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Independence Day – Democratic Republic of the Congo

June 30

I ask you to make this June 30, 1960, an illustrious date that you will keep indelibly engraved in your hearts, a date of significance of which you will teach to your children, so that they will make known to their sons and to their grandchildren the glorious history of our fight for liberty.

Patrice Lumumba, first Prime Minister of the Congo, Independence Speech

The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) respect Lumumba’s wishes on June 30, the anniversary of the country’s independence from Belgium, but it’s a day tinged with sadness, as they also remember the death of the man who guided them to independence.

Lumumba also holds the distinction of being the only world leader we know of to have nearly been killed by toothpaste.

President Eisenhower was not a huge fan of Lumumba back in 1960. Despite being democratically elected, Lumumba had Soviet leanings, and the Congo held resources vital to the West, uranium being chief among them.

The Belgian government had issues with Lumumba as well. His independence speech, at which the Belgian king was present, made it clear that Lumumba would be no puppet ruler, and the Congo would be no colony.

The CIA installed an operative (Larry Devlin) to be prepared to assassinate Lumumba at a moment’s notice. The weapon of choice: a tube of poisonous toothpaste to be planted among the Prime Minister’s toiletries. For whatever reason, the CIA never gave Devlin the order.

Instead, in September 1960, the charismatic Lumumba was deposed in a CIA-supported coup d’état by his former aide, Colonel Joseph Mobutu, and was executed the following January under mysterious circumstances. Mobutu went on to control the country for over 30 years, renamed it Zaire, and embezzled over $5 billion from the nation’s purse. Mobutu lost power in 1997, and the country became the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Patrice Lumumba, USSR stamp, 1961

Patrice Lumumba, USSR stamp, 1961

The battle for power in the DRC since 1997—also known as the African World War—has been cited as the deadliest conflict since World War II.

A Midsommer Night’s in Denmark

June 23

The Scandinavians never pass up a chance for a good bonfire. Midsummer Night, or St. John’s Eve as it’s sometimes called in Denmark and Norway, is the perfect occasion. The holiday has little to do with St. John the Baptist, other than falling just before his saint day. In the 10th century Baltic and Scandinavian countries replaced the traditional names of Midsummer with allusions to the feast of St. John the Baptist, which …Read more

Chinese New Year – Year of the Snake – Hong Kong fireworks

I was lucky enough to be in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year this year. In China it’s known as the Spring Festival.

In case you were wondering, the inventors of fireworks are still the undisputed champions.

The whole show was about 30 minutes, non-stop explosive action. Here’s ten minutes. I shot this video from Wan Chai, looking out at Tsim Sha Tsui. Amazing show!

Chinese New Year Fireworks – Hong Kong – February 11, 2013

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September 11 – Patriot Day

twin-towers2

September 11

Perhaps because of the plurality of the attacks—four planes, three locations, and two landmarks of national significance—no single name summed up the tragedy of 9/11 better than the date itself. Today “September 11″ refers the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and the plane crash outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It means the extinguishing of thousands of innocent lives in a single morning.

But long before 2001, in fact before the pilgrims …Read more

Super Summer Solstice

June 21 (Northern Hemisphere)

It seems like just six months ago we were celebrating solstice…

There’s more reason to celebrate this time around, in this seasonally-affected author’s opinion: this solstice marks the longest day of the year rather than the shortest.

The changing of the seasons is due, of course, to the 23.5 degree tilt of the earth’s axis, a tilt which we in our everyday lives take for granted, but which has …Read more

Ullortuneq – Greenland’s National Day

Greenland scenery. Photo by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen

June 21

Greenland. Photo by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen

“Our country, who’s become so old your head all covered with white hair. Always held us, your children, in your bosom providing the riches of your coasts.”

— from Greenland’s National Anthem

“And you: friendless, brainless, helpless, hopeless! Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed in Greenland!”

—Vizzini, The Princess Bride

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Juneteenth

Emancipation Celebration, Richmond, Virginia, April 3, 1965

June 19

What is Juneteenth? Juneteenth is a statement of freedom. Juneteenth is the unshackling of a body of people. Juneteenth is the freeing of slaves in the State of Texas. Juneteenth is the renewing of one’s character, integrity, spirit, and ability to achieve one’s greatest opportunities.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, June 19, 2003

Emancipation Celebration, Richmond, Virginia, April 3, 1905

Juneteenth is also an amalgamation of the words June and Nineteenth, and …Read more

Egypt – Evacuation Day

Suez Canal from space

June 18

Egypt’s National Day is on July 23: Revolution Day. Revolution Day celebrates the day in 1952 that the Free Officers, led by the future Presidents Naguib and Nassar, forced pro-British Egyptian King Farouk to abdicate in favor of his infant son.

Despite the king’s abdication, the monarchy was not officially abolished that year. It was on June 18, 1953 that the new government declared Egypt a republic, and General Naguib became the republic’s first president.

But …Read more