Birthday of His Highness the Aga Khan

December 13

His Highness the Aga Khan has been the Imam of the Shia Ismaili for over fifty years. The Ismaili are the second largest group of Shia in the world. At age 20 he was chosen by his grandfather to succeed him rather than his father or uncle. Wrote his grandfather, Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan:

“In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes that have taken place, including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Shia Muslim Ismaili community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age, and who brings a new outlook on life to his office.”

Five years before 9/11 the Aga Khan gave a foretelling speech to a group of young people, mostly Americans, about to enter “the real world.” Excerpts are below.

“Today in the occident, the Muslim world is deeply misunderstood by most.

“The Muslim world is noted in the West, North America and Europe, more for the violence of certain minorities than for the peacefulness of its faith and the vast majority of its people…And the Muslim world has, consequently, become something that the West may not want to think about, does not understand, and will associate with only when it is inevitable…

“…the historical process of secularisation which occurred in the West, never took place in Muslim societies. What we are witnessing today, in certain Islamic countries, is exactly the opposite evolution…

“The news-capturing power of this trend contributes to the Western tendency to perceive all Muslims or their societies as a homogeneous mass of people living in some undefined theocratic space, a single “other” evolving elsewhere. And yet with a Muslim majority in some 44 countries and nearly a quarter of the globe’s population, it should be evident that our world cannot be made up of identical people, sharing identical goals, motivations, or interpretations of the faith…

“…Concepts such as meritocracy, free-world economics, or multi-party democracy, honed and tested in the West may generally have proven their worth. But valid though they may be, responsible leadership in the Islamic world must ask if they can be adapted to their cultures which may not have the traditions or infra-structure to assimilate them: There is a real risk that political pluralism could harden latent ethnic or religious divisions into existing or new political structures…

“Although the modern page of human history was written in the West, you should not expect or desire for that page to be photocopied by the Muslim world.”

Full speech at

I was in the large church room when the Aga Khan delivered this address. Like others of my young age I did not understand the importance of his words, every one of which came true in the years that followed.

More words of the Aga Khan at:

Aga Khan’s 70th Birthday Today

Gandhi Jayanti

October 2

It is not my purpose to attempt a real autobiography. I simply want to tell the story of my numerous experiments with truth, and as my life consists of nothing but those experiments, it is true that the story will take the shape of an autobiography.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1940

India, a land overflowing with the holy days of its many religions, has only three official national holidays of its own: Republic Day, Independence Day, and Gandhi Jayanti.

The first two celebrate the power and the freedom of the state and its people. The third celebrates the power and humbleness of a man, the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on this day in 1869 in Porbander, Gujarat. He was influenced by his mother’s Jainism, and its concept of Ahimsa, but he was not particularly religious, or even spiritual as a child.

His father died when he was 15, and at 18 he left India to study law at University College London. It was there, when faced with the different lifestyles of Westerners, he reflected on his own beliefs. As a vegetarian, he joined the Vegetarian Society, and began reading in earnest the scriptures of Hinduism, including the Bhagavad Gita, as well as doctrines on Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.

After returning briefly to India, he took a position at an Indian firm in South Africa. The post was supposed to be for a year, but Gandhi stayed for twelve. First he worked with Indians to oppose a bill denying Indians the right to vote. The bill passed despite his efforts. In 1897, he was nearly lynched by an angry white mob, but Gandhi refused to prosecute his assailants.

Then Gandhi led the Indian resistance against forced registration in South Africa. It was during this time Gandhi solidified his theories of peaceful resistance through civil disobedience, eventually forcing the government to agree to a compromise.

In 1915, at age 45, Gandhi returned to his homeland. He would spend the remaining 30+ years of his life fighting–through nonviolence–for the independence of his country, for the rights of his countrymen, and for peace between his brothers. It was this last cause for which he would give his life.

Gandhi’s weapons included strikes, protests, and boycotts of British goods. He encouraged Indians to spin their own cloth and renounce British titles of nobility.

Following a mass protest that ended in violence in 1922, Gandhi served two years in prison for sedition. Afterward, Gandhi worked to bridge the gap between the Indian political divisions that had intensified during his imprisonment.

In the Spring of 1930, Gandhi led the 400 kilometer Salt March, in which thousands of Indians journeyed to the sea to make their own salt, in protest of the Salt Tax. The British arrested tens of thousands of Indians in the wake of the campaign.

Gandhi continued his opposition to British rule throughout World War II. In 1947, India finally won its long awaited independence. To avoid an impending civil war between India’s Muslims and Hindus, Gandhi reluctantly agreed to support the partition of the country into two republics, India and Pakistan.

Just as Gandhi feared, the partitioning was accompanied by mass bloodshed.

On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was taking his nightly walk through the garden of the Birla Bhavan house in New Dehli when he was shot and killed by a radical Hindu, angry at Gandhi’s support of payment to country of Pakistan.

