Independence Day

August 31

Name that country:

Until just a few years ago, it was home to the two tallest buildings in the world, the Twin Towers.

Its flag boasts over a dozen horizontal red and white stripes and a blue rectangle in the upper left corner displaying certain celestial objects.

It won its Independence from Great Britain.

(Got it yet? Okay, one more…)

Its head of state is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and its official religion is Islam.

That’s right! Malaysia!

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur
Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur

The Petronas Twin Towers were completed in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and were opened on this day in 1999. At almost 1,500 feet, they’re taller than the Sears Tower by 33 feet, and were they were the tallest buildings in the world up until 2004 when they were surpassed by “Taipei 101”. (They’re still there, they’re just not the tallest buildings in the world anymore.)

The Malaysian flag contains 14 red and white stripes which symbolize the equal standing of the country’s 13 states and its federal government. The 14-point “Federal Star” represents Malaysia and its monarchy, while the yellow crescent moon represents Islam.

Though the official religion is Islam, Malaysia has significant populations of Buddhists and Hindus as well as a smaller Christian population.

And today is the biggest civic holiday of the year. Malaysians celebrate Hari Merdeka, (Independence Day), which marks Malaysia’s formation as a unified modern state and its independence from Great Britain over half a century ago, on August 31, 1957.

Happy Birthday Malasia! And Selamat Hari Merdeka!

La Tomatina

Last Wednesday in August
August 31, 2011
August 29, 2012

364 days out of the year, Buñol is a quiet, ordinary Spanish town country nestled in the foothills of the Valencia mountains about 40 kilometers from the Mediterranean coast; its population is just shy of 10,000.

But if you happen to visit Buñol on the last Wednesday of August, don’t wear your finest. You will notice that the population has tripled in size, the bulk of these tens of thousands have amassed along a few narrow streets, and they’re all engaged in a peculiar activity: throwing tomatoes.

Lots of tomatoes.

Over a hundred TONS of tomatoes.

La Tomatina is essentially the world’s largest food fight. (Although the Great Kettering Elementary School Food Fight of 1986 comes close.)

We wish we could say La Tomatina originates from an ancient pagan fertility rite, but it’s only 60 or so years old. Stories of the festival’s origin vary. Combining them would sound like this:

During a Gigantes y Cabezudos festival (the kind with the really big heads as featured in Borat) some rowdy spectators attempted to become participants, knocking over a big-head-carrying procession member in the process. A scuffled ensued among the hot-tempered youths.

Now, the people of Buñol had always enjoyed throwing things at each other. And fortunately for posterity, a truck or cartload of tomatoes had overturned just prior this auspicious occasion, providing the feuding parties with the perfect ammunition.

The following year authorities hoped to stem a repeat of the disaster, but the veterans of the previous year had some unfinished business to attend to.

The activity was first sanctioned by Town Hall in 1950. It was permitted and prohibited intermittently over the next few years. It got out of hand in 1956, townspeople got hurt, and it was canceled the following year. Some folks held a Tomatina Funeral instead. The festival was brought back by popular demand in 1959–but with regulations*–and they’ve been throwing tomatoes ever since.

Yes, La Tomatina started out as a Buñol style gang war. Perhaps in the States, if we armed our inner-city youths with tomatoes (in LA, avocados) we would attract tourists instead of violence.

As it is, in Buñol tens of thousands of tourists flock to La Tomatina each year. The festivities begin with the scaling of the “soap pole”. A ham is stuck atop a tall greased pole, and the tomato throwing can’t begin until a brave crowd member retrieves it.

*If you go, it’s considered proper Tomatina etiquette to squish your tomato before hurling it. Don’t bring bottles or anything that could cause injury, and be careful not to rip other people’s clothes. And it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing red or not. You will be.

La Tomatina


One writer’s horrifying story:

“Our red tornado became an inexorable hurricane. It was becoming difficult to stand upright in so much slush and with so many wet missiles impacting from every possible direction. We blotted out the sun and sky…I had become one vast squelching mound of pulped tomato…

Seeing Red — Louis de Bernieres

What To Do With Your Extra Tomatoes

Victory Day – Turkey – Zafer Bayrami

August 30


Today (August 30) Turkey celebrates Victory Day. The day honors those who have served in Turkey’s military and who fought heroically in the nation’s battles. Throughout the past two millennia, some of history’s greatest battles have been fought on what is now Turkish soil, but of all these, the Battle of Dumlipinar, fought in August 1922, was singled out to serve as the country’s Victory Day.

The Battle of Dumlipinar was the last major battle of the Greek campaign of the Turkish War for Independence (1919-1923).

After World War I, the Ottoman Empire found itself, along with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at the losing end of an Armistice. The Treaty of Mudros didn’t reflect the reality of a war that in many ways was a stalemate. Western powers seized Ottoman towns and territory in the coming years…

“Greece, in a wild imperial venture supported by Britain, had invaded western Anatolia, hoping to make itself an Aegean ‘great power’ and to construct a ‘greater Greece’ out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. But the invasion ended not simply in Greece’s defeat at the battle of Dumlupinar in 1922, but in a calamitous rout and slaughter which drove not only the Greek armies but much of the Greek civilian population of Anatolia into the sea.”

