International Day to Eradicate Poverty

October 17.

60 years after the adoption of the universal declaration of human rights, million of people are still deprived of basic human rights such as food, housing and decent working conditions.

On October 17, 1987, over 100,000 people gathered at the Trocadero in Paris, the site of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, to protest and draw awareness to the problem of poverty around the globe.

The Declaration covers the basic rights of human beings, from the very broad…

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1)

to the more specific….

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services… (Article 24)

For the 5th anniversary of the 1997 demonstration, the United Nations declared October 17 “International Day to Eradicate Poverty.”

Today, while three-quarters of the world’s income is in the hands of the richest 20%, the poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for just 5% of global income.

Hans Rosling: New insights on poverty and life around the world

Poverty Facts and Stats

World Teachers Day

October 5

There are dozens of Teachers’ Days celebrated on different dates around the world, often on the birthdays of countries’ greatest instructors.

Taiwan and India celebrate Teachers’ Day in September with the observed birthdays of Confucius and Radhakrishnan respectively.

The Czech Republic celebrates on March 28 with the birthday of Jan Amos Komensky.

Finland honors Mikael Agricola on April 9.

China celebrates Teachers’ Day on September 10.

In the United States, the first full week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week.

But October 5 is World Teachers’ Day, an observance that began in 1994 and has been picking up momentum as an international celebration ever since.

Why October 5?

October 5 is the anniversary of the day in 1789 that the women of Paris marched on Versailles in what became known as the “March on Versailles”, in order to…

“confront Louis XVI about his refusal to promulgate the decrees on the abolition of feudalism, demand bread, and have the King and his court moved to Paris.” (

But that has nothing to do with Teachers’ Day (though it does sound like something we should have learned in school).

No, best we can tell, the October 5 date may have something to do with the fact that most school years start in September, and by early October, the kids haven’t yet driven their teachers absolutely insane. (That comes mid-November).

October 5 was also the date in 1966 that UNESCO adopted a “Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers” at the Special Intergovernmental Conference on the Status of Teachers.

One of the document’s guiding principles was is:

“Education from the earliest school years should be directed to the allround development of the human personality and to the spiritual, moral, social, cultural and economic progress of the community, as well as to the inculcation of deep respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms…”

We doff our caps to those who have chosen teaching as their full-time profession!

World Theatre Day

March 27

Sarah Bernhardt

“We are all actors: being a citizen is not living in society, it is changing it.”

— Augusto Boal, World Theatre Day Address, 2009

“Hi-diddle-dee-dee, an actor’s life for me.”

— Honest John, Pinocchio

March 27 is World Theater Day, marking the birthday of famed director and actor Quentin Tarantino. Ok, no. While March 27 is Tarantino’s birthday, the International Theatre Institute chose the date back in 1961 to mark the anniversary of the Theatres des Nations festival, first held in 1957 at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris.

“The thrust of the festival was never to invite only the safe or official companies. Quite the reverse: in its early years one of its most important functions was to recognize theatres which were not subsidized or recognized in their home countries.”

The Paris jigsaw, ed. David Bradby & Maria Delgado

I’d like to stop for a moment to say I’m not spelling it “theatre” to be all hoity-toity. I don’t even know what hoity-toity means. [It’s from hoit, meaning “play the fool” or “to indulge in riotous and noisy mirth”, as in “Sibbie axed wi a kind ill hoit apon her” (Shetland News, 1897) or as in the 1973 Main Ingredient hit “It may be factual, it may be cruel/Everybody hoits.”]

No, the correct spelling in Britain is “theatre” from the French word “theatre”. In the United States “theater” is your best bet on a spelling test and when referring to movie theaters (called “cinemas” in Britain). In North America, “theatre” is increasingly used for the art of the stage, and for high-falutin’ Broadway venues.

And if you were to write: “‘Theatre‘ is the favoured spelling because Paris is the centre of d’Arts,” your American spell-check would defenestrate you.

The French word “theatre” originates from the Greek Theatron (a new Transformer? I mean, Transfourmre?) which in turn comes from theasthai, “to gaze at or view as spectators.” That’s the difference between theatre and drama. Theatre was always defined, not around the players, but around those of us watching them, too timid to go up onstage, while “drama” comes from the Greek dran, meaning “to do.”

And if we go even further back, theasthai originates from Thea, the Athenian goddess of light. Thea is also the feminine form of Theo and theos (god).

