped and murdered at age 14 just after receiving Communion on Maundy Thursday, in AD 1275. Because Wernher's
employers were Jewish, and because his death occurred during Holy Week, the incident led to local Jews
being accused of using the blood of Christian children in their ceremonies, an accusation that was often made
during the Middle Ages. Wernher is Patron Saint of kidnap victims.
On this day in 1587, Sir Francis Drake sailed a small English fleet to Cadiz, Spain, where he burned and sank around 30 ships, delaying the preparations for the Armada. He referred to this action as "singeing the King of Spain's beard".
And on this day in 1775, the American Revolutionary War got under way with The Battles of Lexington and Concord. And continuing the let the wars begin theme...
...this is also the day, in 1861, of the Baltimore Riot, a clash between pro-Confederate civilians and Union troops in Baltimore, Maryland that resulted in what is regarded by historians as the first bloodshed of the American Civil War.
And on this day in 1987, The Simpsons made their television debut in a short called "Good Night".
Today is L. Ron Hubbard Exhibition Day in the Church of Scientology. Be fair, he's not
the only religious leader to have made an exhibition of himself.
This month/day is 4/20, or 4:20 ("four-twenty") which is code for cannabis. And so on this day people gather to celebrate and consume the weed. In the early 1970s, a group of teenagers at San Rafael High School in California used to meet every day after school at 4:20 pm to smoke marijuana, hence the origin of the code. Many cannabis users continue to observe 4:20 as a time to smoke socially. As it happens, California Senate Bill 420 regulates marijuana use for medical purposes. That’s the 411 on 420. 10-4!
And on this day in 1972, Apollo 16 landed on the Moon, the fifth mission to do so, and brought back 95.71 kg (211 lb) of it. So if the nights seemed a little darker and the ocean tides a little lower after that, you know who to blame.
According to legend, the city of Rome was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus
on this day in 753 BC.
And on this day in 1944, women in France received the right to vote, in a wartime decree issued by General Charles de Gaulle. This was rather late in the day compared to most other Western nations, although Switzerland waited until 1971, and women remained disenfranchised in Liechtenstein until 1984. And until 1964, French women still needed their husbands' permission to open a bank account or get a passport.
This is also the feast day of Saint Anselm of Canterbury. Anselm (1033 or 1034 – April 21, 1109) is a major league player in Christian theology, on a par with Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Thomas Aquinas. He is called the 'father of Scholasticism' and is famous for the ontological argument for the existence of God, which deduces God’s existence from the notion of a perfect being in whom nothing is lacking, which must exist because otherwise it would lack existence. If you find that argument unconvincing, you are not alone. If you don't understand it, you are even less alone.
Today is Earth Day, which began in 1969 as a national day to celebrate the environment and is now,
appropriately enough, celebrated Earthwide. Not everyone liked the idea. At the 1970
Continental Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a delegate from Mississippi
declared, "Subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them." But,
as Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, had proclaimed, "Earth Day may be a turning
point in American history. It may be the birth of a new American ethic that rejects the frontier philosophy that
the continent was put here for our plunder." And his assertion has stood the test of time because, all these years
later, it still may be.
On this day in 1864, the US Congress passed the Coinage Act. As a result of this law, the motto "In God We Trust" first appeared, on the 1864 two-cent coin. After all, America's a democracy, so why shouldn't the Almighty get to have his two-cents' worth?
Saint George's day. England's national day, and best-kept secret. Although most English
people are aware that George slew a dragon and rescued a damsel (which of course he didn't) they are for the most part
either unaware of when this day is, or undecided about what to do with it. English nationalism has the problem of
having no one to blame. The many former British colonies throughout the word blame the British for everything.
Within Britain itself, Wales and Scotland blame the English for everything. Those countries that were never
part of the British Empire blame the Americans for everything. Americans blame everyone but themselves.
England stands alone as a nation without a grudge, which is no nation at all. Perhaps there is a damsel to
rescue, and her name is England.
And on this day in 1635,the Boston Latin School was founded. It is the oldest public school with a continuous existence - and the first publicly supported secondary school - in the United States.
On this day in 1800, the United States Library of Congress was established, when President
John Adams signed legislation to appropriate $5,000 to purchase "such books as may be necessary for the use of
congress." The books were ordered from London and arrived in 1801. Fears that someone would
organize a book party and throw the whole lot into the sea proved to be unfounded.
And on this day in 1964, Mexico became a signatory to the Buenos Aires copyright treaty. Within hours, bootleg copies of the treaty were on sale in Tijuana.
|In the Gregorian Calendar April 25 is the latest possible day on which Easter Sunday can fall. March 22 is the earliest date on which Easter Sunday can fall.||April 25||
Today is ANZAC Day, marking the anniversary of the first major military action fought by
Australian and New Zealand forces during the World War I. They landed at
Gallipoli, Turkey on this day in 1915, meeting fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders. The
campaign dragged on for eight months, after which the allied forces were evacuated with both sides having suffered heavy
casualties. The more than 8,000 Australian volunteers who were killed during the campaign were a big proportion of
that country's small population, and Gallipoli looms very large in the Australian psyche, but nearly 9,000
French, 21,000 British and Irish, and 86,000 Turkish troops also died in the fighting.
And in Portugal, today is Freedom Day, a national holiday celebrating The Carnation Revolution, which started on this day in 1974, in Lisbon. It was an almost bloodless, military-led coup d'état, that ended nearly 50 years of dictatorship. It became known as the Carnation Revolution because the anti-government demonstrators carried carnation flowers, which were in full bloom at the time. Soldiers were seen in the streets with the flowers in the muzzles of their rifles. Hundreds of political prisoners were released. The next few years were not easy, either for Portugal or the newly-independent colonies. But the carnations still bloom every year.
And this was the day, in 1846, of The Thornton Affair, and the first shots of the Mexican-American War. Captain Thornton led his men into disputed border territory in Texas. He was surrounded and soundly trounced, but the incident triggered full-scale war, eventually costing Mexico almost half its empire.
By coincidence (I suppose), this was the day in 1898 that The United States declared war on Spain, and The Spanish-American War began. America was to gain even more real estate.
The Dutch celebrate King's Day on April 27, unless that is a Sunday, in which case it is celebrated on
I only have one source for the story of James and the beans. I usually don't post anything without at least two good sources. So these beans should be taken with a pinch of salt and a lack of source, as it were.
Today is the Memorial of Saint Trudpert, a seventh-century Irish monk and missionary in
Germany. A German nobleman named Otbert gave him some land for his mission and some serfs to do
the construction work. Trudpert had the trees cleared off and a cell and little church built. He thus seemed
set for life, and eternity thereafter. However, his mortal shift was cut short by an aggrieved serf, who felt that
Trudpert had been pushing them too hard, even by seventh century standards, and murdered him in his sleep. Otbert
gave Trudpert a decent burial, but needn't have bothered because the bones were dug up for relics a couple of centuries
later. I'd like to think Trudpert is Patron Saint of labor disputes but he's probably not.
And on this day in 1937, The bombing of Guernica, a historic Spanish town, took place. German and Italian warplanes, supporting Franco in the Spanish Civil War, bombed the town into near-oblivion. The German commander, Wolfram von Richthofen, claimed that the purpose of the raid was to destroy the town's bridge. The raid, conducted on market day, generated a firestorm which destroyed three quarters of the city. It has never been established how many civilians were killed, but the bridge was undamaged.
Togo Independence Day. On this day in 1960, Togo gained independence from France,
(or, strictly speaking, from a French-administered UN trusteeship). Way to go, Togo!
This is King's Day (Koningsdag) in The Netherlands, a national holiday and major party, marking the birth of King Willem-Alexander. Try it, and be sure to wear something orange.
Today is also Sierra Leone Independence Day, celebrating independence from the United Kingdom, in 1961. Sierra Leone possesses substantial agricultural, mineral, and fishery resources, yet remains stubbornly, desperately poor, and its people have a life expectancy of around 40 years.
This is also the feast day of James of Bitetto. James was the cook at an abbey in Italy, in the 15th century. One day, while preparing a nobleman's dinner, he was found with his hands in the beans, motionless, in a state of religious ecstasy, tears streaming down his face into the beans. When he later asked the nobleman what he would like for his dinner, the nobleman replied that he wanted nothing more than the beans, seasoned with James's tears. I think I saw James once, working in my local Jack in the Box.
On this day in 1965, Operation Power Pack, the American invasion of the Dominican Republic,
began. The ostensible reason for the operation was to protect the lives of American citizens who might be
caught in the crossfire of the fighting that had broken out between government and rebels. But after those
Americans were evacuated, US forces continued operations until the pro-Soviet Leftists had been defeated and
Joaquín Balaguer had been installed as President, a post he held on and off (depending on whether he was in or
out of favor with whoever was US President) until the age of 90, in 1996. In Operation Power Pack more than 3,000
Dominicans and 24 American servicemen had lost their lives. Another 156 Americans were wounded.
And on this day in 1789, there was a Mutiny on HMAV Bounty. If anyone tells you it was HMS Bounty, you can assume a superior air and sniffily inform them (ideally, with a British accent), “Actually, it was His Majesty’s Armed Vessel Bounty.” Captain William Bligh and eighteen sailors were set adrift and the mutinous crew returned to Tahiti, where they had recently enjoyed a pleasant interlude. From there, chief mutineer Fletcher Christian, eight other crewmen, six Polynesian men (three of whom were stowaways), twelve Polynesian women, and a baby girl called Sully, sailed westward in Bounty hoping to elude the long arm (yardarm) of the Royal Navy. There were eighteen women to begin with, but six “rather ancient” specimens were put ashore en route. This most motley of crews, after a voyage of almost four months, encountered Pitcairn Island, an uninhabited but perfectly habitable little rock pile that was wrongly marked on British naval charts, thus making it an ideal hideaway. There, they built shelters, planted yams and fought each other to the death. When the American sailing ship Topaz reached Pitcairn Island in 1808, they found only one surviving crew member (John Adams), nine women and some children. Adams looked a lot older than he was. You’d think all that would make a great movie. Instead, it made five bad movies.
Showa Day, a national holiday in Japan, and the first day of Golden Week. It was
the birthday of the Emperor Showa - or Hirohito, as he is known outside Japan - who died in 1989.
As he was the wartime Emperor, the holiday is somewhat controversial.
And on this day in 1992, the Rodney King riots broke out, in South Central Los Angeles, when a jury (ten whites, one Latino, one Asian) acquitted four police officers (three whites, one Latino), accused in the videotaped beating of Rodney King (one black). King, on parole from prison on a robbery conviction, led police on a high speed pursuit, driving through several red lights and stop signs. King, who had a record of drunk driving and was believed to be under the influence of drugs at the time, eventually pulled over, but resisted arrest. The beating the police gave him was videotaped by a bystander. Thousands of Los Angelinos joined in the riots following the acquittal of the officers. Continuous television coverage, especially by helicopter news crews, enabled the world to watch the looting and violence, as areas of the city went up in flames. A curfew, followed by deployment of California National Guard troops, began to control the situation, then federal troops including US Marines, finally restored order. In the four days of violence, 55 people were killed, over 2,000 others injured and more than 8,000 arrested. Approximately 3,600 fires were set, destroying 1,100 buildings, with fire calls coming once every minute at some points. Damage to property was around $1 billion. King later won a $3.8 million settlement in a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles. He has been arrested several times since, for spousal abuse and drug and motoring offences. The riots still loom large in the Los Angeles consciousness, and the tension between the black and Latino communities is worse than ever.
|This is Golden Week in Japan, consisting of four national holidays within seven days. Many businesses close for about a week to 10 days depending on where the weekends happen to fall. Airports, hotels, amusement parks, etc, get very crowded, even by Japanese standards.|
|April 30||On this day in 1812, the Territory of Orleans became the 18th US state, under the name Louisiana. President Thomas Jefferson had negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon for $15,000,000 (about 3¢ per acre) in 1803, nearly doubling the size of the US. It seemed a lot of money at the time, but it's always difficult to know what's going to be cheaper in the long run -- renting, buying or invading. Thirteen states or parts of states were carved out of the Louisiana Purchase territory, including the one we now know as Louisiana.|
|May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, celebrating the contributions of people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in the United States.||May 1||May Day, in its various guises. To me, an Englishman, May Day is bearded Morris Men in white suits, with bells tied around their legs, prancing around a maypole, surrounded by spectators murmuring, "What the bloody 'ell?" But it has its origins in Pagan Europe, in the Celtic celebration of Beltane, and the Walpurgis Night of the Germanic countries. It celebrated the spring planting and was a fertility rite. If there is a more obvious phallic symbol than the maypole, I hope I never see it. In Chicago, in 1886, industrial unrest began on this day and culminated in the Haymarket Riot. The day consequently became established as an anarchist and socialist holiday during the 20th century, and is often known as International Workers' Day or Labour Day. This association with labor is very strong in Britain, where May Day is now a national holiday, actually celebrated on the Monday after May 1. America is one of the few countries to have a Labor Day that is nowhere near May 1. It was big in the Soviet Union, and in the 1960s there were spectacular military parades in Red Square on this day, involving scores of nuclear missiles. I remember it was a regular annual ritual for us to watch this on British television. How disappointing it was to discover, years later, that the missiles were empty shells and Russia probably didn't have the power to destroy Mankind, after all. Anyway, Englishness is safe for as long as Morris Men dance around their maypoles.|
|May 2||On this day in 1952, the jet age began, as the world's first ever jet airliner, the Comet, began its maiden flight from London to Johannesburg, carrying 36 passengers. The journey involved five stops, at Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe and Livingstone. That initial flight was hailed as a great success, but the euphoria was short-lived. In March 1953 a Comet crashed on take-off killing all 11 on board, two months later another went down a few minutes after take-off from Calcutta killing all 43 people on board, and the following January another (the same one that made that first commercial flight) dove into the Mediterranean killing 35. It began to dawn on people that something might be wrong. The problem turned out to be metal fatigue. The constant stress of depressurization at high altitude was weakening an area of the fuselage around the aircraft's windows. The exterior would then become so stressed that high-pressure cabin air would burst through the slightest crack, ripping the fuselage open. All Comets were grounded and redesigned before re-entering commercial service in 1958, when it became the first jet airliner to enter transatlantic service. But airlines opted instead for the new American Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8, which could seat almost twice as many passengers as the Comet. Though confidence in the Comet airliner never recovered, the military version, the Nimrod, is still in service. These days, we don't have to worry about the aircraft so much -- it's the fellow passengers that are the danger.|
This is Constitution Memorial Day in Japan, a national holiday since the current Japanese
constitution came into effect on May 3, 1947.
On this day in 1901, The Great Fire of Jacksonville engulfed most of Downtown Jacksonville, Florida . It was the third largest urban fire in American history, behind that resulting from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and the Chicago Fire of 1871. The Great Fire started at 12:30 pm, when a cinder from a nearby chimney landed on moss and fiber (intended as mattress stuffing) drying in the sun at the Cleveland Fiber Factory. By the time the fire department arrived, the blaze had spread from the outside platform on which it started, to the surrounding pine buildings. 18 mph westerly winds fanned the flames, and brands and sparks dropped onto the roofs of nearby homes. The fire continued rapidly eastward to Hogan’s Creek, where a 'citizens’ bucket brigade' halted the flames. Turning south, the fire roared on to Bay Street’s riverfront docks. Extreme heat caused a waterspout in the river where rescue boats trawled for survivors. By the time the fire was brought under control, 8 hours after it had started, it had destroyed nearly everything in a 2-mile swath across the city. The Great Fire was the most destructive event in Jacksonville’s history, destroying 146 city blocks, 2,368 buildings, and leaving nearly 10,000 people homeless. It is said that the glow from the flames could be seen in Savannah, Georgia and the smoke plumes in Raleigh, North Carolina. The official death count of only 7 comprised 2 people from burns, 3 from drowning and 2 others from fright, but there is no way of knowing for certain how many people actually died in the smoke and flames, or drowned trying to escape in the river. It is strange that such a destructive fire is so less well known than the San Francisco and Chicago disasters.
This is Greenery Day, a national holiday in Japan, celebrating Nature.
And on this day in 1970, The Kent State shootings occurred, at Kent State University in Ohio. Members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of demonstrators, who were protesting the recently announced US invasion of Cambodia. About 65 shots were fired in a 13 second period. Four students (Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder) were killed and nine others wounded. Scheuer and Schroeder had not participated in the protest and were simply walking from one class to another. A tragic irony was that Schroeder was a member of the campus Army Reserve Officer Training Corps chapter. The event triggered a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close. The war in Indochina had come home to America, as long-drawn-out foreign wars tend to do.
For Mexicans, this is Cinco de Mayo, meaning Fifth of May, which is what it is for everyone. I like days that mean what they say. But not many people can say what this day means. It is not Mexican Independence Day. It celebrates The Battle of Puebla, 1862, in which the Mexicans gave the French a bloody nose and effectively put paid to Napolean III's dreams of French dominance in the Americas. Just as Saint Patrick's Day and Saint Andrew's Day are celebrated with more fervor in the USA than in Ireland or Scotland, so Cinco de Mayo is a major event in southern California and other southern parts of the US. My theory is that it's so popular because it fulfils the need for a spring festival, given that Easter is so little observed in America's officially secular society. What happens on Cinco de Mayo? Music, dancing, eating, drinking and explaining what the day is supposed to be about.
Also Children's Day, a national holiday in Japan. In practice, it's just the Boy's Festival . The girls had their festival on March 3.
National Nurses' Day. Well, hellooooo Nurse! Needless to say, this is one of my favorite days of the year but, just like at Christmas, I never get what I'm hoping for.
And on this day in 1954, during an athletics event at the Iffley Road track in Oxford, England, Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old English medical student, became the first human to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. He was watched by about 3,000 spectators, and his time was 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.
And on this day in 1937, the hydrogen-filled German airship Hindenburg, the largest ever built, burned and crashed in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 of the 97 people on board.
This is also the feast day of Saint Dominic Savio, who died of natural causes aged 14, making him the youngest non-martyr to be canonized in the Roman Catholic Church. He is the Patron Saint of choirboys and juvenile delinquents, or both.
|On the morning of May 7, 1945, in Rheims, France, the Chief-of-Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodl, signed the unconditional surrender documents for all German forces. All active operations were to cease at 23:01 Central European Time on May 8 1945. However, as the UK was on British Double Summer Time this was actually 00:01 on May 9 in London. The Allies had originally agreed to mark 9th May 1945 as VE day, but eager western journalists broke the news of Germany's surrender prematurely, thus precipitating an earlier celebration, on May 8. The Soviet Union kept to the agreed celebration date, and Russia and other countries still commemorate the end of World War II, known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, as Victory Day on May 9. So you can choose May 7, 8 or 9 to celebrate the end of the European war, but you must wait some months yet to celebrate the Allied victory over Japan, known as VJ Day, because that did not happen until 15th August 1945.||May 8||
On this day in 1945, Germany signed an unconditional surrender, bringing to an end six years of war in Europe.
And this day in 1843 saw the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in America, one of the reasons that May was chosen as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
This is also the feast day of Albert of Bergamo. Albert's wife gave him a hard time because, after she had slaved away over a hot stove to provide him with a meal, he would promptly give it away to the poor. One day, God miraculously restored to the table the meal that Albert had just given away. This caused the wife to cease her nagging. Unfortunately, she died soon after this conversion, so he never did get to enjoy her pudding. He left the farm to go on pilgrimage. On his travels, he distinguished himself as a proficient farm laborer, charity worker and general meddler in other peoples' business. He ended up as a lay brother with the Dominicans. He was beatified on account of his overwhelming piety and well-kept herb garden. Albert is Patron Saint of day-laborers.
|The feast day of Blessed Albert of Bergamo was formerly held on May 11 and according to some sources, still should be. I suppose, as his own meals were in the habit of disappearing and reappearing, it is appropriate that his feast day should also be moveable.|
Today is Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day or VE Day).
This is also National Student Nurses Day in the US, part of National Nurses Week, which runs May 6 - 12.
And on this day in 1794, Antoine Lavoisier the 'Father of Modern Chemistry', was tried, convicted, and guillotined all in the space of one day in Paris. His great achievement had been discovering the role of oxygen (which he named) in combustion.
I offer you this Clerihew:
Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier,
Was tried and guillotined all in one day.
The brain that conceived of oxygen,
Was swiftly deprived of it there and then.
Today is the Anniversary of Dianetics in the Church of Scientology. So far as I know, your HMO does not cover Dianetic counseling.
It is also Europe Day, for on this day in 1950, the first move was made towards the creation of what is now known as the European Union. In Paris that day, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman read to the international press a declaration calling on France, Germany and other European countries to pool together their coal and steel production as "the first concrete foundation of a European federation". Anyone who has tried to make concrete out of steel and coal will know how sound those foundations turned out to be. Nonetheless, the EU has grown and grown and groaned until it has become the splendid, fractured edifice we see today.
And on this day in 1671, Thomas Blood attempted to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. He and his conspirators flattened a crown and cut up a sceptre so that they could hide them beneath their coats and down their trousers (how appropriate is that?). They were caught before they got clear of the Tower grounds (probably by a Beefeater who yelled out, "Is that a sceptre in your trousers or are you just enjoying your visit?").
My birthday! And what it could involve.
This is Mothers' Day in Mexico, and much of South America and elsewhere. In Mexico, the celebration starts the night before, as sons and daughters gather at the parental home on May 9.
Today is also the Feast Day of Blessed Father Damien of Molokai. In Hawaii it is celebrated on April 15. Father Damien was once voted The Greatest Belgian of all time. Cynics will say this is no great achievement, but remember he faced stiff competition from Eddy Merckx and Tintin. He devoted his life to helping victims of leprosy and eventually succumbed to the disease himself. He is invoked to aid people with leprosy or HIV/AIDS.
And on this day in 1869, the Central Pacific Railway met the Union Pacific Railway at Promontory Point, Utah and the famous "golden spike" ceremony marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad, linking the railway network of the Eastern United States with California on the Pacific coast. Chinese immigrants played a crucial role in building the Central Pacific Railway, one reason why May is Asian American Heritage Month. With the completion of the railroad, the days of the buffalo, and the Great Plains Indian culture, were numbered. Buffalo are now as rare as Amtrak routes.
|Most countries have a Mother's Day. It is celebrated, in various forms, in different countries on different days, but mostly in springtime. The general pattern is “Thank you and have a bunch of flowers, Mom”. It is an ancient custom in the United Kingdom, where it is known as Mothering Sunday, (although often referred to as "Mothers' Day") and is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent (exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday). Traditionally, it was a day when children, who had gone away to work as domestic servants or apprentices, were given a day off to visit their family and worship at their mother church (the main church or Cathedral of their area). This custom inspired several attempts in America to introduce a Mother's Day there. The one that finally caught on was that begun by Anna Jarvis and which became nationally recognized in 1914 and is now held on the second Sunday in May. During World War II, American GIs reintroduced the practice into Britain, where Mothering Sunday had somewhat fallen into disuse, and where the mothers of the families with whom the GIs were billeted often became surrogate mothers to them. So Britain has adopted essentially the American celebration, but has reverted to observing it on the fourth Sunday in Lent and (officially at least) referring to it as Mothering Sunday.|
On this day in 1858, Minnesota was admitted as the 32nd US state. Minnesota is the northernmost
state except for Alaska, which doesn't count because it hasn't thawed out yet.
And on this day in 1839, The Treaty of London was signed. There have been a few Treaties of London -- this one was the treaty under which the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg became more or less, sort of, independent, under the continued rule of Dutch kings but with a larger measure of autonomy. Full independence was attained in 1867. This upstart little country, slightly smaller than Rhode Island and with a population of about half a million, is very beautiful and obscenely prosperous, and its people enjoy a shamefully high quality of life. I really, really wish I could find something negative to say about it. The capital of Luxembourg is Luxembourg. How smug is that?
And on this day in 1997, IBM's Deep Blue chess-playing supercomputer defeated Garry Kasparov in the last game of their rematch, becoming the first computer to beat a world-champion chess player.
On this day in 1937, the Coronation of King George VI was held, at Westminster Abbey.
This is also International Nurses Day, chosen because it was Florence Nightingale's birthday, in 1820. In America, this is the last day of National Nurses Week, which began on May 6.
And it is also Limerick Day, celebrating the poems rather than the city. It commemorates the birth in 1812 of Edward Lear, whose A Book of Nonsense popularized the limerick.
There once was a poet called Lear,
Who although he was no doubt sincere,
Wrote all sorts of nonsense,
With no hint of conscience,
For reasons he did not make clear.
This is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fátima, for on this day in 1917, a vision of the Virgin
Mary appeared to three shepherd children at Fátima, Portugal. She reappeared on the 13th day
of the following five months, until October 13, 1917, and revealed to the three children - Lucia (10),
Francisco (8), and Jacinta (6) - three 'secrets'. The first was a vision of Hell and
the second blamed Russia for everything. The Vatican would not reveal the third until June 26,
2000. It turned out to be a cryptic, rather bloody vision, involving a Pope getting shot.
And on this day in 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot four times as he blessed the crowds in St. Peter's Square in Rome. He forgave his would-be assassin, and lived for another 24 years.
|Paraguay declared its independence after overthrowing the local Spanish authorities on May 14, 1811, but it observes Independence Day on the following day, May 15. The flag of Paraguay shares this ambivalence, as it is unique among national flags in not being the same on both sides -- it has different designs on its obverse and reverse sides.||May 14||
On this day in 1939, Gerardo Medina was born in Peru. His mother Lina
Medina was 5 (yes, five) years old, the youngest confirmed mother in history. The father's identity
was never determined.
And on this day in 1998, the finale of Seinfeld aired on NBC, with 76 million viewers tuning in. Of those, approximately 76 million were disappointed with the quality of the episode.
On this day in 1252, Pope Innocent IV issued a papal bull, "Ad extirpanda", which
authorized the use of torture for eliciting confessions from heretics and condoned the practice of executing relapsed
heretics by burning them alive.
And on this day in 1718, James Puckle, a lawyer, of London, England, patented his new invention, the "Puckle Gun," a forerunner of the machine gun. The Puckle Gun was a tripod-mounted, single-barreled flintlock device fitted with a multishot revolving cylinder. It could fire nine shots per minute, whereas the standard soldier's musket could be loaded and fired just three times per minute. The London Journal reported that at a demonstration of one of the guns 'one Man discharged it 63 times in seven Minutes, though all the while Raining; and that it throws off either one large or sixteen Musquet Balls at every discharge with very great Force'. Two types of cylinder were available with the gun, one for shooting conventional round bullets (for use against Christians), and the other for shooting square bullets (for use against Turks).
On this day in 1836, Edgar Allan Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia. He
was 27. If he had tried that with my daughter, I would have buried him alive. Virginia died from consumption
in 1847. Poe was buried two years later, at the age of 40, probably dead.
Today is also the Feast Day of Saint Brendan, a sixth-century Irish monk, famous for his voyage to the Land of Delight, or Paradise. This may have been Madeira, or possibly Florida, or just Ultima Blarney. Either way, it made for some great tales. At one point Brendan and his crew stopped on a small island, celebrated Easter Mass, lit a fire -- and then discovered that the island was actually an enormous whale. At another time, they were pursued by a giant ship's cat, that had grown to monstrous size through eating so much fish, and which swam after them as they made their escape (a sea lion, perhaps?). Saint Brendan is the Patron Saint of whales, not to be confused with Saint David, who is Patron Saint of Wales.
Today is Norwegian Constitution Day, the National Day of Norway and an official national
holiday in that country. The Constitution, declaring Norway to be an independent nation, was signed at
Eidsvoll on this day in 1814. Norwegians refer to the day simply as syttende mai (May
seventeenth). Flags are hoisted, whistles are blown, national costume is worn and the good, innocent people of
Norway honestly believe they are having a wild party. The day is celebrated in Norwegian communities throughout the
world, including a big parade in Seattle, Washington. Slightly larger than New Mexico,
with a population of under 5 million, Norway is a prosperous country with an advanced welfare system, a thriving economy
and negligible unemployment. Its people do however, have to eat lutefisk (dried cod soaked in lye so as to
partly turn it into soap), so it's not all plain sailing.
On this day in 1978, Charlie Chaplin's decaying corpse was rescued from the two motor mechanics who were holding it to ransom. He had died the previous Christmas, but was dug up and abducted by a scheming Pole and an intellectually-challenged Bulgarian. I suppose they could be pretty sure their victim would remain silent. Charlie was re-interred under several tons of concrete.
|Victoria Day is a Canadian statutory holiday celebrated on the last Monday before or on May 24 in honor of both Queen Victoria's birthday and the current Head of the Commonwealth. It is regarded as the beginning of the "summer season" in Canada.||May 18||
On this day in 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted. Mount St Helens, in southwest
Washington state, exploded at 0832 local time. The explosion was the largest, deadliest and most
economically destructive volcanic event in the history of the United States. The final number of those who
died directly from the eruption was 57. In addition, 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways and 185 miles of
highway were destroyed. Nearly 7,000 big game animals (deer, elk, and bear) perished as well as many birds and
And on this day in 1953, Jackie Cochran flew an F-86 Sabrejet at an average speed of 652.337 miles per hour, at Rogers Dry Lake, California, becoming the first woman to fly faster than the speed of nagging.
On this day in 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded. Her husband, King Henry VIII, had
her executed on charges of witchcraft, incest and adultery. Eleven days later, he married Jane Seymour.
And this day in 1780 was New England's Dark Day, when an abnormal darkening of the sky was observed during the day, over the New England states and parts of Eastern Canada. The darkness was so profound that candles were required from noon until midnight, when it finally lifted and the stars came out. It being the general opinion that the Day of Judgment was at hand (for the End was as Nigh then as it always is) many New Englanders abandoned their daily activities and hastily arranged religious services. Those of a more scientific bent examined rain water to find a cause – which they did, as it was thick with soot. Probably smoke from forest fires in New Hampshire, combined with fog, was to blame.
|May 20||The Second Battle of Lincoln was fought at Lincoln Castle, England, on this day in 1217. The presumptuous Prince Louis of France had designs on the English throne, to which this heavy defeat put a decisive end. The victors, loyal to King Henry III of England, went a little crazy afterwards and vented their anger on the citizens of Lincoln, who had supported Prince Louis. They sacked the city and killed women and children. The slaughter and looting led to the event becoming known, with rather grim humor, as “Lincoln Fair”.|
On this day in 1758 (or possibly 1759), Mary Campbell, a 10-year-old white girl, was abducted from
her home in Pennsylvania by a Lenape war party during the French and Indian War.
