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


Memorial Day

last Monday in May
May 30, 2011
May 28, 2012

In the United States the May tradition of honoring the dead of wars past began after the Civil War. In individual towns in the South, women would lay flowers and wreaths atop the graves of their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons.  It was called Decoration Day. The song “Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping” was published in 1867 with the dedication “to the ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead.”

“Kneel where our loves are sleeping. They lost but still were good and true.
Our fathers, brothers fell still fighting, We weep, ’tis all that we can do.”

The following year the Commander of the U.S. Army, moved by the ceremonies of the South, declared a similar tradition in the North.

“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land…

“Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and found mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.”

Three decades after the Civil War, Richard Burton wrote his famous “Memorial Day“.

Now is the cleavage deep of North and South
Well closed, —the years o’er-cover it, as grass
Softens and sweetens some dry place of drouth
When comes the blessed rain; the requiem-mass
Is chanted of the mood that shattered peace:
Where common sorrows are, anger must cease:
Sorrow and love remain, while passions pass…

How like cathedral chimes the names we know,
Ringing above a leal united land:
Bull Run, Antietam
; Gettysburg, Shiloh,
Sherman’s grim march
to reach the white sea-strand,
Lookout’s cloud fight
, The Wilderness, —each bell
Reverberating valor—list! they tell
How Lincoln and Lee are friends, and understand.

What is a patriot? Not the man who swears:
“My country, right or wrong;” nor he who claims
That sacred thing, yet like a dastard dares
To use her to his ends, to hide his shames;

For higher, holier than the will to war
The will to love, —now may the path of Peace
Within our states be like the pilot star
In the night sky, by myriads to increase
As the millennium broadens, gleam by gleam:
This is the prophet’s word, the poet’s dream:
All nations living in love’s great release.


"Beneath this stone repose the bones of 2,111 unknown soldiers..." Arlington Cemetery

Southern states still observe separate dates for honoring the Confederate dead.

Texas – January 19;
Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida – April 26
South Carolina – May 10
Louisiana and Tennessee –  June 3

After WWI, Memorial Day included remembering the dead of other wars, not just the Civil War.
To date, more Americans died in the Civil War than in all other wars combined.

Francis Miles Finch’s The Blue and The Gray

Malaysian Harvest

May 30-31

The end of May marks the Malaysian Harvest Festival in Sabah…


The best time to visit Sabah and experience this occasion is from May 30th to 31st, when the Kadazan and Dusun communities offer thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. Highlights include a beauty pageant, cultural dances and rituals that culminate in the Thanksgiving ceremony performed by the ‘Bobohizan,’ or high priestess.”


The padi and rice festival is called Tadau Ka’amatan, and you’ll hear shouts of “Kopivosian Tadau Ka’amatan” (Happy Harvest Festival) throughout the streets.

During the festival, Sabah natives wear their traditional costumes and enjoy a carnival atmosphere which stretches from daybreak till dawn. ‘Tapai’ or home-made rice wine is served as the specialty for the day…

“According to their beliefs, the spirit of the paddy plant is said to be part of the Kinoingan – also known as the Bambaazon, who is revered as the creator, a source of life and existence. The rice spirit Bambaazon is therefore revered in the rice plant, the rice grain and the cooked rice. Many believe that “Without rice, there is no life“.

“The highlight of this harvest festival is a dance performed by the high priestess (Bobolian) in search of the rice spirits, whose presence is vital for a fruitful harvest. Much fun and excitement take place and merry makers indulge in dancing, feasting, and drinking of a potent wine called ‘tapai,’ buffalo racing and arm wrestling. The festivities end with the crowning of the Harvest Queen.” (

“Moving in a single file, close to one another, the Bobohizan and their assistants enter the ‘spirit’ world in search of Bamabarayon. Every time a stray Bambarayon is located, piercing screams or pangkis is heard, expressing joy at the find, thus ensuring that they have another good harvest.” (

If you’d like to see Sabah, Malaysia but can’t afford the plane ticket, you can always rent Survivor. The immortal first season, including Susan’s famous “rat vs. snake” speech, was filmed in Sabah, at the northern tip of the island of Borneo.

Fall of Constantinople

May 29

Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s a Turkish delight on a moonlit night…
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

[published May 29, 2008]

555 years ago today a young soldier by name of Hasan from the small town of Ulubat in what is now Bursa province, Turkey, changed the history of the world.

Hasan was a member of the Sultan Mehmed II’s elite cavalry force during the Siege of Constantinople in 1453 AD.

Preparations for the siege had begun in late 1451 when the Sultan built a fortress on the European side of the Bosporus, north of the city. There Sultan Mehmed commissioned a Hungarian named Urban to design and forge the latest craze in weapons of mass destruction.

