Okay, actually, technically, April 15th isn’t the Ides; April 13 is.
But the 15th of April is a day all Americans dread. It is, of course, Kim Il-Sung’s birthday. This guy was leader of North Korea from the time Truman was President all the way through to the Clinton Administration, and transformed North Korea into the thriving open-minded society it is today.
In addition to that, it’s Tax Day. That means if you’re headed to the post office—forget it, you should’ve left yesterday.
And if you’re filing online today expect DSL gridlock well through midnight.
You’ll be glad to know you’re following in a well-established American tradition.
The first U.S. income tax was levied in 1861 to help finance the Civil War. It taxed 3% of net incomes over a whopping $600 a year. The income tax was dismantled eleven years later.
Harper’s ran this prophetic cartoon in 1878 during one of several proposals to reinstate the income tax:
Income taxes were intermittently levied over the next three decades until the 1894 Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act attempted to claim a 2% tax on incomes over $4000. Opponents declared the act “unDemocratic, inquisitorial, and wrong in principle.” And the Supreme Court agreed, declaring the federal income tax unconstitutional.
Then came good ol’ Amendment 16:
“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without appointment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”
ie. Yours is Mine.
Yes, you have no 16th Amendment rights.
It took over two years (from 1911-1913) for the amendment to rack up the required 2/3’s majority–from 36 of the 48 states, and finally passed in 1913.
So whatever your taxes amount to, you can’t blame Connecticut, Florida, Rhode Island, Utah, Pennsylvania or Virginia. They’re the only states (of the 48 at the time) that never ratified the amendment.
Oh and what was state #36?
Yeah, and New Mexico was not a state until 1912. Thanks New Mexico, thanks for your brilliant contribution. Really, we’re not bitter.
Vaisakhi has long been celebrated as the New Year by the cultures of Punjab in northwest India and eastern Pakistan. But for Sikhs, Vaisakhi is one of the most important holidays of the year.
Celebrated every year on April 13 or 14, for Sikhs Vaisakhi (also Baisakhi) commemorates the founding of the Khalsa Pantha (Order of the Pure) by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.
Guru Gobind Singh, as you may recall, is the last of the ten mortal gurus. He’s worshiped for, among other things, upon his death handing over the title Guru not to a person, but to the Sikh holy book itself, Guru Granth Sahib, a collection of divinely inspired writings by the first ten Gurus.
But he is also known for transforming Sikhs into a family of holy warriors, or soldier saints, known as the Khalsa Pantha.
On this day in 1699, at the Vaisakhi Festival in Anandpur Sahib, Gobind Singh called together some of his most devoted followers outside his tent. In front of a crowd of thousands, he asked who was willing to give their life to Sikh cause. A man volunteered. Gobind Singh took him into the tent and reappeared moments later alone, blood dripping from his sword.
To the crowd’s astonishment Gobind Singh asked again who was willing to give their life. Another man volunteered. Gobind Singh led the man to his tent and again came out alone with his bloody sword. This happened three more times.
After the fifth time Gobind Singh returned to his tent and brought out the five men unharmed, with turbans around their heads. He baptized them with a sacred nectar of immortality called amrit and declared them the Panh Piara, the Five Beloved Ones. These were the first five of the Khalsa, the elite group of holy warriors who would ensure the survival of the Sikh religion over the next three centuries.
Even today, though Sikhs are a minority in India, they still traditionally hold a disproportional number of military posts as commanders and officers.
Vaisakh is the first month in the Nanakshahi calendar. It coincides with April and May. The Vaisakhi festival is celebrated with processions and parades throughout Punjab as well as in Sikh communities throughout the world. The largest Vaisakhi parade outside India is in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“The month of Vaisaakh is beautiful and pleasant, when the Saint causes me to meet the Lord.” — Guru Granth Sahib p134
Songkran is believed to have originated with the Dtai people (now in northern Thailand, Vietnam and Laos) as a fertility festival. Like the Hindi festival Sankranti, the word Songkran derives from the Sanskrit “Sankranti” comes from to the sun’s transition from one zodiac sign to another, in this case Pisces into Aries, and from the Pali word (of Theraveda Buddhist texts) “Sankhara“.