At his request, his ashes were spread throughout India.

“It is a superstition and an ungodly thing to believe that an act of a majority binds a minority. Many examples can be given in which acts of majorities will be found to have been wrong, and those of minorities to have been right. All reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities in opposition to majorities…

Democracy cannot be evolved by forcible methods. The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within…

Liberty and democracy become unholy when their hands dyed red with innocent blood.”

Gandhi on Democracy

Gandhi was instrumental in civil rights movements on two continents, Asia and Africa. His teachings inspired leaders of the civil rights movement on a third continent, North America, after Gandhi’s death.

For these reasons and more, in 2007 the United Nations declared October 2 “International Day of Non-Violence.” The Dalai Lama once said of Gandhi:

His life has inspired me ever since I was a small boy. Ahimsa or nonviolence the powerful idea that Mahatma Gandhi made familiar throughout the world. Nonviolence does not mean the absence of violence. It is something more positive, more meaningful than that, for it depends on wholly on the power of truth.

See also: School Day of Peace and Non-Violence

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

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

Birthday of Virginia Dare

August 18

There sang a mother to her babe–
A mother young and fair–
“No flower like thee adorns the vale,
O sweet Virginia Dare…

Whatever Became of Virginia Dare?

On this day in 1587 the first child of English parents was born in America. Virginia Dare was the daughter of Ellinor and Ananias Dare, and granddaughter of John White, governor of the colony known as Roanoke in what is now North Carolina.

Baptism of Virginia Dare

History texts record Ananias as both a former bricklayer from London and as an “aristocratic young man.” He was one of the Governor’s Assistants, in addition to being his son-in-law.

We only know about Viriginia Dare’s existence because shortly after her birth and baptism, her grandfather John White left the colony for England to seek materials and support. The journey took six months, during which time he encountered pirates, bad weather, and a near shipwreck, before finally landing–not in England, but Ireland.

When he finally returned to the colony in 1591, all trace of the colony, including his daughter and granddaughter, had disappeared.

To this day, whatever became of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke remains a mystery. Virginia Dare has been the subject of historians and novelists, and the inspiration of poets and other artists in America for 400 years. From the poetry of Lydia Howard Sigourney to TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Today, inhabitants of Roanoke Island celebrate the 423nd birthday of Virginia Dare and ponder the fate of America’s first colony.

He calls–he shouts–the cherished names,
But Echo makes reply.
“Where art thou, Ellinor! my child!
And sweet Virginia Dare…”

–Lydia Howard Sigourney

Lost Colony Still Lost

Roanoke DNA Project

A Virginia Dare Day Proposal

Birthday of Simón Bolivar

July 24

Today citizens of Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia celebrate the birth of the Libertador of northern South America: Simón Bolivar. He was born on this day in 1783 in Caracas, Venezuela.

Simón Bolivar

Bolivar is one of the few people to have a country permanently named after him, and is the only person born in the New World to have been so honored.

Countries named directly after individuals

Belize – possibly from the Spanish pronunciation of “Wallace”. Captain Peter Wallace was a pirate commissioned by King James I to pillage Spanish ships in the region. He built his base at the mouth of what is now the Belize River. May also be from the Mayan “belix” meaning “muddy water”.

Bermuda – after explorer Juan de Bermudez, who arrived there in 1503.

Colombia – Christopher Columbus

Dominican Republic – after St. Domingo de Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order.

El Salvador – literally, “the Savior”, after Jesus of Nazareth.

Kiribati – from the Gilbert Islands, for Captain Thomas Gilbert.

Mozambique – possibly from sheik Mussa Ben Mbiki.

Philippines – King Philip II of Spain

San Marino – from St Marinus, an ancient stonemason who fled to the area to escape Roman persecution

Sao Tome and Principe – from St. Thomas. Portuguese explorers encountered the land on St. Thomas’s Day. (December 21)

Seychelles – for Jean Moreau de Sechelles, King Louis XV’s Finance Minister.

Amerigo Vespucci is the only person to have a continent named after him, and he got two! The explorer helped prove that the lands Christopher Columbus encountered were not in Asia, but were entirely new continents. In 1507 cartographer Martin Waldseemuller labeled the new continents after the Italian explorer when he printed 1000 copies of his famous globe of the world.

Waldseemuller's Wall Map of the World

Waldseemuller’s 1507 Globe Map

Waldseemuller’s 1507 Wall Map

Nelson Mandela’s Birthday

July 18 (not an official holiday in South Africa)

“We must accept the fact that in our country we cannot win one single victory of political freedom without overcoming a desperate resistance on the part of the Government, and that victory will not come of itself but only as a result of a bitter struggle by the oppressed people for the overthrow of racial discrimination…

The theory that we can sit with folded arms and wait for a future parliament to legislate for the ‘essential dignity of every human being irrespective of race, colour, or creed’ is crass perversion of elementary principles of political struggle.”