She was safely returned to her family nearly 7 years later. She was reported to be sad to leave her
abductors. It's notable how often a victim of kidnap by American Indians (and it was a widespread
practice) was reluctant to return to European society. I wonder why that is.
And this is the feast day of Godric of Finchale, noted medieval English hermit and peoples' saint (never formally canonized). He was born in Walpole in Norfolk and died in Finchale in County Durham, at about 100 years old. He was a peddler, pilgrim, sea pirate and bailiff, among other things, before settling on the profession of hermit. He was also a writer of hymns. His lyrics were among the first to employ rhyme rather than the alliteration characteristic of Anglo-Saxon verse, and are the oldest songs in English for which the original musical settings survive. In winter he tramped through the snow barefoot, and if he found any animal helpless with cold, he would tuck it under his armpit to warm it. He would stand for whole nights naked in the middle of the River Wear at Finchale in winter to rid himself of evil thoughts. That would do it for me.
|May 22||The Great Chilean Earthquake of May 22, 1960 is the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, registering 9.5. It shook southern Chile, generating tsunamis and causing the eruption of long-dormant volcanoes. It was also felt in Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, and the Aleutian Islands. Aftershocks continued for a week. The subsidence of the ocean floor generated a huge tsunami which, after devastating the western South American coast, went on to cause damage in Hawaii and Japan. Chile's financial losses from the quake amounted to 5% of the nation's wealth.|
|May 23||On this day in 1618, the Defenestration of Prague took place, an event that sparked the Thirty Years' War. An assembly of Protestants, outraged at Roman Catholic Imperial officials halting the construction of some Protestant chapels, threw two Imperial governors and their scribe some seventy feet out of the windows of the council room of the Hradcany Castle in Prague. They landed in a large pile of manure and walked away with no serious injuries, although the incident no doubt left a bad taste in their mouth. The scribe, Philip Fabricius, was later ennobled by the Emperor and granted the title "Philip of Highfall" which, although not elegant, is a lot better than "Philip of Pigshit".|
On this day in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge, linking Brooklyn and Manhattan, was opened
to traffic. "The sky was cloudless, and the heat from the brightly shining sun was tempered by a cool
breeze", The New York Times reported, "The pleasant weather brought visitors by the thousands from all
around. The opening of the bridge was very much Brooklyn's celebration. For Manhattan it was business
And it was on this day in 1626, that Peter Minuit, Dutch colonial governor of New Amsterdam, is said to have purchased Manhattan from the natives - perhaps from a band known as the Canarsee - in exchange for trade goods valued at 60 Guilders. The trade goods are often described as beads and trinkets, but were probably more substantial, involving metal products and tools. The Canarsee were actually native to Brooklyn, and it is likely that the vendors were a hunting party, just passing through, and had no claim to the land anyway. No doubt if the bridge had been built by then, they would have sold him that, too.
Also on this day, in 1819, Queen Victoria was born in London.
|Spring Bank Holiday is observed on the final Monday of May in Great Britain. It used to be a holiday marking Whitsun (from "White Sunday") which was the Christian celebration of Pentecost, observed on the seventh Sunday after Easter. Whit Sunday commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit in the form of flames to the Apostles, causing them to 'speak in tongues'. Now that the holiday has moved to the last Monday in May, it no longer necessarily coincides with the church's Whitsuntide. Like Victoria Day to Canadians, and Memorial Day to Americans, this, to many British, is the unofficial start of summer. Or at least it is now that global warming is resulting in Britain actually having a summer.||May 25||
Today is Integrity Day in the Church of Scientology, to mark the 1965 release by L. Ron
Hubbard of his studies on ethics. A surprising number of organizations have an 'Integrity Day', which means
whatever they want it to mean. In Scientology, it is a day of contemplation of Hubbard's teaching on Scientology
Ethics, among which we learn, "All ethics is for in actual fact is simply that additional tool necessary to make it
possible to get technology in. That's the whole purpose of ethics; to get technology in". I never knew
On this day in 1977, George Lucas' film, Star Wars, was released, and became a huge, instant hit.
And on this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard labor.
|Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, is a United States federal holiday that is observed on the final Monday of May. This holiday commemorates American men and women who have died in military service, and traditionally involves decorating the graves of the fallen. It began first to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War. After World War I, it expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. Although Waterloo, NY was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson, it is more likely that it had many separate beginnings. One of the longest standing traditions associated with this day is the running of the Indianapolis 500, an association that dates back to 1911. Many people feel that when Congress made the day into a three-day weekend with the National Holiday Act of 1971, it detracted from the spirit of the day, that changing the date merely to create a three-day weekend undermined the meaning of the day. So proposals have been made to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30 instead of the last Monday in May. Like Victoria Day to Canadians, many Americans see this day as the unofficial start of summer.|
|May 26||Today is The feast day of Saint Philip Neri, a sixteenth-century Italian divine, known for his humor. At times he took to walking around with half his beard shaved off, which might have got a laugh in those days. He is said to have experienced ecstasies - sometimes including levitation - so often while saying Mass that his servers would take a break for a couple of hours and return to the service after he had come down to Earth, so to speak. But his heart was in the right place. People knew that, because it used to beat violently when he prayed or preached, sometimes enough to shake the bench on which he was sitting. You could hear his heart beating clear across the room. A few days before Pentecost in 1544, he saw a globe of fire, which entered his mouth and lodged in his heart, causing it to burn and swell. It left him with a lump on his chest, which however caused him no pain. From that day on, he was prone to palpitations. Doctors who examined his body after death decided that the saint's heart had been dilated under the sudden impulse of God's love, causing it to swell and break two ribs in the process. So it was a good job he had a sense of humor.|
|May 27||San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge was completed and opened to pedestrian traffic on this day in 1937. It is said that around 200,000 people crossed it that day, although it is not recorded how many jumped off en route. The following day at noon, President Franklin Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key in the White House, and the bridge was opened to vehicular traffic. Until the Verrazano Narrows Bridge - between the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn in New York City - was completed in 1964, the Golden Gate's 4,200 foot span was the longest in the world.|
|May 28||This is the feast day (in some calendars) of Blessed Mary Bagnesi, a sixteenth-century Florentine. When she was young, her father suggested she should marry, and the thought so distressed her that she became severely ill. The doctors tried packing her in mud and then wrapping bandages around her, but even that did not help. She was bedridden for the rest of her life, 45 years. In her last years, she was befriended by cats, who took to sleeping on her bed. On one occasion, one of these cats, sensing that she was hungry, went and fetched her a large cheese. So it wasn't all bad.|
|May 29||On this day in 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest, on what might have been Tenzing's 39th birthday (he was not sure of his exact birth date, but celebrated it every May 29 after the ascent). There was to be much discussion about who actually set foot on the summit first but, late in life, Tenzing said it was Hilary who had done so.|
|May 30||This is the feast day of Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake on this day in 1431, aged just 19. She had led a brief but remarkably successful campaign by French forces against the occupying Burgundians and English, before being taken prisoner. But the official reason for executing her was her habit of wearing men's clothes. This was deemed to be heretical, thanks to Deuteronomy 22:5, which says that cross-dressing is an 'abomination' (which is why Moses always wore a business suit and tie). Joan is the Patron Saint of France and French soldiers, but not of cross-dressers.|
|May 31||This is the feast of the Visitation in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. It commemorates the visit of the Virgin Mary to Elizabeth, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke 1:39-56. Mary was somewhat startled to learn from an angel that she was pregnant, then further startled to learn that her elderly friend Elizabeth was in a similar predicament, being six months gone. So she visited Elizabeth and, when Mary spoke, the embryonic John the Baptist (for he it was) leapt with joy in Elizabeth's womb. The women too, must have enjoyed the visit for, according to Luke, it lasted three months. There's enough imagery in that story to fuel a thousand sermons, but the most popular theme extracted from it is neighborliness. It is a relatively late feast, going back only to the 13th or 14th century. The present date of celebration was set in 1969 in order to follow the Annunciation (March 25) and precede the Birthday of John the Baptist (June 24), which makes some chronological sense.|
|June is named from the Roman goddess Juno, who was queen of the gods, being both sister and wife to the ruler of the gods, Jupiter. She is the Roman version of the Greek goddess Hera. In the US, June is National Dairy Month, National Rose Month, National Safety Month, National Rivers Month and, best of all, National Accordion Awareness Month. In Britain, June is National Osteoporosis Month and National Pet Microchipping Month.||June 1||
On this day in 1660, Mary Dyer, an English Puritan turned Quaker was hanged in
Boston, Massachusetts for defying a law banning Quakers from the colony.
This is Independence Day in Samoa, a group of islands in the middle of Polynesia, halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. The latter country occupied the German protectorate of Western Samoa (as it was then) at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, and continued to administer the islands until 1962, when Samoa became the first Polynesian nation to reestablish independence in the 20th century. Although January 1, 1962 was the date of independence, it is observed on June 1. Slightly smaller than Rhode Island and a great place to grow coconuts, Samoa is heavily dependent on foreign aid but its economy is in not too bad a state, as long as the typhoons and volcanoes co-operate.
And this is Madaraka Day in Kenya, commemorating the day in 1963 that Kenya attained internal self-rule. Full independence from the UK followed in December 12 of that same year.
|June 2||On this day in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith, was crowned at a ceremony in Westminster Abbey in London. It was the first coronation to be televised. The Queen had replaced her father, King George VI, as monarch following his death on 6 February 1952, but the amount of planning involved, and 'a wish for a sunny day for the occasion', led to the long delay.|
"It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day" when "Billy Joe MacAllister
jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge". No matter how many times I hear Bobby Gentry's song, it always makes me
cry. Billy Joe, why did you do it?
Today is the Feast of Saint Kevin in both Orthodox and Western calendars. The feast is often celebrated on the first weekend of June. In fact, it was celebrated a bit too enthusiastically in Ireland and the Church officially banned the festival in the 1890s. In 6th century Ireland, an infant was being baptized when an angel appeared and told the parents that the child should be called Kevin, a name unknown at the time. So the child received the name, which means 'fair-begotten'. He grew to be a studious but unsociable fellow, and as soon as he was ordained, he retired to a cave (actually a Bronze Age tomb) where he lived as a hermit. He went barefoot, ate nettles and prayed a lot, in true hermit fashion. He was handsome, and a beautiful maiden named Kathleen tracked him down. Opinions differ on what happened next. Some say he threw her from a cliff into a lake, others that he threw himself into a bed of nettles, and then grabbed a handful of the nettles and scourged the poor girl with them. Either way, she took the hint, and his dating skills were never tested again. Another story relates that he was once standing with outstretched arms when a blackbird made a nest in one of his hands. He dutifully stood there until the eggs were laid and hatched and the birds had flown. He abandoned his hermitude long enough to establish a monastery, which he served as abbot and, thanks partly to a lifetime of nettles and celibacy, he lived to be 120 years old. Kevin is one of the Patron Saints of Dublin, and present-day celebrations of his feast are very lively affairs, owing little to either nettles or celibacy.
Today is the anniversary of the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square in the Chinese
capital city of Beijing. The Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations, mostly by students, were
violently ended by armed soldiers and tanks. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people were killed in the massacre,
although it is unlikely a precise number will ever be known. Tiananmen Square is tightly patrolled every June 4 to
prevent any commemoration.
On this day in 1783, the Montgolfier brothers, Joseph Michel and Jacques-Étienne, gave their first public demonstration of a hot air balloon flight, at Annonay in France. Its flight covered just over a mile, lasted 10 minutes, and had an estimated altitude of around 6,000 feet. It carried nothing but hot air, but on September 19, the Montgolfier brothers conducted another demonstration in Versailles, before King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, where a sheep, a duck, and a rooster become the first hot air balloon passengers. The animals survived the trip uncooked. On 21 November the first free (untethered) flight by humans was made. It began near Paris and lasted about 25 minutes. Humanity was airborne at last. So far as I know, no hot air balloon has ever been hijacked.
Today is World Environment Day. The World Environment Day (WED) was established by the United
Nations General Assembly in 1972. Every year a different theme is chosen for WED and a different country to
host an international exposition through the week of June 5.
On this day in 1968, US presidential candidate Senator Robert Kennedy was shot and seriously wounded - shortly after giving a victory speech to celebrate his win in the California Primary - in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The 42-year-old senator was greeting hotel workers while being escorted through the pantry when a gunman, Palestinian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan, fired shots from a .22 calibre Iver Johnson automatic gun. Kennedy was shot three times, with a fourth bullet passing through his jacket, and died 26 hours later. Five other persons in the pantry also were shot, but all five recovered. At least one of the bullets went astray. All that's quite an achievement, considering that the revolver that was used only held 8 rounds. So, not surprisingly, conspiracy theorists have had a field day with this one. (Did the kitchen have a greasy knoll?). It was many years before the LAPD agreed to release all its evidence from the investigation and when they did, large portions had mysteriously disappeared. But, with so many witnesses and a video record, it seems likely that Sirhan was the sole killer. Sirhan is currently serving a life sentence at the state penitentiary in Corcoran, California, along with Charles Manson and other similarly pleasant folk. Kennedy was buried, in accordance with his wishes, with the bare minimum of ceremony. His burial at Arlington National Cemetery was the only one ever to take place at night.
D-Day. The day in 1944 when Allied forces began the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe.
Thanks to Hollywood, we know that this was achieved by John Wayne and Tom Hanks, supported by a
cast of brave, white Americans. Rumors persist that other nationalities, including the British,
may have played a part.
This day in 1999 saw the largest jailbreak in Brazilian history, when 345 prisoners strolled out of the main gate of the Putim maximum security prison, east of Sao Paolo city. Most were recaptured. At least two were shot dead by police who, in their enthusiasm, also arrested and imprisoned several bewildered bystanders who had not actually escaped from prison.
What quiz show premiered on CBS-TV on this day in 1955? Ah, that's
The $64,000 Question.
On this day in 1769, frontiersman Daniel Boone first saw the land that we now call Kentucky. The Kentucky Historical Society celebrates June 7 as "Boone Day", although the actual celebrations can be held on other dates.
The Battle of Arica took place on this day in 1880, between the forces of Chile and Peru. It was a decisive battle in the War of the Pacific, which pitted Chile against Peru and Bolivia in a bitter struggle for control of vast reserves of birdshit. Chilean forces attacked a Peruvian garrison in Arica, which was under the command of a Colonel Bolognesi. Outnumbered 3 to 1 and commanded by someone named after a pasta dish, what chance did the poor Peruvians have? Chile suffered around 500 dead, while almost 1,000 Peruvians lost their lives, including Colonel Bolognesi himself, who died riding his horse off a cliff. According to Peruvians, this was a deliberate choice of 'death before surrender'. According to Chileans, he was fleeing in terror and could not stop his horse in time. Either way, the battle was a turning point in the war, which eventually resulted in a victorious Chile, a landlocked Bolivia and a resentful Peru.
On this day in 1949, George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was published.
In this nightmare vision of the future, England is reduced to being a military outpost ('Airstrip One')
for an empire centered on the USA. How ridiculous is that?
And on this day in 1999, disgraced British ex-cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken was jailed for 18 months after he admitted lying during a failed libel action. He faced public shame and huge legal costs, but discovered Jesus and bankruptcy, respective saviors. He served less than seven months of his 18-month sentence (which reassured those of us who feared the law might be unduly harsh on an Establishment figure with good connections) and, following his release, began a theology course at Oxford University. Such courses do not come cheap. That a bankrupt could afford one is a testament to the power of faith. Aitken has since made a fortune as a speaker, mostly on the subjects of contrition and penitence.
On this day in 1732, James Oglethorpe, of Godalming, England and his fellow trustees
were granted a Royal Charter for a new colony to be named Georgia (in honor of King George II)
for the purpose of providing a refuge for insolvent persons. Appalled by the conditions in England's debtor's
prisons, Oglethorpe had proposed the settlement of a colony in America between Carolina and
Florida, to be colonized with debtors released from prison. The charter prohibited any trustee from making
money on the venture. When the time came to choose the men and women who would establish the new colony, enough
non-debtor colonists, with useful skills, were found, so the debtors were left to rot in prison. Oglethorpe and the
other trustees, whose unconventional policies included a ban on slavery, did a pretty good job of governing the new
colony, which is why in Georgia today you'll find an Oglethorpe County, an Oglethorpe University, and so
On this day in AD 68, the Roman Emperor Nero committed suicide, sort of. The people of Rome were revolting (actually, they still are, in the tourist season) and the Senate had condemned Nero to death by flogging. After much procrastination, Nero decided to do the decent thing and kill himself. Having uttered the immortal words, "What a musician the world will lose!" he made a half-hearted attempt to stab himself in the throat. His hesitation resulted in a non-lethal wound and it was left to his faithful secretary Epaphroditus to finish the job by kindly slitting his master's throat.
|June 10||On this day in 1190, Frederick I (Barbarossa), Holy Roman Emperor, died while crossing the Saleph River, in what is now Turkey. His fellow Crusaders continued their mission, with the aim of burying Frederick in Jerusalem, but efforts to preserve his body by pickling it in vinegar failed. Hence, his flesh, his bones and his internal organs were buried separately at various places en route. One or two bones did manage to complete the journey. May he rest in pieces. Of course, as we know from legend, he is not actually dead, but (just like King Arthur) is asleep with his knights in a cave. The cave is in Bavaria, Germany, and when ravens cease to fly around the mountain he will awake and restore Germany to its ancient greatness. Now wouldn't that be nice? Barbarossa has been dozing in his cave for so long, his long red beard has grown right through the table at which he sits. From time to time he raises his hand and sends a boy out to see if the ravens have stopped flying, but no luck yet.|
|Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers were discovered missing on the morning of June 12, 1962, but of course might have escaped late June 11.||June 11||
Today is King Kamehameha Day, a Hawaii State Holiday. It honors Kamehameha
(which means "The Lonely One") the monarch who first established the unified Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810.
Kamehameha was so angry at people not being able to pronounce his name that he conquered and subdued all of the Hawaiian
islands, and became King Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great, the head of a dynasty that
ruled the islands for more than a century.
On this day in 1936, the International Surrealist Exhibition opened in London, England . Hats were lost, but no one thought to blame the fish.
On this day in 1962, Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin become the only
prisoners to successfully escape from the prison on Alcatraz Island, if by 'successfully' you include
people who drowned in the attempt. Their bodies were never found but they must have drowned, otherwise they would
have come forward to demand royalties when Clint Eastwood made a movie about the escape.
And this is Philippine Independence Day, celebrating independence from Spain in 1898. The Philippines declared Independence from Spain in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, but neither the United States nor Spain took any notice, as the latter ceded the Philippines to the United States in the 1898 Treaty of Paris. Independence was not recognized until July 4, 1946 by the United States, following the upheavals of an even nastier war. Filipino communities throughout the world are increasingly inclined to celebrate Independence Day, and it is now a major event for many Filipino-Americans. The largest such celebration in the United States takes place in New York City every first Sunday of June. The Republic of the Philippines consists of 7,107 islands, with a total area slightly larger than Arizona and a population of just over 91 million. Their San Miguel brewery does some excellent beers, that's all I know.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Damhnade, about whom nothing is known beyond her being an
Irish virgin, which apparently was enough to get her canonized.
And on this day in 1935, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, the 10 to 1 underdog James J. Braddock defeated Max Baer in New York, becoming the heavyweight champion of the world and earning himself the nickname Cinderella Man.
This is Flag Day in the United States. The idea of celebrating the birthday of the
American flag is believed to have originated in 1885, but it was not until 1949 that President Truman signed an
Act of Congress designating June 14 - the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777 - of each year as National
Flag Day. Pennsylvania, where the flag was born, is the only state that recognizes this day as a
On this day in 1648, Margaret Jones was hanged in Boston for witchcraft. She was one of four women executed for witchcraft between 1647 and 1648 in New England, whence Europeans had sailed in search of religious freedom. The evidence against her was that she was found to have such a malignant touch that anyone she touched was stricken with "deafness, vomiting, or other violent pains or sickness." According to Governor Winthrop, a child visited Jones in prison, and was seen in her arms, but when an officer followed the child into another room, it vanished. At the time of her death, a great wind rose in Connecticut, blowing away trees and any residual doubt of her guilt. Her husband was arrested and thrown into prison, presumably for being married to a witch.
Today is the Feast of Saint Vitus, in Roman Catholicism (celebrated June 28 in some
Orthodox Churches). Vitus died as a martyr in 303, during the persecution of Christians by
Roman Emperor Diocletian. He was thrown into a huge vat of boiling oil, but miraculously danced his way
out of that unharmed, only to succumb to further torments. St. Vitus is the patron saint of actors, comedians,
dancers, and epileptics, among others. He protects against lightning strikes, oversleeping, and of course Saint
Vitus Dance (Sydenham's chorea).
On this day in 1215, King John of England (under considerable duress) put his seal to the Magna Carta, the Great Charter of English liberty, at Runnymede. Magna Carta is the basis of much common law and of many subsequent legal documents, including the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. Britain does not have a National Day, but a poll revealed that June 15, commemorating the signing of Magna Carta, would be the most popular day for a Britain Day. This is somewhat incongruous, as it was a specifically English, not British, event. So let England be independent again, and let this be the day she celebrates her liberty.
Today is Bloomsday, the day on which the events in one of the most overrated novels in history, James
Joyce's Ulysses, took place. The final chapter is great -- the rest is trash. I ploughed through
the whole thing so you don't have to. Skim and skip through to Molly Bloom's soliloquy at the end, and read and
enjoy that. Best of all, go to Dublin on this day, and read it over a pint or two of Guinness.
The Battle of Stoke Field, the final and decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, took place on this day in 1487, in central England. It was the last, desperate attempt by the Yorkists to defeat the army of Henry VII. They were severely routed. After the battle, the English and Irish rebel captives were hanged, but the German mercenaries from the rebel army were simply dismissed and sent home. They were, after all, just obeying orders. Also among the Yorkists was a 10-year-old boy called Lambert Simnel, an impostor posing as an heir to the throne and who had been crowned as 'Edward VI' in Dublin. The king pardoned him, on the basis that the conspiracy was probably not his idea, and young Lambert was put to work in the royal kitchen, turning the spit, which isn't too bad, considering he could have ended up on the spit. He lived into his fifties and no doubt amused the youngsters with his crazy stories about once having been crowned King of England.
|On this day in 1579, Sir Francis Drake - Englishman, bowls player, pirate and circumnavigator - made landfall on the Pacific coast of North America. The natives gave him a hospitable welcome, for which he repaid them by claiming the land for England. He called the place Nova Albion ("New England"), not realizing that that was supposed to be on the right-hand coast, not the left. There has been much discussion about where the landing place was, but it is generally agreed to be California, perhaps near San Francisco. The ship's log complained about the poor air quality, which is a dead giveaway. Although Drake never made his planned return to Nova Albion, his territorial claim was remembered by the future English colonists on the Atlantic coast, giving them big ideas which were eventually to be realized.|
|On this day in 1812, the United States declared war on the United Kingdom. The war was to last for nearly 3 years and end with things pretty much as they were when it started, except for a few thousand dead and wounded troops, and a badly singed Washington, DC. My hero Tecumseh fought and died on the British side. The US began this war the same way it had begun the War of Independence -- by invading Canada. This second invasion was a failure, like the first, but the US continued to plan for subsequent invasions of its northern neighbor, the latest - known as "War Plan Red" - being finalized as late as 1935.|
|Today is Juneteenth, commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, on June 19, 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation had been effective since January, 1863, and General Lee had surrendered in April, 1865, ending the Civil War. But the good people of Texas had not the heart to tell all those folk they were out of work, so the slaves had to wait until Union troops arrived and made the announcement. Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, originated in Galveston, Texas, and for more than a century, that state was the primary home of the celebrations. Juneteenth is now an annual holiday in some fourteen states of the US, and is celebrated nationwide.|
|The Earth's axis is tilted relative to the Sun. This means that, as we orbit the Sun, the part of the Earth where you are will sometimes be tilted toward the Sun, sometimes away from it. When your location is tilted toward the sun, the days are longer and the sunlight more direct -- summer. When your location is tilted away from the Sun, the days are shorter and the sunlight less direct -- winter. The two points in the orbit at which the Earth tilts most are called solstices. In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice - when the North Pole is most tilted toward the Sun - usually occurs on June 21, but can fall on June 20. This is of course the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere.||This is Audie Murphy Day in Texas, in remembrance of their local hero, who was born on this day in 1924. As a boy, long before I had seen television, my chief entertainment was the weekly visit to "the pictures". My favorite movies were Westerns and my favorite cowboy hero was Audie Murphy. Only later did I learn of his extraordinary real-life heroism. In 27 months of combat action, Audie Murphy became the most decorated US combat soldier of World War II. He received dozens of medals, including the Medal of Honor, the US military's highest award for valor. After a difficult readjustment back to civilian life, he had a successful career as a movie actor. He died in a plane crash, aged 46, and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. It is the second most-visited gravesite there, second only to that of President John F. Kennedy.|
Today is known as The Longest Day of the year, in the northern hemisphere, although June 20 is
sometimes a little longer.
This is the National Day of Greenland. Greenland, the world's largest non-continental island, is about 81% ice-capped, and lies largely within the Arctic Circle, so the longest day of the year is a big deal for Greenlanders, and is celebrated as their National Day. The official description of this day informs us, "Celebrations consist of a program comprising morning songs, speeches, hoisting of the flag, a church service, kaffemik [coffee drinking] and local entertainment such as music, folk dancing, displays of kayaking skills, etc". If the excitement is too much, Greenlanders can watch it all on television, from the comfort of their homes. In fact, as there is only one national TV channel, KNR, which broadcasts comprehensive reports of the festivities from different towns, they have little choice.
On this day in 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Many people at the
time felt that Operation Barbarossa, as it was called, made eventual German defeat inevitable.
Hitler had made the mistake that Napoleon had made, and his troops would meet the same fate.
A few months later, Japan made the equally huge mistake of invading the USA, and the outcome of the war in the East became
inevitable, too. But there were a few years, and a terrible number of deaths, to go yet.
As compensation for Hitler's failure to conquer Europe, this is World Wide VW Beetle Day, also known as Drive Your VW Beetle to Work Day, which sounds rather less intimidating. The day celebrates the success of the Volkswagen Beetle, the most popular single automobile design in history. Large-scale production started in the aftermath of World War II. Its latest incarnation, the New Beetle, is assembled in Mexico.
|The fighting at Bannockburn lasted over 2 days, June 23 and 24, 1314. It took place a mile or two south of Stirling, Scotland. The Scottish army, consisting almost entirely of pikemen, was outnumbered by at least three to one by the English infantry and cavalry but, by skilful use of the terrain, was able to overcome the superior numbers of the enemy. Contrary to popular belief, Edward II was a courageous fighter and an astute politician, but a rotten military commander. Robert the Bruce proved himself to be a military genius. The English casualties were huge in number, the Scottish casualties slight in comparison. King Edward, reluctant to leave the field, had to be dragged away, and escaped to Dunbar and thence to England. The victory earned Scotland its independence, which lasted until they voluntarily joined the United Kingdom four centuries later. Speed the day they opt for independence once more. Following their victory at Bannockburn, the Scots were able to raid and pillage northern England at will, for the next few years. They also used their new-found strength to attempt an invasion of Ireland, under the guise of seeking a "Celtic alliance". Despite these unfortunate consequences, and the tastelessness of celebrating slaughter, the victory at Bannockburn remains a very remarkable military accomplishment.||
National Day (Birthday of Grand Duchess Charlotte) in Luxembourg, the only remaining
Grand Duchy in the world.
On this day in 1683, a treaty was signed between William Penn and Chief Tamanend (meaning “The Affable”) of the Lenni Lenape tribe, in Shakamaxon (now Kensington), Pennsylvania. Penn, a Quaker, is remembered for his fair and honest dealings with the Lenape. He and Tamanend demonstrated what two men of peace could achieve. Brotherly love, indeed.
Also The Feast of Saint Etheldreda, an extremely popular Anglo-Saxon saint. She was an East Anglian princess and Abbess of Ely in the English county of Cambridgeshire. The common version of Etheldreda's name was Audrey. She is Patron Saint of Ely, where (poor quality) laces, along with other cheap finery, were traditionally sold at a fair. This became known as Saint Audrey's Lace, giving rise to the word "tawdry".
On this day in 1314, the Scots under Robert the Bruce defeated the English under
Edward II at The Battle of Bannockburn, the most decisive, spectacular and important
battle in Scottish history.
Many cultures throughout the world celebrate today as Midsummer Day. It is not actually the solstice, which occurs on June 20 or 21. The discrepancy arose when the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian, shifting the date by 3 days. Midsummer celebrations have their origins deep in Pagan pre-history.
Today is the feast of Saint John the Baptist, being his supposed birthday. Among a great many other things, Saint John is the patron saint of Puerto Rico, and its capital city San Juan bears his name. In 1521, the island was given the formal name "San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico", and the city was called "Puerto Rico". The informal use of "San Juan Bautista" and "Puerto Rico" for both the city and the island led to confusion and an eventual reversal in usage. By 1746 the name for the city (Puerto Rico) had become that of the entire island, while the name for the island (San Juan Bautista) had become the name for the city.
Among Canucks, this is Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, a chance to demonstrate how very French you are, especially if you are Canadian. Parades and parties mark this day all across Canada. The festivities incorporate elements of the ancient rites of Midsummer, such as bonfires. Saint-Jean-Baptiste was officially proclaimed Patron Saint of French Canadians by Pope Pius X in 1908. The Canadian cities of St. John's, Newfoundland and Saint John, New Brunswick were both named in his honor.