So you see, Theatre is God. In 7th century BC Athens, the theatre festivals weren’t mere entertainment at all. They were sponsored by the state as part of religious festivals like Dionysia, in honor of the god Dionysis. Plays evolved from songs chanted by a chorus to honor the gods. Then one guy, Thespis, came up with the idea of putting on a one-man show and impersonating different characters mentioned in the song, with the chorus as back-up.

Thespis, the first Gilbert & Sullivan production, London News, 1872

Later, the Greeks put a second actor (deuteragonist) and third actor (triagonist) on stage to interact with the first actor (protagonist) and the rest was downhill.

Over 2500 years later, the words have changed, but the melody remains the same.

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Every year the International Theatre Institute chooses one person to deliver the World Theatre Day Message. This year it’s Brazilian writer, director, and politician Augusto Boal, founder of the Theater of the Oppressed.

“Even if one is unaware of it, human relationships are structured in a theatrical way. The use of space, body language, choice of words and voice modulation, the confrontation of ideas and passions, everything that we demonstrate on the stage, we live in our lives. We are theatre!

Weddings and funerals are “spectacles”, but so, also, are daily rituals so familiar that we are not conscious of this. Occasions of pomp and circumstance, but also the morning coffee, the exchanged good-mornings, timid love and storms of passion, a senate session or a diplomatic meeting – all is theatre.”

Full text here.

This weekend is also Schmuckfest—wait, no—Schmeckfest, in Freeman, South Dakota. Go Schmecks!

Introduction to Greek Tragedy

Pi Day & Albert Einstein

“I am ashamed to tell you to how many places of figures I carried these computations, having no other business at the time”.

— Isaac Newton, original ‘computer’ nerd, getting high on ∏

Pi Pie at Delft University
Pi Pie at Delft University

I have to admit I’m a Pi holiday snob. I don’t celebrate Pi Day on March 14; I prefer its more accurate European equivalent, Pi Approximation Day, celebrated on July 22 (22/7).

It’s been said the only real Pi Day was March 14, 1592. (3.14 1592) and of course even that was only accurate to 7 digits. At that time, Pi wasn’t known as Pi but as “that funny circumference-over-the-diameter number that goes on forever and ever and ever, and I’ll stop calculating it as soon as I find the pattern.” Fortunately, Welsh mathematician William Jones shortened it to just ∏ in 1705. Pi was the first letter of the Greek words for periphery and perimeter.

March 14 is not only easy to remember, it has the added bonus of being the birthday of Albert Einstein, born in 1879 in Ulm, Germany.

Albert Einstein

At age 26, the clerk at a Swiss patent office unleashed three scientific papers on the world, the least of which would have assured his place in history. The greatest of which changed history. That was the Theory of Special Relativity, or the “Strangers on a Train Traveling Close to the Speed of Light” Theory. Either way, Einstein didn’t like the word “relativity” at all. He preferred “invariance theory,” referring to the consistent nature of light regardless of the motion and positions of its observers.

Einstein next turned his attention to gravity. He spent much of the following decade aligning his theory of relativity with Newtonian physics. In 1915, he knocked it out of the park again, with his special relativity follow-up: the Theory of General Relativity.

If ever a sequel was better than the original, this was it.

Had Einstein not developed the Theory of Special Relativity in 1905, someone else would have. In a few years, maybe even a few months.

But it’s been said that had there been no Einstein, had he not conceived of the Theory of General Relativity in 1915, the world would have waited generations to unlock it.

General Relativity explained the inexplicable by affirming the impossible. That among other things, both light and time could (and must) bend in relation to mass.

Albert Einstein, age 14
Albert Einstein, age 14

Einstein had comparatively little astronomical data to go on back in 1915. But this was a guy who managed to deduce Nobel-prize winning theories by observing pollen grains in water.

One of Einstein’s clues was that the orbit of Mercury didn’t behave as Newton’s theory had predicted it would. Other physicists chalked this up to the possible existence of yet unobserved planetary bodies in our solar system. What Einstein proposed was the astrophysical equivalent of tearing down a house and rebuilding it because the door didn’t fit. He said that the way scientists since Newton had assumed the universe worked was fundamentally unsound.

Even with his past successes, the theory was so out of conformity with the day’s scientific knowledge that Einstein could have been laughed off the world stage.

