United Nations Day

October 24

“Millions of tongues record thee, and anew
Their children’s lips shall echo them, and say—
‘Here where the sword united nations drew,
Our countrymen were warring on that day!”

–Lord George Gordon Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

In 2009 the UN turned 63, the same age its leading proponent was when he died in April 1945, a month shy of Germany’s surrender.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had spent his 63rd birthday (January 30, 1945) aboard the USS Quincy on route to meet Churchill and Stalin in the Crimea. Stalin had refused to travel far “on doctor’s orders”, so FDR, stricken with polio and two months from death, trekked halfway across the world. Churchill once said of Yalta, “We could not have found a worse place if we had spent ten years on research.”

At Yalta, Churchill and Roosevelt lost on the issue of future democratic elections in Soviet-controlled Poland. But they got one thing from Stalin. They settled the “veto issue” that had halted the negotiations of the formation of the “United Nations”, an international organization that would curb future territorial aggression.

[Previous to this, the term “United Nations” referred to an alliance of countries fighting against the Axis Powers in World War II. The January 1, 1942 Declaration by United Nations had stated that “Each Government pledges itself to employ its full resources, military or economic, against those members of the Tripartite Pact and its adherents with which such government is at war.“]

On April 12, 1945, hours after FDR’s death, the new VP Harry Truman was sworn in as President of the United States, inheriting a World War and an atomic bomb project so secret that the Soviets had known of its existence before he did. Truman’s first decision as President, immediately after taking the oath, was to carry on with the scheduled UN conference in San Francisco. “It was what Roosevelt wanted,” he said.

Two weeks later, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco to forge the Charter of the United Nations, based on negotiations between the US, UK, USSR and China.

Twenty five years earlier a similar organization, the League of Nations, had stumbled in its infancy when Woodrow Wilson, who had pushed the idea of the League of Nations to the rest of the world, failed to gain enough support from his own Congress to join it.

This time, with the hindsight of WWII, the U.S. Senate approved the charter, 89 to 2. On August 8, two days after Truman dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and one day before Nagasaki, the U.S. became the first country to submit its formal documents to the United Nations.

It was an ominous moment of gestation for a world peace organization, and a foretelling one. The power of all the countries of the world would be eclipsed by the atomic weapons of the two most powerful. And thus for most of its life, the UN’s influence was secondary to the Cold War tug-of-war between the U.S.-led NATO and the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact.

Founding of UN
Founding of the U.N.

The UN first convened on October 24, now observed as United Nations Day.

Today, if there is one thing that unites all the contradictory and warring countries of the earth, it may be universal disappointment at the United Nations, seen as a tool of the U.S. by much of the West, and as a tool of the West by the rest of the world. While in the U.S., as conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly once told War Crimes Ambassador David Scheffer, “I’m not going to make an excuse for the U.S. government. Our intelligence agencies obviously have been troubled. But you are making an excuse for the United Nations, which I think is so impotent there isn’t enough Viagra in the world.”

Still, for all its faults, this year the United Nations is technically older than most governments on earth. That means over 100 nations have gained their independence since its formation, and most of these were subjugated colonies and satellites of the Big Five in charge. Even if the UN isn’t directly responsible for all these births, it has created a forum in which the countries of the earth are forced, for a brief moment, to see themselves through their neighbors’ eyes. And in a world this small, that may prove to be the most powerful negotiation tool of all.

United Nations: The First 50 Years – Stanley Meisler

Earth Overshoot Day

August 21, 2010

September 25, 2009


This has nothing to do with giant killer asteroids nearly demolishing the planet. (That’s Near Miss Day, celebrated on March 23, the anniversary of the the day in 1989 that a 1000-foot asteroid passed the spot Earth had been six hours earlier.) No, Earth Overshoot Day is a symbolic measure of humanity’s energy consumption, and it falls on a different day each year.

Put simply, Earth Overshoot Day estimates the amount of days it takes humanity to use a year’s worth of the Earth’s renewable energy resources. Ideally, Earth Overshoot Day would occur on December 31, or better yet, there would be no Earth Overshoot Day, because we would consume less energy in a year than the Earth naturally regenerates, and create less pollution than the planet can reabsorb, but that hasn’t happened since 1986.

“…before that time [1986] the global community consumed resources and produced carbon dioxide at a rate consistent with what the planet could produce and reabsorb. By 1996, however, humanity was using 15 percent more resources in a year than the planet could supply, with Earth Overshoot Day falling in November.”