“Songkran is a Public Spring Cleaning Day, supported by the religious belief that anything old and useless must be thrown away or it will bring bad luck to the owner.”
[Ed.: My mother would love this holiday.]
Another tradition of Songkran is the formulation of predictions about the year to come:
“…the predictions come in the presence and posture of the divine, mythical ladies that are Nang Songkran. How will the weather be? Will the economy prosper? Will a fatal pandemic strike? How will crops yield? These common concerns for the largely agriculture-based Thai society will be answered by a simple calculation of the time the sun enters Aries – which indicates which one of the seven Songkran goddesses descend to Earth and in what posture she comes.”
But the most notable traditions of the festival are those involving water. Songkran season is the hottest time in Thailand. Originally the ritual of lightly sprinkling one’s elders with water was a sign of respect during the last days of the festival. Nowadays however, water activities have taken over every day of the festival, and in places like Chiang Mai, Thais celebrate by waging water battles on a scale unseen in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Packed into the back of the utes were about 9 or 11 people, a big plastic tub full to the brim of water, and our array of weapons – plastic buckets, plastic half buckets used to flush the toilets, and water pistols with special water tanks strapped onto backs. As we headed into town, people and children were clustered at points along the way in formidable armies with hoses, buckets and big tubs of water. Our driver would slow down and we were ruthlessly soaked about five minutes into our journey. We retaliated, scooping water out of the tub, yelling ‘LEFT!’ and ‘RIGHT!’ depending on where the next group of people were.”
Some are less thrilled about the festival’s recent evolution:
The overenthusiastic water play in which visitors to Chiangmai heartily participate on their first experience in Chiangmai represents a development of customs relating to the celebration of the Thai lunar new year…In the past people might sprinkle a bit of scented water on your shoulder to wish you a happy new year, but this has deteriorated to getting dowsed with a bucket of ice water by an individual on the back of a moving pickup truck.” “In some people’s viewpoint it has become excessive and many prefer to remain at home with a good book or a video rather than expose themselves to a daily drenching.”
The festival lasts several days, the first day being April 13, or Wan Songkran Lohng. This is the last day of the year, during which people clean their homes in preparation for the holiday. Towns hold large parades involving images of the Buddha, which are sometimes bathed with special water.
The second day, Wan Nao, is the day between the old and new year. People prepare the traditional food to be used in the following day’s ceremonies.
Day three, Wan Payawan, is the officially the first day of the new year, when celebrants offer the previously prepared food to the monks.
On day four, Wan Paak Bpee, celebrants pay respect to their ancestors and elders, as well as important members of the community. In a ceremony known as rod naam daam hua, participants pour special scented water over the hands of their elders, who then bestow a blessing on them.
The water tradition may come from the ancient belief that rain was created by mythical serpents known as Nagas who spouted water from the sea. Regardless of its origin, the water fights are now a ubiquitous sign of Songkran and an annual symbol of rebirth for the whole community.
The Motherland hears, the Motherland knows
Where her son flies in the sky
—Russian song whistled by Yuri Gagarin during the first manned space flight
For thousands of years, humans stared at the skies wondering about the composition of the stars, lights that shined through pinpoints in the banner of heaven. It took millennia for our knowledge of the skies to coalesce. And it wasn’t until 1903 that Wilber and Orville Wright appeared to have conquered gravity, albeit briefly.
Yet only six decades after that first flight, a human being transcended into outer space. That man was Yuri Gagarin. The day was April 12, 1961—now celebrated as Cosmonaut’s Day.
The 27 year-old Russian pilot stood only 5’2″, an advantage for the world’s first cosmonaut, crammed into the tiny cockpit of the spacecraft Vostok 3KA. The Vostok launched from Baykonur, Kazakhstan, at 9:07 am Moscow Time. The flight lasted only 108 minutes, but in that time Yuri Gagarin circled the globe, a feat that had taken Magellan’s crew three years.