Napoleon and his Grande Armée of more than half a million men invaded Russia on this day in 1812. By September 14 they had captured Moscow, although by then the Russians had largely abandoned the city, and with no prospect of clear victory, Napoleon had to withdraw. So the disastrous Great Retreat from Moscow began, with over 300,000 casualties (mostly of starvation and the effects of the terrible Russian winter) and some 200,000 captured. By November, when the French forces finally left Russian territory, only about 20,000 fit soldiers remained. Read Tolstoy's War and Peace for some great descriptions of it all, and listen to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to hear what it sounded like. You would think that Adolf Hitler would have learned from all this, but apparently not.
|Saint John the Baptist is Saint-Jean-Baptiste in French and San Juan Bautista in Spanish. Yes, I realize you knew that, but somebody might not.|
|Mozambique Independence Day. Mozambique gained independence from Portugal on this day in 1975. But its troubles were just beginning. Between 1977 and 1992 up to a million Mozambicans died from fighting and famine in a ruinous civil war. This country in south-east Africa, nearly twice the size of California, has an HIV infection rate of over 12%, and its people have a life expectancy of around 40 years.||The Battle of the Little Bighorn took place on June 25 and 26, in 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in the eastern Montana Territory. The battle was the most famous incident in the Indian Wars and was a remarkable victory for the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne. Among the dead was Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, Civil War hero. A US force that included the Seventh Cavalry, led by Custer, was intending to force the Indians back on to their reservations. They met with a superior force of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, and were defeated following very fierce fighting. Every soldier in Custer's detachment was killed. The news of nearly 300 dead came as a huge shock to the US community. They put many more troops into the field and, within a year, most of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne had surrendered.|
|On this day in 1963, President John F. Kennedy spoke the famous words "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a citizen of Berlin") on a visit to West Berlin, before a crowd of 120,000. It was a major morale booster for West Germans, concerned about the recently-built Berlin Wall. Stories that "Ich bin ein Berliner" actually means "I am a jelly donut (or sausage)" are urban legends, with no validity.|
On this day in 1986, The International Court of Justice, in The Hague, found the US
guilty of violating international law by supporting armed Contra rebels in Nicaragua and by mining
Nicaragua's harbors. The US simply ignored the decision, and Nicaragua eventually gave up waiting for the
compensation to be paid.
On this day in 1844, Joseph Smith, Jr. founder and leader of the Latter Day Saint movement, was assassinated in jail in Carthage, Illinois. Smith was serving as the mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois, and running for President of the United States. He was in jail on charges relating to the destruction of a newspaper that had accused him of practicing plural marriage and intending to set himself up as a theocratic king. Under instructions from Smith, the city Marshal and his men had broken into the printing shop, smashing the press and burning undistributed copies of the newspaper. Shortly after 5:00 p.m. on June 27, 1844, a mob stormed the jail in Carthage, and started shooting at Smith and his associates. Smith had earlier been given a handgun by a visitor (which beats a file any day) and managed to fire off three shots. It is thought that he wounded some of his attackers, but did not kill anyone. His brother Hyrum Smith was shot dead by the mob. Then Joseph himself was killed.
On this day in 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated while visiting
Sarajevo, Bosnia, sparking off a chain of events that quickly led to the outbreak of
World War I. Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, had accepted an invitation to
inspect army manoeuvres in his capacity of Inspector General of the army. A group of conspirators, members
of the secret Black Hand society - a nationalist movement favouring a union between Bosnia-Herzegovina
and Serbia - lined the route that the cavalcade would take. One of them threw a grenade at the Archduke's
car. It bounced off and rolled underneath the next car, severely wounding two of its occupants. While
listening to the Mayor's speech of welcome later that day, Ferdinand interrupted with, "What is the good of your
speeches? I come to Sarajevo on a visit, and I get bombs thrown at me. It's outrageous!"
Following the reception, which sounds like it was not the jolliest of events, the Archduke decided to visit those injured
in the grenade explosion, at the city hospital. At a point where the car had to slow down, Gavrilo Princip
took aim at Ferdinand from a distance of five feet. His bullets struck the Archduke in the neck and his pregnant
wife, Sophie, who was travelling with him, in the abdomen. They both died soon after. In total
eight men were charged with treason and murder. Princip died of tuberculosis in prison, on 28 April, 1918.
On this day in 1997, Mike Tyson lowered the noble art of boxing to a whole new level, by biting the ears of his opponent. It was a rematch with Evander Holyfield, for Holyfield's WBA heavyweight title, in Las Vegas. Mike bit Evander's ear in the third round and was warned by referee Mills Lane. He apparently interpreted the warning as meaning he should not bite that ear again, so later in the same round he bit the other one. Tyson was disqualified. When asked to comment, Holyfield said, "Pardon?"
This is the Feast (or more properly the Solemnity) of Saints Peter and Paul,
commemorating their martyrdom at Rome, assigned by tradition to the same day in the year 67. The
celebration is of ancient origin, and is one of the higher-ranking holy days during the ecclesiastical year, not
surprisingly, given that Peter and Paul were such big cheeses in the early Church. They had been imprisoned in the
Mamertine Prison in Rome (there is much dispute about whether Peter was actually imprisoned there).
Peter, a Jew, was crucified -- Paul, a Roman citizen, was put to the sword. The
Catholic tradition is that Peter was crucified upside down at his request, as he felt that he was unworthy of
being crucified in the same manner as Jesus.
On this day in 1976, the Seychelles became independent from the United Kingdom. This broad scattering of 155 tiny islands in the Indian Ocean has the smallest population of any African state (a little over 80,000). By African standards, they have done quite well economically, mostly through tourism, but in recent times have been in danger of pricing themselves out of the market, losing out to cheaper resorts like Mauritius.
On this day in 1613, The Globe Theatre in London, where many of Shakespeare's plays premiered, burned to the ground. The canon used for special effects produced an effect that was a little too special. It set fire to the thatched roof and brought the house down. The Globe was rebuilt the following year.
This is Independence Day in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, celebrating the day in 1960
when Congo gained independence from Belgium. This central African country straddles the equator
and has an area of one-fourth, and a population of one-fifth, that of the US. It has huge natural
resources (diamonds, gold, silver, oil, uranium, among other good things) but equally huge economic and social problems.
Since independence it has seen almost constant warfare and political turmoil. Currently, things have
settled down somewhat, and the economy is rebounding. The HIV infection rate is above 4%, but life expectancy is
around 60, better than you might think. It is one of Africa's biggest producers of cannabis. I leave you to
decide whether that's good or bad.
On this day in 1905, having no one to play with ("God does not play dice," he later explained) Albert Einstein published an article called, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies", in which he introduced Special Relativity theory. Few people saw anything special about it at the time, but became interested when they realized it would enable them to build a big bomb.
July was named after Julius Caesar, who was born in this month.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. In the proclamation, the President called for the people of the United States to observe these events with "appropriate ceremonies and activities."
The Welsh name for July is Gorffennaf, meaning 'end of the summer', which makes absolutely no sense.
There is an old English proverb:
If the first of July it be rainy weather,
'Twill rain more or less for four weeks together.
Which is really bad poetry and very suspect meteorology.
Today is Canada Day (Fête du Canada), a national holiday in Canada and a cause for celebrations for Canadians everywhere. It marks the establishment of Canada as a Dominion on July 1, 1867 - when the British North America Act created the Canadian federal government - and so it was originally called Dominion Day. For eleven days, from June 21 to July 1, festivities take place across the country as part of Celebrate Canada! They have much to celebrate. Canada is slightly larger than the US and is the second-largest country in the world, after Russia. It has a population of only 33 million, mostly huddled in the warmer bits, just north of the US border. Having made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to invade Canada, the US is now content to be the country's best customer, absorbing 85% of Canadian exports. Canada is the largest foreign supplier of energy to the US, including oil, gas, uranium, and electric power. Some US states now want to buy water from north of the border, but Canadians don't seem too keen on that. A less (officially) welcome export is cannabis, grown for a large domestic market and for export to the US. The use of hydroponics technology permits growers to cultivate large quantities of high-quality marijuana indoors. Life expectancy in Canada is around 80, and the quality of life is generally excellent. As Canadians say, "It's a great place -- if only it wasn't so bloody cold!"
|The Canadian Federal Holidays Act states that when July 1 falls on a Sunday, then July 2 is the legal Canada Day holiday, but in practice that just means an extra day's festivities.|
On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution, proposed by
Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, that ''these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be,
Free and Independent States…and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and
ought to be, totally dissolved.'' And so the United States of America was born. July 2 is
the day that John Adams was "…apt to believe…will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great
anniversary festival…solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and
illuminations…". But it is actually July 4, when the Declaration of Independence was adopted, that is
celebrated as Independence Day.
On this day in 1937, aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, while attempting to complete the first flight around the world at its widest, close to the equator. They were traveling west to east, and crossing the Pacific was the last stage. They were en route from New Guinea to Howland Island when they disappeared. Earhart was 3 weeks shy of her 40th birthday. The mystery of what happened to the flight remains unsolved, although there has been much speculation, most of it fueled by the fact that the plane could have come down in territory occupied at the time by the Japanese. The US government spent $4 million looking for them, making it the most costly and intensive air and sea search in history at that time. Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, first woman to fly solo nonstop coast-to-coast across the US, first person to fly solo across the Pacific between Honolulu and California, and the first person to fly from the Red Sea to India. She had said that this circumnavigation attempt would be her last 'long-distance stunt flight'.
|Today is the Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, alias Thomas Didymus, Thomas the twin, and Doubting Thomas. He is most famous for refusing to believe in the resurrection of Jesus until he could see and feel the crucixion wounds for himself. He is a Patron Saint of blind people, which is odd when you consider he refused to believe what he could not see. But such a refusal is seen by some as 'spiritual blindness'. Despite his doubts, he became a very busy proselytizer, spreading the Gospel to India, it is said. Indeed, sixteenth-century missionaries in Latin America claim to have discovered Saint Thomas's footprints there, and who am I to doubt them?|
|In the United States, today is Independence Day (commonly known simply as "the Fourth of July"), a federal holiday celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1776. The Continental Congress had already passed the Lee Resolution - declaring the united colonies of America to be independent from Great Britain - on July 2. But the document was approved and adopted on July 4, 1776 and bears that date. So that is the date we celebrate. The document itself is beautifully written, thanks largely to Thomas Jefferson. The famous reference to all men being created equal attracted some scorn at the time, as slavery (as opposed to exploitation and servitude, which are ever with us) was no longer practiced in Britain but, as a London magazine put it at the time, “…slaves there are in America, and where there are slaves, there liberty is alienated.” In fact, among the list of offences complained about in Jefferson's original draft was King George's support of the slave trade, ironic given that Jefferson was a slave owner himself. This proved too much for some other members of the Congress who were slave owners and traders, and was omitted from the final draft. America has come a long way since then - growing from 13 colonies to 50 states, 1 federal district, and 14 territories - and is now the world's most powerful nation state. It's about half the size of Russia, slightly smaller than Canada, about the same size as China and is Earth's third most populous country, its inhabitants comprising about 5% of all humans. Its healthcare system and television news coverage are surprisingly bad, its beer and literary journals surprisingly good. If that's not worth a firework or two, I don't know what is.|
|This is Independence Day in Venezuela, a national holiday marking independence from Spain in 1811. Twice the size of California, with a population of only 26 million, Venezuela is currently enjoying robust economic growth, thanks largely to oil revenues, which account for roughly 90% of export earnings, more than 50% of budget revenues, and around 30% of GDP. This wealth seems to have trouble trickling down, for large numbers of Venezuelans live in desperate poverty, and there are severe public health problems. The country also faces huge environmental issues, especially from sewage pollution, oil pollution and deforestation. Don't let that stop you visiting, for in Venezuela you can see South America's largest lake (Lake Maracaibo, unless you class it as a bay, in which case Peru's Lake Titicaca takes the honors), the highest waterfall in the world (Angel Falls, named after American aviator James Angel), and that amazing scenery you saw in the movie Arachnophobia.|
|Today is Independence Day in Malawi, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK in 1964. And they certainly need something to celebrate. This landlocked African country, slightly smaller than Pennsylvania, ranks among the world's least developed countries and, with life expectancy at about 43 years, and an HIV infection rate of over 14%, is high on the list of countries you don't want to be born in. The economy is predominately agricultural, with tobacco accounting for more than half of exports. In this age of anti-smoking campaigns, does anyone really want an economy that's so dependent on tobacco?|
|On this day in 1865, Mary Elizabeth Surratt was executed by hanging, in Washington, DC, for her role in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. She was the first woman to be executed by the United States federal government.|
|Today is the Feast Day of Pope Saint Adrian III, also known as Hadrian III, who was Pope for just sixteen months. He died in 885, either in early September or on July 8, while on the way to a diet in Worms, Germany, at the invitation of Emperor Charles the Fat (probably just as well. I mean, would you want to share a diet of Worms with someone called 'Charles the Fat'?) He is thought to have been murdered, as he had made a few enemies during his brief pontificate. He had opposed the aristocratic faction in Rome and had one of them, George of the Aventine - a notorious murderer - condemned and blinded, and had Maria, a widow of one of the nobility, dragged naked and whipped through the streets of Rome. Adrian was buried at the monastery of Nonantula, the good monks of which opened the tomb very soon after the burial, to retrieve the pontifical vestments and ornaments. Adrian was canonized in 1891, although no one is sure why.|
|This is Independence Day in Argentina, marking independence from Spain on this day in 1816. Argentina was one of the world's wealthiest countries 100 years ago, but the past century has not been kind to it.|
|This is Silence Day, to the followers of the Indian mystic Meher Baba (1894 – 1969). Meher Baba was a spiritual leader who, on July 10, 1925, stopped talking, and kept silent until his death. He did however use an alphabet board and hand gestures to communicate his teachings. I suppose the less said about this day the better.|
|This is United Nations World Population Day, which among other things is intended to 'step up efforts for family planning'. The day is very successful, as more and more people are able to celebrate it every year.|
Orangemen's Day, commemorating The Battle of the Boyne, is celebrated by Ulstermen and anyone
else who wants to upset their Roman Catholic neighbors. It is a perfect example of History as Arms Dump,
through which one can sift to select facts to use against your adversaries, while quietly burying those they might use
against you. Among these inconvenient facts is that the Pope at the time, Alexander VIII, actually supported
William of Orange. On this day, Orangemen dress up like deviant Freemasons and strut around the streets banging
drums. Catholics traditionally responded with random bombings, after which they escaped to America and married into
the Kennedy family. In Britain, this type of behavior has become known as multiculturalism.
Also Sao Tome and Principe Independence Day.
And The Feast Day of Saint Veronica, patron saint of photographers. At one of the Stations of the Cross, Veronica gives Jesus a cloth with which to wipe his brow, and which becomes imprinted with his image. This Veil of Veronica is now at Saint Peter's in Rome, although it is also held at other churches in Europe, so Veronica must have made multiple prints. There is no mention of Veronica in The Bible, but the incident is included in a Mel Gibson movie, so it must be true.
On this day in 1863, the New York Draft Riots, protesting the Civil War military draft,
began. Opponents of conscription began several days of rioting, in which some 1,000 people were killed.
And on this day in 1584, two English ships landed on the coast of what is now North Carolina. Captains Arthur Barlow and Philip Amadas, and their crews performed a ceremony whereby the North American continent was claimed for Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth, and England.
|France's National Holiday, known as Bastille Day in English-speaking countries, and as Fête Nationale or quatorze juillet in France itself. The French drink vast quantities of wine and consume lavish meals, and Bastille Day is no exception. One of the few National Days that honor a prison break. On July 14, 1789, a group of enraged Parisian waiters, crying "Liberté, égalité, gratuité!" became the last people to enter the Bastille without paying an exorbitant admission fee, freeing a handful of bewildered prisoners in the process. A year later, the revolution was still not properly underway, and the French held a huge feast (I wonder if they ate cake), known as the Fête de la Fédération, to celebrate what they thought was "Mission Accomplished", little knowing that their troubles had not yet begun. World leaders have taken this historic lesson to heart and have never made the same mistake since. It is this feast in 1790, rather than the storming of the Bastille, that the holiday actually commemorates, but that did not stop the French holding the bicentennary in 1989, which makes as much sense as building a large glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, which they did that same year.   Those aristocrats must be turning in their graves (but only from their shoulders downwards).|
|Today is Saint Swithin's Day. According to English folklore, if it rains today, it will rain for the next 40 days and 40 nights. And if it is clear today, then there will be clear skies for 40 days and 40 nights. Saint Swithin was a Bishop of Winchester in the ninth century. On his deathbed, he asked to be buried outdoors so that the "sweet rain from heaven" could fall on his grave. As usual, the monks could not let sleeping saints lie, so on July 15, 971, they decided to move his grave indoors into an ornate shrine, more befitting a Bishop. Swithin showed his displeasure by causing it to rain for the following 40 days and 40 nights, hence the legend. Bits of Swithin were generously donated to various holy places. His head was taken to Canterbury Cathedral. One of his arms was taken to Peterborough Abbey. The other found its way to a cathedral in Stavanger, Norway. Sure enough, it rains in all those places.|
|On this day in 1945, the leaders of the three Allied nations - the US, the UK, and the Soviet Union - gathered in the German city of Potsdam to decide the future of a defeated Germany. The conference began the next day and lasted until August 2. As a result of Potsdam, Germany was divided into four occupation zones.|
|In 1945, this day saw the start of the Potsdam Conference. At Potsdam in Germany, US President Harry S. Truman, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the three main Allied leaders, began their final summit of World War II. Before the summit concluded, Churchill would be replaced by Clement Atlee, who became Prime Minister in a shock election victory for Labour on July 26.|
On this day in 1969, a car driven by Senator Ted Kennedy plunged off a bridge on Chappaquiddick
Island, off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. His passenger,
28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, died, along with Ted's chances of ever becoming President.
This is the feast day of Saint Arnold (Arnulf) of Metz, though it is sometimes celebrated on August 16, the day of his death in 640. Although a nobleman and courtier, his ambition was to be a hermit, which he eventually achieved after doing a turn as Bishop of Metz. Before all of that, he found time to get married and have a couple of sons, and is an ancestor of Charlemagne. Arnold was canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and is a Patron Saint of music, millers, and brewers. The best way to celebrate today is to get down to The Saint Arnold Brewing Company, a microbrewery named after him, in Houston, Texas. The oldest in the state, it was founded in 1994 and employs a staff of less than twenty people.
And on this day in 1872, Great Britain introduced the practice of voting by secret ballot. I’m not sure who voted in favor of it.
|This is the Feast Day of Saint Arsenius the Great (in the Roman Catholic Church. It's May 8 in the Orthodox Church), a Roman nobleman and scholar who became a tutor in the court of Theodosius the Great in Constantinople. He did that for eleven years, enjoying great wealth and privilege. Or rather, not enjoying it, because what he really wanted to be was a hermit, and an extreme one at that. So he secretly embarked for Alexandria, where he was admitted to a community headed by Saint John the Dwarf. Despite having achieved his cherished goal of losing everything, Arsenius was forever crying - so many tears that he wore away his eyelashes - but it was not always terribly clear what he was crying about. As he lay dying, Arsenius forbade his disciples to distribute his remains as relics, preferring to be buried whole. This presented a problem to the disciples, who lacked practice in burying people, and were accustomed to recycling saintly bits and pieces. Problems like that could have been avoided if holy men had carried 'relic donor' cards.|
|This is Independence Day in Colombia, a national holiday celebrating independence from Spain on this day in 1810. During most of its independent existence, Colombia's government has had to fight insurgents and guerrillas who are funded by the drug trade, thus ensuring that this resource-rich nation remains desperately poor. Colombia, twice the size of Texas, and even more dangerous, is where South America begins, and is the only South American country with both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. It is the world's leading coca cultivator and largest producer of coca derivatives. In recent years, the economy has actually been doing quite well, despite a decline in opium poppy production. I have friends in nearby Aruba who tell me that Colombia is a great place to go for low-cost, high-quality medical treatment. Stay there for very long and you are likely to need it.|
On this day in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin became Humanity's first
extraterrestrial rock collectors, when they went for a two-and-a-half hour stroll on the Moon.
They brought back 22 kg (47 lb) of lunar rock and dust and left assorted debris and an American flag (which
unfortunately was knocked over when the module took off again). There is some controversy over whether Armstrong
said the 'a' in "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind", with his first step on the surface.
I'm just glad he wasn't from southern California -- we'd have had, "Wow! It's like, you know?"
This is also Racial Harmony Day in Singapore, recalling the terrible race riots in 1964, which brought the country to a standstill. Celebrations (to appreciate 'Singapore’s racial cohesion') take place throughout the week.
On this day in 1587, John White landed on Roanoke Island with 120 men, women, and
children, intending to establish the first permanent English settlement in the New World. The
following month, their numbers were increased when White's daughter bore the first English baby born in the
Americas -- Virginia Dare. In November, White sailed back to England to report to the Crown on
behalf of the colony. He was unable to return to Roanoke Island for over two years, and when he did so, he found
the colony abandoned, with no sign of a struggle or battle of any kind. The only trace of the colonists were the
letters “CRO” carved on a tree and the word “CROATOAN” (the name of local Amerindians) carved on one of the
palisade’s entrance posts. White searched in vain for the colonists. The fate of the Roanoke Island settlers
(the 'Lost Colony') remains a mystery.
And on this day in 1812, an Allied force of British, Spanish and Portuguese troops under the command of the Duke of Wellington defeated the French, under Marshal Marmont, at the Battle of Salamanca in Spain.
|On this day in 1903, the Ford Motor Company sold its first car - the Model A or Fordmobile - to a Dr. Ernst Pfenning of Chicago. The two-cylinder vehicle, which weighed 1,250 pounds and could reach 30 miles per hour, went for $850. More letter cars followed, but it wasn't until they got to 'T' that they went into mass-production.|
Today is Pioneer Day, a Utah State Holiday in observance of the arrival of members of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the site of Salt Lake City, Utah on this day in 1847.
After 17 months of travel, Brigham Young led 148 Mormon pioneers into Salt Lake Valley.
They had journeyed all the way from Illinois with covered wagons and livestock, to make a new life in the
West. This is a huge holiday for Utahns, with parades (including the Days of '47 Parade), fireworks,
rodeos, and other festivities, and is also celebrated by LDS members worldwide. On Pioneer Day, some celebrants
walk portions of the Mormon Trail or reenact entering the Salt Lake Valley with handcarts, such as many early
Mormon migrants used. But in Santa Monica, you can see people pushing all their worldly goods around in
supermarket trolleys any day of the year.
Today is the Memorial of Blessed Christina the Astonishing, who died on this day in 1224.   At age 21, this Belgian peasant girl suffered a seizure so severe that she was presumed dead.   She interrupted her funeral ceremony by waking up and levitating to the roof of the church.   Ordered by the priest to come down, she descended onto the altar, where she proclaimed she was just returned from a visit to Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.   For the rest of her life, she amused herself by swimming in icy water, rolling around in roaring flames, and having herself tied to moving mill wheels, none of which is said to have done her any harm, although it is difficult to imagine that it did her much good, either.   She took time off from these pursuits to have the occasional ecstasy, during which she escorted departed souls into Purgatory and those who had served their time from Purgatory to Paradise.   This happy existence was marred only by her ability to smell sin on people, obliging her to levitate to a safe height or go hide in an oven to avoid the stench.   She died of natural causes at age 74, and is the Patroness of Insanity and psychiatrists.
And on this day in 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier landed at Penouille Point in Quebec and took possession of the mainland of Canada in the name of François I of France. The resident Iroquois begged to differ.
|This is Puerto Rico Constitution Day (or Commonwealth Day), an official holiday in Puerto Rico, marking the day their Constitution became effective in 1952. A Caribbean island three times the size of Rhode Island, with a population of 4 million, Puerto Rico was ceded to the US as a result of the Spanish-American War, along with much else scattered around the globe. So, is it part of the US? Well, it has a state abbreviation (PR), its currency is the US Dollar, and its citizens are also US citizens. Officially, it is an "unincorporated, organized territory of the US with commonwealth status…policy relations between Puerto Rico and the US conducted under the jurisdiction of the Office of the President". That means they can do whatever they want as long as it's what the US President wants them to do (although much the same could be said about Great Britain). Their trade is heavily dependent on the US (although, oddly, nearly a quarter of their imports come from Ireland -- pharmaceutical products and chemicals, I think). So, is it part of the US? Well, they worry about healthcare, celebrate the Fourth of July, and have a problem with illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic entering the country in large numbers looking for work. If that's not America, what is?|
|Today is Liberia Independence Day, a Liberian national holiday celebrating independence from the American Colonization Society (to which this African nation owes its existence) on this day in 1847. Thanks to the efforts of that society, settlement of freed slaves from the US began in 1822 and, by 1847, the Americo-Liberians were able to establish a republic. They were still American enough to do so without consulting the indigenous peoples. Their Constitution, not surprisingly, contains many echoes of the US Constitution, but contains the interesting clause, "In order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia". Liberia - which means "land of the free" - is about the size of Ohio or Tennessee, with a population of around 3 million. With a life expectancy at birth of around 40 years, an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of around 6%, and an unemployment rate of 85%, it is not free of problems. Richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forests, and a climate favorable to agriculture, Liberia really should do better, and now that there is a pause in the decades-long civil wars, maybe it will.|
|On this day in 1996, Eric Rudolph made a bid for gold in the Olympic pipe bombing event. A warrior of the Army of God, he attempted to further the cause of Christian brotherhood by exploding a pipe bomb at the Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, killing two people and injuring more than a hundred. The FBI responded by investigating the security guard - Richard Jewell - who raised the alarm and did most to help. While the FBI and the media were busy destroying Jewell's life, Rudolph continued his bombing Crusade, targeting abortion clinics and gays, killing and maiming across the southern United States. The FBI identified him two years after the Atlanta bombing but it was 2003 before they finally caught him. He now shares exclusive accommodation at Supermax (United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado) along with the Unabomber, the Shoe Bomber, and assorted other folk you wouldn't want to meet this side of a metal detector.|
|Today is Independence Day in Peru, celebrating independence from Spain in 1821. In the 15th century, the indigenous Incas had emerged as a powerful state and, within a hundred years, had become the largest empire in pre-Conquest America. In 1532, a group of conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro put an abrupt end to all of that and Peru became part of the Spanish Empire, the largest the World has yet seen. Today, this country the size of Alaska, with a population of 29 million, has the customary South American mix of immense natural resources, widespread poverty and unstable government. It is the world's second largest producer of coca leaf, although it is doing its best to catch up with Colombia, increasing its cultivation of coca by 25% in 2005. Peru is very proud of its cuisine. The wide diversity of flora and fauna means there's a lot of different things to eat, and the cultural mix of the people means there's a lot of different ways to cook those things. Like all Latin American countries, Peru is not without its dangers for the traveler. Border areas with Ecuador and Colombia are the domain of drug traffickers, and the Cordillera del Cóndor region, near the border with Ecuador, is planted with landmines. So go to Peru for the food and Machu Picchu, but not for a walking tour of the Ecuador border region.|
|Today is the feast day of Saint Olaf, known as Olaf the Fat, who was King Olaf II of Norway from 1015 to 1028 and who died on this day in 1030. His Sainthood is owed to his enthusiastic spread of the Gospel through military action and forcible conversion. Commendable though this no doubt was, he does not really deserve the credit he has since received for being responsible for Norway's conversion to Christianity. The country was well on its way to Christianity long before his time, and indeed, Olaf's main opponent, Canute, was as true a Christian king as ever got his feet wet. This day is celebrated in various ways throughout Norway, Denmark and the Faroe Islands, but only in the latter is it actually a public holiday. In Norway it is an official flag day, notable for The Saint Olav Drama, an outdoor theatrical performance.|
On this day in 1729, the city of Baltimore, Maryland was founded. It calls
itself "The Greatest City in America", and is also known as Monument City, Charm City and
Mob Town. Among the marvelous things you can see there are the Edgar Allan Poe House and the
Great Blacks in Wax Museum. It is also famous for its high crime rate. The official website says,
"We invite you to explore Baltimore, a vibrant city on the water where you will find something new around every corner".
Just be sure it's not something holding a gun.
And on this day in 1956, a Joint resolution of the US Congress was signed by President Eisenhower, authorizing "In God We Trust" as the US national motto.
Today is Hawaiian Flag Day. The Hawaiian Flag is the only American State flag
that incorporates the British Union Flag.
On this day in 1964, Ranger 7 sent back the first close-up photographs of the moon, during the final 17 minutes of its flight, before crashing onto the surface. The photographs, a thousand times clearer than anything seen from terrestrial telescopes, revealed to a startled world that the lunar surface looked exactly like we thought it would.
|August is named in honor of the Roman Emperor Augustus. In the US, it is National Immunization Awareness Month, National Psoriasis Awareness Month, National Catfish Month, National Water Quality Month, Romance Awareness Month, Foot Health Month and American Artist Appreciation Month. In The Philippines it is Language Month, although they seem a little unsure exactly what language they are honoring.||
On 1 August, 1907, Robert Baden-Powell began the Scouting movement by blowing a kudu
horn (it was a more innocent age) to open the world's first Scout camp, on Brownsea Island.
On this day in 1834, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire, which at that time comprised a large chunk of the globe but unfortunately, not the USA. The Slavery Abolition Bill had become law in Britain on 29 August 1833 (thanks largely to the efforts of William Wilberforce) but came into force on 1 August, 1834.
|Today (or August 15, depending on which calendar you follow) is the Feast Day of Saint Basil the Fool, in the Russian Orthodox Church. Basil walked the streets of Moscow, wearing nothing but chains and fetters, telling people not to be so stupid. Sometimes he would visit taverns to warn of the dangers of drunkenness, which must have gone down a treat. He even rebuked Tsar Ivan the Terrible for not paying attention in church and for his objectionable habit of killing people. Somehow, he got away with that because, when Basil died, in his eighties, Ivan himself helped carry the body of the saint into church to be buried. The church was renamed the Cathedral of St. Basil, fool-for-Christ-sake. It's that splendid, colorful-onion edifice that you always see in pictures of Red Square.|
This is Niger Independence Day, celebrating independence from France in 1960.
Niger, a landlocked African nation, is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking last on the
United Nations Development Fund index of human development. It is also one of the hottest countries in the
world. Twice the size of Texas, with a population of 13 million, it is predominately desert plains and
sand dunes, hot, dry and dusty, with some savanna, suitable for livestock and limited agriculture, in the extreme south.
It is subject to frequent and extended droughts. Life expectancy at birth is only mid-forties. They
do however, have some of the world's largest uranium deposits. Sounds ripe for China to move in.
On this day in 1305, William Wallace got a rude awakening, literally, when his fellow Scot Sir John Meredith, along with sixty of his mates (Meredith was obviously a canny Scot, who took no chances) woke him from his sleep and arrested him. Twenty days later, Wallace met a grisly end in London's Smithfield, executed for treason and war crimes. (Needless to say, virtually everything you saw in "Braveheart" is totally false).
Today is also National Watermelon Day. And yes, you can buy Watermelon Day greeting cards.
On this day in 1914, Germany invaded Belgium, and so Britain - bound by the
Treaty of London, which guaranteed Belgian neutrality - declared war on Germany.
World War I, the Great War, had begun. Crowds of cheering volunteers, eager to enlist, surged
through London. Most were convinced that the war would be over by Christmas. In fact it lasted four
years and claimed 10 million lives. Of the major combatants, Russia and Germany suffered most casualties,
the US, which remained neutral until 1917, the least. The war changed the map of Europe and the
course of history. From it emerged a world in which Russia was communist, America was a world power, and
women could vote. None of which was enough to stop an even worse conflict erupting two decades later. Two
first hand accounts that give a real insight into the war and which I thoroughly recommend: "Under Fire" by
Barbusse, and "All Quiet on the Western Front", by Remarque.