But on May 29, 1919 the scientific community had an unprecedented opportunity to put an abstract theory as big as the universe to a visible, practical test.

The Newton vs. Einstein Showdown – May 29, 1919

Astronomers predicted that on May 29, 1919, parts of South America and sub-Saharan Africa would experience an incredibly long 6-minute total solar eclipse, during which time the sun would be right in way of Earth’s view of the constellation Hyades.

Scientist-adventurers led expeditions to remote areas of the southern continents to make precise astronomical records during the darkness of the eclipse. If Einstein was correct, the stars of the cluster Hyades would appear to shift from their normal positions because of gravity’s effect on the starlight as it passed by the Sun.

The expeditions confirmed Einstein’s theory, and in the darkness of a 6-minute eclipse, the Newtonian world gave way to an Einsteinian one.

For his contributions to science, Einstein deserves his own holiday for sure, even though he would be the first to forget it (He wasn’t good with birthdays) and the last to acknowledge any beneficial value in it.

Because Pi Day coincides with Einstein’s birthday, many treat March 14 as a celebration of science and mathematics in general. I’ve noticed a dearth of these festivals. Religious and political holidays fill each day of the calendar several times over while mathematicians and scientists find themselves forced to rally around a handful of dates like “Square Root Day” (3/3/09…) and “Mole Day” (June 2 at 10:23). Not to mention our beloved Pi Day. []

Darwin’s birthday, February 12, is shared with and often dominated by that of his contemporary Abraham Lincoln. Both men were born on February 12, 1809.

And Isaac Newton’s birthday…well, it’s overshadowed just a teensy bit by a religious luminary named Jesus. Yep, Newton was born on Christmas Day, 1642 (OS).

Still, many geeks celebrate Newton’s birthday as “Grav-Mass” by singing popular carols such as “The Ten Days of Newton.” (props to Olivia Judson)

On the tenth day of Newton,
My true love gave to me,
Ten drops of genius,
Nine silver co-oins,
Eight circling planets,
Seven shades of li-ight,
Six counterfeiters,
Four telescopes,
Three Laws of Motion,
Two awful feuds,
And the discovery of gravity!

It’s fitting that we celebrate the two great pinnacles of physics on March 14 and December 25.

In ancient Roman times, March 14 was the eve of the Ides of the March. The Roman political and agrarian calendar began on or around March 15 — when farmers planted crops and elected officials took office. And ended with the December festival known as Saturnalia, from December 17 to December 25.

Newton’s birthday falls in the season of Christmas, Yalda, and Yule, which bid farewell to the old year and hello to longer days. And though they didn’t know it, our ancestors were really paying homage to gravity — the Sun’s pull on the Earth. Einstein’s birthday meanwhile comes amid spring festivals like Holi, Nowruz, Purim, and Easter, which celebrate rebirth and the circle of life, as well as the life-giving power of sunlight.

We live in a world where the more we learn, the less we know. And where the darkest eclipse sheds the most brilliant light. As one quote popularized by Einstein* explains…

“The wider the diameter of light,
the larger the circumference of darkness.”


What can we say? The guy knew his ∏.

Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. — Albert Einstein

The Eclipse That Changed the Universe

* Einstein didn’t invent the quote:

“It has been well said, that the more we enlarge the diameter or sphere of light, the more, too, do we enlarge the circumambient darkness — so that with a wider field of light on which to expatiate, we shall have a more extended border of unexplored territory than ever.”

Institutes of Theology from the Post-humous Works of Rev. Thomas Chalmers (1849) by Chalmers and his son-in-law biographer William Hanna.

A half-century later, Alexander Whyte retells how Chalmers explained the concept to students in Skirling, Scotland.

When Dr. Chalmers was out at Skirling on one occasion he went to the village school and gave the children an elementary lesson in optical science. Taking the blackboard and a piece of chalk he drew a long diameter on the board, and then he ran a large circumference around the diameter. And then turning to the wondering children he said to them in his own imaginative and eloquent way, ‘You must all see that the longer the diameter of light the larger is the surrounding circumference of darkness.”

Thirteen Appreciations, by Alexander Whyte (1900)

International Women’s Day 2009

Intl Women's Day poster, USSR, 1920
Women's Day poster, USSR, 1920

Over a hundred years ago today 15,000 women in New York City came together to march for better working conditions and universal women’s suffrage.