The ‘Great Turkish Bombard’ was the world’s first supergun, an enlargement of a Chinese weapon that used gunpowder. At 17 feet and weighing over 20 tons, Urban’s Bombard could shoot a 680 kg granite projectile over a mile. It took 60 oxen and 400 men to move each one.

(Bombard at the Siege, and today)

Urban originally offered his services to the Byzantines, who were unable to afford him. He took his business elsewhere, to the Sultan, who gave him unlimited funding to create a device that could bring down the “walls of Babylon”.

Each Bombard took three hours to reload. But shot by shot, over a matter of months they broke through the walls of the city that was once declared the new Rome. Walls that were originally built by Constantine, fortified by Theodosius, and which for 1000 years withstood attacks from the Avars, the Persians, the Arabs, the Rus’, and the Bulgars.

On the 28th, as the Ottoman army rested for the final attack the last Byzantine Emperor held a religious ceremony in the Hagia Sophia Church.

At midnight the Sultan ordered the attack.

“The first assault was performed by infantry and it was followed by Anatolian soldiers. When 300 Anatolian soldiers were killed, the Janissaries started their attack.”  —

One of the first of those to make it through the impenetrable walls was the aforementioned Hasan of Ulubat. He carried a sword, but would be remembered throughout history for what held in his other hand.


In the midst of battle, Hasan became the first Muslim ever to hoist a crescent banner atop the 1000 year-old Christian city’s walls. The sight of the flag spurred on the invaders and hastened the collapse of the city’s defenses. During this last act, Hasan was struck dead by 27 arrows, but not before his fellow soldiers broke through and held the flag.

Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor, is believed to have been killed in the attack.

Sultan Mehmed II assumed the Byzantine title of Caesar, and the Ottoman became the undisputed ruler of what was now undoubtedly an empire.

He was 21.

Sultan Mehmed II enters Constantinople

Istanbul, as it’s known today, is the city that spans two continents.

And no, it wasn’t Mehmed who changed Constantinople to Istanbul. The Ottomans continued to call the city “Konstantiniyye” (City of Constantine) for hundreds of years. But the mesh of multi-cultural locals called it by another name. Istanbul is a morph of the Greek “is tin Poli”.

Just like New Yorkers and San Franciscans call their hometown, Istanbul means simply “the City”, or “to the City”.

The name wasn’t officially adopted by the Turkish Postal System until 1926.

So if you’ve got a girl in Constantinople…
…she’ll be waiting in Istanbul.

[And no, They Might Be Giants didn’t write the song. Istanbul Not Constantinople was recorded by the Four Lads in 1953, exactly 500 years after the conquest of Constantinople.]

Sultan Mehmed II approaches Constantinople with his army (Note the Great Turkish Bombard)

Azerbaijan – and other names I have gone by

May 28

Azerbaijanis have been celebrating May 28 as Independence Day for the past 90 years–with a brief intermission during that whole 70-year Soviet occupation thing.

After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 Azerbaijan joined ranks with Armenia and Georgia to form the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. Faced with the reality that no one could remember their quindeci-syllabic name, the trio split the following year, and Azerbaijan became the independent nation we know today.

For two years.

Then in 1920 the Bolshevik Red Army overthrew the Islamic world’s first democratic republic. Vaporizing the autonomy of the newborn Azerbaijani Parliament, the Bolsheviks also sadistically cursed Azerbaijan (together with Georgia and Armenia) with the name “the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic”. Even the Soviets had to admit the cruelty of this name, and shortened it (slightly) to the Azerbaijan SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) in the 1930s.

During the 23 months Azerbaijan had been an independent democratic republic, it granted women’s suffrage–preceding the U.S. and U.K.–and gave women equal political rights as men.

In January 1990 Soviet troops killed 132 demonstrators in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. The following year during the turmoil of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Azerbaijan formerly declared its re-independence. One of its first acts as was to chose to celebrate the May 28–the date of its 1918 proclamation of independence–as its Republic Day.

The first years of the country’s independence were marred by the ongoing Nogorno-Karabakh War, a territorial war with neighboring Armenia. Atrocities ran deep on both sides; in 1992 the Armenian army allegedly killed over 600 Azerbaijanis in the town of Khojaly. All told, approximately 10,000 Azerbaijanis were killed in the war between 1988 and 1994, and nearly 30,000 were wounded.

93% of Azerbaijan’s 8 million people are Muslim. Freedom of religion is written into the Constitution.

Children’s Day – Nigeria

May 27

Today is Children’s Day in Nigeria. Why May 27? No clue. Some Nigerian sites purport that May 27 is International Children’s and Youth Day as declared by UNICEF, but Nigeria appears to be the only country to do so. The UN celebrates Universal Children’s Day on November 20. Dozens of other countries, including almost all former Soviet Republics, celebrate on June 1.

May 27 is coincidently the anniversary of the death of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whose birthday (November 14) is observed as Children’s Day in India.