The Shifting Sands of Illusion, Nelson Mandela, June 1953

Mandela’s story is legendary, not only for the 27 years he spent in prison, but for the reasons he arrived there and for his singular journey since.

Mandela was arrested on Sunday, August 5, 1962 for speaking against the government in public and leaving the country illegally, for which he was sentenced for five years.

“While serving this sentence, he was tried again for more serious charged connected with his leadership of the armed resistance group, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He and his colleagues were convicted of terrorism, narrowly escaping execution, receiving life sentences instead.”

Nelson Mandela: the Early Life of Rolihlahla Madiba, by Jean Guiloineau and Joseph Rowe

Terrorism? Yes, in a post-9-11 world, heads of state downplay that for nearly three decades Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nelson Mandela had been deemed a terrorist by the apartheid “justice” system.

Nelson Mandela stamp, Soviet Union, 1988

During his imprisonment the island on which Mandela was held—Robben Island—became known as “Mandela University.” The political prisoner educated other inmates who then continued the struggle against racism outside the prison walls.

“Did they imagine we might forget him and his companions if they banished him to this island? And did they imagine we could forget the misery of our lives?”

A Pilgrimage to the Isle of Makana, from Call Me Not a Man, by Mtutuzeli Matshoba

The famous cry “Free Nelson Mandela” really meant “Free South Africa”. On February 11, 1990, the first half of that long sought prize came to pass. Since 1966, not so much as a photograph had been taken of Mandela. His release was broadcast around the world.

After the country’s first truly-democratic elections in 1994, Mandela became South Africa’s first black President.

Youtube: Free Nelson Mandela

Freedom, however, is not a moment but a journey. As late as 2008, due to red tape and lack of oversight, Mandela and other members of the African National Congress were still on the U.S. terrorist watch list.

“In the 1970s and ’80s, the ANC was officially designated a terrorist group by [South Africa’s] ruling white minority. Other countries, including the United States, followed suit.” — USA Today 4/30/08

“It is frankly a rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in…the great leader, Nelson Mandela.” — Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice

Mandela and the ANC were removed from the list by a special bill signed by President Bush in July 2008, just prior to Mandela’s 90th birthday.

In South Africa, celebrants “thank Madiba” (Mandela’s honorary title) on July 18th with acts of charity and good deeds, from cleaning cemeteries to painting hospitals.

Meanwhile, in the country of Ghana…

President John Evans Atta Mills on Friday called on Ghanaians to observe Saturday, July 18, 2009 as Nelson Mandela International Day to commemorate his leading role in Africa’s liberation struggle… “The day is Mr. Nelson Mandela’s birthday and those observing this day are required to contribute 67 minutes of their time to the service of their communities in recognition of the 67 years Nelson Mandela has spent in serving humanity.”

Ghana News Agency, July 17, 2009

1961 Nelson Mandela Interview

Clerihew Day

July 10

7/11 might be a more appropriate day to extol the virtues of poetry, but as it is, we’ll celebrate on 7/10, the birthday of poet, journalist, and author Edmund Clerihew Bentley, who created the most venerated form of poetry in all the English language: the Clerihew.

Edmund Clerihew Bentley

The Clerihew is a four-line verse where the end of the first line, or more often the full first line, is the subject’s name. Clerihews have an AABB rhyme scheme and meter is of secondary (or no) importance:

Even Steven
Will be leavin’
To get mugged in Chicago
After watching Dr. Zhivago

— the author, age 11

According to Steven Gale’s Encyclopedia of British Humorists, Clerihew composed the first such poem as a 16 year-old student in science class, in honor of a British chemist.

Sir Humphry Davy
Was not fond of gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.

Evidently the poem was a big hit with his fellow students, for he never stopped writing them. He published his first collection in his 1905 classic, Biography for Beginners. Other favorite clerihews include:

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, “I am going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls,
Say I am designing St Paul’s.

And from the Boston Globe’s Clerihew contest:

Edmund C. Bentley
Wrote intently,
But would now be anonymous
Were it not for the verse form for which his middle name is eponymous.

Clerihew was also a mystery author. He wrote one of the great detective stories of the early 20th century, Trent’s Last Case.

“Cupples, I have absolutely nothing left to say, except this: you have beaten me. I drink your health in a spirit of self- abasement. And you shall pay for the dinner.” — Trent’s Last Case, 1913

It wasn’t Trent’s Last Case. Bentley wrote two sequels, Trent Intervenes and Trent’s Own Case.

So before you go off and celebrate Clerihew Day with the reverence it deserves, remember,

Edmund Bentley
Was born in the U.K.
On Clerihew Day