September 11 – Patriot Day

September 11

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

But long before 2001, in fact before the pilgrims set foot on American shores, September 11 was already a pivotal date in American history.

Halve Maen (Half Moon) replica, 1909

Over 400 years ago on September 11, a ship by the name of Half Moon anchored in what is now New York Harbor, just north of a quiet island inhabited by a tribe known as the Mannahattes. Henry Hudson was about to take the first documented European journey up the river that would be named for him.

Spanish explorers had already reported the existence of the “Grand River”, but Hudson was the first to travel inland. He was an English navigator hired by the Dutch to find a passage to India; he hoped he’d find it up the Hudson.

The Half Moon sailed up the Hudson River, trading with some tribes, shooting at others. (One crew member had been shot through the neck with an arrow a few days before, an incident which colored the crew’s impressions of early Hudson Valley residents.) They never did find the route to India, but they did find Albany. At which point the river became too shallow and the ship turned around.

On his way out of New York harbor in October, another, more serious fight occurred between Half Moon and the indigenous residents—most likely the Mannahattes–the tribe living on the island that would become–you guessed it: New Amsterdam. The small battle was serious enough that the locals had not forgotten it when the Dutch came around 15 years later to “buy” the island of Manhattan for 60 guilders worth of goods.

Before returning to Holland, Hudson stopped in his homeland of England. As a fitting symbol of Hudson’s life, he never got to where he was going. Upon arriving in England, he was greeted, not as a hero but as a traitor, for sailing a craft under a foreign flag, and was promptly arrested.

Hudson’s journey is the reason why New York grew up Dutch before it was English.

The English did let Hudson out to do more exploring, to find that well-hidden secret passage to India, this time for the British crown. He spent several months exploring what would become “Hudson Bay” in Canada, lured north by the indigenous rumor of a river that ran to an “ocean”—probably referring to the Great Lakes.

After close to a year of exploring the Hudson Bay, his crew were getting homesick (and if you’ve spent a winter in Hudson Bay, you know why).

The crew mutinied. They placed Hudson, his son, and seven loyal crew members on a small boat, set them adrift, and sailed back to England. Hudson, his son and the men were never seen again.

Henry Hudson in Canada (re-enactment)

The story of North America is in some ways the story of the Northwest Passage, the most famous passage that never was. The hope of a quick and easy waterway between Europe and India was the dream of kings and merchants alike for hundreds of years. The reward for a man who could find it would be wealth and fame beyond imagination.

But like the Fountain of Youth and the City of El Dorado, the Northwest Passage would elude every explorer from Columbus to John Franklin. Many devoted their lives to searching for a route that any child on Google Maps today can see never existed.

(There would be no direct water route between Europe and India until the Suez Canal was built in 1869, connecting the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Ironically, this miracle of modern ingenuity had been preceded by a canal built by the Ancient Egyptians thousands of years earlier, which fell into disuse around the time of Cleopatra, filled with silt, and was forgotten.)

We are taught as children that the building of North America was based on freedom of religion, but it was based on trade. The first explorers came here seeking a trade route to the Orient. Then governments sought precious metals and untapped resources. Finally, immigrants came seeking a social and economic system that would allow those without resources or aristocratic blood an opportunity to attain wealth.You can tell what a society values most by the size of its buildings. Once cathedrals soared highest about medieval cities. Today those are dwarfed by centers of commerce and business. When terrorists attacked America, they didn’t strike our churches. They struck the World Trade Center, knowing full well this was the heart of America.