May 27 is also the day in 1967 that General Gowon split Nigeria from four provinces into twelve, three days before the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War.

In terms of population, Nigeria is even larger than Russia. About half of its 150 million people are 18 or younger. The average age women get married is 17. So you see, kids grow up fast in Nigeria.

Growing up fast is a sadly a necessity, as the average life expectancy in Nigeria is only 47, according to the World Factbook, despite the fact that Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil-exporters. In fact, oil accounts for 80% of the national budget. Oil revenues come at a devastating price though. Nigeria experiences the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez oil spill every year.

“Indeed, a half century of oil exploration — and, experts say, exploitation — has earned the Niger Delta a dubious distinction: Environmentalists call it the most polluted ecosystem on Earth.”

Nigerian Oil Spills Make Exxon Valdez Look Like Drop in the Bucket

On the bright side, the International Monetary Fund ranks Nigeria as the third fasting growing economy in the world, behind China and India. Others disagree. [Lying With Statistics: Nigeria as 3rd Largest Economy]

One thing people tend to agree on. Nigerians—both children and adults—have a reputation for being among the friendliest and most hospitable people on earth. Nigerians believe in large extended families that form the foundation for a nurturing support system for children.

The extended support system and ancestral traditions may be what has helped Nigerian communities survive everything from colonization to coups and corruption. Whether Nigeria’s latest purported economic boom will translate to better health conditions for the its children remains to be seen.

Children’s Day is celebrated across the country by primary and secondary school students with parades and presentations. However, considering the dire situation of children in Nigeria…

“…Children’s Day celebrations must become occasions for serious soul searching, articulation of blueprints or assessment of the process of implementation of child-friendly programmes of governments, not necessarily only occasions for the celebration and showcasing of a few privileged children.”

— Nigeria – Children’s Day (editorial)

Oil Spills in Nigeria Lack Legal Accountability

UNICEF Commends Joint Action to Protect Women & Children

Sorry Day – Australia

May 26

That’s the difference between the UN and Australia. The UN would have called it “Day of Remembrance and Apologies for Injustices committed upon Indigenous Peoples” or something longer. Australians cut to the bone.

There are a number of things to be sorry about with regards to treatment of Australia’s Aborigine population, but Sorry Day focuses mostly on one particularly terrifying aspect—the taking of Aboriginal children from their families in an ill-conceived ‘re-education’ project during the early-to-mid 20th century.

Between 1910 and 1970 an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children were removed from their homes, in what amounted to essentially legally-sanctioned kidnappings. The full scope of the project and its failure were the subject of a government investigation in the 1990s.

Accounts of the “Stolen Generations” have inspired numerous books, plays, and movies, including Doris Pilkington’s 1996 novel Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence and its 2002 film adaptation Rabbit-Proof Fence.

The results of the government investigation were released in the “Bringing Them Home” report, which was published on May 26, 1997.

The publication of “Bringing Them Home” coincided with another anniversary: the 30th anniversary of the Referendum of May 27, 1967, in which 90% of the Australian public voted to alter the language of the Constitution to remove discriminatory laws against indigenous people.

Henceforth, the week from May 27 to June 3 became Reconciliation Week in Australia.

Our friends Down Under tell us that Sorry Day is no longer an annual observance, but Reconciliation Week is. It is a week meant to encourage dialogue and help mend centuries of injustice against the nation’s indigenous population.

Towel Day – in memory of Douglas Adams

Today hitchhikers across the galaxy remember Douglas Adams by celebrating International Towel Day. “Why a towel?” readers of the classic scifi comedy series often asked Adams. His response was very similar to the reasons cited by the Guide itself:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon…

“More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

My favorite Douglas Adams story has nothing to do with alien spaceships, but on the etiquette of the British people. While waiting for a train one day, Adams purchased a newspaper and a small box of biscuits (like cookies, but British), and sat down at a table where another commuter was waiting.

Without a word, the other commuter reached over to Adams’ box of biscuits on the table and ate one.

Anywhere else in the world this act of thievery would be reprimanded with a curse, a dirty glare, or at least a chopped-off body part. But Adams’, being a polite Brit, simply reached over to the box and grabbed a biscuit for himself, reclaiming his dominion.

Again the commuter reached over and took another biscuit. Then Adams. Then the commuter. The two went through the entire box of biscuits this way, sitting in the center of the table, without exchanging a single word. Finally a train arrived–not Adams’–and the other man boarded.

As Adams shook his head at the gall of departed commuter until his own train arrived, at which time he stood and picked up the rest of his newspaper, only to discover his own, unopened box of biscuits lying underneath it.

It goes to show, that rude bastard sitting across from you, could very well be you.

[Adams retold this incident in “So Long and Thanks For All the Fish“, the third and penultimate novel of the Hitchhiker’s ‘trilogy’ — Ed.]

Celebrating the Life & Work of Douglas Adams —