As late as early April there had been six contenders for the first cosmonaut. Gagarin wasn’t finalized as the pilot of the craft until just two days before the flight. And if some officials had their way, we would be celebrating “Herman’s Night” today instead of “Yuri’s Night.” Herman Titov was Yuri’s backup.
According to Gagarin, the flight went mostly smoothly. He didn’t report an emergency during the mission, but:
“As soon as TDU (breaking engine) shot down, there was a sharp jolt. The spacecraft started spinning about its axis with a very high speed…Everything was spinning. One moment I see Africa — it happened over Africa — another the horizon, another the sky. I barely had time to shade myself from the sun, so the light did not blind my eyes.”
The 20th century Icarus faired better than his Greek predecessor. Gagarin ejected from the crafted at 10:44 am and landed safely.
His post-flight report wasn’t published until decades after the flight.
By beating the first American into space (Alan Shepard) by one month, Gagarin helped the Soviet Union emerge as the apparent leader in aeronautic technology, and the space race was on. Yuri went from complete obscurity to a national hero—perhaps THE national hero for two generations of Russians.
Gagarin legacy far outlasted his life. He died in 1968 in a training flight crash. He was only 34 years old.
Cosmonautics Day was established by the Soviet Union in 1962. Today April 12 is also known as Yuri’s Night, celebrated around the world in honor of the 5’2″ giant who first touched the heavens.
If you grew up in El Norte, chances are your history books skipped the chapter on William Walker and Juan Santamaría. The two men could not have been more different.
Juan Santamaría was a poor laborer, an illegitimate son raised by a single mother in the impoverished district of Alajuela, Costa Rica. He joined his country’s army as a drummer boy in the 1850’s.
William Walker was born to a well-to-do family in the American South and graduated from college summa cum laude at age 14. He went on to study at some of the most prestigious universities in Europe before earning his doctorate in medicine at age 19. He briefly practiced law in New Orleans before moving to San Francisco where he explored the field of journalism.
Despite their different upbringings, the fates of these two men would become inextricably woven at Rivas, Nicaragua in April 1858.
While in San Francisco, Walker had conceived of a political opportunity south of the border—he gathered a group of pro-slavery supporters to help him establish slavery-friendly zones in Mexico and Central America.
For whatever reason, the government of Mexico had issues with Walker’s notion. When they didn’t capitulate, Walker raised an army and took Baja California by force. He proclaimed it part of a larger pro-slavery region that would be called the Republic of Sonora. Later defeats caused Walker to retreat. He was put on trial in the United States for inciting an unsanctioned war. And was acquitted by a jury in eight minutes.
The William Walker story doesn’t end there. It worked so well in Mexico, he figured why not spread the love to Central America.
Walker set his sites on Nicaragua. Before the Panama Canal, Lake Nicaragua was the gateway between the Atlantic and Pacific. The overland route could chop months of a trip around the Tierra del Fuego. Nicaragua had just undergone a serious period of destabilization—15 presidents in six years—making it ripe for exploitation.
With an invitation from one of the feuding Nicaraguan political parties, the Democrats, Walker and 57 men invaded Nicaragua. They captured the city of Granada. With the support of the Democrats, Walker set himself up as de facto ruler of the country.
At this time, the President of Costa Rica, Juan Rafael Mora, sensing Walker’s future ambitions, made a pre-emptive decision—to cross over into Nicaragua and attack, not on the country of Nicaragua itself but Walker and his forces.
The climactic battle between Walker and Mora was the Second Battle of Rivas. The inexperienced Walker made multiple military blunders prior to the battle, forcing the small army to hole up inside a thatched-roof hostel.
Enter Juan Santamaria. There couldn’t be a more compelling antidote to the overeducated and overprivileged Walker. At the time of the Battle of Rivas, the day laborer was a 25 year-old drummer boy in the Costa Rican army.
Though Walker’s forces were outmanned at Rivas, their position in the hostel gave them a distinct shooting advantage. Costa Rican General José María Canas called on a volunteer to approach the hostel and light the roof on fire with a torch. It was a suicide mission. Santamaría stepped forward, asking only that should he die, someone look after his mother.