— Neal Ascherson, Black Sea

As part of the treaty following the Greco-Turkish War, Turks and Greeks engaged in a population exchange, whereby Greek Muslims moved to Turkey and Turkish Christians moved to Greece. (Population Exchange Commission, 1923)

During these same years, Turkish revolutionaries under Mustafa Kemal simultaneously defeated the French and the Armenians in separate campaigns, forcing the Allies to revisit earlier treaties. The Turks dissolved the Sultanate of the Ottoman Empire, and a new Turkish Republic was established, with Mustafa Kemal as its leader.

The Turkish Nation consists of the valiant descendants of a people that has lived independently and has considered independence the sole condition of existence. This nation has never lived without freedom, cannot and never will.

— Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Michael Jackson’s Birthday: future holiday?

August 29, 2009

Elvis lovers around the world already celebrate the birthday of the King of Rock on January 8 each year. Is the King of Pop next?

Celebrate Michael Jackson’s Birthday at Mass Thriller Dance – Ventura California

Ways to Celebrate Michael Jackson’s Birthday in Las Vegas

“Spike Lee invites everyone to a Brooklyn style block party” to celebrate Michael Jackson’s life

If you prefer a more personal setting…

“To host your own Michael Jackson birthday party is fairly simple. Michael Jackson’s favorite colors are red and black, he loved Mexican food, and the movies E.T. and Star Wars….” — How to Host Your Own Michael Jackson Birthday Party

Google has even made an icon of the pop icon on its homepage for the day. It features his famous shoes in moonwalk pose. As we all know, Michael Jackson was not only a singer, dancer and entertainer, but also an inventor. He held a partial patent for the aforementioned “moonwalk shoes”, or more specifically, the…

“Method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion…A system for engaging shoes with a hitch mans to permit a person standing on a stage surface to lean forwardly beyond his or her center of gravity…”  — full patent at Google patents

August 29 is also the anniversary of the Beheading of Saint John in the Catholic Church. In Russia, August 29 is Nut Spas, a traditional day for gathering nuts.

14,000 dance to Thriller – Mexico City

Beheading of St. John

August 29

August 29 is the remembrance of the beheading of St. John the Baptist in the Catholic calendar.

John was the revolutionary religious leader foretold the coming of Christ and who baptized Christ in the Jordan River.

St. John enraged King Herod’s wife, Queen Herodias. Herodias was the widow of Philip, King Herod’s brother. St. John publicly expressed his contempt at the union. The Queen wanted St. John executed, but Herod refused. St. John’s popularity in Judea was too great. Instead King Herod threw him in prison.


At King Herod’s birthday celebration, his step-daughter danced for him and his guests…

…and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison.

Matthew 14:6

Said Jesus of John:

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Notting Hill Carnival

Summer Bank Holiday Weekend
August 28-29, 2011

The word “carnival” comes from the Latin carne vale meaning “farewell to the flesh”. It originally referred to festivals that fell just before Lent, when eating meat was forbidden. Famous pre-lenten carnivals include Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans, Nice, and Trinidad.

Inspired by the world-famous Trinidad Carnival, Notting Hill takes place in August, because you’d have to be nuts to wear a thong in England in February.

The ‘Mother of Notting Hill Carnival’ is Claudia Jones, a native of Trinidad who spent almost her entire life on three vastly different islands: Trinidad, Manhattan, and England.

Born in Trinidad in 1915, Jones immigrated to Harlem, New York with her family at age 7. As a teen, she took part in a protest against the trial and prosecution of the Scottsboro Nine, and she spent much of the next 20 years fighting the inequalities of the U.S. justice system. She became a vocal supporter of the Communist League and a prominent writer for the Daily Worker.

Claudia Jones

As a reward for her outspokenness, Jones was arrested in 1948 on immigration charges and nearly deported, despite having lived in the U.S. for 26 years. She was arrested a few years later, along with other Communist Party leaders, for supposedly violating of the Smith Act during the height of the McCarthy era frenzy. While in prison the 40 year-old Jones suffered a heart attack. This and a bout of tuberculosis she contracted in her youth would plague her health for her remaining years.

In October 1955 she was deported from the U.S., and was granted asylum in what would be her final island: England.

As temperatures rose in Notting Hill in August 1958, the city erupted in race riots, in which hundreds of whites attacked the neighborhood’s West Indian residents. In addition to speaking out against the riots, Jones decided to create an event that would promote racial harmony while celebrating the music and talent of England’s West Indian heritage. This forerunner of the Carnival was held indoors in its first years, starting in 1959.

Unfortunately Jones wouldn’t live to see the first official Notting Hill Carnival and street festival in 1965. She died on Christmas Eve, 1964.

Today the Notting Hill Carnival is London’s largest annual public event, and at over a million people, it’s one of the largest street festivals in the world.

Jones would probably be delighted to know that an estimated 1.5 million people of all faiths and races attended the 2000 Notting Hill Carnival—more than the entire population of her homeland of Trinidad.