On this day in 1892, Lizzie Borden's father and stepmother were butchered with an axe at their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Lizzie was tried for the murder but was acquitted. In the media attention the trial received, it was comparable to the OJ Simpson trial in our own time -- the main difference being that it's possible Lizzie may really have been innocent.
This is the Feast Day of Saint Sithney. God offered Sithney the job of Patron Saint of young girls seeking husbands, but he balked at the idea and begged to be assigned the easier task of being Patron Saint of mad dogs, to which the Almighty agreed.
|On this day in 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. She was naked, face down in bed, clutching her telephone. She was 36 years old. Her death was ruled "probable suicide", resulting from an overdose of sleeping pills, although it may have been an accidental overdose, or possibly even murder. A botched Police investigation and autopsy, and a host of suspicious circumstances, have provided fertile ground for conspiracy theorists. It is one of those twentieth-century deaths (along with John F Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King) about which nothing certain can be known beyond that they were unspeakably tragic. On August 8, 1962, Marilyn was interred in a crypt at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. People still leave flowers there. The space next to her has been reserved by Hugh Hefner. Iconic beauties come and go, but Marilyn remains the greatest of them all.|
Today is Independence Day in Jamaica, a national holiday celebrating independence from the
UK in 1962. Jamaica is a Caribbean island, slightly smaller than Connecticut, in the
Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba. A beautiful island, relying heavily on tourism, Jamaica suffers
from chronic poverty, high unemployment, widespread gang violence and sluggish economic growth. Its 3 million
inhabitants console themselves by consuming vast quantities of cannabis.
On this day in 1945, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb, "Little Boy", dropped by the United States B-29 bomber "Enola Gay". Around 90,000 people were killed instantly, although exact figures are impossible to establish. Others would subsequently die from radiation poisoning, bringing the total killed in Hiroshima in 1945 to perhaps 140,000. It was the first time a nuclear weapon had been used in warfare. Two trivia tidbits: The pilot named the Enola Gay after his mother. The clamping devices used to hold the bomb inside the aircraft were invented by Zeppo Marx (one of the Marx Brothers), and manufactured by his company Marman Products.
|Today is Independence Day in Côte d'Ivoire, celebrating Independence from France in 1960. This Western African country is one of the most prosperous of the tropical African states, although that's not saying much. It has significant natural resources, including offshore oil reserves, and is among the world's largest producers and exporters of coffee, cocoa beans, and palm oil. But ethnic conflict and government corruption ensure that the economy struggles. You can help by drinking more cocoa.|
|This is the Feast day of Saint Dominic, founder of the Order of Friars Preachers (the Dominicans), a religious order of mendicant friars. Dominic was a scholarly Spanish canon who tended to mind his own business, until an official mission took him on a journey through southern France. There he encountered Christians (Cathars or Albigensians) who did not believe what the Church thought they should. Although these people caused no harm to anyone, they clearly needed to be eradicated. Thanks to Dominic's selfless efforts, a Crusade was launched against the Cathars, resulting in wholesale slaughter and destruction. The Inquisition was established soon afterwards, staffed partly by Dominic's followers, to ensure this good work continued. Throughout his life, Dominic wore a hair shirt and a chain around his loins, so cut him some slack. He is Patron Saint of astronomers, for no obvious reason.|
|On this day in 1969, actress Sharon Tate was found brutally murdered in her Los Angeles home, along with four other victims, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Steven Parent. All five died from gunshots and multiple stab wounds. Tate was pregnant, just two weeks away from giving birth. Cult leader Charles Manson and a group of his followers were later convicted of the crime. The Manson 'Family' had already stabbed to death Topanga Canyon resident Gary Hinman on July 27, and would go on to kill Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary at their Los Feliz home on August 10. The murderers were given life sentences, which didn't stop some of them getting married and even starting families, while still incarcerated. All requests for parole have so far been turned down, despite some miraculous conversions to Christianity (why don't parole applicants ever claim to be born-again Pagans, or Muslims? Shouldn't it carry as much weight?) The house at 10050 Cielo Drive, where the Tate murders took place, was demolished in 1994. An Italian- style mansion was erected in its place and the street address was changed.|
|This is Independence Day in Ecuador, a national holiday celebrating independence in 1809. Or rather, a call for independence (from Spain). Ecuador did not become a separate republic until 1830. The country gets its name from the fact that it straddles the equator. Slightly smaller than Nevada, with a population of 14 million, Ecuador has substantial oil resources, but it also produces bananas, coffee, cocoa, rice, potatoes, tapioca, sugarcane, cattle, sheep, pigs, dairy products, balsa wood and fish. Despite all of that, it remains very poor, with high unemployment. But life expectancy is very good, the HIV infection rate is low and, with all that oil, things are likely to improve. To help things along, they have adopted the US Dollar as their currency. You may not know (alright, so you do know -- but I didn't) that the Galápagos Islands, famous for the studies by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle, belong to Ecuador.|
|On this day in 1965, race riots broke out in the Watts area of Los Angeles, California. Thirty-four people died, more than 1,000 were injured, upwards of 3,000 were arrested and there was over $40 million in damage during the six-day riot, which was sparked by a California Highway Patrol officer arresting a young black man for drunk driving (the two later became quite friendly). The Watts area today is well worth a visit, to see the amazing Rodia Towers, but there are still serious problems there. I was walking through Watts on a stifling August day, many years after the riots, feeling hot, dry and tired. Everywhere, I saw churches, chapels, prayer halls, mission halls…and not a single bar! No wonder they rioted.|
Today is the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, a prolific and usually reliable meteor shower
associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle. Each year, Earth passes through a stream of debris left
behind by the infrequent passages of the comet, which crosses the inner solar system once every 128 years as part of its
elongated orbit around the Sun. The shower is visible from mid-July, peaking around today. The
Perseids are sometimes known as the 'tears of Saint Lawrence', whose feast day is August 10. Here in
Los Angeles there is so much light pollution and smog that I'm lucky if I see the Moon, let alone a
Today is known as The Glorious Twelfth in England, unless you are a grouse, for this is the start of open season on them.
It is also Sea Org Day in the Church of Scientology. A good day for an ocean Cruise maybe.
Today is International Left-Handers Day. If you're celebrating alone, you know what to do.
On this day in 1907, the first taxicabs took to the streets of New York City. Metered taxis had been operating in Paris since 1899, and in London since 1903. The New York cabs were imported from France by Harry N. Allen, who coined the word "taxicab". Allen was also the first person to paint his cabs yellow, the color most easily seen from a distance. Few of the passengers were black, the color most easily ignored from a distance.
And on this day in 1961, the East German Democratic Republic began building the Berlin wall. It was finally dismantled in 1989. Enough pieces of it have been sold on eBay to build the wall three times over.
On this day in 1947, Pakistan achieved independence from the UK. It is not
however a national holiday. That is Republic Day, celebrated March 23.
And on this day in 1936, Rainey Bethea was hanged, in the last public execution in the United States. Bethea was a 26 year-old male who confessed to the rape and murder of a 70-year-old woman, and was publicly hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky after being convicted of her rape. They prosecuted him for rape rather than murder because a rape conviction meant they could hang him in Kentucky. A murder conviction would have required an execution elsewhere. An interesting aspect of the case was that police used the new technique of fingerprinting to establish that Bethea had recently touched items inside the victim's bedroom. He had said that he did not know whether she was alive at the time of the rape - which was significant because, under Kentucky law, it was not illegal to have sexual intercourse with a corpse - but convict him they did. Public executions were a perennial favorite with the media, but the special attraction here was that the Sheriff, whose job it was to do the deed, was a woman. She would have been the first woman in America to publicly choke the life out of a man, outside of the divorce courts. But a farmer from Illinois, named G. Phil Hanna, who had assisted with hangings across the country, offered to stand in for her. Bethea's hanging would be the 70th which Hanna had supervised. He would apply the noose, but not pull the lever -- another helpful soul, a former Louisville police officer called Arthur Hash, volunteered to do that. A crowd of 20,000 people gathered to watch the execution, many coming from out of town. Hash lived up to his name by turning up drunk. Bethea insisted on putting on clean socks for the occasion. Hanna placed the noose around Bethea's neck, then signaled to Hash to pull the lever. But Hash was too drunk to comply. He ignored Hanna's impatient "Do it!", and a deputy eventually had to push the lever that sprung the trap door and dropped Bethea to his death. Hash said, "I'm drunk as hell", an explanation that did not satisfy Hanna, who was furious with him. This unseemly episode, plus the general carnival atmosphere, contributed to the end of public executions in the United States.
On this day in 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally, ending World War II. It
is known as 'Victory in the Pacific Day' (VP Day) in some countries - including Australia - and as 'Victory over
Japan Day' (VJ Day) in others, including the UK and US. Although fighting ceased on this day,
the Japanese administration did not officially surrender with a signed document until
Both dates are known as VJ Day.
Today is Republic of the Congo Independence Day, a national holiday celebrating independence from France in 1960. This African country, the size of Montana, with a population of about 4 million, sits astride the Equator and is persistently hot and humid. Life expectancy at birth is around 53 years, and the HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is around 5%. It's one of those countries where you feel everything is out to get you. It's not to be confused with its much larger neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is another such country, only more so.
Today is also the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for various Christian denominations. It is the principal feast of Mary, mother of Christ. According to ancient belief, she, like her son, was taken up into Heaven physically, body and soul. There is some dispute about whether she actually died first. One consequence of this physical Assumption is that you will search in vain for her relics, although there is a tradition that she threw her girdle to Saint Thomas on her way up, so you might keep a look out for that.
|August 16||This is the Feast Day of Saint Roch, a French saint who died on this day in 1327. He was born with a birthmark of a red cross on his breast, which grew as he did, so he was literally marked out for sainthood from birth. On days when his devout mother fasted, Baby Roche would refrain from sucking her more than once. Despite this consideration, he was orphaned at 20. His subsequent pilgrimage took him into Italy during an epidemic of plague, where he was diligent in tending to the sick in various public hospitals, effecting many miraculous cures by prayer and the sign of the cross and the touch of his hand. He himself finally fell ill, was thrown out of town, and forced to live in the forest. He would have died there had not a friendly dog supplied him with food stolen from his master's table. Roch eventually recovered and returned to France, only to be falsely accused of spying - by his own uncle - and thrown into prison, where he languished for a few years before dying. Among other things, Roch is Patron Saint against a multitude of nasty diseases (especially the plague) and for gravediggers, second-hand dealers, bachelors, falsely accused people and dogs.|
On this day in 1999, an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale struck the industrialised town of
Izmit in western Turkey. The resulting death toll was more than 17,000.
This is Independence Day in Indonesia, a national holiday celebrating the declaration of independence - from The Netherlands - on this day in 1945. The islands had been occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945, and Indonesia declared its independence after Japan's surrender, although this was not recognized by The Netherlands until December 27, 1949. Indonesia is the world's largest archipelagic state and home to the world's largest Muslim population. An archipelago of over 17,000 islands and parts of islands, straddling the equator between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, it is three times the size of Texas, with a population of over 230 million people, making it the world's fourth most populous country (after China, India and the US). Nature can be harsh to the Indonesians -- tsunamis and earthquakes regularly take their toll. Poverty and disease are widespread, and the country faces severe economic and social problems. On a brighter note, Indonesia boasts some fine cuisine, most famously Nasi goreng (fried rice). If you cannot make it to Indonesia, but can make it to The Netherlands, try one of the many Indonesian restaurants there, and be sure to order a Rijsttafel (rice table), a Dutch colonial adaptation of Indonesian food.
Virginia Dare, born on this day in 1587, was the first child born in the Americas to
English parents, Eleanor and Ananias Dare. She was born into the ill-fated
colony on Roanoke Island in what was then Virginia but is now North Carolina, where they had
arrived on July 22. What became of Virginia
Dare and the other colonists is a mystery. The fact of her birth is known because the governor of the colony,
Eleanor Dare's father, John White, returned to England to seek assistance for the settlers. When
White returned to Roanoke Island, the colonists had disappeared.
Today is Long Tan Day in Australia, commemorating the battle of Long Tan, which began on this day in 1966, and was a notable engagement in the Vietnam War. D Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, heavily outnumbered, resisted repeated Viet Cong attacks and eventually secured victory. A US Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) was awarded to D Company by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, for the unit's heroic actions at Long Tan. The day is also known as "Viet Nam Veterans Day", and has become a day for recognizing all Australian veterans of that war. The Aussies are very serious when it comes to honoring their veterans and war dead.
|August 19||Today is Independence Day in Afghanistan, a national holiday celebrating independence from British control over Afghan affairs on this day in 1919. Founded as late as 1747, Afghanistan was sandwiched between two great empires, Russian and British. It became a battle ground and has remained one ever since. Following independence, coups and counter-coups and continuous factional fighting characterized Afghani life for many years. But the country became a favorite destination on the Hippy Trail in the sixties and seventies. All of this was rudely interrupted when Russia invaded and occupied, from 1979 to 1989. In 1996 the Taliban came to power, thanks to Pakistan (if you believe the Americans) or thanks to America (if you believe everyone else). The fall of the Taliban, and the US occupation in 2001, have enabled a resurgence in democracy and opium poppy production. Almost all the heroin consumed in Europe now comes from Afghan opium. Life expectancy at birth is a dismal 44, or thereabouts, and unemployment is frighteningly high. A rugged, inhospitable country, the size of Texas, with a population of 32 million, it has abundant natural resources, but has an even greater abundance of political parties and tribal factions.|
On this day in 1741, Vitus Jonas Bering, a Danish navigator in the service of the
Russian navy, became the first European to discover Alaska. That’s how the
Bering Strait, the Bering Sea, Bering Island, etc, got their name. 1741 seems rather
late to be discovering such a big place. Of course, non-Europeans had been hunting seals and struggling to keep
warm there for thousands of years before Bering's voyage.
On this day in 1991, Estonia declared its independence from the Soviet Union. It is not however, the official Independence Day national holiday. That's on February 24, celebrating the day in 1918 when Estonia declared its independence from Soviet Russia. Yes, Estonia had to become independent from Russia twice.
Today is the Saint Stephen's Day national holiday in Hungary, in honor of King Stephen, who ruled Hungary from 1000 to 1038 and is credited with having brought Christianity to the country's nomadic tribes, although I'm not sure they asked for it. In 2000, to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the state, the Eastern Orthodox Church announced the canonization of Stephen, the first time the Orthodox Church has canonized a Roman Catholic saint.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Pope Pius X (1835 - 1914). Pius was an ardent
anti-modernist and anti-relativist who upset a lot of people in the Church with his zealous defense of traditional
doctrine. His resistance to change was further demonstrated 30 after his death when, as part of the canonization
process, his body was exhumed and was found to be uncorrupted. This was especially remarkable given that he had not
been embalmed but had been laid to rest, organs and all. His canonization was assured following the discovery of
several miraculous cures, brought about by touching a picture or relic of Pius.
On this day in 1959, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order proclaiming Hawaii the 50th state of the union, so that the pattern of stars on the American flag would have a more balanced appearance. In a startling break with tradition, the US asked the native population if they actually wanted to be part of the US. They had been a 'territory' for some years. A 94% majority voted for statehood, in a referendum that offered them the choice between continued territorial status and statehood, but not independence. Since statehood, Hawaii has enjoyed significant economic growth (it is the only US state which is also growing physically, thanks to lava flows). The Hawaiian state flag incorporates the UK's Union Flag, reflecting historical friendly relations with that country. Hawaii is the southernmost state but note the westernmost, as it is overreached by Alaska. Hawaiian is an official language in the state. Until I can afford a vacation there, I shall pretend to have no further interest in the place.
|August 22||On this day in 1485, the Lankies beat the Tykes at The Battle of Bosworth Field, in Leicestershire, England. Put more formally, Bosworth was the decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, and was fought between the armies of the Yorkist King Richard III - the last of the Plantagenet dynasty - and the Lancastrian contender for the crown, Henry Tudor, 2nd Earl of Richmond. It ended in the defeat and death of Richard, the accession of Henry as King Henry VII, and the establishment of the Tudor dynasty. The white rose of Yorkshire and the red rose of Lancashire were henceforth combined into the Tudor rose. It was at Bosworth that Shakespeare has Richard crying, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"|
Today is the Memorial of Saint Rose of Lima, the first Catholic saint of the
Americas. She was born in Lima, Peru in 1586 and is the patroness of that city. All the
places in the Americas called Santa Rosa are named for her. In Peru and some other
Latin American countries, her feast is kept as a public holiday on the traditional date of August 30.
Rose was a beautiful and very religious girl. When she was admired, Rose cut off her hair and disfigured her face
with pepper and lye to render herself unattractive. Once, her proud mother put a wreath of roses on the girl's
head. Rose responded by fixing the wreath directly into her flesh with a large pin. She was admitted to a
Dominican convent aged 16, where she began her self-harm in earnest, habitually wearing a metal spiked crown, and
an iron chain around her waist. She used a bed, that she had made herself, of broken glass, thorns and other sharp
objects. Fourteen years of this self-martyrdom continued, 'with intervals of ecstasy' we are assured, until she
died, aged only 31. Isn't that uplifting? Among other things, she is Patron Saint against vanity, and for
Latin America, people ridiculed for their piety, and the Peruvian Police Force.
On this day in 1305, William Wallace (a much nastier person than Mel Gibson would have you believe) was executed for treason, in London, England. He was stripped naked and dragged through the city by a horse. He was then hanged, drawn and quartered, which means he was strangled by hanging but released while still alive, emasculated, eviscerated and his innards burnt in front of him - although I expect he was past caring by then - beheaded, then cut into four parts. His head was placed on a pike on London Bridge. His limbs were displayed, separately, in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling, and Aberdeen, so that everybody in the north had a chance to see them. ("Wallace's right leg is showing at the town square. It's had good reviews -- shall we go and see it?")
Today is Independence Day in Ukraine, a national holiday celebrating independence from the
Soviet Union on this day in 1991. This nation the size of Texas has a population of 46 million
but, unusually, the population is declining. It currently boasts a healthy economic growth rate and low
unemployment. It also has substantial natural resources, including large reserves of natural gas, and a fertile
black soil that used to generate more than a quarter of Soviet agricultural output, back in the day.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Bartholomew, traditionally an occasion for markets and fairs. Bartholomew was one of Christ's apostles, according to three of the Gospels. His later proselytizing in Azerbaijan was a little too successful, for he offended an Armenian nobleman by converting his brother to Christianity. As a result, Bartholomew was flayed (skinned) alive and then crucified upside down. Remarkably, his body somehow washed up on Lipari, a small island off the coast of Sicily, where a large piece of his skin and many bones are now kept in the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew the Apostle. Part of his skull then headed to Frankfurt, Germany, while an arm elbowed its way into Canterbury Cathedral, England. Bartholomew makes an appearance in Michelangelo's Last Judgment, with his own skin hanging over his arm. Someone with dubious taste has made him Patron Saint of tanners.
In Paris on this day in 1572, some French Catholics celebrated the feast of Saint Bartholomew by beginning a wholesale slaughter of Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants), in what has become known as The Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre. The killing spread throughout Paris, and later to other parts of France, lasting for several months. The exact number of fatalities is not known, but it is thought that several thousand or possibly tens of thousands of Huguenots died in the violence.
Today is Independence Day in Uruguay, a national holiday celebrating independence from
Brazil on this day in 1825. This South American nation, bordering the South Atlantic
Ocean, is slightly smaller than the state of Washington, with a population of 3 million. Its economy
is characterized by strong economic growth, an export-oriented agricultural sector, a well-educated work force, and high
levels of social spending. But it is very dependent on the economic well-being of its giant neighbors,
Argentina and Brazil. Church and state are officially separated. Most Uruguayans adhere to the
Roman Catholic faith, but with 31% professing no religion, Uruguay may be the most secular country in the western
and southern hemispheres.
Today is also the Feast Day of Saint Genesius of Arles. He was a notary and secretary to the magistrate of Arles, in France. While he was performing the duties of his office, the decree of persecution against the Christians was read in his presence. Outraged, he threw his writing tablets at the feet of the magistrate and fled. The protest earned him a martyr’s death. He is invoked against dandruff and chilblains, and some things in between.
Saint Genesius of Arles may or may not be the same fellow as Saint Genesius of Rome, who is also celebrated today. In a stage performance before Emperor Diocletian, the actor Genesius portrayed a Christian being baptized, in a play satirizing the Christian sacrament. In an early example of the hazards of method acting, he experienced an onstage conversion to Christianity. When he refused to renounce his new faith, Diocletian had him beheaded. Genesius is the Patron Saint of actors. Diocletion is no doubt honored by drama critics.
Today is Women's Equality Day in the US, chosen because it was on this day in 1920 that the 19th
Amendment of the Constitution, giving women the right to vote, was ratified.
The first television broadcast of a pro baseball Game was made on this day in 1939. It was between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers, because of course the Dodgers were a New York team before moving to Los Angeles. Please can we give them back now?
|In a series of massive explosions on August 26 and 27, in 1883, Mount Krakatoa, in Indonesia, erupted, with a force of 100 megatons. The eruption, which ejected more than 25 cubic kilometers of rock, ash, and pumice, was the biggest explosion and loudest sound in history (although remind me to tell you one day about the time I farted in Zug, Switzerland). The Krakatoa explosion was heard 3,000 miles away. Near Krakatoa, 165 villages and towns were destroyed, more than 36,000 people were killed, and many thousands injured, mostly from the tsunamis which followed the explosion. Blue and green suns were observed as fine ash and aerosol, ejected into the stratosphere, circled the equator over 13 days.|
Today is Independence Day in Moldova, a national holiday celebrating independence from the
Soviet Union on this day in 1991. Moldova has the dubious distinctions of being the poorest nation in
Europe, and the first former Soviet state to elect a communist as its president (in 2001). Slightly larger
than Maryland, with a population of 4 million, Moldova is a landlocked country which has no natural resources to
speak of, although if you ever run short of sand, gravel or limestone, they have plenty of that. A quarter of its
working population is employed abroad and the money they send home has helped maintain reasonable economic growth.
The strip of land between the Dniester River and the Ukraine - known as Transnistria - has a
Slavic majority population, mostly Ukrainians and Russians, who have proclaimed a republic and
are attempting to break away. Russian forces have remained in Transnistria and are supporting the separatists.
Before you cross Moldova off your list of vacation destinations, let me tell you that one of the finest bottles of
wine I ever had was a Moldovan red.
On this day in 1859, near Titusville in northwestern Pennsylvania, Edwin L. Drake struck oil. It was the first commercially successful well drilled specifically for oil, and launched the modern petroleum industry in the United States.
On this day in 1963, during a 200,000-person civil rights rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington,
DC, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous 'I have a dream' speech. Part of his
dream was that black and white children would walk hand-in-hand to school. In today's America, I see black
and white children walking (or, this being Los Angeles, being driven) separately to the same schools, and keeping
to their own groups when they are there. This separateness continues throughout life. It is called
equality, multiculturalism and diversity, and is counted a success. Whatever happened to
integration, which is what I thought the dream was? As always, my opinions can be safely ignored, as they
belong to a minority of approximately 1, and my dream of a world of coffee-colored children going hand-in-hand to school
can be safely dismissed as an aberration, as it is shared by roughly that same number.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who died on this day in 430. Augustine was a north African who is considered the most important figure in the early Christian church, and who philosophically and theologically, is the bridge from Classical to Medieval thought. More than five million words of his writings survive, the Confessions and City of God being the most important. They are thick tomes but if you take the time to read them, they give surprising insights into early Christian beliefs. Among other things, Augustine taught that children dying without baptism were condemned to Hell, but he conceded that their punishment would be mild, which I'm sure is reassuring. He is Patron Saint of brewers, printers, theologians and sore eyes. Now that's a saint for sore eyes.
On this day in 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the US Gulf Coast from
Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, killing more than 1,800 and causing over $115 billion in
damage. Although the Federal Government was slow in responding, it did eventually spend billions of dollars on
nothing very useful, and a lot of time praying to God to hold off on the next big hurricane until a future
Today is the feast day of the beheading of John the Baptist in both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Yes, this saint is so important he has a feast day to celebrate his birth - June 24 - and another to commemorate his beheading (or 'decollation', which sounds much nicer). The story goes that Herodias, the mistress of King Herod, harbored a grudge against John and wanted to kill him, but Herod was loth to do so. So Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced for Herod, and she must have danced like that girl I dated in Tijuana a few years back because at the end of it Herod offered her anything she wanted. At her mother's instigation, she asked for the head of John on a platter, to go. Reluctantly, the king kept his bargain and poor John was separated from his head (or body, whichever way you look at it). According to Saint Jerome, Herodias kept the head for a long time after, occasionally stabbing the tongue with a dagger. Should you wish to see the head, or fragments of it, you will find them in reliquaries in various places throughout Europe.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Fiacre, although this feast day has been, and still is,
celebrated on a range of other dates. Fiacre, born in Ireland in the seventh century, moved to
France, where he built a hospice for travelers in what is now Saint-Fiacre, Seine-et-Marne.
A local religious - Saint Faro - allowed Fiacre as much land as he could plough a furrow around in one
day. He did so well, using just his staff, that a woman who witnessed it accused him of witchcraft.
Thenceforth, Fiacre barred women, on pain of bodily infirmity, from the precincts of his monastery. His relics are
installed in Meaux Cathedral - except for a few vertebrae, which were presented to Cardinal Richelieu
- but as he is Patron Saint of gardeners, it would have been nicer to compost him. He is also Patron Saint of taxi
drivers, venereal disease sufferers, brie, hemorrhoids, and ploughboys. His aversion to women is believed to be the
reason he is Patron Saint of venereal disease sufferers. His patronage of ploughboys no doubt has more to do with
his prowess with his staff.
Today is Constitution Day in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a national holiday. This is a British overseas territory consisting of two groups of forty (eight inhabited) tropical islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, southeast of The Bahamas and north of Haiti. Covering an area a little over twice the size of Washington, DC, and with a population of 22,000, its economy relies almost entirely on tourism. It enjoys a healthy economic growth and steady population growth. It also boasts of having the best beaches in the world and, if you are a snorkeler, this is a place you should go. If you're not, go there anyway, to laze around on the beach and dine on lobster. But watch out for hurricanes.
Today is Independence Day in Trinidad and Tobago, a national holiday celebrating independence
from the UK on this day in 1962.
On this day in 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, "The People's Princess", died, aged 36, along with her companion Dodi Al Fayed, and chauffeur Henri Paul, when the Mercedes they were in crashed in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris.
Today is also Independence Day in Kyrgyzstan, celebrating independence from the Soviet Union on this day in 1991. A Central Asian country, the size of South Dakota, landlocked and mountainous, with a population of 5 million, it is, by all accounts, a place of extraordinary natural beauty. If you like mountains, this is your place for an exotic vacation. Kyrgyzstan has significant deposits of metals including gold, and has abundant hydropower, plus some exploitable coal, oil, and natural gas. It also boasts the world's largest naturally growing walnut forest. There is a striking disparity in life expectancy between the sexes, with males managing only 65 years, while females can enjoy 73 years of that beautiful scenery. Kyrgyzstan is a very poor country with a high unemployment rate and slow economic growth. Its neighbor China is a major trading partner and if that country is not trying to increase its influence in mineral-rich, scenic Kyrgyzstan, I would be very surprised.
|September is National Preparedness Month, a nationwide effort sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security 'to encourage Americans to take simple steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses and schools'. My experience of earthquakes in Los Angeles convinces me we need this month. This is also National Food Safety Education Month. My experience of restaurants in Los Angeles convinces me we need this month.||September 1||
Today is Libya Revolution Day, a national holiday in Libya, celebrating the day in
1969 when Moammar Al-Gadhafi and a group of army officers overthrew King Idris's government and changed
the country's official name from The Kingdom of Libya to The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab
Jamahiriya. Colonel Gadhafi implemented his own political system, the Third Universal Theory,
a combination of socialism, Islam and traditional tribal practices. A population of 6 million
inhabits this country the size of Alaska, more than 90% of which is desert or semidesert. The Libyan
economy depends heavily upon revenues from the oil sector, which contribute about 95% of export earnings, about
one-quarter of GDP, and 60% of public sector wages. There is 30% unemployment -- I suppose they all stand around
watching the oil gush. Substantial revenues from the energy sector, along with such a small population, give Libya
a very healthy economic growth rate and one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa. Climate conditions
and poor soils severely limit agricultural output, and so Libya imports about 75% of its food. Islam is
the state religion. Libya has what must be the simplest national flag in the world, being plain green, the
traditional color of Islam.
(I wrote that years ago, when Gadhafi was still in charge. To be honest, I've completely lost track of what the Hell is going there since then).
Today is Independence Day in Vietnam, a national holiday celebrating independence from
France on this day in 1945.Vietnam is slightly larger than New Mexico, with a massive 85 million
population and growing. The country is striving to create jobs to meet the challenge of a labor force that is
increasing by more than one million people every year. Although remaining a Communist state, it has implemented
free-market reforms, allowing private ownership of farms and companies, deregulation and foreign investment. The
economy of Vietnam has achieved rapid growth in agricultural and industrial production, and is now one of the fastest
growing economies in the world. Wouldn't it be sad if we concluded that, from the examples of China and
Vietnam, competitive free enterprise was essential for prosperity, but democracy wasn't?
On this day in 1945, Japanese officials signed an act of unconditional surrender, finally bringing to an end six years of world war. In the presence of 50 Allied generals and other officials, the Japanese envoys boarded the US battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay to sign the surrender document. Hostilities had ceased on August 15. Japan regained its independence in 1952, although the US retained the island of Okinawa until 1972 and still has big military bases there.
Today is Independence Day in Qatar, a national holiday celebrating independence from the
UK on this day in 1971, since when this Persian Gulf emirate has progressed to being a fabulously
wealthy sand pit. In this country slightly smaller than Connecticut, with a population of just under a
million, there's plenty of sand, and money, for everyone. Their wealth, of course, derives from huge reserves of
oil and gas. What do they spend it all on? Well, military expenditure accounts for 10% of GDP, which is a lot.
Much of the remainder is spent at the camel races -- Qatar is famous for its trafficking of foreign children for
employment as camel jockeys. But don't imagine that this Islamic state, ruled by a single family, is in
any way illiberal -- women here are allowed not only to vote but also to drive. (And in case you were wondering,
'Qatar' is pronounced 'Cutter').