Under heavy fire, Santamaría reached the hostel and threw the torch, igniting the roof. Santamaría was struck dead by enemy fire; however Walker’s men were forced to flee. Santamaría’s last act was the beginning of the end for Walker, and marked a symbolic turning point in the repulsion of foreign forces from Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Walker was executed by firing squad in 1860.
Sadly, the heroics of the Battle of Rivas were overshadowed by a devastating cholera epidemic that killed a tenth of the population of Costa Rica. But in the decades that followed, Santamaría’s legend emerged as the leading heroic figure symbolizing the unity of the Costa Rican people against imperialist forces. Because Costa Rica hadn’t fought for independence from Spain, the battle against William Walker became event that solidified the nationalist spirit.
Even today, the young drummer boy from Alajuela is the only Costa Rican to be honored with his own national holiday—April 11, the anniversary of his death and of the Battle of Rivas.
Today the country of Finland celebrates Finnish Language Day, also known as Mikael Agricola Day.
Mikael Agricola may not have started Finnish but he is celebrated as a national hero for creating and codifying the written version of what was largely an oral tradition up until the 16th century.
Agricola was appointed Lutheran bishop of Turku in 1554. One of the tenets of the Reformation was the translation and reading of scriptures in native languages.
Agricola translated the New Testament into Finnish in 1548.
Some of his top Finnish language hits include:
ABC-kiria (The ABC Book) The first book in Finnish, published in 1543. It was a primer of the Finnish language. [I’d like to say it taught kids to read Finnish, but as the first Finnish book, it taught everyone to read!]
Se Wsi Testamenti — the aforementioned Finnish translation of the New Testament, Agricola’s greatest achievement.
Three liturgical books (1549). Two include prayers, services, and rituals. The third is an amalgamation of the Four Gospels, detailing Christ’s suffering.
Agricola hoped to translate the Old Testament as well. But his life was cut short. Returning from Moscow where he had negotiated a peace treaty, Agricola became ill and died on April 9, 1557. He was 47.
He’s remembered each year on April 9 as the Father of the Finnish language.
The major languages of the Scandinavian countries—Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic—are all related except for Finnish. Near as we can tell, Finnish isn’t related to anything except perhaps Hungarian and Estonian. Finnish isn’t even an Indo-European language. The Finno-Ugric languages are their own distinct branch, though from what tree is anybody’s guess.
It’s possible that if Agricola hadn’t come along when he did, the language of Finland would have been overrun by the languages of its more powerful neighbors.
Finnish is known for being a ‘genderless’ language, and for lacking articles such as ‘a’ and ‘the’. Also, there is no word for ‘to have.’
Today is International Roma Day. Nope, it’s not an ancient Gypsy tradition or anything, but a date chosen in 1990 to mark the anniversary of the first World Romani Congress in London on April 8, 1971.
Millions of Romanies are spread throughout the globe, with high concentrations in Southern Europe and Asia Minor.
In Europe, the origin of the enigmatic Romani people remained a mystery for centuries. The commonly used word “Gypsy” comes from the mistaken belief that they originated in Egypt.
Genetic evidence indicates the Roma hailed from India originally, and migrated northwest through Iran. The cause of the migration is unknown. Some have speculated that the Roma were in a caste that predominantly served in the army. Successive westward campaigns sent them from the heart of India toward Persia and contributed to their migratory lifestyle.
Linguistic evidence suggests that the migration occurred after 1000 AD. However, Arabic and European records of encounters with groups believed to be the predecessors of Romani (the Zott and the Atsingani) date back to 5th century Baghdad and 9th century Thrace.
The European explosion occurred in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Roma traveled all throughout the continent, even up to Scandinavia. However, they were met with antiziganism (anti-Romanyism) across Europe, in countries like France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, England, and Switzerland, where they faced brutal anti-Romani laws or even straight-out expulsion under penalty of death. In Wallachia and Serbia the Romani populations were enslaved for nearly 500 years, up until the abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century.
During World War II, the Nazis pursued a policy of genocide against the Romanies, killing between 500,000 and 1.5 million people. The full number of victims of the Roma Holocaust (Porrajmos) will never be known.