According to Top Scientists, we now use approximately 40% more energy than the Earth is capable of sustaining. That means this year (2009) Earth Overshoot Day falls on September 25.

The good news is that Earth Overshoot Day was September 23 in 2008. So maybe we’re headed it the right direction. Of course, 2008 was also a Leap Year, so don’t go celebrating just yet. And if you do go celebrating, don’t start a tire bonfire.

2010 Update: This year Earth Overshoot Day fell over a month before last year’s. Definitely not a good sign. The good news is, now that we’re past Overshoot Day, we can consume all the energy we want since it won’t count toward next year. Right? At this rate, we’ll be celebrating Overshoot Day in January by the end of the next decade.

2011 Update: The good news: Even as we reach 7 billion people, this year’s Earth Overshoot Day is over a month later than last year’s. Is the world getting more efficient? Time Magazine says no. “Amid Paeans to Energy Efficiency, World is Getting Less Efficient

Global Footprint Network – Earth Overshoot Day

Peace One Day

Peace Day was the brainchild of filmmaker Jeremy Gilley who began lobbying for an international day of ceasefire and non-violence back in 1999.

In 2001,

“member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted 21 September as an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence on the UN International Day of Peace. We call that day Peace Day.” (Peace One Day website)

In addition to its symbolic value, relief agencies use the one-day ceasefire to deliver much needed medical services to populations in war-torn areas.

More information on Peace Day can be found at www.peaceoneday.org

No Tobacco Day

May 31

Today is No Tobacco Day, instituted by the World Health Organization in 1987. Originally observed on April 7, 1988 as a day of “No Smoking”, the name was changed to reflect the dangers of all forms of tobacco, and the date was moved to May 31, we assume to celebrate the birthday of Clint Eastwood.

Used to be no movie star would be caught live in front of a camera without a cigarette in his or her mouth. It was an uphill battle convincing cinema-going youth not to smoke what with images of their favorite stars puffing away on screen.

But as their movie heroes died of cancer—from Yul Brynner to John Wayne—the anti-smoking argument became more convincing.

Still, today bloggers like the good doctoratlarge point out the top eleven oft-overlooked advantages of smoking, including:

“8) Nicotine is great for constipation.”

“5) You burn a hole in your pocket (literally if you are not careful), learning to survive with meager resources.”


“2) You learn to kiss butts, and as everyone knows, this is a priceless asset to those wishing to make it big in life…”

Over the past 25 years, the general public’s view on smoking has changed immensely. Even Dirty Harry has altered his views on smoking, (if not on gun control):

Youtube – Clint Eastwood Enforces Smoking Ban


Mayday Mayday

May 1

I was taught in elementary school that we didn’t celebrate May Day anymore because it was a Communist holiday.

Not only was this a lame excuse not to celebrate a holiday, it also wasn’t true.

In ancient and medieval Europe, seasons were determined not by equinoxes and solstices, but by the days that fell directly in between, known as “cross-quarter days.” The first cross-quarter day of the year is Groundhog Day or Candlemas, between winter solstice and spring equinox. The second is today, May Day, which once marked the beginning of summer.

May Day traditions such as creating floral wreaths date back to the Romans and Celts (Beltane), and survived well into the 20th century, including dancing around the Maypole and crowning a ‘May Queen.’

Mizzou, Missouri, 1911

In the 19th century May Day became a standard date for workers to re-negotiate contracts with employers. One reason may be because it was one of the few days off workers had that wasn’t a Sunday (church day) or a religious holiday. Thus, as communities got together to celebrate, the workers–usually the fathers of the family–could also unite for better wages or working conditions.

Over time May Day was adopted by (or hijacked by, depending on your politics) communist, socialist and labor groups. May Day fell out of favor in the U.S. where the first of May is celebrated with other, more patriotic holidays, including:

  • Law Day
  • Loyalty Day
  • National Day of Prayer (1st Thursday in May)

and the more casual

  • Lei Day.

Lei Day is, believe it or not, the oldest of those four holidays. It’s the Hawaiian version of May Day, dating to the 1920s. Loyalty Day, Law Day, and National Day of Prayer were officiated in the 1950s under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower.

In the United States, Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September.

Even though May Day was seen as a communist import in America, it was in Chicago, Illinois, that May Day gained notoriety as a day for workers and eventually became the international holiday known as Labour Day.