Today is also Founding of the Republic Day in San Marino, a national holiday celebrating the tradition that the country was founded by a Christian stonemason named Marino on this day in 301. A landlocked, prosperous, smug, mountainous enclave in central Italy, San Marino is the third smallest state in Europe (after the Vatican and Monaco), and also claims to be the world's oldest republic.
Today is Clear Day in the Church of Scientology. Now that should require no explanation.
Today is also the Feast Day of Saint Rosalia of Palermo, Sicily. She was a young, beautiful girl of a noble family - a descendent of Charlemagne - who renounced the world and went to live in a cave, taking nothing with her but a crucifix and 'instruments of mortification'. Unknown to anybody, she died in her cave sometime around 1160. In 1624 a terrible plague struck Palermo, killing large numbers of people, and was brought to an end only when Rosalia's bones - which had been retrieved from the cave - were carried in procession through the city. In consequence, Rosalia was venerated as the Patron Saint of Palermo, and a sanctuary was built in the cave where her remains were discovered. Palermo's annual procession in her honor is a major event, with fireworks, music, and so on. She has also been proposed as the Patron Saint of evolutionary studies, due to some useful fieldwork that was carried out on a site near her cave.
Today is the feast day of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who died on this day in
1997. She dedicated her life to helping the poor - in fact, the poorest of the poor - and opposing birth control
and abortion. Known as the 'Saint of the Gutters', she was greatly revered during her life, and when she died there
was pressure for a fast path canonization. One of the prerequisites of beatification (the first step to sainthood)
is the performance of a miracle. A 35-year-old Indian woman called Monica Besra came forward to
announce that in 1998 her ovarian tumor vanished after she prayed to Mother Teresa. The Vatican, after
extensive enquiries, recognized this as a miracle attributed to Mother Teresa. But a Calcutta doctor who treated
the woman has suggested that her cure might have had more to do with the nine months of anti-tubercular medication she had
received. A second miracle is required before sainthood is attained. I know it's none of my business, but
isn't it time they stopped grubbing around for miracles and simply said, "This person was extraordinarily good, so let's
revere them as a saint"?
On this day in 1939, The United States declared its neutrality in World War II. Unfortunately, Japan and Germany had other ideas.
Today is Teacher's Day in India, being the birthday of the second President of India and teacher Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan (1888 –1975). This is not a holiday but a celebratory day, when students attend school as normal, but instead of the usual classes have activities honoring their teachers.
Today is Independence Day in Swaziland, a national holiday celebrating independence from the
UK on this day in 1968. This southern African country, landlocked between Mozambique
and South Africa, is slightly smaller than New Jersey, with a population of just over a million.
It is ruled by King Mswati III, sometimes described as 'the world's last ruling monarch'. Life expectancy
at birth in Swaziland is around 32 years, and the HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is a truly horrific 40%, the highest in
the world. The unemployment rate is also approximately 40%. But King Mswati himself doesn't do too badly.
Last I heard, he had about a dozen wives and a couple of dozen children, all installed in luxury mansions.
He also has a fleet of luxury cars.
On this day in 1901, anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot and fatally wounded President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. McKinley was the twenty-fifth President of the United States, and the third to be assassinated. He died from his wounds on September 14. Czolgosz was convicted and sentenced to death on September 23 - in a trial that lasted just eight and a half hours from jury selection to verdict - and executed in the electric chair on October 29. Such was his brief and inglorious appearance on the stage of human history.
Today is Independence Day in Brazil, a national holiday celebrating independence from
Portugal on this day in 1822. Brazil is the largest and most populous country in Latin America,
and the fifth largest in the world in both area and population, being slightly smaller than the US, with a
population of approximately 190 million. It shares common boundaries with every South American country
except Chile and Ecuador, and is big enough to straddle both the Equator and the Tropic of
Capricorn. It is South America's major economic power and a regional leader. Economic performance is
good, but not great, and unemployment rate is surprisingly high, at around 10%. There is highly unequal income
distribution, with huge disparities between the very rich and the very poor. It is the only Portuguese-speaking
country in the Americas, and has the largest Roman Catholic population in the world. And yes, Brazil is
still the world's largest coffee producer.
This is the Feast Day of Saint Gratus of Aosta, a 5th century bishop of Aosta, Italy. Gratus went to the Holy Land in search of the head of John the Baptist. He found the relic concealed in Herod's palace, in Jerusalem. He managed to steal it and smuggle it back to Rome, where he presented it to the Pope. But as he handed it over, the jawbone came off in his hand, so he got to keep that bit. For some reason I can't fathom, Saint Gratus of Aosta is the patron saint against fear of insects.
Today is Our Lady of Meritxell Day in the Principality of Andorra, a national holiday
commemorating their Patron Saint. In this tiny principality, high in the Pyrenees between France
and Spain, Andorra's population of 72,000 enjoys the highest life expectancy of any people in the world, around
84 years. They have no armed forces, no income taxes, no unemployment and no worries. Tourism is the
mainstay of Andorra's tiny but vibrant economy, accounting for more than 80% of GDP. Agricultural production is
limited - only 2% of the land is arable - and most food has to be imported. Go there for the skiing and the cigars.
Today is also International Literacy Day, promoted by UNESCO, with the idea of getting everyone reading and writing.
|September 9||Today is North Korea Founding Day, a national holiday celebrating the founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), on this day in 1948. This country the size of Mississippi, with a population of 23 million, is reckoned to have one of the worst human rights records of any nation. Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea, was the country's first and only president. Following his death in 1994 he was not replaced, but was instead declared ‘Eternal President’. Fortunately, his son, Kim Jong-il, generously volunteered to fill the power vacuum created by having a corpse as President, and assumed absolute control. When the country suffered economic collapse and a major famine in the early 1990s, Jong-il decided the solution was to increase military expenditure. Such was the success of this imaginative policy, North Korea now has the fourth-largest military in the world, with about 20% of men ages 17-54 in the regular armed forces. That gives North Korea the highest percentage of military personnel per capita of any nation in the world, with approximately 40 enlisted soldiers per 1,000 citizens. Annual military spending is estimated as 20% of GDP. Unaccountably, all this spending hasn’t helped improve the standard of living of the average North Korean.|
|September 10||Today is National Day in Gibraltar, a national holiday celebrating the referendum held on this day in 1967 to decide whether to remain with the UK or to become part of Spain. Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain a British dependency. Strategically important, (it is one of the ‘Pillars of Hercules’, bordering the Strait of Gibraltar, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean) Gibraltar was reluctantly ceded to Great Britain by Spain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, and the British garrison was formally declared a colony in 1830. It remains a sore point with Spain, which wants its peninsula back, please. The UK has been keen to make concessions, and a series of talks were held with Spain between 1997 and 2002 on establishing joint sovereignty over Gibraltar. The Gibraltarian government responded with another referendum, in late 2002, in which the citizens voted overwhelmingly against any sharing of sovereignty with Spain. Being addicted to compromise, the British persisted despite this result, and in September 2006 a tripartite agreement was signed between Spain, the UK, and Gibraltar. Under this agreement, among other things, Spain will be allowed to open a cultural institute in Gibraltar from which the Spanish flag will fly. Half the size of Rhode Island, with a population of 28,000, ‘Gib’, as the locals call it, is by all accounts a very pleasant place to live, with a fine Mediterranean climate and a healthy, service-based economy.|
|Enkutatash is the first day of the New Year in Ethiopia, where they use an old (in fact, ancient) version of the calendar, which also is 7 years behind the Gregorian calendar. Christians in Eritrea use the same calendar. Enkutatash can be September 11 or 12, depending on whether it’s a leap year. Enkutatash means the "gift of jewels". When the Queen of Sheba returned from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem, her chiefs welcomed her by replenishing her treasury with jewels, and the festival celebrates that. It is about the time when the heavy rains come to an end, so it is something of a spring festival. It’s Ethiopia’s big day, with dancing and singing, spiced chicken and beer. Interestingly, just as the rest of the world celebrated the ‘Millennium’ a year early, in 2000, so did Ethiopia, in their 2000, in what we would call 2007. Confused? Just relax and enjoy the spiced chicken and beer.||September 11||Today is Patriot Day, in the USA, observed in memory of the 3,000 people who died in the terrorist attacks on this day in 2001. On that morning, nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners. They intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, resulting in the collapse of both buildings soon afterwards. Other hijackers crashed a third airliner into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, near Washington, DC. Passengers and members of the flight crew on the fourth aircraft attempted to retake control of their plane from the hijackers, causing it to crash into a field near the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Most Americans refer to this day as ‘Nine-Eleven (9/11)’ rather than Patriot Day. It is a discretionary day of remembrance. On this day, the President directs that the flag of the United States be flown at half staff and displayed from individual American homes, at the White House, and on all US government buildings and establishments, home and abroad. The President also asks Americans to observe a moment of silence beginning at 08:46 EDT, marking the time of the first plane crash. This is one of those days – like the JFK assassination – where everyone remembers where they were. In an attempt to come to terms with the horror of these events, I wrote a poem and an essay about them.|
|September 12||In Mexico, today is the Commemoration of the mass hanging of the Saint Patrick's Battalion. The battalion (Batallón de San Patricio, or simply the San Patricios) was a unit of several hundred Irishmen, Germans, Scotsmen and other European Catholics who deserted the United States Army and fought as part of the Mexican Army in the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. They fought on the Mexican side in five major battles, and gained renown for their extraordinary skill and courage. Their desertions were inspired and led by Captain John Riley. The precise reasons have been disputed. They seem to have had much to do with persecution of Irish soldiers by US officers, plus a reaction against brutalities inflicted on their fellow Catholics, the Mexicans, during the campaign. Following defeat at the battle of Churubusco, 85 San Patricio soldiers were captured and 72 were tried by court martial. Fifty were sentenced to be hanged and another 16 to be flogged and branded on the face with the letter ‘D’ for deserter. The en masse hangings for treason took place on September 10 at San Ángel, and on September 13 at the battle of Chapultepec. By order of General Winfield Scott, 30 San Patricios were executed in full view of the two armies at Chapultepec. They were hanged after standing for four and a half hours at the gallows, nooses around their necks, on a hill where they could see Mexican and US troops battling at the Castle of Chapultepec. General Scott had ordered that they were to be hanged at the precise moment the US flag was raised over the castle, replacing the Mexican tricolor. The carts on which they were stood were then finally pulled away. Riley himself was not executed. Instead, he was flogged, branded on both cheeks with the letter ‘D’ and forced to dig the graves of his men. The orders were carried out by Colonel William Harney, who ordered Francis O’Conner hanged even though he had had both legs amputated the previous day. This mass hanging was the largest group execution in US military history. The efforts of the US Marines in this battle and the subsequent occupation of Mexico City are memorialized by the opening lyrics to the Marines' hymn, "From the Halls of Montezuma...", as Chapultepec Castle is also known as the Halls of Montezuma. America historians have regarded the San Patricios as traitors, but Mexicans honor them as heroes on this day every year. In 1993, the Irish began their own annual ceremony in Clifden, County Galway, John Riley's home town.|
On this day in 1900, Filipino resistance fighters defeated a small American force in the
Battle of Pulang Lupa, during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902, but guerilla resistance
continued for a decade more). The Battle of Pulang Lupa was the first major battle won by the Filipinos over the
Americans and the defeat sent shock waves through the American high command. It was thought it might influence the
upcoming election between President William McKinley and his anti-imperialist opponent William Jennings
Bryan, but McKinley won anyway.
On the evening of this day in 1814, Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer who had come to negotiate the release of an American friend, was detained in Baltimore harbor on board a British vessel. Throughout the night and into the early hours of the next morning, Key watched as the British bombarded nearby Fort McHenry with rockets, a new military technology. As dawn broke, he was amazed to see the Stars and Stripes, though somewhat tattered, still flying above Fort McHenry. This experience inspired him to write the lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner", which he set to the tune of a popular drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven". The song soon became the de facto national anthem of the United States of America and, in 1931, the official anthem.
|The Armenian Church observes a five-day fast, called the Fast of the Holy Cross, from September 10 through September 14, in preparation for the Feast of the Holy Church in view of the Holy Cross, which they celebrate on September 15. In The Armenian Apostolic Church September 16 is observed as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.||September 14||
Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, or Holy Cross day, or the Feast of the
Triumph of the Cross, depending on the Church. The feast commemorates the finding of the
True Cross in 325 during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem by Saint Helen, mother of the Roman
emperor Constantine I. Although she was 80 at the time, she must have had her wits about her, for the very
first spot she chose to excavate revealed a portion of the True Cross, along with some True Nails.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was then built at the site of the discovery and was dedicated nine years
later, with a portion of the cross placed inside it. The date used for the feast marks the dedication of the church
in 335. Although the actual consecration of the church was on September 13, the cross itself was brought outside
the church the next day so that the faithful could pray before it.
And on this day in 1847, American forces under Gen. Winfield Scott took control of Mexico City, bringing the war between the United States and Mexico to an end. Defeat cost Mexico almost half its territory.
Also on this day, in 1901, President William B. McKinley died in Buffalo, NY, of gunshot wounds inflicted by an assassin on September 6. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt succeeded him, becoming, at 42, the youngest president in US history.
|At one time, in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following September 14 were observed as one of the four sets of Ember Days (days near the beginning of the seasons, designated as days of fasting and abstinence). These are thought to have been adaptations of older, Pagan rites that invoked the help of deities at crucial points in the agricultural year. The word "ember" derives from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning to turn, or run around, referring to the cycle of the seasons. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, where they had no need to accommodate Celtic traditions, Ember Days have never been observed. More recently, Ember Days have mostly become days of “prayer for peace."|
September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the US.
On this day in 1940, the Royal Air Force claimed victory over the Luftwaffe in the
Battle of Britain, after a day of heavy bombing raids over England which ended in big losses
for the enemy. 60 German aircraft were shot down. This was a turning point in
World War II. The Luftwaffe was now losing planes faster than they could be replaced. Air raids
continued over London and the south east of England into October and the German bombers inflicted considerable
damage and casualties, but the Germans realized the RAF could not be beaten in 1940, and Operation Sealion - the German
plan to invade Britain - was cancelled. It was of the airmen who won the Battle of Britain that Churchill
so memorably said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.
Today is Independence Day in Costa Rica, a national holiday celebrating independence from Spain on this day in 1821.
Also Independence Day in El Salvador, a national holiday celebrating independence from Spain on this day in 1821.
And Independence Day in Guatemala, a national holiday celebrating independence from Spain on this day in 1821.
Plus Independence Day in Honduras, a national holiday celebrating independence from Spain on this day in 1821.
Not forgetting Independence Day in Nicaragua, a national holiday celebrating independence from Spain on this day in 1821.
Today is Independence Day in Mexico, a national holiday celebrating independence from
Spain on this day in 1810. Actually, that was just the declaration of independence, and the beginning of
a war of independence that would last until September 27, 1821. Today is also known as El Grito de Dolores
(the cry of Dolores), because it was in the town of Dolores that one Father Hidalgo rang the bell of his little
church, calling everyone to fight for liberty, starting the whole thing off. Every year on this day, this scene is
reenacted in Mexico City, where the Mexican President rings the historic liberty bell that Father Hidalgo rang,
and gives El Grito, "Mexicanos, Viva Mexico", which is not what Hidalgo said but fits the bill. Following
independence, Mexico began a long series of revolutions, insurrections and other quarrelsome behavior that contributed
toward their defeat in the war with the US (1846-1848) and the loss of a huge amount of territory.
Today is Mexico’s major fiesta. The celebration begins every September 15 at 11 pm.
There are rodeos, parades, bullfights and a general good time for everyone, except the bulls. Mexico is three times
the size of Texas, with a Population of 109 million, making it the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the
world. Its economy has been doing well, and it has plenty of oil and other good things, but there is huge disparity
between rich and poor, and some terrible poverty. It is keen on free trade agreements, and more than 90% of its
trade falls under such agreements. It is a bit too free with its trade in illegal drugs, and is a major supplier of
heroin, methamphetamine and ecstasy to the US. None of that will put the damper on today’s celebrations. I
once joined in the celebrations in Tijuana and I wish I could remember some of it.
And Independence Day in Papua-New Guinea, a national holiday celebrating independence from an Australian-administered UN trusteeship on this day in 1975.
On this day in 1908, US Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge became the first person to die in a crash of a
powered airplane. Orville Wright had gone to Fort Myer, Virginia, to
demonstrate the Wright Flyer for the US Army. Selfridge arranged to be a passenger while Orville piloted
the plane. It crashed, severely injuring both men. Wright was hospitalized for several weeks.
Selfridge died hours after the crash, without regaining consciousness. He is buried in Arlington National
Cemetery, very near the site of the accident.
And on this day in 1862, during the American Civil War, Union forces successfully resisted a Confederate invasion of Maryland at the battle of Antietam. With 23,100 killed, wounded or missing, after twelve hours of savage fighting, it remains the bloodiest one day battle in American history. Casualties were comparable on both sides and it was a tactical draw. However, Antietam is considered a Union victory and a turning point of the war because it ended Robert E. Lee's invasion of the North and allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, on September 22. So, draw or not, no other battle in the war had such momentous consequences as Antietam. Alexander Gardner's photographs of Antietam were the first ever images to show dead soldiers on the field of battle.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was established this day in 1947, and functioned
effectively for nearly 50 years.
Today is Independence Day in Chile, a national holiday celebrating independence from Spain on this day in 1810. Chile had an unusually long struggle for independence, just as the Spanish conquistadors had an unusually long struggle to conquer the country. Appropriately then, Chile is - north to south - the longest country in the world, occupying a long and narrow coastal strip wedged between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Its northern Atacama Desert is one of the world's driest regions, and is rich in minerals (Chile is responsible for over a third of the World's copper production). It also controls many Pacific islands, including Easter Island and Robinson Crusoe Island. Twice the size of Montana, or about the size of Turkey, with a population of 16 million, Chile has a robust economy and a democratic society. Life expectancy at birth is 77 years, which is pretty good. Chile claims to have more bilateral or regional trade agreements than any other country. It has 57 such agreements, including a free trade agreement with the US. It doesn’t always have Mother Nature on its side though, being subject to severe earthquakes, active volcanoes, and tsunamis. Chile is the world's fifth largest exporter of wine, including some excellent, great-value reds. It is also a significant consumer of cocaine, and an important transshipment country for cocaine destined for Europe. So go there for the scenery, the wine and the extremely varied cuisine, but don’t agree to take any packages home on the plane. And if you are hoping to use your Spanish language skills, be warned that they have very idiosyncratic pronunciation and use of idiom.
On this day in 1881, James A. Garfield, the twentieth President of the United States and the
second to be assassinated, died of gunshot wounds. He was aged 49 and had enjoyed the second shortest
presidency in US history, after William Henry Harrison's, being in office for six months and fifteen days.
He was shot on July 2, 1881, in a Washington, DC railroad station, by Charles Guiteau, an embittered
attorney who was upset because of the rejection of his repeated attempts to be appointed the US consul in Paris.
Garfield lay in the White House for weeks, while his doctors shoved their unwashed hands inside him,
frantically rummaging for the bullet, and churning up his innards in the process. Alexander Graham Bell,
inventor of the telephone, tried unsuccessfully to find the bullet with an induction-balance electrical device which he
had designed for the purpose. On September 6, Garfield was taken to the New Jersey seaside for
recuperation, but died from an infection and internal hemorrhage, eleven weeks after the shooting. Guiteau was
executed by hanging on June 30, 1882, in Washington, DC. On the scaffold, Guiteau’s last words were (really), “I am
now going to read some verses which are intended to indicate my feelings at the moment of leaving this world. If
set to music they may be rendered very effective. The idea is that of a child babbling to his mamma and his papa.
I wrote it this morning about ten o'clock:
I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad,
I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad,
I am going to the Lordy,
Glory hallelujah! Glory...” etc, etc.
This is also Independence Day in Saint Kitts and Nevis, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK on this the day in 1983. Saint Kitts and Nevis remains part of the Commonwealth. The smallest nation in the Americas in both area and population, it has a population of 40,000, including 10,000 Internet users.
|September 20||Today is the Memorial of Saint Eustace (in the Western Church. It is held on November 2 in the Eastern Church). Eustace was a Pagan Roman general in the army of the Emperor Trajan. He was converted to Christianity following a hunting trip, during which he saw a vision of the Christ between the antlers of a stag. He was baptized with his wife and two sons. There followed a series of misfortunes, including loss of his wealth, the abduction of his wife, and the carrying off of his sons by wild beasts. However, being a capable general, he was recalled to duty by Trajan to help repel barbarians from Rome, which he did. He and his family were then rather surprisingly reunited, but when they refused to sacrifice to Pagan idols, Trajan ordered them thrown to the lions, which merely played with them. Further enraged, Trajan had Eustace and his family roasted to death inside a bronze bull. Eustace is Patron Saint of firefighters and hunters, and is invoked against fire and difficult situations.|
Today is Independence Day in Belize, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK on this day
in 1981. Belize is in Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Guatemala and Mexico, making it the
only country in Central America without a coastline on the North Pacific Ocean. Slightly smaller than
Massachusetts, and home to 300,000 people, it has a population density that is the lowest in the Central American region
and one of the lowest in the world. It is the only country in Central America where English is the official
language. The British and Spanish disputed the region in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it became the colony of
British Honduras in 1854. Territorial disputes between the UK and Guatemala delayed the independence of Belize
until 1981, when it became an independent nation within The Commonwealth. Guatemala refused to recognize the new
nation until 1992, and the territorial disputes continue, with Guatemalans squatting in the Belize rain forests.
For that reason, a British garrison has been retained in Belize at the request of the Belizean Government. Mahogany
used to be the main export, but now tourism has become the mainstay of the economy. Current concerns include a
hefty trade deficit, an unsustainable foreign debt and high unemployment. Belize has the highest unemployment rate
in Central America, at over 9%. Adding to its problems are a growing involvement in the South American drug trade,
escalating urban crime, and increasing incidences of HIV/AIDS, the adult prevalence rate of which is now over 2%.
The climate is tropical, very hot and humid, with a rainy season from May to November and frequent, devastating hurricanes
from June to November. So go there for the Mayan ruins and the excellent scuba diving around the reefs, but time
your visit carefully.
Today is also Independence Day in Malta, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK on this day in 1964.
|The autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere and the spring equinox in the southern hemisphere occurs around now. An equinox is when the Sun can be observed to be directly above the Earth's equator. This happens around March 20 or 21, and September 22 or 23 each year. On these dates, night and day are nearly of the same length.||September 22||Today is Independence Day in Mali, a national holiday celebrating independence from France on this day in 1960. This landlocked nation in north-west Africa is one of the most politically and socially stable countries on the continent. Mali is also one of the poorest countries in the world. It is twice the size of Texas, mostly desert, with a population of 12 million, predominantly Sunni Muslim. Life expectancy at birth is a mere 50 years, infectious disease is rampant, and the adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is a rather nasty 2%. But it has substantial unexploited mineral resources, and recent economic and political reform has resulted in sturdy economic growth. Mali is one of Africa's biggest cotton producers, so the fact that the US subsidizes its own cotton growers is a sore point in Mali. Mali has produced some of the stars of African music, the most famous of whom was Ali Farka Touré, who was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone's "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". The Festival in the Desert, held every year in Essakane, a Saharan oasis near Timbuktu, celebrates this musical talent and attracts plenty of foreign visitors.|
Today is Autumn Equinox Day in Japan, a national holiday. Many Japanese visit their family tombs
on this day in the middle of the week of higan (a seven-day period spanning both the spring and autumn equinoxes)
to pay their respects to their ancestors. People tend the family tomb and leave flowers, incense and
ohagi - sweet rice balls covered with soybean paste - as it is a well known fact that ancestors' spirits prefer
round food. If today is a Sunday, the holiday is observed on Monday, September 24.
And Saudi Arabia's national day, celebrating the Unification of the Kingdom on this day in 1932. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a filthy-rich, largely desert country in the Middle East, occupying most of the Arabian Peninsula. It is one-fifth the size of the US, with a population of 28 million, including nearly 6 million non-nationals. It is the birthplace of Islam, and contains that religion’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina. It is governed according to Islamic law. Oil accounts for more than 90% of the country's exports and nearly 75% of government revenues. It is the world's largest exporter of petroleum, and proven reserves are estimated to be about one-quarter of world oil reserves. Saudi Arabia is a destination country for workers from South and Southeast Asia who are subjected to conditions that can justly be termed slavery. Nigerian women are trafficked into Saudi Arabia for commercial sexual exploitation. But drug traffickers get decapitated.
On this day in 1906, US President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower (and the area around it) to be the
nation's first National Monument. Devils Tower is a monolith of igneous rock located in Crook County,
northeastern Wyoming. It rises dramatically 1267 feet (386 m) above the surrounding terrain, and is a sacred site
for many Amerindians. It’s that huge rock tower you saw in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
Today is Independence Day in Guinea-Bissau, a national holiday celebrating independence from Portugal on this day in 1973, although Portugal did not recognize the country's independence until the following year. Guinea-Bissau depends mainly on farming and fishing. Cashew crops have increased markedly in recent years, and the country now ranks sixth in cashew production, which is of no interest to you but if you liked cashews as much as I do you’d care. This Western African country, three times the size of Connecticut, with a population of 1.5 million, is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. It has an HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate of 10%. December and January are the driest, coolest months and are the least worst time to visit, if you really must.
On this day in 1973, NASA’s manned Skylab 3 mission returned from 59 days in orbit. Alas, one
member of the crew did not make it home, for Arabella the spider, who mastered the art of weightless web-spinning, died of
unknown causes during reentry.
On this day in 1066 - the most famous year in English history - Saxons under Harold, King of England, defeated the Norwegians under Harald Hardrada and Earl Tostig (King Harold’s brother and rival for the throne) at The Battle of Stamford Bridge, in Yorkshire. Harold had just marched his men an amazing 180 miles in 4 days, to meet an army that greatly outnumbered his. The battle was long and hard. The Stamford Bridge itself was held by an enormous Norwegian berserker, wielding an axe. He held the bridge for an hour single-handedly, until an enterprising Saxon positioned himself on a boat under the bridge and thrust a long spear through the planks and up the Norwegian’s ass. The battle ended the Viking threat to England, but the Saxons, their strength sadly depleted by the fight, faced an even greater threat from Duke William of Normandy, who was headed for Sussex. The weary Saxons turned south and marched back as quickly as they had come. They met the Normans at the Battle of Hastings, with less happy results.
Today is the Feast Day of Saints Cosmas and Damian, who were twin brothers, born in Arabia in the 3rd
century, who became skilled doctors. Cosmas and Damian accepted no payment for their medical services, which led
them to be nicknamed anargyroi, The Silverless, or Penniless. Their most remarkable exploit was the
grafting of a leg cut from a recently dead Ethiopian to replace a patient's ulcerated leg. They became a little too
famous for their own good at a time when Christians were being persecuted. They were arrested, tortured and
beheaded. They are the Patron Saints of physicians, surgeons and pharmacists, whom they presumably help not to be
Today is European Day of Languages, a Council of Europe initiative celebrating “linguistic diversity, plurilingualism, lifelong language learning”. About half of Europeans speak a second language, usually English.
In Ethiopia, today (or September28 if it’s a leap year) is the beginning of Meskel, a feast commemorating
the Finding of the True Cross by the Empress Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.
Meskel has been celebrated in the country for over 1600 years. It's a festival of color and processions, of
costumes and bonfires. Many of the rituals are based on aspects of the Helena legend. In order to locate the
Cross, she had a fire lit, and ordered digging to take place at the spot where the smoke drifted to earth. The wood
and nails thus unearthed were deemed relics of the Cross, and eventually found their way to Ethiopia. The Ark
of the Covenant is also reputed to be in Ethiopia. Why do these most sought after objects always end up there?
The Day of the French Community of Belgium is celebrated on this day each year, but only by the French community of Belgium. The Flemish speakers have their own day and the German speakers have theirs. I love Belgium, it's a beautiful little country, but why does it have to be so factional?
On this day in 1066, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, invaded England, and the Norman Conquest began.
William landed at Pevensey Bay in Sussex and moved on to Hastings, where he assembled a prefabricated
wooden castle as a base. Some historians believe the landing actually took place at Hastings. Either way,
William and King Harold of England fought the Battle of Hastings, perhaps the most important event in British
history, on October 14. See also
Today is the feast day of Saint Wenceslaus ("Good King Wenceslaus") of Bohemia. He was a Christian ruler, murdered by his Pagan brother on this day in 929. Wenceslaus was hailed as a martyr for the faith, and his tomb became a pilgrimage shrine. He is the Patron Saint of the Bohemian people and of the former Czechoslovakia – and of brewers, a measure of how seriously the Czech take their beer.
On this day in 1924, three Douglas World Cruiser biplanes of the US Army Air Service landed in Seattle, Washington, having completed the first circumnavigation of the World by air. They had left Seattle on 6 April, 1924 and headed west, equipped with the latest navigational aids. The trip had taken 175 days, covering about 27,000 miles, with stops in 61 cities and the loss of one plane.
|September 29||Today is Michaelmas Day in the Christian Calendar. This holiday is also known as the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and the Feast Day of Saint Michael and all the Angels. It is one of the English, Welsh and Irish quarter days, when accounts had to be settled and rent paid. On manors, it was the day when a reeve (a very important fellow) was elected from among the peasants. Michaelmas marked the end of the harvest. Traditional meals for the day include goose, which was also the preferred meal for Martinmas, on November 11, and again for Christmas, on December 25. Geese, hatched in the spring, were plump and ready for eating in the autumn, and with the harvest in, you had to decide if you could afford to keep feeding a goose or if it was time to eat it, or slaughter and salt it. You could also use them in settlement of the quarterly accounts. So all in all, it was a bad time of year if you were a goose. The coming of the Anglo-Normans into Ireland, and the establishment of their legal customs, gave Michaelmas an important place in the Irish calendar, also. Michaelmas is the most ancient of all the angel festivals. It originated to replace Pagan celebrations around the autumn equinox. Angels - messengers from God - appear frequently in Christian scripture, but only Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are named. Michael appears in Daniel. Devotion to Michael is the oldest angelic devotion, arising in the Eastern Church in the fourth century and spreading to the West in the fifth century. Gabriel also makes an appearance in Daniel, but his best-known role is as the messenger to Mary, announcing she will give birth to the Messiah. Raphael's activity is confined to the Old Testament story of Tobit, which is part of the Catholic and Orthodox Biblical canon, but is regarded by Protestants as apocryphal.|
|September 30||Today is Independence Day in Botswana, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK on this day in 1966. Botswana is the world's 45th-largest country, and is dominated by the Kalahari Desert, which covers most of its surface. This Southern African country, slightly smaller than Texas, with a population of 1.8 million, has enjoyed unbroken peace since gaining independence, and has become relatively prosperous thanks to its diamond mines. Botswana has a per capita GDP greater than any other African country, and for over 30 years, had the fastest growing economy in the world, transforming itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income country. Diamond mining has fueled much of the expansion and currently accounts for more than one-third of GDP and for 70-80% of export earnings. Tourism is another key sector. Despite all this, much of the population remains in extreme poverty and unemployment is high. Worst of all, Botswana has an adult HIV prevalence rate of 24%, the second highest in the world after Swaziland. (Earlier estimates of 37% prevalence are now thought to have been too high). Life expectancy at birth fell from 65 years in 1990-1995 to less than 40 years in 2000-2005, a figure about 28 years lower than it would have been without AIDS. Go there for the amazing nature reserves, but take care and be safe.|
Today is the Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China, a national holiday
celebrating the founding of the Republic on this day in 1949. China’s population of 1.3 billion makes it the most
populous country in the world, with about 20% of the world population. It is the joint third largest country,
alongside the US, after Russia and Canada. Which of the US and China are the bigger depend on what overseas
territories, dependencies and disputed areas you count. Despite its size, all of China falls within one time zone.