John Locke wrote that each member of society is entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” In the Declaration of independence, Thomas Jefferson changed that last bit to the “pursuit of happiness.” Was he exercising poetic license, or did he think property and happiness were interchangeable? Either way, the Declaration guarantees neither wealth nor happiness, only the pursuit thereof. Perhaps one day some child will be watching the whole course of human endeavors on ‘Google EverythingThatEverHappenedInHumanEventsDownToTheMolecule’ and mock our futile search for one or the other, silently bemoaning, “Had they only turned left at Albuquerque…”

Till then, appreciate what’s already at your fingertips:

Thanks to science, ingenuity, and commercial enterprise, the average citizen today has access to information and knowledge that was hopelessly out of reach of the most powerful kings in history. You can see almost any stretch of the globe at the push of a button, and many stretches in space, millions or billions of miles away. You have access to an unprecedented cornucopia of foods and flavors, savoring in one meal what a Caesar could not have enjoyed in a lifetime. You carry on a conversation with someone halfway across the world in two minutes, that would have taken an emperor decades.

Economist Thomas Friedman says “The World is Flat.” That trade has made the world a much smaller place. Average citizens interact with other cultures and countries on a daily basis, thanks to the internet and global communications. John Locke’s selfish pursuit of property may be in the end the greatest tool for global understanding the world has ever known.

When the Twin Towers fell, they took with them the citizens of 90 countries, morbid proof that the world is a small, small place.

Henry Hudson Entering New York Harbor, September 11, 1609


by Alan Catlin

Lone warrior
on Manhattan
Island beach

observing long
ships, sailors
from who-knew

where navigating
toward soon-
to-be harbor

site; the first
foreign terrorists
have arrived


September 29

And when the tenants come to pay their quarter’s rent
They bring some fowle at Midsummer, a dish of fish in Lent,
At Christmasse a capon, at Michaelmasse a goose;
And somewhat else at New-yeres tide, for feare their lease flie loose.

Gasciogne, Posies (1575)

September 29 is the Feast Day of the Archangel St. Michael and All Angels.

The archangel Michael is featured prominently in both the Old and New Testaments, as well as apocryphal writings such as the book of Enoch. The appeal of the Archangel spread throughout Christendom during the Middle Ages. Perhaps because of his position as the leader of the army of angels in Revelation, Michael became the patron saint of knights, whom fighters called upon in times of battle.

He is also the “good guy” Angel of Death–the one with wings and a scale, not with a black cloak and scythe. Michael’s symbolic scale was believed to weigh the souls of the recently deceased, to determine their worthiness in heaven. Fittingly, St. Michael’s Feast falls during the zodiac sign of Libra, the scales.

The medieval painting above shows St. Michael's scales, weighing the soul of a tiny figure hoping to enter the kingdom of heaven. The devil weighs down the scale on the left while the Virgin Mary weighs down the right with a rosary.

Just as the figure of Michael replaced pagan deities such as the Germanic Wotan (Norse Odin) and the Greek Hermes during the conversion of Europe, his feast day on September 29 replaced nature-based celebrations of the autumnal equinox and the harvest. During the Middle Ages, the equinox fell on or around September 29.

In England, Michaelmas was one of the four quarter days by which debts and suits had to be settled, falling roughly on the solstices and equinoxes: Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer Day (June 24), Michaelmas (September 29) and Christmas (December 25).

Geese, which were fat and hardy this time of year, were often given to landlords and creditors as part of repayment. Goose became the traditional meal of Michaelmas, and a symbol of good luck; hence the saying:

Whoever eats goose on Michaelmas Day
Shall never lack money his debts to pay

In the Church of Latter-Day Saints, before Michael became an angel, he was Adam, the first man. Jehovah’s Witnesses, meanwhile, believe that Michael and Jesus are but one and the same.

Michaelmas was considered the last day to safely eat the season’s blueberries.

…We’ll pick in the Mortenson’s pasture this year.
We’ll go in the morning, that is, if it’s clear,
And the sun shines out warm; the vines must be wet.
It’s so long since I picked I almost forget
How we used to pick berries: we took one look round,
Then sank out of sight like trolls underground…

from Blueberries by Robert Frost

Confucius’s Birthday – Teachers’ Day

September 28


Before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.