Oh, and the distress call ‘Mayday! Mayday!‘ has nothing to do with the holiday. It’s from the French venez m’aider, meaning ‘come help me.’

Labour Day

May 1

In the mid-1800s May 1 was the de facto date for labor groups to re-negotiate rates with employers, precisely because May 1 marked the beginning of the summer. Workers were in greater demand in summer than in the winter months, which gave them more bargaining power. Also, the traditional holiday May Day was one of the few days workers had off that wasn’t spent at church.

As societies became more industrialized, May Day workers’ gatherings increased in number and intensity.

The first of two major Chicago strikes occurred on May 1, 1867. Labor unions in Chicago had been able to get an ‘eight-hour day’ bill passed in the Illinois state legislature, but couldn’t get it enforced. They declared a strike on May 1; the strike collapsed within a week.

In 1884, the newly formed Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (later the AFL) declared that an 8-hour workday would take effect on May 1, 1886, with or without government legislation. The implication being that any district where this law was not implemented would be effectively shut down.

On May Day, 1886, over a quarter million workers walked off the job across the United States—40,000 in Chicago alone. Over the next few days the Chicago numbers rose to 100,000.

On May 3, police shot and killed two strikers when a scuffle broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between strikers and “scabs” coming to replace them.

Anarchists organized a rally the following day. Relations were already tense between the police and the strikers, and flyers asked workers to “arm yourselves and appear in full force.”

Miraculously the Haymarket rally was peaceful right up until the end. The mayor had even gone home from the rally, sensing no danger from the dwindling crowd.

At 10:30 in the evening the last speaker finished his speech to a crowd of about 300.  Suddenly, as the police moved in to disperse the demonstrators, a homemade bomb was hurled into a throng of officers. The blast and the ensuing violence killed 7 officers and wounded another 60. Police fired into the crowd after the blast, killing an unknown number of demonstrators.

The Haymarket tragedy resulted in the execution of 4 anarchist leaders and a wide-spread government crackdown on not only extremists, but on unions and the labor movement in general. The government’s reaction to Haymarket became a rallying point for unions and socialist organizations in Europe and Asia as well as North America.

The first international labor strike for the eight-hour day occurred on May 1, 1890 partly in tribute to the Haymarket tragedy. As mentioned before, outside the U.S., May Day is called Labour Day or International Workers’ Day.

May Day violence continues to this day. A peaceful immigration demonstration in Los Angeles on May 1, 2007, ended with police firing rubber bullets at demonstrators. (News footage of the event resulted in the retraining of the LAPD to handle crowd control events through the extraction of individual agitators instead.)

In 2008, all ports on the West Coast came to a halt on May Day when the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union went on strike to protest the war in Iraq. Demonstrations in Germany and Turkey ended in unexpected violence.

Everybody Dance Now – International Dance Day

April 29

Today’s International Dance Day, which is celebrated on April 29, believe it or not, because of this guy.

Stuffy as he looks, Jean-Georges Noverre could apparently cut a rug in his day. He began dancing professionally at age 16 and wrote his first ballet at 20. He danced in Paris, London, Vienna and Strasbourg, and was head of the Paris Opera Ballet until his boss, Marie Antoinette, lost her own head. Noverre was allowed to keep his, but the French Revolution ended his career and reduced him to poverty.

When times were good he hung with the likes of Mozart, Voltaire, and Frederick the Great. His ideas revolutionized ballet. He believed a dancer’s personality is part of performance, rather than the one-size-fits-all training technique commonly taught. He believed all dances and movements must be integrated into the story, character and theme, and did away with superfluous numbers.

Criticizing the masks traditionally worn in Paris ballet that hid dancers’ genuine expressions, he wrote, “Destroy the masks and we shall gain a soul.”

So tonight, put on your red shoes, your dance shoes, your boogie shoes, turn on the red light, get down, make love, let it all hang out, and shake it like a polaroid picture.

No mask necessary.

Workers Memorial Day

April 28

Today is a National Day of Mourning in Canada. Not for those killed in wars or natural disasters, but for those who made the fatal mistake of showing up to work.

Internationally the day is known as Workers Memorial Day. The date April 28 was chosen because it’s the anniversary of Canada’s Workmen’s Compensation Act, passed in 1914, which created the predecessor of today’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board.

A random sampling of Canadians found that most had never heard of the National Day of Mourning, an effort by the Canadian Labour Congress to spread awareness of workplace safety. However, spokesperson Terry O’Connor believes the lack of safe working conditions is a growing problem in Canada.