Following many years of phenomenal economic growth, China now has the fourth largest GDP in the world, just ahead
of the UK. So there’ll be partying in Tiananmen Square tonight. Or maybe not.
Now pay attention – this gets complicated…Today is Independence Day in (Greek) Cyprus, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK in 1960, which however, actually occurred on August 16. Turkish Cypriots proclaimed self-rule for their part of the island on February 13, 1975, and independence on November 15, 1983. So Turkish Cypriots celebrate November 15 as Independence Day. But none of that is recognized by any country except Turkey. Greek and Turkish Cypriots continue to be wary neighbors, separated by a thin line of UN peace-keeping troops. There are also two areas still controlled by the British and used as military bases. Cyprus is a beautiful island with a good lifestyle and the military regard it as a ‘dream posting’. Cyprus, a Mediterranean island, lying south of Turkey, is about half the size of Connecticut, is the third largest island in the Mediterranean (after Sicily and Sardinia), and has a population of nearly 800,000. Its economy is heavily reliant on tourism, and has to cope with frequent droughts. Its telecoms infrastructure is surprisingly good. Cyprus is known as "the island of Aphrodite", because it was the birthplace of the goddess of love. It is the only country to display a map of itself on its flag.
Today is also Independence Day in Nigeria, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK on this day in 1960.
And we are not done yet, for today is also Independence Day in Tuvalu, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK on this day in 1978. In 2000, Tuvalu negotiated a contract leasing its Internet domain name ".tv" for $50 million in royalties over a 12-year period.
Today is Independence Day in Guinea, a national holiday celebrating independence from France on this day
The Battle of Gonzales took place on this day in 1835, in the Mexican Texas town of Gonzales, between the Texan settlers and a detachment of the Mexican army. Although it was a minor military engagement in itself (one Mexican killed, one Texan wounded) it marked a break between the American colonists and the Mexican government, and was the start of the Texas Revolution. The battle took place near the Guadalupe River, and was the result of attempts by the Mexican government to retrieve a small cannon that had been given in 1831 to the settlers at Gonzales. “Please can we have our cannon back” was met with the response "Come and take it" and after a brief skirmish the Mexicans retreated cannonless. The ‘come and take it cannon’ can still be seen at the Gonzales Memorial Museum.
On this day in 1780, British intelligence officer Major John André was hanged as a spy in Tappan, New York, during the American War of Independence. He had been captured and found to have papers hidden in his boot, detailing how the British could take West Point. They had been provided by Benedict Arnold of the Continental Army, recently appointed commandant of the fort at West Point. Arnold had agreed to surrender the fort to the British in exchange for 20,000 pounds. Upon hearing of André's arrest, Arnold fled and eventually escaped to England. André appealed to George Washington to be executed by firing squad, but was hanged. He met his death in a soldierly fashion, even calmly placing the noose around his own neck.
Today is Unity Day in Germany, a national holiday commemorating this day in 1990, when West and East
Germany ended 45 years of postwar division and declared the creation of a new, reunified country. The German
Democratic Republic (East Germany) ceased to exist and its territory became part of the Federal Republic of Germany.
About the size of Montana, with a population of 82 million, Germany is the world's third largest economy, the
world's largest exporter of goods, and the world's second largest importer of goods. It is Western Europe’s
most populous nation. It has some of the world’s best
beers, finest white wines, and unfriendliest hotel staff. Its cuisine is great if, like me, you enjoy good, honest
peasant fodder. A vacation in Germany is expensive but rewarding, mainly for the glorious architecture – castles,
cathedrals and picturesque villages. Emphasize that you are not British, and the hostility will be muted. Go
to Munich for the Oktoberfest, an annual festival – the world’s biggest – centered around beer-drinking.
It takes place during the 16 days through the first Sunday in October, and is extended through today if that last Sunday
is October 1 or 2.
On this day in 1995, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman, whom he had viciously stabbed to death on June 12 of the previous year. Since then, Simpson has been scouring Las Vegas casinos, and golf courses all over America, searching for the real killer.
|World Space Week, held from October 4 to October 10, was established by the United Nations General Assembly as an international celebration of science and technology. The start and end dates of World Space Week recognize the launch of Sputnik 1, and the signing of the Outer Space Treaty (October 10, 1967).||October 4||
On this day in 1957, the Soviet Union began the Space Race with the launch of Sputnik I, the first
artificial satellite to orbit the Earth.
Today is Independence Day in Lesotho, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK on this day in 1966. Lesotho is a mountainous country, landlocked and completely surrounded by South Africa. Poverty is widespread, with the UN describing 40% of the population as "ultra-poor". Slightly smaller than Maryland, with a population of 2 million, it has an HIV adult prevalence rate of 29% - the third highest in the world - and life expectancy at birth is less than 40 years.
This is also the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans. Francis chose a life of poverty, and was renowned for his love of animals, which extended as far as a refusal to kill the lice which infected him. His followers had to remove his cloak from him while he slept so that they could hold it in the smoke of a fire, to rid it of the infestation. More charmingly, he used real animals to create a living Nativity scene in the town of Greccio, near Assisi, one Christmas around 1220. Saint Francis is Patron Saint of animals, which is why...
…today is also World Animal Day. World Animal Day was started in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence as a way of highlighting the plight of endangered species. Since then it has grown to encompass all kinds of animal life and is celebrated worldwide. This is when the faithful take their Pit Bull terriers to the priest to be blessed.
Today is World Teachers' Day, recognizing the inestimable contribution of teachers everywhere…except
for that sadistic Scottish pedophiliac PE teacher that made my life a misery back in…sorry, where was I? Ah,
yes. More than 100 countries currently celebrate World Teachers’ Day, which was inaugurated in 1994 to commemorate
the signing of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers on October 5, 1966.
On this day in 1877, Chief Joseph surrendered his Nez Perce band to the US army. Chief Joseph had negotiated with the federal government to ensure his people, the Wallowa Nez Perce, could stay on their land in the Wallowa Valley, in northeastern Oregon, as stipulated in land treaties with the US government. But, in a reversal of policy in 1877, General Oliver Howard threatened to attack if the Indians did not relocate to an Idaho reservation. Chief Joseph reluctantly agreed. As they began their journey to Idaho, Joseph learned that some young Nez Perce warriors had massacred a group of white settlers. Realizing that peace was no longer possible, the chief joined the rebels and the Nez Perce War began. With 2,000 US soldiers in pursuit, Chief Joseph led fewer than 300 Nez Perce Indians towards freedom at the Canadian border. For over three months, the Nez Perce outmaneuvered and outfought their pursuers, traveling some 1,700 miles across Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, an extraordinary military feat that became known as the Flight of the Nez Perce. Chief Joseph, exhausted and disheartened, surrendered in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana, just 30 miles south of Canada. By that time, more than 200 of his followers had died. Although he had negotiated a safe return home for his people, they were instead taken to Kansas, then later to a reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), and finally to the Colville reservation in Washington State, where Joseph died in 1904.
On this day in 1981, President Sadat of Egypt was assassinated. He died after being shot by gunmen
who opened fire as he watched an aerial display at a military parade. President Sadat was the first Arab leader to
recognize the state of Israel, since its creation in 1948. This earned him many friends in the western world, and
many enemies in the Arab world.
Today is Ivy Day in Ireland, a day of remembrance for Charles Stewart Parnell, who died on this day in 1891. It is called Ivy Day because the mourners at Parnell's funeral wore ivy leaves picked from the trees at the Glasnevin cemetery where he was buried. The day is perhaps best known now from its reference in one of the stories in James Joyce’s “Dubliners”. Parnell was a highly-respected Irish Nationalist politician, who became known as the uncrowned king of Ireland, but whom the Irish turned on (quite brutally) when his scandalous affair with a married woman came to light. Irish independence might have arrived earlier and more peacefully if they had been rather more tolerant of Parnell’s extra-curricular activities.
On this day in 1571,a combined, Holy League fleet commanded by Don John of Austria, defeated the Ottoman
Turks at The Battle of Lepanto. The Holy League, a coalition of Venice, the Papacy, Spain (including
Naples, Sicily and Sardinia), the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Knights of Malta and others, decisively
defeated a force of Ottoman galleys. The future author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, served on one
of the Christian galleys. During the battle, he received a wound that permanently maimed his left hand. He
was always extremely proud of his role in the battle and of the nickname he earned, el manco de Lepanto (the
cripple of Lepanto). The five-hour battle was fought off western Greece, where the Ottoman forces sailing westward
from their naval station in Lepanto met the Holy League forces, which had come from Messina. Victory gave the Holy
League temporary control over the Mediterranean, protected Rome from invasion, and helped prevent Ottoman invaders from
advancing into Europe. This was the last major naval battle to be fought solely between rowing vessels and was one
of the most decisive naval battles in history. The Holy League suffered around 13,000 soldiers, sailors and rowers
dead, but freed about as many Christian prisoners. Turkish casualties were around 25,000, and at least 3,500 were
captured. The engagement was a crushing defeat for the Ottomans and could have spelled the end of their empire.
The reasons it didn’t were that the Christian countries were too busy squabbling among themselves, and the
Venetians were more interested in trade than war, the former being usually more profitable. So the victory was not
followed up and the Ottoman Empire only finally came to an end in the aftermath of World War I. The Holy League
credited the victory at Lepanto to the Virgin Mary, whose intercession for victory they had implored through the use of
the Rosary. And so…
…today is The Feast Day of Our Lady of Victory, to commemorate her intercession in the battle, now celebrated by the Catholic Church as The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
|October 8||On this day in 1918, in the Argonne Forest in France, US Army Corporal Alvin York performed the heroic action for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, the French Legion of Honor, the Croce di Guerra of Italy, the War Medal of Montenegro, and promotion to Sergeant. York was famous for being both a conscientious objector and a hero, in World War I. One of eleven children of a backwoods family, York had acquired marksmanship skills out of the necessity of hunting for food. He received notice to register for the draft in June, 1917. He returned the draft card with the words “Dont want to fight.” He was low on apostrophes but full of conviction, arising from his Christian faith. Alvin filed four appeals, but all were rejected. He was shipped out to France the following year, having never before traveled more than fifty miles from his home. In action in the Meuse-Argonne sector, he led 7 men in an attack on a German machine gun nest, in which 25 German soldiers were killed and 132 captured. By his own account, York was responsible for at least nine of the deaths. York's story was told in the 1941 Howard Hawks movie Sergeant York, with Gary Cooper portraying the title role. York insisted that Cooper should be the actor to portray him. The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Film Editing, and was nominated for several others.|
Today is Independence Day in Uganda, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK on this day
in 1962. The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa, slightly smaller than Oregon, with a
population of 30 million. It is a fertile, well-watered country with many lakes and rivers and substantial natural
resources, including sizable mineral deposits of copper and cobalt. But a series of brutal and repressive
dictatorships, and continual civil and national warfare, have held it back. Life expectancy at birth is around 52
year and the HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is about 4%. Recent progress toward democracy and stability is helping
to turn things around, and Uganda has become one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. Coffee accounts for the
bulk of export revenues. Go there for the Gorilla safaris and the spectacular scenery, but be sure to get your
shots first, and drink only bottled water.
Today is Leif Erikson Day in the US, honoring the Norseman Leif Erikson, who led the first Europeans known to have set foot on North American soil, around the year 1000. Columbus Day falls on the second Monday in October, so today is a timely reminder that Columbus was by no means the first European to explore the Americas.
|October 10||Today is Republic Day in Taiwan, or Taiwan National Day, a national holiday and day of celebration, marking the anniversary of the Chinese Revolution on this day in 1911. Being on 10/10, it is also known as Double Ten Day. It celebrates the start of the Wuch'ang Uprising, which led to the collapse of the Ch'ing Dynasty. Outside Taiwan, Double Ten Day is also celebrated by many overseas Chinese communities, especially by anti-communism groups. Sizable parades are held in the Chinatowns of San Francisco and Chicago. Taiwan is an island in Eastern Asia, north of the Philippines, off the southeastern coast of China. It is one of East Asia's economic ‘Tigers’, with low unemployment and high economic growth. It is about 36,000 square kilometers in area, and is home to 22 million people, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. Life expectancy at birth is around 77 years. Summer is full-blown typhoon season, and the best time to go is December. Go there for the National Parks and, if you are sufficiently reckless, the cuisine, which includes raw meat and fish, and stinky tofu, fermented tofu with a stench of feces and rotting garbage. If you survive that, you might try twice-fermented tofu. If that sounds a bit much, Taiwan McDonald's is famous for its rice burgers.|
Today is National Coming Out Day in the US, intended to give gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender,
transsexual, intersexual and pansexual (I thought I’d made that one up, then discovered there was such a thing) people the
opportunity to ‘come out’ to others about their sexuality. Personally, I’m heterosexual -- I just want more chances
to prove it.
Today is also General Pulaski Memorial Day, a United States holiday in honor of General Kazimierz (Casimir) Pulaski, a Polish hero of the American Revolution who died on this day in 1779. By Presidential Proclamation, this holiday is held every year to commemorate Pulaski’s death at the Siege of Savannah, and to honor the heritage of Polish Americans. Pulaski was a noted military commander in campaigns to free Poland from Russian rule, who had to flee his homeland when things there got too hot for him. He traveled to Paris where he met Benjamin Franklin, and found a demand for his skills in America, where the Revolution was underway. And so, from 1777 until his death at the age of 33, Pulaski fought in the American Revolutionary War. He is known as the "Father of the American Cavalry". He was a noted cavalryman and created Pulaski's Legion, one of the few cavalry regiments in the American Continental Army. He took part in the Battles of Brandywine, Charleston and Savannah. At the Battle of Savannah, on October 9, 1779, Pulaski was wounded in the groin by grapeshot. Two days later, without having regained consciousness, he died of his wounds. In addition to this national day, several regional celebrations honor his memory. There is a Pulaski Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City, usually on the first Sunday in October. Grand Rapids, Michigan, celebrates Pulaski Days on the first full weekend of October. The State of Illinois celebrates Casimir Pulaski Day on the first Monday of March, commemorating his birth. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, holds an annual parade and school holiday in Pulaski’s honor, also in March.
Today is The Day of the Race or Columbus Day in Mexico, and in many other countries in Latin
America, a holiday celebrating the anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Americas on this day in 1492.
It is also celebrated in Spain (see below) and in the Bahamas, where Columbus actually landed. Since 1971,
the holiday has been commemorated in the US on the second Monday in October. Descendants of the aboriginal peoples
of the Americas have taken exception to these celebrations in recent years. After all, it is celebrating the
conquest of the land of their ancestors and the subsequent destruction of their culture and near-annihilation of their
people. Columbus believed that it was possible to reach the East from Europe by sailing westward across the
and that this route would be shorter than traveling around Africa. When he landed in the Bahamas he thought that it
was India, hence the native peoples were referred to as Indians. Because the journey had been much shorter than
expected, he concluded that the Earth could not be spherical, as was thought, but must be ‘squeezed up’ in the north.
He likened it to a woman’s breast, and decided he had just sailed around the ‘nipple’. Only later was it
realized he had happened upon a whole New World, and the planet reverted to its previous, much less interesting shape.
And this is National Day in Spain, a national holiday celebrating the arrival of Columbus in the Americas, which is rather odd when you consider that Columbus was Italian and that no part of the Americas belongs to Spain any more. Slightly more than twice the size of Oregon, Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe (behind France), with a population of around 40 million. In recent decades, it has had strong economic growth, and now boasts the ninth largest economy in the world. Everywhere you go in Spain, they seem to be building something. Spain has more than its fair share of territorial disputes, with Basque separatists over home rule, with Britain over Gibraltar, with Morocco over various coastal enclaves, islands and surrounding waters, and with Portugal over the territory of Olivenza. Go to Spain for the sunshine, the cheap, excellent wines, the art and architecture, the beaches and golf courses. But be sure to ask for real Spanish food and not the tourist fodder, when you dine out, otherwise they’ll give you the burgers and fries they think you want. Best of all, go down the backstreets and find a real tapas bar.
|October 13||The Miracle of the Sun occurred on this day in 1917, near Fátima, Portugal. Thousands of people were gathered, expecting to witness a miracle courtesy of Our Lady of Fatima - an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary - as predicted by three young shepherd children, to whom Mary had earlier appeared. They got their miracle and then some. The event began with rain, this being autumn in Portugal. The clouds then broke up, to reveal the sun, not bright and dazzling, but subdued enough to stare at, and silver in color. The sun proceeded to spin in the sky, and then to dance or zigzag, radiating a kaleidoscopic display of multicolored lights. It appeared to approach the Earth, creating intense heat. The crowd, and the ground they stood on, which had been soaked by the rain, became suddenly dry. The display lasted approximately ten minutes, was observed up to forty miles away, and was witnessed by up to 100,000 people. Scientists report no unusual solar or other astronomic activity during this time. The event has been accepted as a miracle by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Portuguese tourist industry.|
On this day in 1066, there occurred undoubtedly the most famous, arguably the most important, and certainly the most
calamitous event in English history. A group of my ancestors, honest Anglo-Saxon folk all, were defeated at
The Battle of Hastings by an invading force of savage and cunning Normans, led by Duke William the
Bastard. The battle was fought not at Hastings but at Battle, or Senlac Hill as it was then called, 7 miles from
Hastings. The English had fought a hard battle at Stamford Bridge, against Norwegian invaders, just 3 weeks
previously and had then endured a forced march south to meet this new threat. The resultant depletion in their
strength, and the cavalry force that the Normans fielded, ensured that the wrong side won. Admittedly, the fact
that the English spent the night preceding the battle singing bawdy songs and drinking ale and wine might also have
contributed. The courage and fighting spirit of the English warriors ensured that the battle went their way at
first, but then some of the men broke ranks, to pursue the fleeing enemy. Thus fragmented, the English forces
became easy targets for the Norman cavalry. The archers finished the job, shooting high over the shield wall to the
massed rear ranks of the English. It was in one of these volleys that the English King, Harold II, caught an arrow
in the eye and died. With the help of reinforcements from across the Channel, William went on to complete his
conquest, and was crowned King of England on Christmas day, 1066. The English that you have met and liked are
directly descended from the vanquished Anglo-Saxons. The parasitic upper class variety, who treat you with contempt
and speak through their noses, are actually thirty-first generation Norman French.
And on this day in 1947, American test pilot Chuck Yeager flew a Bell X-1 faster than the speed of sound, the first man to do so in level flight, at what is now Edwards Air Force Base, in California. At least, it is officially accepted as the first verified supersonic flight. As usual in such matters, there are other claimants.
On this day in 1997, Royal Air Force pilot Andy Green drove a British designed and built jet-propelled car called
ThrustSSC at a speed of 763 mph, at Black Rock Desert, NV. It thus broke the sound barrier, the
first time a land vehicle had officially done so.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Teresa of Avila, Patron Saint of headache sufferers, who died on this day in 1582. It is not known for certain whether she died during the night of October 4, or early the next morning. If the latter, it would have been October 15, because she died just as Catholic nations were making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, which required the loss of 11 days. Teresa, whose most famous saying is, "Lord, either let me suffer or let me die," was called to saintly endeavors early, for at the age of 7 she and her brother left home with the intention of going to Moorish territory, ‘to be beheaded for Christ’, but their uncle intercepted them as they were leaving the city and brought them home. Shortly after becoming a nun at age 19, Teresa came down with severe malaria. During this illness, she began to experience divine visions and mystical experiences. She recovered to find that the other nuns had given up on her and had dug her grave. She went on to become a tireless and troublesome reformer. Meanwhile, her mysticism continued apace. At times, she was so filled with divine grace that her body would spontaneously levitate. When she felt that happening, she would ask other nuns to sit on her to prevent her floating away. But her mystical highlight was receiving the transverberation which, to save you looking it up, means an angel pierced her heart with a golden dart. “So great was the pain” she said, “That it made me moan, and so utter the sweetness this keenest of pains gave me, that there was no wanting it to stop.” Bernini's famous sculpture, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, depicts this event. Saints are rarely allowed to rest in peace, and nine months after burial, her body was exhumed and, though her clothes had rotted, her body was incorrupt. Her heart was removed and placed in a jeweled silver reliquary. It can still be seen (together with one of her arms) complete with wounds from the Angel’s dart, above the church altar at the Carmelite Convent of Alba de Tormes in Spain. At the nearby Convent of Saint Teresa, in Ávila, built on her birthplace, you can see a finger from her right hand and a cord she used to flagellate herself.
Today is Boss's Day. Most bosses are kind enough to allow you to prepare gifts, cards and other
treats for them on this day, provided of course that you do it in your own time.
On this day in 1978, Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. He was the first non-Italian Pope for more than 400 years, and the only Polish pope. His nearly 27 years term of office was among the longest in the history of the Church.
Today is also the Feast Day of Saint Gerard Majella, who died on this day in 1755, aged just 30. Gerard was a Thaumaturge, or wonder-worker, a saint who works miracles not just occasionally, but routinely. He was born in Muro Lucano, south of Naples, Italy, in 1726. As a child of five, when he would go to pray before a statue of the Virgin and Child, the Infant Jesus would descend to present him with a bun. But the most famous of Gerard’s miracles occurred when a construction worker fell from a scaffolding. Gerard had been forbidden by his Superior to work any more miracles without permission, so he stopped the man in mid-air, bidding him wait until he had obtained permission to save him. He received it, and the man descended gently to the ground. Gerard also had the gift of bilocation, being in two places at once. It looked like he had been into too many places at once, when he was named by a pregnant woman as being the father of her child, but she later admitted the accusation was false. He is thus, among other things, Patron Saint of unborn children, expectant mothers, and falsely accused people.
|October 17||On this day in 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake (7.1 on the Richter scale) hit the San Francisco Bay Area. The earthquake occurred when the Pacific and North American tectonic plates abruptly slipped as much as 2 meters (7 ft) along the San Andreas fault. The rupture extended 35 km (22 miles) along the fault, but did not break the surface of the Earth. It struck at 5:04 pm, and lasted approximately 15 seconds. The quake killed about 60 people throughout central California, injured over 3,000 and left more than 12,000 homeless. Property damage was estimated at $5.9 billion, making it the most costly natural disaster in the United States up to that time. The earthquake occurred during the warm up for the third game of the 1989 World Series, which happened to feature both of the Bay Area's Major League Baseball teams, the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants. This meant that there was less traffic than usual on the freeways, because so many people had returned home early to watch the game on television, and so the death toll was much less than it could have been. Another consequence was that this was the first major earthquake in the US to be broadcast on live television. Also, the Goodyear blimp, in San Francisco to cover the World Series, was the first blimp to be airborne over the location of a major earthquake. The blimp bounced during the quake, confirming the theory that the air column above an earthquake is affected by the movement of the ground underneath. Once the quake ended, the blimp became very useful to emergency workers, by providing an aerial view of what was happening. It was the blimp crew that reported the collapse of a section of the Bay Bridge, one of the most spectacular results of the quake.|
Today is Alaska Day, a legal holiday in the state of Alaska. It is the anniversary of the formal
transfer of the Alaska territory from Russia to the US following the Alaska Purchase, which took place at a
flag-raising ceremony at Sitka on this day in 1867. The price paid was 7.2 million dollars, or 2 cents per acre.
Nowadays, a house in Frost Street, Sitka, can cost you half a million bucks. In area, Sitka is the largest
city in the US, at 2,874 square miles. The population density is about 3 people per square mile. So, plenty
of room to hoist a flag. Talking of which...
…on this day in 1898, US troops fighting the Spanish-American War raised the American flag in Puerto Rico, formalizing control of the former Spanish colony. Puerto Rico never gained its independence, and remains a Commonwealth territory of the United States.
Today is also the Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist, an early Christian who is said to be the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, the third and fifth books of the New Testament. He was probably Gentile, and if so, is the only non-Jewish author in the Bible. He is thought also to have been a physician and a painter, and so is Patron Saint of both those occupations.
|October 19||On this day in 1781, a British force of over 8,000 men, commanded by General Charles Cornwallis, surrendered to the American revolutionists at Yorktown, Virginia, effectively ending the American War of Independence. The Battle of Yorktown was a decisive victory by a combined assault of French forces led by General Comte de Rochambeau and American forces led by General George Washington. The loyalist and rebel forces in the south had fought a series of engagements that ended with Cornwallis leading his battered troops into Yorktown in late summer pursued by a force led by the Marquis de Lafayette, a French ally of the Americans. The commanders on the Revolutionist side seemed reluctant to take the credit for the victory. The Marquis de Lafayette could have pressed the attack earlier, but chose to wait until General Comte de Rochambeau could arrive and take command and therefore have the glory. And when Charles O'Hara from the British side attempted to surrender to Rochambeau, the latter directed him to George Washington, who in turn steered the British officer to his own second in command, Major General Benjamin Lincoln, who finally accepted the surrender -- otherwise it could have gone on all day, with the British eventually surrendering to the cook.|
|October 20||On this day in 1984, the Monterey Bay Aquarium opened in Monterey Bay, California, and you really should go there. It’s in Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s classic novel. Don’t expect the working class area Steinbeck wrote about -- it’s all upscale now. But expect to be impressed by a very serious aquarium as wildlife center, with some splendid tuna, (which are what was canned). The great thing about it is the way the bay itself is an extension of the aquarium. Trust me, Monterey is a place to visit. Best of all, go there around Thanksgiving, when the Monarch butterflies are there.|
On this day in 1805, during the Napoleonic Wars, a British fleet led by Admiral Lord Nelson defeated a combined
French and Spanish fleet off the coast of Spain under Admiral Villeneuve, at the Battle of Trafalgar. It
was perhaps the most momentous military victory in British history, signaling the end of French maritime power and leaving
Britain as the World’s supreme naval power until the twentieth century. Involving 32 British ships against 23
French and 15 Spanish ships, Trafalgar was a close fleet action. Ships maneuvered up to the enemy and
delivered broadsides at point blank range. To take full advantage of the close range, guns were double-shotted with
grape shot on top of the ball. The crews in some French ships were unable to face this, and closed their gun ports
to escape the fire. The strategy employed by Nelson, of sailing in lines perpendicular to the enemy lines, instead
of drawing up parallel to them, was bold and innovative, and had much to do with the outcome. Nelson remained
conspicuously on the deck of his flagship, HMS Victory, and was fatally wounded by a French sniper. Just
before he died, Captain Hardy (an ancestor of Oliver Hardy, by the way) reported to Nelson that the battle was won.
In memory of this great victory…
…today is Trafalgar Day in Britain. It is widely celebrated in Australia, also. The battle having been so important, and Nelson having been such a national hero, the day was widely commemorated by parades and other events throughout much of the British Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Somehow, the taste for celebrating warfare waned after World War I, but the bicentennial in 2005 was once again a huge event.
October 22, 4004 BC was The Day the Universe Was Created according to Archbishop James Ussher, following
Bible texts. Ussher reckoned this was a Saturday, but that work began at nightfall, which counts as the next day.
So the Big Bang's Birthday celebrations should start tonight and go through to the 23rd.
Coincidentally, this was also the day, in 1844, when the world was supposed to end. William Miller (1782 - 1849), an American Baptist preacher, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, based his prediction on Daniel 8-9. He calculated the year, but forbore to name an actual day. However, other Biblical researches helped him out and came up with October 22 as the appointment for the Second Advent of Christ, and Miller agreed that that would indeed be the day. Thus began The Great Anticipation for some 5,000 of his followers, known as Millerites. Alas, it was promptly followed on October 23 by The Great Disappointment. One can understand their chagrin, and they were not to be consoled with the usual, “Cheer up -- it’s not the end of the world”. Although this failure resulted in an inevitable dropping off of support for Miller, some followers were undaunted. A disciple of Miller's called Jonathan Cummings recalculated the year of destruction as 1854, for which he should surely be known as ‘Second Cummings’. And among Miller’s spiritual heirs today are several major religious denominations including Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses.
On this day in 1956, The Hungarian Revolution began, a spontaneous nationwide uprising against the
Communist government of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policies. It began as a student demonstration, which was
fired upon by the State Security Police. The news spread quickly and disorder and violence erupted throughout the
capital. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand an end to Soviet rule. The revolt spread
across Hungary, and the government fell. Imre Nagy was re-instated as prime minister and formed a government which
was dedicated to freeing the country from Soviet communism. Soviet troops began pulling out of the Hungarian
capital on October 30, and many Hungarians believed the struggle was won. But, on November 4, the Soviet leader
Nikita Khrushchev, sent in tanks and troops in a ruthless crackdown. By November 10, it was all over.
Thousands of Hungarians had been killed or wounded, and another 200,000 fled the country. Imre Nagy had taken
refuge in the Yugoslav embassy but was abducted by Soviet agents. He was executed in 1958 after a secret trial in
Budapest in which he was accused of high treason. Thousands were executed or imprisoned under Janos Kadar's puppet
regime. Hungary remained under Soviet control until the collapse of communism in 1989.
Saint John Capistran died on this day in 1456. He was a lawyer turned Franciscan Friar turned Crusader. He preached a Crusade against the Muslim Turks, and fought in the battle of Belgrade in the summer of 1456, helping achieve victory, but dying in the field a few months later. Today is the supposed departure date of the swallows from San Juan Capistrano, in southern California, a beautiful town named in the Saint’s honor. (See March 19).