Today is the (observed) birthday of the man whom many believe to be the greatest teacher ever, Master Kung, K’ung Fu Tzu. Or as he’s known in English: Confucius.

Compared to his legacy, the circumstances of his life were somewhat underwhelming.

He was born in 551 BC in Lu, China, into a poor, once noble family. His father died when he was three. According to the Chinese philosopher Mencius, Confucius worked as a storekeeper, and also tended to oxen and sheep in the public fields.

A large chunk of Confucius’ life is missing from the record, as can be expected from a non-royal figure who lived 2500 years ago. But these gaps have been filled in by millennia of legends. We do know that by his early fifties, Confucius was in the employ of the Duke of Lu, Ding, as Minister of Public Works and as Minister of Crime. But Confucius left Lu and the court of the Duke at age 52. Whether it was because of some moral ambiguity on the part of the Duke’s, because of a social snub toward Confucius, or because of animosity from those vying for the Duke’s power, we can’t be sure.

Confucius spent the next several years traveling through China, to the states of Wei, Song, Chen, Cai, and Chu.

He returned to Lu in 484 BC where he lived out his remaining years. By the time of his death he had amassed a sizable following of students, who would formalize and carry on his teachings.

Like I said, underwhelming. But by the next century, Mencius would write, “Ever since man came into this world, never has there been one greater than Confucius.” Confucius was remembered as a sage who should have been king, in a world too shortsighted to see that.

Confucius once said he was not a “maker” of knowledge, but a “transmitter” of it. “I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there.” (Analects)

Though his teachings and philosophy were based on studies of history, they were vastly different from those that came before.

He taught that rulers who governed by example and by virtue would have more loyal subjects than those who governed by force alone. That the society governed by the former system, and the people within it, would eventually lean toward goodness. And that humans are similar by nature, but their habits and practices “carry them far apart.” (Analects)

He defined the practices of virtue as Gravity, Generosity of Soul, Sincerity, Earnestness, and Kindness.

He condoned strong attachment to family and respect toward elders and ancestors.

And he put into words the Golden Rule of reciprocity: Don’t impose upon other what you would not want for yourself.

Ancient scholars studied for their own improvement. Modern scholars study to impress others.

There are an estimated 6 million followers of Confucianism around the world today, but these are a small minority of those who follow the teachings laid out by Confucius over 2500 years ago. Confucianism remains a dominant philosophical system in Chinese life. His philosophy and teachings fundamentally influenced Eastern thought since his lifetime, as well as Western thought following Confucianism’s introduction into Europe by Jesuit Matteo Ricci in the 16th century.

Since the 1990s, birthday ceremonies in honor of the Great Teacher have flourished in China, after decades of repression.

The nation of Taiwan celebrates this day as Teacher Day.

Confucius Temple Ceremony in honor of Confucius’s birthday.

Meanings of Confucianism

Confucianism Overview @

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

Balboa Day

September 25

There are two separate holidays on September 25, celebrated in 4 hemispheres, that collectively mark the beginning and the end of colonialism.

Balboa Day

Balboa plays wave-jumping in the Pacific
Balboa plays "wave-jump" in the Pacific

Vasco Nunez de Balboa was 26 in 1500. It was only 8 years after Columbus’s first voyage, and the young Spaniard sought adventure in the New World. Balboa joined the crew of an expedition headed west to Hispaniola (Cuba) and on to Colombia with the purpose of establishing a settlement.

Due to lack of men, the Spanish were unable to maintain a colony in Colombia. Balboa returned to Hispaniola and pursued Plan B: pig farming. Evidently, Balboa was not a very good pig farmer. He went broke, and was even unable to join the next mission to Colombia because he owed so much money.

The following year he didn’t ask. He snuck aboard a ship carrying supplies to the new settlement.

When the ship arrived in South America the newbies found the Spanish colony deserted. Unable to defend the colony or to sustain their food supply, the Spanish settlers had hightailed it back home. Balboa, who had some familiarity with the land, recommended the group move west, where the indigenous tribes were more peaceful. Thus, the stowaway became the group’s unofficial leader.