The following year the Socialist Party of America declared February 28 to be National Women’s Day. In Copenhagen in 1910 an International Women’s Day was proposed and unanimously agreed upon by 100 women representing 17 countries. It would be observed simultaneously by women around the world on March 8, 1911.

Over a million people observed the first International Women’s Day in countries like Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.

That same month the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City killed over 140 women workers, mostly poor immigrants, and propelled the appalling working conditions of women laborers to the forefront of national politics.

In 1917, International Women’s Day played a significant part in one of the most important revolutions of the 20th century: the February Revolution, which took place in, of course, March.

Before 1918, Russia was still on the Julian calendar, so Russians observed Women’s Day on February 23 Julian to coincide with the March 8 observances in the rest of the world. On February 23 (Old Style), 1917 thousands of women demonstrated in St. Petersburg, Russia, demanding “Food for our Children”, and for the return of their husbands and sons from the war with Germany. These massive demonstrations and strikes served as the catalyst for the series of events that led to the abolishment of the centuries-old Russian Czardom one week later, and paved the way for Bolshevik Revolution.

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Over the past century International Women’s Day has served as a day to address issues of women’s rights in countries around the world, notably the developing world and Europe. The holiday has not garnered as near as much of a following in North America, perhaps because of its communist roots.

This year [2009] Every Day’s a Holiday attended the International Women’s Day Rally in Westwood, California. A Communist Rally “in the heart of Capitalism” as the speakers put it.

The theme of rally was solidarity with Afghani and Iranian women against both Islamic fundamentalism and U.S. imperialism. Afghani and Iranian women have born the brunt of the upheaval in these two nations since 2001, indeed since 1979.

Having just finished reading Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China I was dubious about communism being the most ideal route for women’s equality. The book tells the story of three generations of Chinese women, focusing on the author’s mother, who joins the Communist Party in post-war China because it appears to be the best means to bring about long-overdue equality to women. However, once in power, the Communist Party creates an even more brutal and powerful aristocracy than the one it disbanded. The author’s family witnesses party policies that kill tens of millions of men, women, and children, and ruin the lives of millions more families, in the stated aim of achieving a more just society.

Regardless of political and economic ideology, today International Women’s Day fills a purpose long abandoned by another holiday: Mothers’ Day.

The original intention of Mothers’ Day in the United States—as conceived of independently by Julia Ward Howe and Ann Jarvis—was a day for mothers to join together to act as a collective force for social justice.

Having witnessed the brutality of the Civil War, both women sought to bring mothers together on Mothers’ Days of Peace to declare war on war itself.

“Arise then…women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies, our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs…”

–Julia Ward Howe, Mothers’ Day Proclamation of 1870

The Mother’s Day we celebrate today in the United States is quite different. It was pioneered by Ann Jarvis’s daughter, Anna Jarvis, after her mother’s passing. Anna conceived of the holiday, not as a day of social activism, but as a day of recognition and gratitude for one’s own mother. And by placing the apostrophe before the ‘s’ rather than after, Mother’s Day became a very personal day rather than a collective one.

And far more commercial. Mother’s Day is a bigger day for the flower industry than even Valentine’s Day.

The greeting card companies haven’t yet figured out how to commercialize upon Women’s Day’s 100 year old tradition of social activism. But give it time.

Likewise, as the holiday grows more mainstream, the creators of Women’s Day rallies have yet to rediscover how to turn the date into one of social revolution.

Cindy Sheehan, Women's Day Rally
Cindy Sheehan, Women's Day Rally, March 2009

Southern California native Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in the Iraq War, was on hand at the Los Angeles rally to deliver an address to the crowd on Westwood Blvd. Appealing to a more targeted audience than Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign, her credo was the more direct: “What the F***?”

International Women’s Day

March 8


Over a hundred years ago, 15,000 women in New York City came together to march for better working conditions and universal women’s suffrage.

The following year the Socialist Party of America declared February 28 to be National Women’s Day. In Copenhagen in 1910 an International Women’s Day was proposed and unanimously agreed upon by 100 women representing 17 countries. It would be observed simultaneously by women around the world.

The first official International Women’s Day was observed on March 8, 1911. Over a million people celebrated in countries including Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.

That same month the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City killed over 140 woman workers, mostly poor immigrants, and propelled the appalling working conditions of woman laborers to the forefront of national politics.