Today is United Nations Day. UN resolution 2782 (XXVI) requires that Member States observe this as
a public holiday, but before you complain to your employer, remember that this is only a UN resolution -- nobody is
expected to actually do it.
Also, today is Independence Day in Zambia, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK on this day in 1964. Under British rule, it was known as Northern Rhodesia. A landlocked Southern African country, slightly larger than Texas, Zambia has a population of about 11.5 million. The Zambezi River forms a natural boundary with Zimbabwe, the former Southern Rhodesia. And on the Zambezi you will find the Victoria Falls. The falls are the largest in the world -- not the highest, nor the widest, but they do form the largest sheet of falling water in the world. Scottish explorer David Livingstone was the first European to see them, and he named them after Queen Victoria. The Zambian economy has historically been based on the copper mining industry, so its prosperity depends on world copper prices. As a result, Zambia is now among the world's poorest and least developed nations. Around two-thirds of the population live on less than a dollar a day, and so are poorer than at independence. The unemployment rate is around 50%. The HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is 17%, and life expectancy at birth is about 38 years. Go there to see the Falls and go on safari, but make sure you take really good insurance cover.
On this day in 1415, The Battle of Agincourt was fought in northern France as part of the Hundred Years'
War. An exhausted, sick and starving English army led by King Henry V was trying to get back to Calais and thence
to England. They were intercepted by a French army, fresh, better armed and greatly outnumbering them. The
English had marched 260 miles in 17 days, and were in poor shape. They numbered 5000 archers and 900 men-at-arms,
and the French had some 20-30,000 men, including cavalry. At dawn, both armies laid out their forces near their
respective camps, about a mile apart. The plain between the armies was a gently rolling field, freshly ploughed,
only about 900 yards wide. It had been raining continuously for two weeks, and the ground had been reduced to a sea
of mud. This was the undoing of the French. Crammed into this space, the advancing soldiers were literally
falling over one another. They had no room to employ their weapons. The arrows from the English longbows
dealt terrible damage, and caused the French horses to turn and retreat in panic, crushing soldiers as they went.
The barefoot, lightly armored English soldiers were more mobile in these conditions than the heavily armored French, who
were falling into the deep mud and drowning. Estimates of French losses range widely but were probably 7-10,000.
In addition, about 1500 prisoners, all nobility, were taken to England. The English lost perhaps as few as
100 men. Agincourt was a devastating blow to the French military, and it took them many years to recover from it.
In his play Henry V, Shakespeare has the king give a marvelous speech to his troops before the battle,
including the lines…
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd…
…for today is the Feast Day of Saints Crispin and Crispinian. These saints were removed from the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar during the Vatican II reforms, on the basis that they never existed, but that was hardly their fault. The feast remains on the calendars of some other churches. They are Patron Saints of cobblers, tanners, and leather workers. Born to a noble Roman family in the third century AD, Crispin and Crispinian were twin brothers who preached Christianity to the Gauls by day and made shoes by night. They were either very effective preachers or appallingly bad cobblers, because the governor of Belgic Gaul grew very annoyed with them and had them tortured and beheaded.
On this day in 1881, in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, USA, the Gunfight at the OK Corral took place.
The brothers Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp, together with their good friend Doc Holliday (is there anything more
terrifying than a dentist with an attitude?) fought Frank and Tom McLaury, Ike and Billy Clanton, and Billy Claiborne.
Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed. Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday were
wounded. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran away from the fight, unharmed, and lived to get shot dead another day.
Trouble had been brewing between the two groups for a long time. The Earps represented the establishment,
and were often accused of abusing their power. The other faction were the ‘Cowboys’, often complained of as being
rowdy and lawless. Virgil Earp was the City Marshal and Deputy US marshal for the area, and Morgan Earp was also a
City Marshal, but neither Wyatt Earp nor Doc Holliday were law officers, and had no real business being involved.
The two were later charged with murder, but not indicted. Who was to blame for the gunfight and who precisely did
what to whom are topics that have sustained historical controversy, and Tombstone’s tourist industry, to this day.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Alfred the Great, who died on this day in 899. Alfred was King of England and his reign did much to define the culture and political geography of the country. He fought successfully against Danish invaders, introduced political and economic reforms, and initiated a revival of learning. His feast day should be an English national holiday, but first there would have to be an English nation again.
Today is Independence Day in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a national holiday celebrating
independence from the UK on this day in 1962. The celebrations take place throughout most of the month, but are not
always very exciting. The Independence Motorcycle Ride is a highlight, if you’re a bike fan. Saint
Vincent and the Grenadines is a group of islands between the Caribbean and North Atlantic, north of Trinidad and Tobago,
with an area twice the size of Washington, DC. It remains within the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Natural hazards include hurricanes and the continually threatening Soufriere volcano, the highest peak on Saint
Vincent. The population of 120,000, faced with an unemployment rate of 15% and much underemployment, is declining
through emigration. Agriculture, dominated by banana production, but also including coconuts, sweet potatoes and
spices, is the most important sector of this poor economy. Saint Vincent is also a significant producer of
marijuana. Tourism is important, especially in the Grenadines. Go to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for
the beaches, scuba diving and snorkeling -- or the bananas, bikes and bongs.
Today is also Independence Day in Turkmenistan, a national holiday celebrating independence from the Soviet Union on this day in 1991. This country slightly larger than California has a population of 5 million. It borders both Iran and Afghanistan and has large oil reserves, and the world's fifth-largest reserves of natural gas. Why doesn’t it therefore attract more attention from the US? Let’s build bridges with them now, rather than bomb their bridges in the years to come.
|October 28||On this day in 312, The Battle of the Milvian Bridge took place, 4 miles outside Rome, between the Roman Emperors Constantine I and Maxentius. Constantine won the battle and killed Maxentius, and started on the path that led him to become sole ruler of the Roman Empire, a career that would earn him the title of Constantine the Great and a sainthood in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Maxentius was safely holed up in Rome, but chose to come out and meet his rival in front of the Milvian Bridge, a stone bridge across the Tiber River. The army of Maxentius came a poor second in the ensuing battle and Maxentius himself was among the dead, having drowned in the river while trying to swim across it back to safety. His head was paraded through the city during Constantine's entry into Rome as proof of his death. The victory at Milvian Bridge was of huge significance, because Constantine - believing that the Christian God had been instrumental in the victory - adopted his wife Helena’s religion of Christianity, and subsequently promoted the religion throughout the Empire. Thus did Christianity begin its major role on the world stage.|
|October 29||Today is Republic Day in Turkey, a national holiday celebrating the founding of modern Turkey in 1923. Turkey was created from the remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire by national hero Mustafa Kemal, who was later honored with the title Ataturk or "Father of the Turks". I have to say, I cannot hear his name without thinking of it as ‘Must ‘ave a camel’ and I cannot help being reminded of the comic book character from my childhood, Mustafa Fag. But that just goes to show how essentially trivial I am. Slightly larger than Texas, with a population of 71 million, Turkey straddles Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia, bordering the Black Sea, between Bulgaria and Georgia, and bordering the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, between Greece and Syria. This country is partly in Europe, partly in Asia -- partly in the modern world, partly in the medieval. Go there for the belly dancing and to visit the Topkapi museum in Istanbul, but be sure to stay on the right side of the law. And don’t mention the Greeks. I mentioned them once, but I think I got away with it.|
|October 30||On this day in 1938, Orson Welles’s radio play version of HG Wells's The War of the Worlds was broadcast . It was a production of the excellent Mercury Theatre on the Air. Part of the play consisted of mock news reports of a Martian invasion, which some listeners took for the real thing. In the following days, the newspapers reported that there had been widespread panic, with crowds filling the streets, but it’s unclear how much of that is true, if any. All the fuss didn’t stop someone picking up sponsorship for The Mercury Theatre. Campbell’s Soup became the sponsor in December of that year, and the show was renamed The Campbell Playhouse (I wonder if they added canned laughter, or used condensed storylines).|
These are the three most cheerfully morbid days of the year. No doubt the theme suits the autumn
season, being a time of mellowness, decay and a distant promise of new life.
The Mexican festival, at least in Mexico itself, is spread over the 3 days. In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors deceased children, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2.
Today is Hallowe'en, the eve of All Hallows. Celebrations include dressing up and
decorating workplaces with ghoulish and ghostly paraphernalia. Witches, black cats and grinning skeletons are the
order of the day. In the evening, fancy dress parties are popular -- children ‘trick or treating’ are less so, if
you're on the receiving end. The traditions were taken from the British Isles to America and some other parts of
the world, in the nineteenth century. Attempts to introduce the festival into France in modern times have proved
markedly unsuccessful. In many workplaces in Britain these days, Hallowe’en practices are often discouraged,
because Christians find the Pagan - and sometimes Satanic - references distasteful and blasphemous. Such reactions
are rarer in the US. In some ways, it is seen in the US as the start of the festive season, because Thanksgiving is
about a month away and Christmas/New Year about a month after that. Hallowe'en is derived from...
...Samhain, the Ancient Celtic festival marking the death of the year (not the birth of the next). Samhain begins this evening and continues through to November 1, the first day of the Celtic year.
|Today is All Hallows Day or the Feast of All Saints, a hallow being a saint. The feast is recognized by all Christian Churches, but in the Eastern sects it is a moveable feast, celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost. Every day of the year has its saint or martyr, of whom there are so many that some will find themselves overlooked, without a specific day, so today is an all-embracing celebration of the whole saintly shebang, to ensure that no one gets left out. Traditions include bringing flowers and candles to the graves of dead relatives.||The association of this time of year with death is very widespread throughout the northern hemisphere. In Finnish, November is called marraskuu, meaning "the dead month" or "month of the dead".|
Today is All Souls Day, known to generations of British choirboys as Arse 'oles Day, a joke best
avoided in today's Roman Catholic church. In Christian tradition, this is a day for remembering those departed who
were less than saints (who had their day yesterday). Prayers and offerings, it is hoped, will increase their
chances of a better afterlife. The Pagan roots of this festival are most obvious in the belief - in many cultures -
that the spirits of the departed visit their former homes on this day, and partake of the food that is left out for them.
Today is also The Day of the Dead, Día de los Muertos in Mexico. The Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated mainly in Mexico and in the Mexican immigrant communities in the US, with variations of it also observed in other Latin American countries and other parts of the world. It is a major event here in Los Angeles. It is celebratory, not mournful. Sugar candy skulls set the mood. A time to light candles and offer flowers, at graves and domestic altars. A time to remember that death is part of life, the very part that gives it meaning.
This is also Dia de Finados (Day of the Dead), in Brazil, a public holiday celebrating dead ancestors. Many Brazilians visit cemeteries and churches on this day. It is much more subdued and solemn than the Mexican or other Day of the Dead celebrations. Of course, the equator passes through northern Brazil, so I’m not sure how strong the association with autumnal changes can be.
Six US Presidential elections have been held on this day: 1852 Franklin Pierce, 1880 James A. Garfield, 1920 Warren G. Harding, 1948 Harry S. Truman, 1976 Jimmy Carter and 2004 George W. Bush.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Winifred. Winifred was a beautiful 7th century daughter of a Welsh
nobleman, and the niece of Saint Beuno. She rejected the advances of a suitor, Caradoc, so he decapitated her.
Her severed head rolled some distance, and where it came to rest, a spring appeared. These healing waters
are now a shrine called Saint Winifred’s Well, in Holywell, Wales. It has become a great pilgrimage center
where many cures have been reported over the centuries. There exist surprisingly full records of the cures effected
there, including for dropsy, paralysis, gout, blindness, a sore tongue, and melancholy. Most usefully, the water
has been known to restore virginity. As for Winifred herself, her head was reattached by Beuno, and he must have
done a good job of it, for she went on to become a nun and eventually Abbess of the convent at Gwytherin in Denbighshire.
And as for Caradoc, he was cursed by Beuno and melted into the ground. Winifred is often depicted in art
carrying her head. She is Patron Saint of North Wales.
Today is also Culture Day in Japan, a national holiday. It was originally the celebration of the birthday of the Emperor Meiji, and was continued as Culture Day after he died. The Order of Culture Awards ceremony, for people who have made outstanding contributions to Japanese culture and society, is held in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on this day, with the Emperor himself presenting the awards.
And today is also Panama Independence Day, a national holiday celebrating independence from Colombia on this day in 1903.
And also Dominica Independence Day. On this day in 1978 Dominica gained its independence from Great Britain and became an independent republic within the Commonwealth.
Six US Presidential elections have been held on this day: 1868 Ulysses S. Grant, 1896 William McKinley, 1908 William Howard Taft, 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson, 1992 William J. Clinton.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Clarus. Born in England, Clarus went to Normandy, France, where he
became a Benedictine monk, and lived as a hermit. When he rejected the advances of a noblewoman, she had him killed
and beheaded. It seems to be the season for that kind of thing. See
Unlike Winifred, Clarus had no handy family member who was adept at replacing severed heads.
Six US Presidential elections have been held on this day: 1856 James Buchanan, 1884 Grover Cleveland, 1924 Calvin Coolidge, 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1980 Ronald Reagan, 2008 Barack Obama. In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter by a wide margin. At the age of 69, Reagan was the oldest person to become President. He was also the only American president to have been divorced.
And on this day in 1991, former President Ronald Reagan opened his library in Simi Valley, California. The dedication ceremonies were the first time in US history that five Presidents gathered together in the same place: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. Six First Ladies also attended: Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush. Whatever you think of the man’s politics, you should visit the library, which is in a very beautiful setting and now boasts Air Force One.
Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night in Britain (and in
New Zealand and other former colonies). It celebrates the execution (now isn't that nice?) of Fawkes, who attempted
to assassinate King James I. As he was found in the cellar of the Parliament building with 36 barrels of gunpowder,
and he was not an ex-football player and movie star, his chances of acquittal were never good. It was a
religiously-motivated crime, James being a Protestant and Fawkes and his fellow conspirators being Roman Catholic, and in
the early years the Bonfire Night festivities were avowedly anti-Papist, which is why they are never marked in Northern
Ireland, where they have enough problems in that regard already, thank you very much. That religious aspect is long
forgotten among the British celebrants, who just see it as an opportunity to terrorize pets and old people with very loud
firecrackers. An effigy of Fawkes is burned atop the bonfires, things that are bad for you are eaten and drunk, the
ER is packed with burns victims and everyone says it's about time the whole thing was scrapped. My most treasured
memory of this night is of a drunken reveller who decided to launch a firework from out of his ass (I kid you not).
He suffered severe internal injuries.
Five US Presidential elections have been held on this day.
Today is Saxophone Day, this being the day, in 1814, when its inventor, Adolphe Sax was born. It
is the only woodwind that has never been made of wood. Although made of brass, it is a member of the woodwind
family, like the clarinet. Sax wanted an instrument that would produce a sound somewhere between that of the
clarinet and the trumpet, for use mostly in marching bands. It has become especially popular among jazz musicians.
To learn how good the jazz saxophone can sound, listen to John Coltrane. To learn how bad it can sound,
listen to Kenny G.
Six US Presidential elections have been held on this day. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln (Republican) was elected with just 40% of the popular vote, the rest being divided among his 3 opponents. The election set the stage for the American Civil War. In 1888, Benjamin Harrison (Republican) defeated incumbent President Grover Cleveland (Democrat) despite receiving slightly less of the popular vote than his opponent, because he received the greater number of electoral votes. (A similar thing happened in 1876 and would happen again in 2000). In 1900, Republican President William McKinley (Republican) won a solid victory over his challenger, William Jennings Bryan (Democrat). In 1928, Herbert Hoover (Republican) won a landslide victory over Al Smith (Democrat). In 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican) successfully ran for re-election, easily defeating Adlai Stevenson (Democrat). And in 1984, incumbent President Ronald Reagan (Republican) defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale, (Democrat). Reagan carried 49 of the 50 states. Mondale's only electoral votes came from his home state of Minnesota.
|We are midway between equinox and solstice. Threats of winter are in the air, in the northern hemisphere, promises of summer in the southern.|
The Battle of Tippecanoe was fought on this day in 1811, between US forces led by William Henry Harrison,
and forces of Tecumseh's American Indian confederation.
Six US Presidential elections have been held on this day. In 1848, Mexican-American War General Zachary Taylor (Whig), defeated Lewis Cass (Democrat). Taylor won less than half of the popular vote, but Democrats were divided over the question of whether slavery should be extended to the territories newly-won from Mexico, and so a third party, the anti-slavery Free Soil Party, diverted votes from the Democratic ticket. Taylor's victory made him one of only two Whigs to be elected President before the party ceased to exist in the 1850s, the other one being William Henry Harrison, who had also been a general and war hero. In 1876, Rutherford Hayes (Republican) defeated Samuel J. Tilden (Democrat) by 1 electoral vote, and became President despite having lost the popular vote. The deciding electoral vote was South Carolina, which Hayes won by 889 votes, making this the second-closest election in US history, after the 2000 election, which was decided by 537 votes in Florida. In 1916, incumbent President Woodrow Wilson (Democrat) defeated Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes (Republican), by a narrow margin. On election night, there were delays in election returns, and it appeared that Hughes had won. Late editions of several New York newspapers carried a headline announcing his 'victory'. In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democrat) won a record fourth term, defeating Thomas E. Dewey (Republican). In 1972, incumbent President Richard M. Nixon (Republican) won the election in a landslide against George McGovern (Democrat), with a more than 20% margin of victory in the popular vote, the second largest such margin in Presidential election history. And in 2000, George W. Bush (Republican) gained the US Presidency over incumbent Vice President Al Gore (Democrat), despite Gore narrowly winning the popular vote. It took a US Supreme Court intervention and two months of bitter wrangling, before a new Bush could be planted in the White House.
On this day in 1889, Montana became the 41st US state. The state nickname is the Big Sky
Country, although it also goes by the names Treasure State, Land of Shining Mountains, and the
last best place. Montana ranks as the 4th largest state in area (after Alaska, Texas and California), but only
44th in population, having the third lowest population density in the United States, after Alaska and Wyoming. The
economy is primarily based on agriculture, lumber and mineral extraction. Tourism is also important to the economy,
with millions of visitors every year to Glacier National Park, the Battle of Little Bighorn site, and
three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park (which is mostly in Wyoming). Montana has yielded
some of the world's most significant dinosaur discoveries, and the state has established The Montana Dinosaur
Trail, a series of 15 museums and field stations throughout the state.
Six US Presidential elections have been held on this day. In 1864, incumbent Presidential Abraham Lincoln, running on a Coalition ticket, won a landslide victory over George B. McClellan (Democrat). The Civil War was in its final stages and it was apparent that Lincoln was leading the Union to victory. Of course, only the Union states voted in this election. In 1892, Grover Cleveland (Democrat) defeated incumbent President Benjamin Harrison (Republican), becoming the only person to be elected to non-consecutive Presidential terms. In 1904, Incumbent President Theodore Roosevelt (Republican), who had succeeded to the Presidency following William McKinley's assassination, easily won against Alton Brooks Parker (Democrat), thus becoming the first ‘accidental’ President to do so. Other candidates included Silas Comfort Swallow (Prohibitionist). In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democrat) won a landslide victory over incumbent President Herbert Hoover, during the Great Depression. In 1960, John F. Kennedy (Democrat) defeated Richard Nixon (Republican), mostly because Nixon’s stubbly chin looked bad on television. Kennedy won by a margin of only 0.2%, so he had a close shave. And in 1988, George H. W. Bush (Republican) defeated Michael Dukakis (Democrat) by a wide margin.
|Today is Independence Day in Cambodia, a national holiday celebrating independence from France, on this day in 1953. Four decades of devastating wars followed independence, before a stable democracy emerged. Roughly the size of Oklahoma, situated between Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos, Cambodia has a population of 14 million, more than 50% of which is less than 21 years old. It has to cope with monsoonal rains in the summer months, and occasional droughts. It also suffers a quite nasty HIV adult prevalence rate of nearly 3%. Economically, Cambodia still has a long way to go, but oil and gas finds, increased foreign investment and a booming tourist industry have all ensured impressive growth in recent years. Go there to see the temple of Angkor Wat, and to eat deep-fried spider, but watch out for landmines and try to avoid the monsoons.|
On this day in 1871, Henry Morton Stanley located missing explorer and missionary, Dr. David Livingstone in
Ujiji, near Lake Tanganyika, saying "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" Stanley thought this very much
the style of a nonchalant British gentleman, but it was widely ridiculed, in the press and on the Music Hall stage, and he
came to regret saying it. Being of very lowly origins, an appearance of gentility was important to him.
Stanley was born in Wales but emigrated to America, where he fought on both sides in the Civil War. He became a
journalist, employed by James Gordon Bennett Jr. (from whom the popular British exclamation Gordon
Bennett! derives). It was Bennett who sponsored Stanley’s costly expedition.
And on this day in 1975, the bulk freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank during a severe storm on Lake Superior, killing all 29 crew on board. The huge vessel sank very quickly, before the Captain could even issue a distress signal. Gordon Lightfoot's wonderful song, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", helped make the incident enduringly famous.
|Remembrance Day in Commonwealth countries, Veterans' Day in the US, Armistice Day in France and Belgium, and similar Days elsewhere, all marking the end of World War I at 11:00 on this day in 1918 (The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month). The agreement was actually signed at 05:00, and I don't know why they didn't stop it there and then. I mean, how many soldiers died because they were facing an enemy whose clock was slow?|
|On this day in 1970, the Oregon Highway Division attempted to destroy a rotting, beached Sperm whale with half a ton of dynamite. After some debate about what to do with the 45 foot, 8 ton carcass on a beach near Florence, it was decided to use 20 cases of explosives to break the whale into small pieces, which scavengers would then consume. A crowd of curious onlookers had assembled, at what they thought was a safe distance, to observe the explosion. The dynamite succeeded in blowing a hole in the whale, leaving most of it intact, but sending huge lumps of whale flesh high into the air. One chunk landed on a parked car over a quarter of a mile from the blast, destroying it. Imagine the insurance claim -- “Hit by flying blubber”. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but most of those present were covered with small particles of dead whale.|
This is the Memorial Day of Saint Brice, or Bricius, who was a Bishop of Tours, in the fourth and fifth
centuries. Bricius was prone to worldly pleasures. After a nun in his household gave birth to a
child that was rumored to be his, he performed a ritual by carrying hot coal in his coat pocket, showing his unburned coat
as proof of his innocence. The honest people of Tours were unimpressed by the trick and forced him to leave the
city. He travelled to Rome, repented of his sins, received forgiveness, and was reinstated. He relapsed,
re-repented, was reforgiven and re-reinstated a couple more times before he was finally through with this life and its
In 1002, King Ethelred of England celebrated this day by killing all the Danes in the country. The Saint Brice's Day Massacre, as it became known, did little to improve relations between England and Denmark and led to an invasion by Sweyn Forkbeard (father of the famous King Canute), who was especially peeved as his sister Gunhilde had been among those murdered. By the end of 1013, Forkbeard had been accepted as king in England, and Ethelred had fled to Normandy.
On this day in 1940, during World War II, German war planes destroyed most of the English city of
Coventry. About 500 Luftwaffe bombers bombed Coventry in a massive raid which lasted 11 hours and
left much of the city devastated. The bombing began at 7:20 in the evening and continued until dawn the next day.
It is not known exactly how many people died in the raid but it was at least 500 and may have been as many as a
1000. Many hundreds more were injured. The amazing thing is that the figures are not much higher, given the
extent of the destruction. There were thousands of homes destroyed, and three-quarters of the city's factories were
damaged. The medieval heart of the city, including the magnificent Cathedral, was totally destroyed. The
ruins of the Cathedral - skeletal and grim - have been left as a garden of remembrance , and a reminder of the horrors of
war. Alongside, stands the new cathedral, with its wonderful sculpture, St. Michael's Victory over the
Devil, by Sir Jacob Epstein.
Today is Children's Day in India. The first Prime Minister of India, following independence, was Pandit Nehru, who was born on this day in 1889. Nehru was fond of children, so his birthday seemed a good date to celebrate Children’s Day. Many countries have a day celebrating childhood at about this time of year.
Today is Shichi-Go-San (Seven-Five-Three), a Japanese festival for children. This is not
a national holiday but a traditional festival for children of seven, five, and three years old. Families visit
shrines or temples and pray for their offspring's future. The kids put on their best kimonos, dresses, or suits.
They are treated to chitose-ame (thousand-year candy), which is long thin candy, colored red and white.
This is the Feast Day of Albertus Magnus (which sounds so much more impressive than Albert the Great), a very big cheese indeed in Scholastic history. Albert was a 13th century Dominican friar who wrote extensively on a broad range of scientific, philosophical and theological topics.
On this day in 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was founded. At least, according to the Turks it was. No other country recognizes it. The northern part of the island of Cyprus is separated from the Greek part of the island by a UN buffer zone. Its economy does rather well, thanks to tourism and support from Turkey. It has some very tempting, cheap real estate, if the laws of your country allow you to buy it (or even if they don’t, if you’re up to it).
|On this day in 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th State of America.The name Oklahoma comes from the Choctaw phrase okla humma, literally meaning 'red people', as it was promised as an all-Indian State, controlled by the US Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Equivalent to the English word ‘Indian’, okla humma was a phrase in the Choctaw language used to describe Amerindians as a whole. In the 1830s, Oklahoma was the end of The Trail of Tears, when over 16,000 Cherokee Indian people were forced to move their from their eastern homes. Other Amerindians were relocated from the southeastern US. Now, thirty nine tribes and Indian nations have their headquarters in Oklahoma. Despite the promises, Oklahoma was opened up to white settlers in a "Land Rush" in 1889. A few of these settlers entered to claim land before the official start, and were called "Sooners". Hence the state's nickname, the Sooner State. Among Oklahoma’s contributions to world culture are the parking meter, the electric guitar and the shopping cart, all of which were invented there. The State song, oddly enough, is "Oklahoma!"|
Today is International Students' Day.
On this day in 1558, the Elizabethan era, often regarded as England’s Golden Age, began. Queen Mary I died and was succeeded as monarch by her half-sister Elizabeth I. When, at the age of 25, Elizabeth ascended the throne, England was an impoverished country, torn apart by religious squabbles. When she died in 1603, England was one of the most powerful and prosperous countries in the world.
And on this day in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger was inaugurated as Governor of California. Whether History will view this as the start of a Golden Age remains to be seen.
On this day in 1926, George Bernard Shaw refused to accept the money for his Nobel Prize for Literature
, which had been awarded to him a year earlier. He had also turned down the offer of a peerage.
Shaw was the only person to have won both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar (Best Screenplay for the film adaptation of
Pygmalion) until Al Gore repeated the feat in 2007.
Today is Independence Day in Latvia, a national holiday celebrating independence from the Soviet Union, on this day in 1918.
Today, the sun sets in Barrow, Alaska, the most northerly city in the US. That may not seem a big deal to you, but the good people of Barrow will not see the sun again until January 24. If you want to take advantage of Daylight Saving Time in Barrow, you have to put your clocks back 2 months.
Today is Discovery of Puerto Rico Day, a Commonwealth of Puerto Rico official holiday. On this day
in 1493, on his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus set foot on an island in the Caribbean Sea which he
called San Juan Bautista, and which was later renamed Puerto Rico ("rich port"). The island was already inhabited
by the Taino people, and had been for centuries, but as we all know, nowhere in the world really existed until a European
discovered it. Columbus landed on the northwest coast of Puerto Rico in 1493. Although Columbus is usually
credited with ‘discovering America’, Puerto Rico is the only territory now associated with the US that he actually saw.
Today is also Monaco’s National Day (Saint Rainier's Day, the Saint Day of the late Prince Rainier of Monaco). Typical National Day festivities include a Thanksgiving Mass, the conferring of honors and pinning of medals at the Palace, a gala evening at the Opera House, and a firework display over the harbor. The Principality of Monaco is a filthy-rich tourist resort on the French Riviera, between the Mediterranean Sea and France. With a population of just 33,000 and an area of 485 acres, Monaco is the world's smallest French-speaking nation and the second-smallest independent state in the world, after Vatican City. It is a tax haven for millionaires and a paradise for money launderers. There are no elections. A hereditary monarch heads the government. The honest burghers of Monaco do not complain about this lack of democracy, because they are too busy counting their money. Go there to show you are rich enough to go there.
Today is Revolution Day in Mexico, celebrating the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. If
the conflict ever ends, they'll have another special day to remember that.
On this day in AD 284, Diocletian was chosen as Roman Emperor. This marked a change of fortune for the Empire, which had been violently disposing of its Emperors once every two years or so, and the beginning of a new period of stability. It was however, a dark day for Christians, whom Diocletian set about persecuting with considerable zeal. A great many saints owe their martyrdom to him. And talking of martyrs…
…today is the Feast Day of King Edmund the Martyr, the original Patron Saint of England. He was known to generations of English schoolchildren - in the days when history was still taught in England - as Edmund Tomato, a joke that loses its force in American English (I say tom-ARE-toe and you say tom-AY-toe). Edmund was King of the East Angles and although very young, was highly regarded. But this was the 9th century and the Danes were wreaking havoc in East Anglia. When the invaders burned Thetford, Edmund's army attacked, but the Danes, led by Ivar the Boneless (so called because a genetic disorder rendered his leg bones soft and rubbery -- his warriors had to carry him into battle on a shield) had the victory. Edmund was taken prisoner, tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Sources differ on whether he resembled a thistle, a hedgehog or a porcupine by the time they had finished. But all agree he reminded them of Saint Sebastian, who suffered a similar fate, and Edmund is often mistaken for Sebastian in art. After the ordeal by arrows, his head was cut off. He is venerated at Bury Saint Edmunds, where his body was enshrined and a great abbey built. The shrine was destroyed in 1539, during the English Reformation. His feast day is celebrated today in the Orthodox, Roman, and Anglican traditions.
|On this day in 1789, North Carolina became the 12th US state admitted to the Union. It was also the last Confederate state to leave the Union. It was readmitted on July 4, 1868. North Carolina is located on the Atlantic coast in the southern US. It was one of the original Thirteen Colonies, originally known as Carolina, and the home of the first English colony in the Americas. Charles II granted a charter to establish a new colony in North America, named Carolina in honor of his father Charles I. It was the second American territory the British attempted to colonize. The demise of one colony, the "Lost Colony" of Roanoke Island, remains one of the great mysteries of American history. Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in North America, was born in North Carolina. Dare County is named after her. North Carolina was also the location of the first successful powered heavier-than-air flight by the Wright brothers, near Kitty Hawk in 1903, an event commemorated on the State quarter. Go there for the fall color and mountain scenery. There are North Carolina wines, none of which I have tasted and so am at a loss for a smartass comment about them. Try them and let me know what you think. Better still, send me a bottle and I'll let you know what I think.|
On this day in 1718, off the coast of North Carolina, British pirate Edward Teach ("Blackbeard") was killed
fighting a Royal Navy boarding party led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard. Maynard had Blackbeard’s head hung
from the bowsprit as a trophy.