Balboa and his crew had many riotous adventures, making slaves of the native populations, stealing gold, and setting wild dogs upon 40 natives exercising the “foulest vice” of male-love. (Right)

In 1513, Balboa heard rumors of a sea to the south, across what is now Panama. Balboa led a group of 90 men southwest across the isthmus. On September 25, 1513, Balboa scaled the highest summit and became the first European to set eyes upon the eastern half of the Pacific Ocean.

Unable to fathom its vastness, he called it the “South Sea” because it appeared to follow Panama’s southern shore.

It was downhill from there for Balboa, literally and figuratively.

A few years later a new governor arrived in town, appointed by the King of Spain. To ensure Balboa would not usurp him, the governor accused Balboa of treason. Balboa and 4 of his men were tried and beheaded in 1519.

Armed Forces Day – Mozambique

From the Northern and Western Hemispheres we move half a world and four and a half centuries later to the coast of Africa.

In the 1500s, Portugal owned half the world (’cause the Pope said so). By the 1960s, the former Iberian powerhouse was tightly clenching its few remaining colonies.

Spurred on by success in Tanzania, FRELIMO, Mozambique’s anti-colonialist liberation party, formed (illegally) in 1962, and received support from China and the Soviet Union. On September 25, 1964, FRELIMO went militant, attacking a Portuguese base in Cabo Delgado.

The fight for independence would be bloody and costly, lasting over a decade. Ultimately, Mozambique won independence, like other Portuguese colonies, because of a government coup in Portugal in 1974. Thus ending almost 500 years of Iberian colonialism in Africa and the Americas.

In memory of that bloody first day, September 25 is Armed Forces Day in Mozambique.

Heritage/Braai Day – South Africa

September 24

We have 11 different official languages but only one word for the wonderful institution of braai. It’s braai in Xhosa, it’s braai in English, it’s braai Afrikaans…All it calls for is come with your friends and family, have a little fire, and braai…That should make you proudly South African.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The 24th of September was once known as Shaka Day, in honor of the Zulu king, but these days it’s celebrated throughout South Africa on as Heritage Day, or Braai Day. Today the “Rainbow Nation’s” near 50 million people come together to partake in the country’s national past time.

According to

“Cooking food on an open fire is an international phenomenon, but to braai is a truly unique South African past time that penetrates racial, cultural, religious and social boundaries.”

Heritage Day–or Braai Day as it’s been called the last few years–is one of several holidays that came into being with the fall of the Apartheid government in the 1990s. These new holidays sought to remember dates that resonate with all South Africans.

Braai Day Video – 2009

Other national holidays include:

March 21: Human Rights Day

In memory of the sacrifice of 69 protesters killed by police on this day in 1960. The demonstrators were protesting the infamous pass laws. In the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre, the government outlawed black political organizations.

April 27: Freedom Day

The anniversary of the first truly free election in South Africa in 1994.

June 16: Youth Day

Dedicated to those his lost their lives in the protests and riots of 1976, fighting for equal education.

August 9: National Women’s Day

When 20,000 women marched to Pretoria’s government buildings in 1956 to protest the pass laws.

Women’s ‘Repeal the Pass Laws’ flyer

December 16: Day of Reconciliation

Both the anniversary of the beginning of the armed anti-Apartheid movement in 1961 and of the defeat of the Zulu army at Battle of Blood River in 1838. That South Africans have their different reasons for remembering the date underscores its true purpose: to come to terms with the country’s often brutal past of racism, violence, and injustice.

Saudi National Day

September 23

In 2008, National Day in Saudi Arabia was a muted celebration. It coincided with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, one of the most auspicious times of the year. And in Saudi Arabia, when it comes between the state and Islam, Islam has the first, last, and every word in between.