The first World Romani Congress met in London on April 8, 1971, and adopted the 16 spoke chakra wheel and 1933 green and blue banner as the official Romani flag and “Gelem Gelem” as the anthem. (We hear Stevie Nicks was a close second.)
I went on long roads
I met happy Roma
O Roma where do you come from,
With tents on happy roads?
O Roma, O brothers
I once had a great family,
The Black Legions murdered them
Come with me Roma from all the world
For the Roma roads have opened
Now is the time, rise up Roma now,
We will rise high if we act
O Roma, O brothers
He stood the aged palms beneath,
that shadowed o’er his humble door,
Listening, with half-suspended breath,
To the wild sounds of fear and death,
— Toussaint L’Ouverture, by John Greeleaf Whittier
Toussaint L’Ouverture was born a slave in French Saint Domingue, now Haiti, in 1743. Many legends are told of his early life. He was nicknamed “Walking Stick” due to his narrow stature, and was later described as more charismatic than attractive.
At the age of 33 he was given his freedom. He married and by all accounts he had settled into a quiet life by 1791. By that time word of the French Revolution and its ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity had reached Saint Domingue, and the slaves and free men of color hoped the promises of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” would extend to them. When it became apparent no such action was forthcoming, the slaves revolted in the Boukman Rebellion of of 1791. Slavery was banned in 1793.
During the 1790’s the three great European powers, France, Britain, and Spain, were all vying for control of the colony. Toussaint joined the army, first working as a doctor; within a few years, now in his early 50’s, he underwent an unbelievable professional trajectory. Toussaint went from being an ordinary Haitian living in peace to an unparalleled military genius and the governor of Saint Domingue. A former black slave who would defeat the armies of the greatest European empires.
Toussaint became governor of Saint Domingue in 1797. Professing allegiance to France, he chased the last Spanish forces off Santo Domingo in 1801.
Toussaint next sought to make Saint Domingue an independent, permanently slave-free nation. Napoleon, seeking to reintroduce slavery to the island, sent 20,000 troops to the island to retake and depose of Toussaint.
“At the head of all is the most active and indefatigable man one can imagine. One can definitely say that he is everwhere and above all in the place where sound judgement and danger lead him to believe that his presence is the most essential. His great sobriety and the ability given only to him of never resting, the advantage he has of going back to office work after a tiresome journey, of replying to a hundred letters a day and of habitually exhausting five secretaries.”
—Colonel Vincent, in a note to Bonaparte. The Gilded African, Wendy Parkinson
Though initially told he could return to civilian life, Toussaint was betrayed and kidnapped by French forces, and was taken to a remote fort in the high French Alps. Unused to the freezing temperatures and kept under the harshest conditions, Toussaint died in French captivity on this day (April 7) 1803.
The U.S.’s second President (1796-1800), John Adams, voice of the American Revolution two decades earlier, had supported the L’Ouverture revolution against European colonialism.
Adam’s successor Thomas Jefferson felt otherwise:
“I become daily more & more convinced that all the West India Islands will remain in the hands of the people of color; & a total expulsion of the whites sooner or later take place. It is high time we should foresee the bloody scenes which our children certainly and possibly ourselves (south of the Potomac) have to wade through to try to avert them.” — Letter to James Monroe, July 1793
When Haiti gained won its freedom in 1804 under the command of one of Toussaint’s generals, Jefferson, a strong ally of the French, refused to acknowledge Haiti’s independence. The island nation would have to wait until 1862 when Abraham Lincoln’s administration finally recognized it. Ironically, the Jefferson administration owed a great deal to L’Ouverture. It was L’Ouverture’s defection and uprising in Haiti that forced Napoleon to sell their continental North American possessions—the Louisiana Territory—to Jefferson for a song.
Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men…
O Miserable Chieftan! Where and when
Wilt thou find Patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
…There’s not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultation, agonies
And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.
— William Wordsworth
“His political performance was such that, in a wider sphere, Napoleon appears to have imitated him.”