Today is Independence Day in Lebanon, a national holiday celebrating independence from French administration, on this day in 1943. This small Middle East nation borders the Mediterranean Sea, between Israel and Syria. It has a population of nearly 4 million, an unemployment rate of 20%, and negative GDP growth. But it does have a mineral resource even more precious than oil, for it has a water surplus, in a region where other countries have a water deficit. Lebanon is a model of how people of different beliefs can live in harmony together, for brief periods, interspersed with long periods of civil war. Go there for the skiing and the delicious, healthy cuisine, but check with your embassy to find out where this year’s war zones are.
|Saint Clement I is commemorated on November 23 in the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran church. Other Christian Churches commemorate him on November 24. Clement was Pope at a time when persecution of Christians was fashionable, and he was condemned to work in the marble quarries. But that did not stop him converting Pagans, so the Emperor had him tied to an anchor and thrown from a boat into the Black Sea, in the year 102. Kiev Cave Monastery in the Ukraine has his head, although I am not sure how. Clement is Patron Saint of Marble-Workers.||
Today is Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan, a national holiday. It is derived from a very ancient
Shinto celebration, a rice harvest festival, when the Emperor gave thanks to a Shinto god for the year's rice harvest.
It has become a day of thanking all laborers, not just those in the rice fields, for their hard work during the
year. Schools and most businesses in Japan are closed on this day.
On this day in 1863, the Battle of Chattanooga, a decisive battle in the American Civil War, began. The Battle of Chattanooga was one of the most dramatic turning points in American military history. Confederate forces had laid siege to Chattanooga, Tennessee, which seemed certain to fall. But the Union built up its forces until it was able to attack, and inflict a crushing defeat on the rebels. Over the ensuing three days, Union forces drove Confederate troops away from Chattanooga into Georgia, setting the stage for General Sherman's triumphant March to the Sea.
On this day in 1963, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, President John
F. Kennedy's accused assassin, in a Dallas police station. Television network cameras were present, broadcasting
live. To those of us watching, it seemed that the World was coming undone. First, the shock of JFK’s
assassination, and now this. Ruby was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. He appealed the
conviction and sentence, but died of cancer before a new trial was held.
And on this day in 1922, Robert Erskine Childers was executed by the authorities of the newly independent Irish Free State, during the Irish Civil War. Childers was, to put it mildly, an extraordinary man. His story is too long for me to relate in full here, but you really should look it up. He was the author of The Riddle of the Sands, one of the earliest and best spy novels. A patriotic Englishman, he became a strong supporter of home rule for Ireland. He was subsequently caught up in the Civil War that arose from the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. As he faced the Irish execution squad, he joked with them and shook each soldier's hand, and noted that he still loved his native England. To the British, he was a traitor, to the Irish, either a hero or a fool. By any measure, he was remarkable.
|Today is Independence Day in Suriname, a national holiday celebrating independence from The Netherlands on this day in 1975. Slightly larger than the State of Georgia, Suriname is the smallest independent country on the South American continent, with a population of less than half a million. It is mostly tropical rain forest, which it has been busy converting into timber and thence into export earnings. Unemployment stands at around 10% and economic growth has been slow, but significant onshore and offshore oil reserves hold promise for the future. Maintaining a stable democratic government has proved elusive until recently, but they now have the kind of multi-party coalition of which their former Dutch masters would be proud. The local translation of ‘tourist’ is ‘charge them a hundred times as much as we would pay’. Go there for the giant turtles, and to boast that you survived going there.|
On this day in 1942, the film Casablanca premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City,
at a time when the Allies were advancing in North Africa during World War II. Casablanca is set in the
Vichy-controlled Moroccan city of Casablanca. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, it is considered by many
people to be one of the best movies ever made. Bergman was 2 inches taller than Bogey, so he had to stand on blocks
and sit on cushions during scenes with her. Otherwise, he would have had to say, “Here’s looking up at you, kid.”
On this day in 1970, in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, 1.5 inches of rain fall in 1 minute, the most intense rainfall on record. Basse-Terre is not to be confused with Basseterre in St. Kitts, where in 1880 36 inches of rain fell, causing the great flood of Basseterre in which 231 people died, and which is another place you really don’t want to go to.
Today is Publications Day in the Church of Scientology. They don't let a month go by
without at least one holiday, although not all are as exciting as this one, which celebrates 'the opening of the first
publications organization' in the church.
On this day in 1975, TV presenter Ross McWhirter was shot dead by IRA gunmen, outside his North London home. Ross and his identical twin brother, Norris, were co-founders and editors of the Guinness Book of Records. He had been an outspoken critic of IRA terrorism. Four members of the gang responsible for the killing, and dozens of other attacks in London throughout 1975, were apprehended two weeks later. They exchanged shots with police and escaped to a flat in central London, taking two hostages. They were arrested after a six-day siege, charged with 10 murders and 20 bombings and jailed for life in 1977. They were freed in April 1999 under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the multi-party peace deal for Northern Ireland. Norris McWhirter continued to edit the Guinness Book of Records until 1985. He died in April 2004.
Today is Independence Day in Albania, a national holiday celebrating independence from
the Ottoman Empire on this day in 1912.
Today is also Independence Day in Mauritania, a national holiday celebrating independence from France on this day in 1960.
On this day in 1520, after navigating through the South American strait, an expedition under the command of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan became the first Europeans to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Thus the first known westward crossing of the Pacific Ocean began. The voyage was so remarkable for its calm that Magellan named the ocean "Pacific". Magellan was killed on April 27, 1521 in fighting with natives in the Philippines. The following September, his ship, Victoria, returned to Spain, thereby completing the first circumnavigation of the globe. The entire journey had taken 3 years, and out of the 5 ships that had set out, Victoria was the only one to complete it. The expedition included a fare-paying passenger, Antonio Pigafetta, who made it the whole way, thus becoming the first round-the-world tourist.
And on this day in 1893, women voted in the New Zealand General Election. No country can boast an earlier date than that for women voting in a national election.
On this day in 1929, the aptly-named Richard E. Byrd flew over the South Pole. The US Navy officer
and his crew of 3 were the first people to achieve that. He had claimed to have been the first person to fly over
the North Pole too, 3 years earlier, but it has been shown that this claim was fraudulent, that he did not quite reach the
Pole. However, his 1929 achievement, plus further Polar explorations and heroic service in World War II, more than
made up for that lapse. He was a Medal of Honor recipient and was made an Honorary Scout by the Boy
Scouts of America. I wonder how many other people can claim that combination. Most charmingly, he wrote
a children’s story in which he describes how he saw Santa Claus as he flew over the North Pole. How can you not
love a flyer called Dickey Bird who reports a Santa sighting? Byrd died in 1957, and is buried in Arlington
And on this day in 1781, The crew of the slave ship Zong murdered 133 Africans by dumping them into the sea in what has come to be known as The Zong Massacre. The Zong was a slave ship owned by a slave-trading firm based in Liverpool, England. The motivation for the killings was an insurance claim. Slaves were considered cargo, like any other livestock. The insurance policy stipulated that claims could not be made for slaves that had died on board but were allowed for those that had drowned. So an excuse was found (shortage of drinking water) and the slaves were thrown into the sea and drowned. Such an act was not criminal at the time, but the shock and outrage it occasioned hastened moves to abolish the slave trade.
|Today is Independence Day in Barbados, a national holiday celebrating independence from the United Kingdom on this day in 1966. Barbados is a Caribbean island, northeast of Venezuela, with a population of around 280,000 in an area of just 430 square kilometers (166 square miles). It is the easternmost Caribbean island, which puts it nicely outside the hurricane zone (usually). The economy has relied mostly on sugar, rum and molasses, but tourism is increasingly important, and there are some oil and natural gas reserves. Unemployment is high, economic growth low, but it is a relatively prosperous country. When George Washington visited here in 1751, he contracted smallpox, and never travelled overseas again, making this his only foreign trip. But things have improved since then. Barbados is the most English of the Caribbean islands, and the main religion is cricket. Go there for the beaches, the surfing, the scenery, the George Washington House and the rum. Winter is best, to avoid the rainy season.|
Today is World AIDS Day. By all means wear a red ribbon, but remember, a condom is usually more
On this day in 1982, Michael Jackson released his second solo album Thriller, which became the biggest selling album of all time. It was said to have ‘changed the face of pop music’, which is ironic when you think about it.
And on this day in 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger when a bus was full. Her arrest led to a boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama bus system and a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation. It was in many ways the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Never was so much achieved by one diminutive, middle-aged woman simply sitting still.
And on this day in 1884, in the town of Frisco (now Reserve), New Mexico, legendary lawman Elfego Baca fought 80 cowboys in what became known as the Frisco Shootout or Frisco War. The cowboys were protesting the arrest of one of their companions and Baca took refuge in an adobe house. The cowboys fired more than 4,000 shots into the building. Not one of the bullets struck Baca. During the siege, Baca shot and killed four of his attackers and wounded eight others. After about 36 hours, the battle ended when the cowboys ran out of ammunition. When they had left, Baca, unharmed, walked out of the house and into history, at only 19 years of age. Baca was charged with murder for the death of one of the cowboys killed in the attack, but was acquitted after the door of the house (with some 400 bullet holes in it) and a broom (with eight bullet holes in its handle) were submitted as evidence.
Today is International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Isn't it about time?
On this day in 1804, at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of France, the first French Emperor in a thousand years.
And on this day in 1805, the Battle of Austerlitz, one of Napoleon's greatest victories, was fought. The Austrians and Russians were roundly defeated by the French. Read War and Peace for a wonderful account of it all.
Today is also Independence Day in the United Arab Emirates , a national holiday celebrating independence from the United Kingdom on this day in 1971.
Today is International Day of Disabled Persons an observance promoted by the United Nations, and
ignored by most people, since 1992.
Today is also the Feast Day of Saint Francis Xavier, a Roman Catholic Christian missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). He converted tens of thousands of people to Christianity. He travelled far and wide to achieve this, from his native Spain to Mozambique, on to India, the Far East and Japan. He died at the age of 46, on an island off the mainland of China. That did not stop his travels however, for his body was shipped to Goa the following year. Then, in 1614, an obliging priest removed Xavier’s right forearm, which is now displayed in a silver reliquary at the main Jesuit church in Rome. In 1950, the arm was taken on a world tour, visiting countries, like the US, that the rest of Xavier never got to see. In 1952, a statue of Saint Francis Xavier was erected in the Malaysian state of Malacca. It has become a popular place of pilgrimage for the faithful, on this day. Oddly enough, something or someone broke the right forearm off the statue shortly after it was erected.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Barbara, who is especially venerated in the Orthodox Church.
Barbara is variously placed somewhere in Asia Minor, sometime in the third century, and is unlikely to have actually
existed. She is one of the many Christian martyrs said to be a beautiful girl who resisted her father’s attempts to
marry her off. He kept her confined in a tower, in luxurious surroundings. When he built her a private
bathhouse, she had the design changed to incorporate three windows, to represent the Trinity. This was a dead
giveaway, revealing to her Pagan father that she was Christian. He had her cruelly tortured and, when this proved
ineffectual in changing her ways, personally beheaded her. He was immediately struck down by lightning, in divine
retribution. A shepherd, who had betrayed her by revealing her hiding place when she had tried to escape, was
turned into a pillar of stone and his flock of sheep into locusts (that last seems a little arbitrary). Artillery
men and others who work with explosives have traditionally invoked Barbara’s protection against lightning strikes, of
which they have a very healthy fear. Santa Barbara in California is named for her and is well worth a visit,
especially to see the beautiful Santa Barbara Mission.
Today is also Navy Day in India, celebrating the bombing of Karachi harbor in the 1971 war against Pakistan. It was a devastating defeat for the latter country, and this week-long celebration in India no doubt does wonders for international relations in the region.
Today is International Volunteer Day, as declared by the United Nations General Assembly in
1985. Of course, you’re not obliged to recognize it if you don’t want to.
On this day in 1933, the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, repealing Prohibition. Utah became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed. This overturned the 18th Amendment (the only amendment ever to be repealed) which had outlawed alcohol in the US since 1920. President Roosevelt immediately issued a repeal proclamation. Canadian entrepreneurs had been lying in wait. In Vancouver, an estimated 4.5 million gallons of liquor, mostly bourbon and rye whiskey, were stored in warehouses awaiting official permission to ship to Seattle and San Francisco. On this day in Seattle, bar owners reported that business was slower than usual, “Due to the rain."
Today is Saint Nicholas Day. In some cultures, this is the day kids get their gifts from Santa.
In Hungary, they awake to find he has left little presents in their shoes overnight. I had a cat that used
to do that. And talking of Hungary...
...on this day in 1956, the Blood in the Water water polo match between Hungary and the USSR took place, during the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. The "Blood in the Water" match is the most famous, and possibly the most brutal, match in water polo history. It was played out against the background of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising against Soviet rule. The name was coined by the media after Hungarian player Ervin Zádor emerged from the pool during the final minutes of the game with blood pouring from under his eye after being punched by a Soviet player. Hungary won the match 4–0.
And today is Independence Day in Finland, celebrating independence from Russia on this day in 1917. Finland, a Scandinavian country between Sweden and Russia, is slightly smaller than Montana, with a population of 5 million, making it one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe. It has more cell phones than people -- nearly 6 million. Nokia, the telecommunications company, is Finland's largest company. Finland has a highly industrialized, free-market economy and a welfare state, with excellent quality of life. Go there to meet Santa, to see the Midnight Sun and Northern Lights, and for the husky safaris and snow shoe walking. (The official tourist site explains helpfully, “Snow is a white flaky substance composed of ice crystals, covering Lapland from November until late in spring”).
Today is Pearl Harbor Day. A day that will live in infamy for inspiring the worst movie Kate
Beckinsale ever made.
On this day in 1787, Delaware became the first of the 13 original states to ratify the US Constitution. Hence its nickname of ‘The First State’. During the Civil War, it was a Border State, i.e. a slave state that aligned with the Union. Delaware is located on the Atlantic coast in the mid-Atlantic region of the US, and is the second-smallest US state. Its landscape is flat, its climate is moderate and the State Beverage is milk. Take the kids there if they keep complaining that their home state is boring.
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Ambrose, a fourth century bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the early Christian Church. When he was a baby, a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey, a sign of his future eloquence, or honeyed tongue. For this reason, bees and beehives often appear in his symbology, and he is Patron Saint of, among other things, bee keepers, bees, candlemakers, wax melters and wax refiners.
Today is The feast of the Immaculate Conception. By the way, do you know what the 'Immaculate
Conception' is? Most people get it wrong -- they think it has to do with the way Jesus was conceived, but that is,
as it were, a misconception. Seriously.
On this day in 1980, Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon in front of The Dakota apartment building in New York, with five bullets. Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were returning to the building when Chapman opened fire. Then Chapman calmly opened his copy of Catcher in the Rye and began reading it. Lennon died about half an hour later. Since then, Chapman has been in Attica State Prison. Although he has been refused parole several times, he has of course become a born-again Christian, which is always a useful first step toward getting released.
Today is International Anti-Corruption Day. Commemorates the signing conference for the United
Nations Convention Against Corruption, held in Mexico (of all places) in 2003. Now you know why governments have
become so markedly less corrupt in the past few years.
On this day in 1824, the Battle of Ayacucho, the last major engagement of the South American war for independence, was fought, on the high plateau near Ayacucho, Peru. The revolutionary forces, numbering about 6,000 men - among them Colombians, Venezuelans, Argentines and Chileans, as well as Peruvians - defeated a Spanish army of 10,000 men. The Battle of Ayacucho marked the end of Spanish power on the mainland of South America.
Today is also the Feast Day of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin. Try invoking him in an emergency.
Today is Human Rights Day. The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly's
adoption and proclamation, on this day in 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The commemoration was
established in 1950, when the General Assembly invited 'all states and interested organizations to celebrate the day as
they saw fit'. Of course, you have the right to ignore it, if you see fit.
On this day in 1817, Mississippi became the 20th US state. Mississippi is the poorest state in the country yet Mississippians consistently rank among the highest per capita in charitable contributions. Mississippi also has the highest Black population of any US state, currently about 37% of the population of 3 million. Go there for the gambling and the music. Above all, listen to a Bobbie Gentry album.
Today is Tango Day in Buenos Aires, Argentina (and of course Los Angeles, California; how could they not
Today is also International Mountain Day, designated by the United Nations "to create awareness of mountains", so next time you find yourself going uphill, don't say you weren't warned.
And today is Republic Day in Burkina Faso, a national holiday. This former French colony, a landlocked nation in Western Africa, is one of the poorest countries on Earth, and the one with the lowest literacy rate. Slightly larger than Colorado, with a population of around 14 million, it has a high population density (the second highest in Black Africa) but few natural resources. Life expectancy at birth is about 50 years. The HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is about 4%. All in all, not much to celebrate.
On this day in 1816, Indiana became the 19th state of the USA. Indiana has difficulty with time, for some reason. It can’t decide whether it is in the Eastern or Central Time Zone, or both, or whether or not it observes Daylight Saving Time sometimes, in some parts, or not at all, anywhere. Residents of Indiana are called Hoosiers. You got me.
Today is The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a very big day down Mexico way. In the 16th century,
the Christianization of the native peoples of Mexico was making slow progress. Among the few converts was a poor
Indian named Cuauhtlatohuac, who was baptized and given the name Juan Diego. He was a 57-year-old widower who lived
in a small village near Mexico City. He was on his way to a nearby barrio to attend Mass, when he had the vision
that was to change the fortunes of the Catholic Church in Mexico. There appeared to him a young, pregnant woman,
dressed like an Aztec princess, with all the attendant light, music and symbolism essential to a good vision.
Speaking in Nahuatl, Diego’s native language, she directed him the bishop of Mexico, with instructions to build a chapel
in the place where she appeared. The skeptical bishop demanded a miraculous sign, and so a second vision was
required. This time, the apparition directed Diego to a hill where he should collect roses, to take to the bishop.
This would have been miraculous enough in itself, for roses did not normally bloom at that place or time of year,
but what really swayed the bishop was that, when Diego opened the cloth in which he had collected the flowers, there was
on it an imprint of the vision, a dark-skinned Virgin Mary. She became known as La Virgen Morena (the brown-skinned
Virgin) and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The chapel was duly built and the image displayed. ‘Guadalupe’ may have
been a Spanish mistranslation of a local Aztec word meaning "one who treads on snakes". Anyway, she worked a treat,
because within the following six years, six million Aztecs had converted to Catholicism. There was some unease in
the Church, arising from the suspicion that the native worshippers identified her with the indigenous Mexican goddess
Tonantzin. But this cross-cultural identity proved a great strength and she is now a national symbol of
huge significance. She is Patroness of the Americas. Guadalupe is strictly the name of the picture, but was
extended to the church containing the picture and to the town that grew up around it. The place, Guadalupe Hidalgo,
is three miles northeast of Mexico City. The picture is still displayed, miraculously fresh and well preserved.
Guadalupe is the most frequented Marian shrine in the world, and the most popular religious pilgrimage site in the
Western Hemisphere. This manifestation of the Virgin receives three times as many pilgrims as the one at Lourdes.
Today is also Independence Day in Kenya, a national holiday celebrating independence from the UK in 1963.
On this day in 1787, Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the US Constitution.
Today is Saint Lucy's Day. Saint Lucy of Syracuse, a 3rd century martyr, is venerated as a saint
by Catholic and Orthodox Christians. In the old style, Julian calendar, today was the longest night of the year,
and so is an appropriate feast day for this saint, whose name means ‘light’. It is one of the few saint days
observed in Scandinavia, where daylight is in short supply at this time of year. The celebrations draw inspiration
from Germanic Pagan midwinter light festivals, with girls in pretty dresses and crowns of lit candles. Lucy, so the
story goes, was tortured and killed for her Christian faith. As part of her torture, her eyes were gouged out,
although she was miraculously still able to see without them. Another version of her story is that, feeling her
virginity threatened by a suitor who admired her beautiful eyes, she plucked them out and sent them to him, asking to be
left in peace. This version sometimes concludes with God restoring Lucy's eyes. She is represented in art
holding a dish with two eyes on it (compare Saint Agatha,
Lucy is the Patron Saint of eyes and blindness. In some traditions, this feast day marks the beginning of
the Christmas season. Yes folks, it’s approaching fast.
On this day in 1577, Sir Francis Drake of England set out with five ships on a nearly three-year journey that would result in him being the first Englishman to circumnavigate the Earth. Drake’s own ship, Golden Hind, was the only one to make it the whole way. The expedition stopped off on the west coast of North America, though no one is quite sure where. But it gave birth to the idea that the English colonists’ destiny was to eventually occupy the continent ‘from coast-to-coast’.
Today is the Feast day of Saint John of the Cross. John was the ultimate ascetic, so I suppose the
festivities should consist of sour gruel and self-flagellation. For those of you for whom even this is not severe
enough, you could try a Jack in the Box hamburger.
On this day in 1819, Alabama became the 22nd US state. Alabama is known as the ‘Yellowhammer State’, the Yellowhammer also being the state bird, and also as the ‘Heart of Dixie’.
And on this day in 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen's team became the first to reach the South Pole. Amundsen was one of the greatest Polar explorers. As a youth, he slept with the windows open, during the fierce Norwegian winters, to prepare himself for his future adventures. Like most single-minded people, he was not particularly nice. His behavior drove one of the members of his Antarctic team to eventual suicide. Amundsen died in a plane crash, on a rescue mission in the Arctic. The author Roald Dahl, born in Wales in 1916 to Norwegian parents, was named after Amundsen, who was a major hero at the time.
Today is Zamenhof Day, celebrating the birthday of Ludovic Zamenhof, the inventor of the international
language Esperanto, which now has more that 1,000,000 speakers. That's a thousand times more then speak
Elvish or Klingon, but it's still no competition for Mallspeak.
On this day in 1791, The US adopted the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The government's search for loopholes began on December 16, 1791.
And on this day in 1890, the Lakota Sioux Indian Chief Sitting Bull and several of his followers were killed on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, during a clash with Indian police. The authorities were concerned that he could become the focus of a rebellion and so had ordered his arrest. The manner of his death - killed by fellow Lakota - had been foretold to him in a vision, and was similar to the way Crazy Horse had lost his life, 13 years before.
Today is Kazakhstan Independence Day. They have not invited Borat to the celebrations.
On this day in 1773, the Boston Tea Party - an important precursor to the American Revolution - was held. Members of the Sons of Liberty disguised as Mohawks dumped crates of tea into Boston harbor as a protest against the Tea Act. I hate to be a party pooper, but none of it made any sense. The tea was cheaper than the regular supply, so why complain? It was good quality tea, so why throw it away? And finally, why dress as Mohawks, a disguise that fooled nobody? Never mind, I’ve been to worse parties.
|December 17||Today is Wright Brothers Day. Apparently, The President is requested to issue each year a proclamation inviting the people of the United States to observe Wright Brothers Day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. So let's all go to LAX and line up for 3 hours to get shouted at by airport security staff.|
|December 18||Today is International Migrant's Day, the only special day when it makes no sense to go home for the celebrations.|
|December 19||Today is The United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation. Presumably North-South Cooperation is considered a little too ambitious for the moment.|
Today is the Feast of Saint Dominic of Silos, history's most boring saint. He worked hard, made a
lot of money and died of natural causes, just like the guy next door. Here's one reference I dug up: "Saint Dominic
preserved the Mozarbic Rite at his monastery, and his monastery became one of the centers of the Mozarbic liturgy."
Wow! Let's name a day after him.
Today is also The United Nations International Human Solidarity Day. I hope we can all agree on that.
Today is The Feast of Divalia or Angeronalia, and before you say, "Who the Hell..?" let me explain that
the Romans held this feast day in honor of Angerona, the goddess of secrecy, whose function was to relieve men
from pain and sorrow. Priests made sacrifices to Angerona in the temple of Voluptia, the goddess of
pleasure. Are you beginning to get my drift? It was a sort of Classical Las Vegas -- 'What happens in the
temple, stays in the temple'. I hereby propose that Vegas makes Angerona its patron saint.
In some years, this is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere - when the day is shortest and the sun is lowest on the horizon - and the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere. Other years, it can fall on other days, notably December 22, but it's here or hereabouts.
Today is the Commemorative Day of Mother Cabrini, the first American citizen to be canonized. It's
a sign of the times that every American has heard of Jesse James, but hardly anyone has heard of Mother Cabrini.
In some years, this is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere - when the day is shortest and the sun is lowest on the horizon - and the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere. Other years, it can fall on other days, notably December 21, but it's here or hereabouts.
Today is Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the radishes grow to
extraordinary size. Nativity scenes, revolutionary heroes (this being Mexico) and other figures are carved from
radishes, prizes going to the best. How likely is that? This must be one of the best festivals ever.
On this day in 1888, Vincent van Gogh cut off part of his left ear, and presented it to a prostitute named Rachel. He had heard that she was particularly good at aural sex.
'Twas the night before the night before
Christmas Day, and what is more,
While nothing stirred about the house,
Not even that proverbial mouse,
The stores were full of frantic folk
In panic mode, and that's no joke.
Enjoy this season of goodwill,
But be prepared to pay the bill.
This is Christmas Eve. Tonight, Santa Claus invades family homes to steal all the credit
for buying the kids' Christmas gifts. In the US, he also helps himself to any milk and cookies that have been left
left out for him. In Britain, he gets brandy and mince pies.
I offer you the following cautionary tale:
The Night Before A Los Angeles Christmas.
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the hood,
Not a creature was stirring, if they knew what was good.
The stockings were hung by the a.c. with care,
In hopes that some overpriced toys would go there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of X-boxes danced in their heads.
And the wife in her nightie, and I in the nude,
Had just settled down for… well, let's not be rude,
When out in the yard there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Which, as I was naked, might seem a bit rash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Made me think global warming had some way to go,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.
My neighbor this year had gone over the top,
With his crap decorations -- I wish he would stop.
In the sleigh sat a fellow, so lively and quick,
I knew straight away he was mentally sick.
For he spoke to the deer, and he called them by name,
(In some cases clever, but mostly quite lame).
"Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
And then, in a twinkling, I went to the drawer,
Where I keep my gun locked (as required by law).
Having switched off the safety, I was turning around,
When in through the window he came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his hat to his boot,
And he carried a sack, no doubt full of loot.
His eyes -- how they twinkled, the pupils distended,
I wondered how many more times he'd offended.
His droll little mouth formed a smile quite inane,
And the beard of his chin was as white as cocaine.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth;
What I took to be pot smoke curled up like a wreath.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I shot him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know he was not yet quite dead.
He spoke not a word, but fell straight to the floor,
But continued to jerk, so I shot him once more,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
He gave me a gesture; not nice, I suppose.
My wife in the meantime called LAPD,
To be told, "Sorry Lady, there's nobody free!"
The intruder exclaimed, ere he gave up the ghost,
"I never had this problem on the east coast."
(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)
Today is Christmas Day, also known by the Germanic word Yule and the increasingly popular
I'll be glad when it's all over, quite frankly.
Tonight is the first night of Christmas, despite the fact that tomorrow is The First Day of Christmas. For an explanation, and an easy way to remember, see January 5.
Today is the Feast of Stephen, "When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even."
Today is also the first day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day festival for those of black African descent. If you are of mixed race, you can either celebrate just some of the days, or all of them in a half-hearted fashion.
And also Boxing Day. The British invented it, the Canadians are enthusiastic about it, and the Americans are entirely bewildered by it. It's just an extra day's holiday, to aid recovery from the excesses of Christmas Day and the purchase of batteries that were not included.
It is also The First of the Twelve Days of Christmas, when truly beloveds, according to the traditional song, can expect to receive a partridge in a pear tree. There is widespread misunderstanding over the meaning of this song's lyrics, which I shall clear up in this and the next 11 entries:
Firstly, the 'true love' is not a human lover, but is a reference to the great god Money, worshipped since ancient times and called upon repeatedly to help us through the festive season that has just ended. The song is a list of all the things Money has brought to pass during that time.
The partridge in a pear tree refers to the sort of ridiculous design on the necktie that a wife gives her husband and which he is obliged to wear to the office for the next few days.
This is The Second Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you two turtle doves,
a reference to the gloves that a husband buys for his wife and which she says are lovely, but unfortunately a little too
small for her and which she takes back to the store and then returns home saying they didn't have that style in her size
but they had these instead which are quite nice, don't you think?
It is also the second day of Kwanzaa, dedicated to Self-Determination. The founder has laid down strict rules on how you should celebrate it.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. In Latin America, notably Mexico, this is an equivalent
of All Fools' Day. Popular pranks include borrowing things and not returning them. In Tijuana,
this is practiced on tourists every day of the year.
This is The Third Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you three French hens, meaning 'three pens', which is one of those expensive sets of fountain pens that are never used nowadays except to sign Nuclear Test Ban treaties and divorce settlements. This is the gift you do not even unwrap, but put aside to give to someone else next year. It is vitally important to remember who gave them to you in the first place.
It is also the third day of Kwanzaa, dedicated to collective work and responsibility. I relied on other sources for that information, so don't blame me if it's wrong.
This is The Fourth Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you four calling birds, a
reference to those relatives that phone you to thank you for your 'thoughtful gift', if they didn't like it, or 'very
generous gift' if they did, or 'unexpected gift' if they didn't bother to buy you anything.
It is also the fourth day of Kwanzaa, dedicated to co-operative economics. This is allied to the Christmas tradition of trying to match the value of the gift you buy someone to the value of the gift you think they are going to buy you.
This is The Fifth Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you five gold rings.
The definition of a 'gold ring' is so disgusting, I can safely leave it to your imagination. If you and your lover
managed five of them, you have more stamina than is good for you.
It is also the fifth day of Kwanzaa, dedicated to purpose. I am sure there is a good reason for this.
Also, Freedom Day in the Church of Scientology, celebrating the fact that the Church itself is free, even if membership is anything but.
New Year's Eve. Back in England, the chimes of Big Ben used to tell me when the new year had
begun. Here in Los Angeles, it's the neighbor firing his handgun into the air.
This is The Sixth Day of Christmas, on which your true love gives you six geese a-laying, a reference to the unsavory characters that manage to find someone drunk enough to have sex with them at New Year's Eve parties.
It is also the sixth day of Kwanzaa, celebrating creativity. I can't think of anything to say about that.