“Canada continues to have one of the highest workplace fatality rates of any Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development country…In 2006, the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada reported 976 workplace fatalities in Canada, compared to 805 workplace fatalities in 1996 — an 18 per cent increase in a 10-year period.”

South of the border, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fatal accidents on the job have declined since 1994 by 14%, while the number of people in the workforce has increased by the same amount. The most dangerous jobs in North America?

  • 10. Agricultural workers
  • 9. Truck Drivers/Drivers
  • 8. Roofers
  • 7. Electrical power line repairers
  • 6. Farmers & Ranchers
  • 5. Refuse collectors/recyclers
  • 4. Steel workers
  • 3. Loggers
  • 2. Pilots
  • And #1?


Yes, that crab you bite into comes a steep price, and we’re not just talking money. The occupational-fatality rate for commercial fishing is over 20 times the national average.

17 Minutes That Changed America

Overall North American working conditions have greatly improved since Upton Sinclair wrote his scathing look at America’s meatpacking industry in The Jungle over 100 years ago. His aim was to raise awareness of the plight of exploited workers, many of them women and children in dangerous conditions for long hours and for the lowest of wages.

But the reading public cared more about what was going into their hot dogs (hint: you thought soylent green was nasty?…) than for the workers’ plight. When foreign sales of American meat products declined by 50%, Washington established the Food and Drug Administration to improve the food industry’s appalling standards.

It would take 146 deaths in a single day to spark outcry for legislation that would improve workplace safety.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company, the “largest blouse-making operation in New York,” was located on Washington Place and Greene Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Each day 500 workers, mostly young immigrant girls, crowded into the factory. At 4:40 pm on March 25, a bin under a wooden desk on the eighth floor caught fire (most likely from a tossed cigarette).

When workers first spotted the flame they tried to put it out with water, but the scraps of cotton fabric in the bin—more flammable than paper—turned the flame into a conflagration within seconds. Panic struck the workers, and…

“those clustered at the Greene Street partition stampeded into the small opening, pushing and shouting and wrestling toward the stairway. Behind them, others in the factory saw this pileup and ran toward the opposite corner of the room, where they bottlenecked at the Washington Place elevators…”

One worker on the 8th floor managed to reach the secretary and swicthboard operator on the 10th floor via telephone.

Most of the tenth floor executive staff escaped by climbing onto the roof and into a taller adjacent building. But when the switchboard operator left her post, there was no way to call and warn the 9th floor workers, since all calls had to be routed through the 10th floor.

Of the 146 victims, 140 worked on the ninth floor.

Fire blocked the stairwell. The one flimsy fire escape collapsed. The owners had locked the ninth floor doors from the outside to make sure the girls didn’t steal.

The doors opened inward, so by the time they were unlocked, the doors were impossible to open because of the weight of dozens of screaming employees crushed against them, trying to escape.

The fire hoses on the top floors lacked adequate water pressure. The weight of escapees in the elevator immobilized the unit. One girl survived by jumping down the elevator shaft, landing atop the elevator on its last trip.

Over fifty workers jumped out the windows of the 9th floor rather than be consumed by fire. When the last one jumped to her death it was 4:57.

These tragic seventeen minutes–and the furor that followed–laid the foundation for sweeping changes in the labor movement that continue to protect workers to this day.

Below is a list of those killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911. It was compiled by David Von Drehle, author of Triangle: The Fire That Changed America.