Caludia Jones: A Life of Struggle

Notting Hill Diary

Notting Hill Carnival

Feast of the Dormition of Theotokos

August 28

Dance with joy, O peoples!
Clap your hands with gladness!
Gather today with fervor and jubilation;
Sing with exultation.
The Mother of God is about to rise in glory,
Ascending from earth to heaven.

Theotokos of Kazan
Theotokos of Kazan

It’s called the Dormition, or the “falling asleep”. On its own, falling asleep might not sound like ample reason for a feast, no matter how much you like to sleep, but it’s a very big deal in the Orthodox Church. That’s because Dormition in this case refers to the departure from earth and subsequent ascension of Theotokos, ie. “god-bearer”, the Virgin Mary.

In Roman Catholicism, it’s known as the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Although the Assumption is celebrated on August 15, in the Eastern Orthodox Calendar that equates to today, August 28th.

The Dormition is a major feast in Eastern Christianity, so major it’s preceded by a strict two-week fasting period. During the fast Orthodox Christians refrain from eating red meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products. The Feast of the Transfiguration falls right in the middle of the fast (How’s that for confusion?) during which time fasters are allowed to go wild and eat fish.

In early Christendom, the stories of life of the Virgin Mary after the crucifixion received far less play than those preceding the Annunciation…

Already by the second century, Christians had begun to circulate stories of the Virgin’s life before the Annunciation, but evidence of a similar concern with the details of her life after her son’s ascension does not emerge for several more centuries.

Stephen Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption

As the 4th century author Epiphanius writes:

“The holy virgin may have died and been buried…Or she may have been put to death—as the scripture says, ‘And a sword shall pierce through her soul’…Or she may have remained alive, for God is not incapable of doing whatever he wills. No one knows her end.”

But by the eighth century monk John of Damascus wrote:

If her childbearing was remarkable and of saving worth for the world, surely her falling asleep was glorious, too—truly sacred and wholly worthy of praise. (Daley, 1998)

Between those epochs we have the foundation of the written history of the Dormition. According to Orthodox tradition, Mary died a natural death, the same as any mortal. Her soul was received by Christ. All the Apostles except Thomas were present at her death. Three days later, Thomas (always the odd man out) finally arrived and pleaded with his fellow Apostles to see her once more.

“We are all servants of the one Lord, Jesus Christ. How, then, is it that ye were counted worthy to behold the repose of His Mother, and I was not?…I beseech you, my fellow disciples: open the tomb, that I also may look upon her remains, and embrace them, and bid her farewell!”

But when they opened her tomb, her body had disappeared. “All that remained were her burial clothes, which emitted a wonderful unearthly fragrance.”

Like Son, like Mother. Mary’s body was resurrected and ascended into heaven on the third day after her death.

“Neither the tomb nor death had power over the Theotokos, who is ever watchful in her prayers and in whose intercessions lies unfailing hope. For as the Mother of Life she has been translated unto life by Him Who dwelt in her ever-virgin womb.”

— Feast of the Dormition

Lyndon Johnson Day

August 27

Today, the State (and former Republic) of Texas celebrates Lyndon Johnson Day, in honor of the 36th President of the United States.

Johnson’s five-year presidency was one of the most controversial and emotionally charged periods in American history—from the assassination of predecessor John F. Kennedy to the escalation of the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights movement. But what you may not know about the 36th President is that before entering politics, Johnson was a teacher.

Johnson graduated from Southwest Texas State Teacher’s College. He found he preferred high school to grade school, teaching debate at the former:

“I felt about my students very much like I feel about my staff. I associated with them a lot socially. I would go into their homes and I would be with their family and would take them into my home, particularly the leading debaters and the ones that were on the teams. If they would take one side of a question I would take the other… I developed several better speakers—much better—than I was.”

— (LBJ: the Teacher) excerpts from 1965 interview

LBJ worked in the Texas legislature during the 1930’s, and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives during a special election in 1937. He won his Senate seat in 1948 and was elected as John F. Kennedy’s Vice-President in the 1960 election.

Three years later LBJ became the first and only President ever sworn in on Texas soil when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

LBJ sworn in as 36th President on Air Force One, beside Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline.
LBJ sworn in as 36th President on Air Force One, beside Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline.

Johnson led the United States through one of the country’s most turbulent decades.

During his Presidency, Johnson strived to create a “Great Society” through such legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act. He appointed the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. A social democrat, he pushed for a “War on Poverty”, but it was the War in Vietnam that would be his legacy.

In the Democratic New Hampshire primary in 1968, Johnson’s anti-War opponent won 42% of the vote, only slightly less than Johnson himself. Later that month, Johnson announced he would not run for another term.

Johnson returned to his ranch in Johnson City, Texas, where he died on January 22, 1973 just miles from where he was born, outside Stonewall, Texas.

The people of Texas celebrate the life of President Johnson every year on his birthday, August 27th.

2008 marked his 100th birthday.

“When I leave this job, I want to go back to right where I started in some college classroom and walk in at five minutes of eight and wait for the students to march in and sit down, and then start challenging them and provoking them and stimulating them and getting the best out of them for an hour. And then I am going to be sorry when the bell rings.”

— President Lyndon Johnson, 1965