Russia, which was still on the Julian Calendar, celebrated Women’s Day on February 23 to observe the holiday concurrently with the rest of the world. On February 23, 1917 thousands of women demonstrated in St. Petersburg, Russia, demanding Food for our Children, and for the return of their husbands and sons from the war. The Women’s Day march led to further demonstrations, and the abolishment of the centuries-old Czardom of Russia four days later.

Today, a century after 15,000 women banded together on the streets of New York, International Women’s Day is one of the most widely-celebrated secular holidays in the world.

Happy Leap Day!

[published Feb. 29, 2008]

I won’t be able to blog this holiday for another four years, so I better make this one count.

Leap Day is the day that keeps our calendar in line with the sun and the seasons in whack (as opposed to out of whack). The addition of a regular Leap Day every for years as opposed to a lunar calendar or an “intercalary month” added at arbitrary intervals, is what made the Julian calendar (pardon the expression) Leap Years ahead of its Roman predecessors. The rules of Leap Year also necessitated the change to the Gregorian calendar 1500 years later.

But I’ve already blogged about the history and transformation of Leap Day and the calendar at length in Are You Bissextile?“,  “Why January 1 Marks the New Year,” and “Secrets of Dating.”

Instead, just random facts for Leap Day:

For centuries in Western culture Leap Day has been known as the day when women can legally propose to men. One legend has it this is because of a deal St. Brigid made with St. Patrick.

Leap Day hasn’t occurred on a Friday in 28 years.

The Gregorian calendar repeats its cycle every 400 years. During that cycle Leap Day is more likely to fall on a Monday or Wednesday than any other day.

Leap Day has come to be known as Sadie Hawkin’s Day in the U.S., because both holidays allow women to ask out men. But Sadie Hawkins Day, which began in the 1930s, was originally celebrated on November 15.

Sadie Hawkins Day grew out of a comic strip called “Lil’ Abner” by Al Capp. In the comic strip the annual Sadie Hawkins Race had been established by Sadie’s father. He was afraid she’d never find a husband, so he started a foot race between the town’s unmarried girls and beaus. If a woman caught up to the man of her choice, he would be required to marry her. (A good way to keep boyfriends in tip-top shape!)

Today Leap Year Babies celebrate one hell of party, since they won’t have another birthday until 2012.

And guys, be on the lookout!<

Secrets of Dating: Julian vs Gregorian calendars

There is often a difference of 11 to 13 days between the date an event occurred in history and the date it is celebrated on the calendar today. This is due to a discrepancy that occurred in the shift from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar.

The Julian Calendar, named for Julius Caesar, called for an extra day (Leap Day) to be inserted once every four years, in order to keep consistent with the 365 & 1/4 day solar year.

It was a vast improvement over the previous Roman calendar, which drifted up to 100 days from the actual solar year. However even the Julian calendar wasn’t entirely accurate. The solar year is slightly less than 365 & 1/4 days. Not enough to notice at first. It took almost a century for the Julian Calendar to drift just one day from the solar year.

But by the 1500s people were starting to notice that the calendar was off by 11 days from the summer and winter solstice.

Astronomers calculated that to accurately mirror the solar year, one Leap Day had to be removed each century. In other words, each century should have 24 Leap Years rather than 25. The new calendar was called the Gregorian calendar, because it was installed under Pope Gregory’s Papacy in 1582 AD. [This is why years ending in ’00 no longer have Leap Days. (Except every 400 years which is why 2000 was a Leap Year. {Just don’t worry about it. You have better things to do with your brain power.}

Anyway to get rid of the 11 excess days that had accumulated over the previous 15 centuries Pope Gregory did just that. He tossed 11 days from the 1582 calendar. This means people went to bed on October 4th, 1582 and woke up on October 15th. (And you thought Daily Savings was a drag!)

It took Great Britain and its colonies another 200  years to adopt the Gregorian system and get rid of the 11 days. Russia didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1918. Which is why the Russian “October Revolution” of 1917 took place on November 7 according to Western calendars.

It’s been suggested that the Austrians were annihilated at Napoleon’s Battle of Austerlitz because of the Julian vs. Gregorian calendar debacle.  Reinforcements from Russia thought they had eleven extra days to make their rendezvouz with the Austrians.

So if you see holidays celebrated 11 to 13 days after the rest of the world, it’s because the Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrates according to their pre-Gregorian dates. (Christmas, Epiphany, New Year…)

And remember, if you ever miss a birthday by several days, just tell ’em you’re on the Julian calendar. It’s old school.