Islam is not just the official religion of Saudi Arabia, it’s the only religion. The law of the land is Shari’a–Islamic religious law based on the teachings of the Qur’an.

Shari’a covers everything from banking to hygiene. According to “Islamic Finance: Law, Economics, and Practice”:

…we do not mean that the Holy Quran and Sunna of the Holy Prophet or the rulings of Islamic scholars provide a specific answer to each and every minute detail of our socioeconomic life. What we mean is that the Holy Quran and the Holy Sunna of the Prophet have laid down the broad principles in the light of which the scholars of every time have deduced specific answers to the new situations arising in their age.

Saudi Arabia is one of the last true monarchies, where the king is also the head of state. The Saud royal family has ruled the bulk of the Arabian peninsula off and on since the 18th century. September 23 commemorates the creation of the modern Saudi Arabian state in 1932, but the date has only been celebrated as a holiday since 2005.

1932 was also the year that the discovery of oil in nearby Bahrain set off a wave of Western speculation. The following year Standard Oil of California struck a deal with the Saudi government to explore for oil. Pay dirt came in 1938 when the first of numerous massive oil reservoirs were discovered. Today Saudi Arabia is the largest oil exporter in the world.

In 2006, Forbes Magazine ranked Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud the 8th richest man in the world, the youngest of the top ten. And the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, is believed to be the world’s most profitable company; however, their finances are not made public.

The country’s most invaluable treasures however–as any Saudi Arabian will tell you–are Al-Masjid al-Harām (“the Sacred Mosque”) at Mecca and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (“Mosque of the Prophet”) in Medina.

The Sacred Mosque can accommodate over 800,000 worshippers, and over two million Muslims gather there each year during the Hajj, the great pilgrimage of Islam. At its center is the Kabba, where Ibrahim (or Abraham) is believed to have offered to sacrifice his son for God. Muslims around the world face this spot in Mecca when they pray.

The original Mosque in Medina was built by the Prophet Mohammad, who is buried at the site.

Recent National Day celebrations have been more jubilant (Saudi Arabia Celebrates National Day – AFP), but they don’t get going until nightfall. Temperatures in the 100’s (F) keep tend to keep celebrants inside during the day.

Native American Day

 Fourth Friday in September

The flag of New Mexico honors the Four Directions
The flag of New Mexico honors the 'Four Directions'

The fourth Friday in September is known as Native American Day in California and across much of the United States. California recognizes over 100 tribes, more than any other state in the nation.

The original resolution establishing “American Indian Day” was signed by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1968.

30 years later, the California legislature declared:

An emphasis on freedom, justice, patriotism, and representative government have always been elements of Native American culture, and Native Americans have shown their willingness to fight and die for this nation in foreign lands.

Native Americans honor the American flag at every pow wow and at many gatherings, and remember veterans through song, music, and dance.

Native Americans use songs to honor the men and women of this country who have fought for freedom.

Native Americans love the land that has nurtured their parents, grandparents, and unnamed elders since time began, and they honor the Earth that has brought life to the people since time immemorial.

Native Americans have given much to this country, and in recognition of this fact, it is fitting that this state returns the honor by recognizing Native Americans for all of their offerings to this beloved land through the establishment of a state holiday referred to as “Native American Day.”

No mention of genocide, but that’s not what today’s about. Californians of all backgrounds and cultures meet in San Bernardino to celebrate the diversity and heritage of the land’s first residents.


John Harrington, Chickasaw astronaut
John Harrington, Chickasaw astronaut

Elsewhere in the U.S., John Harrington, who turned 40 on September 14, is in the middle of a 4,000 mile bike-ride from Cape Flattery, Washington, to Cape Canaveral, Florida. (So what’s your excuse for not working out?)

As a member of the Chickasaw tribe, he carried a Chickasaw flag into space with him, aboard STS-113 in 2002.

His purpose for the bike-ride is to “encourage student participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”

Good luck, John!