  • Lizzie Adler, 24
  • Anna Altman, 16
  • Anna Ardito, 25
  • Rosie Bassino, 31
  • Vincenza Bellota, 16
  • Ignazia Bellotta,
  • Vincenza Benenti, 22
  • Essie Bernsetin, 19
  • Jacob Bernstein, 28
  • Morris Bernstein, 19
  • Gussie Bierman, 22
  • Abraham Binevitz, 20
  • Rosie Brenman
  • Surka (Sarah) Brenman
  • Ida Brodsky, 16
  • Sarah Brodsky, 16
  • Ida (Ada) Brooks, 18
  • Laura Brunette, 17
  • Frances Caputto, 17
  • Josephine Carlisi, 31
  • Albina Caruso, 20
  • Josie Castello, 21
  • Rosie Cirrito, 18
  • Anna Cohen, 25
  • Antonia (Annie) Colletti, 30
  • Dora Dochman, 19
  • Kalman Downic, 24
  • Celia Eisenberg, 17
  • Rebecca Feibisch, 17 or 18
  • Yetta Fichtenhultz, 18
  • Daisy Lopez Fitze, 24
  • Tina Frank, 17
  • Rosie Freedman, 18
  • Molly Gerstein, 17
  • Celina Gettlin, 17
  • Esther Goldstein, 20
  • Lena Goldstein, 23
  • Mary Goldstein, 18
  • Yetta Goldstein, 20
  • Irene Grameatassio, 24
  • Bertha Greb, 25
  • Dinah Greenberg, 18
  • Rachel Grossman, 17
  • Rosie Grosso, 16
  • Esther Harris, 21
  • Mary Herman, 40
  • Esther Hochfield, 22
  • Fannie Hollander, 18
  • Pauline Horowitz, 19
  • Ida Jakofsky, 18
  • Augusta (Tessie) Kaplan, 18
  • Becky Kappelman, 18
  • Ida Kenowitz, 18
  • Becky Kessler, 19
  • Jacob Klein, 28
  • Bertha Kuhler, 20
  • Tillie Kupfersmith, 16
  • Sarah Kupla, 16
  • Benjamin (Benny) Kuritz, 19
  • Annie L’Abbato, 16
  • Fannie Lansner, 21
  • Mary Laventhal, 22
  • Jennie Lederman, 20
  • Nettie Lefkowitz, 23
  • Max Lehrer, 22
  • Sam Lehrer, 19
  • Kate Leone, 14
  • Rosie Lermarck, 19
  • Jennie Levin, 19
  • Pauline Levine, 19
  • Catherine Maltese, mother of Lucy & Sara
  • Lucia (Lucy) Maltese, 20
  • Rosaria (Sara) Maltese, 14
  • Maria Manara, 27
  • Bertha Manders, 22
  • Rose Manofsky, 22
  • Michela (Mechi) Marciano, 20
  • Yetta Meyers, 19
  • Bettina Miale, 18
  • Frances Miale, 21
  • Gaetana Midolo, 16
  • Becky Nebrerer, 19
  • Annie Nicholas, 18
  • Nicolina Nicolosci, 21 or 22
  • Annie Novobritsky, 20
  • Sadie Nussbaum, 18
  • Julia Oberstein, 19
  • Rose Oringer, 20
  • Becky Ostrowsky, 20
  • Carrie Ozzo, 22
  • Annie Pack, 18
  • Providencia Panno, 43
  • Antonietta Pasqualicca, 16
  • Ida Pearl, 20
  • Jennie Pildescu, 1
  • Millie Prato, 21
  • Becky Reivers, 19
  • Emma Rootstein
  • Israel Rosen, 17
  • Julia Rosen, 35, mother of Israel
  • Louis Rosen, 38
  • Yetta Rosenbaum, 22
  • Jennie Rosenberg, 21
  • Gussie Rosenfeld, 22
  • Nettie Rosenthal, 21
  • Theodore (Teddy) Rothner, 22
  • Sarah Sabasowitz, 17
  • Serephina (Sara) Saracino, 25
  • Teraphen (Tessie) Saracino, 20
  • Gussie Schiffman, 18
  • Theresa (Rose) Schmidt, 32
  • Ethel Schneider, 30
  • Violet Schochep, 21
  • Margaret Schwart, 24
  • Jacob Selzer, 33
  • Annie Semmilo, 30
  • Rosie Shapiro, 17
  • Beryl (Ben) Sklaver, 25
  • Rosie Sorkin, 18
  • Gussie Spunt, 19
  • Annie Starr, 30
  • Jennie Stellino, 16
  • Jennie Stern, 18
  • Jennie Stiglitz, 22
  • Samuel Tabick, 18
  • Clotilde Terdanova, 22
  • Isabella Tortorella, 17
  • Mary Ullo, 26
  • Meyer Utal, 23
  • Freda Velakowsky, 20
  • Bessie Viviano, 15
  • Rose Weiner, 23
  • Celia (Sally) Weintraub, 17
  • Dora Welfowitz, 21
  • Joseph Wilson, 21
  • Tessie Wisner, 21
  • Sonia Wisotsky, 17
  • Bertha Wondross, 18

A covered pier had to be converted to a makeshift morgue to make room for the bodies.

The factory’s owners were charged with manslaughter.

And were acquitted.