Bermuda Day!

May 24

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in ‘t!

The Tempest

Today is Bermuda Day!

On 2005’s Bermuda Day public holiday in Bermuda’s 21 square miles in total land area, there were 23 road traffics collisions, 17 reports of loud music, 14 reports of annoying persons, 11 disturbances including fighting in public, 10 marine violations, 9 incidents of domestic assault, 6 assaults and 2 arrests for impaired driving.

Looks like fun!

The holiday began in Bermuda as Empire Day in 1902, in honor of Queen Victoria, born on this day in 1819. (At the time of her birth Victoria was fifth in line of succession for the English throne, but due to a series of unfortunate royal deaths–or fortunate, if you’re Victoria–Victoria began her 61 year reign on her 18th birthday, 5/24/1837.)

The holiday was re-christened Commonwealth Day, and then, after the Bermuda race riots of the 1970s, Bermuda chose to rename the day Bermuda Day, to emphasize the country’s unity.

Bermuda Day used to mark the first day of summer season, and the first day a native could respectably go to the beach, or don a pair of those famous shorts that gave the island of Bermuda its name. (Some historians argue the reverse, but we know better.)

Today sets off the annual Bermuda Fitted Dinghy racing season–which, from what I understand, is a big deal, with lots of rules.

(Getting a little dinghy)

And 2008 marks the 100th Annual Bermuda Day Parade from Somerset to St. George.

This year there was debate about renaming the holiday National Heroes Day. The first honoree would be Bermuda’s Dame Lois Brown-Evans, who died last year shortly after Bermuda Day, just shy of her 80th birthday. Brown Evans was the country’s first female lawyer, the Commonwealth’s first female opposition leader, and the first elected Attorney General of Bermuda.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) & Dame Marie Lois Brown-Evans (1927-2007)

But Bermudans have chosen to honor her and and National Heroes Day in October, in order to keep the Bermuda Day tradition alive.

Other reasons to love Bermuda:

#5. No billboards. A complete ban on outdoor advertising and neon signs. (Imagine pushing that one through Congress!)

#4. The world’s smallest drawbridge. Somerset Bridge measures less than two feet wide–barely wide enough for a boat’s mast.

#3. Brave New World. This far-off island inspired William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

#2. The 21 sq. mile island puts up with 23,000 honeymooners a year.


Destination Bermuda

Declaration of the Báb

May 23

This holiday remembers neither a war, nor the death of a martyr, nor a seasonal change, nor a leader’s birthday nor any event commonly called upon as the origin of a holiday.

Today followers of the Bahai Faith celebrate a simple conversation between two men in a quiet house in Shiraz, Persia, on the evening of May 23, 1844.

Depiction of the room in which the Declaration occurred

The two men were Mulla Husayn and Siyyad Ali Muhammad, and the date is considered to be the foundation of the Bahai religion and the beginning of its ‘Badi’ calendar.

Mulla Husayn, was traveling through Persia with two companions. They had been informed by their teacher Siyyid Kazin just before he died that the Qa’im–the Promised One of Shi’a Islam–was about to make his presence known. Kazin ordered his students to set out and find this long-awaited Qa’im and with him the fulfillment of the prophecies of their sect.

Siyyid Kazin passed on to Mulla Husayn some indicators of the coming Qa’im. He would be of pure lineage, of noble descent (of Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah), of medium height and build, endowed with innate spiritual and philosophical knowledge, free from bodily deficiency, and he would be a non-smoker.

In addition Kazim offered specific tests of wisdom that would be posed to any claiming to be the Qa’im, and he further predicted that the true Qa’im, upon answering the preceding tests would immediately and of his own volition launch into the deepest and most revealing commentary of the Qur’an’s Sura of Yusuf (Joseph) the world had never known.

After traveling for many months, Mulla Husayn and his companions reached Shiraz in what is now Iran. Just before evening they separated with plans to meet up later that night.

On the streets of Shiraz, Mulla Husayn encountered a gentle young man with a soothing voice and a strange yet penetrating demeanor. The stranger introduced himself as Siyyad Ali Muhammad and invited Husayn back to his house. Despite Husayn’s protests that his friends were waiting for him, the young man assured him, “Commit them to the care of God, He will surely protect and watch over them.


At the house the two men talked over tea. Husayn recalled:

His dignity and self-assurance silenced me. I renewed my ablutions and prepared for prayer…It was about an hour after sunset when my youthful Host began to converse with me: “Whom, after Siyyid Kazin, do you regard as his successor and your leader?” asked Siyyad Ali Muhammad.

Mulla Husayn replied: “At the hour of his death, our departed teacher insistently exhorted us to forsake our homes, to scatter far and wide, in quest of the promised Beloved.”

Husayn told the young man all the features Kazin predicted the the Qa’im would have, whereupon the young man replied, “Behold, all these signs are manifest in Me!

Shocked at the man’s audacity, Husayn proceeded to grill the impostor with tests based on the teachings of his teacher Kazin and Kazin’s teacher Shaykh Ahmad.

“Within a few minutes He had, with characteristic vigour and charm, unravelled all its mysteries and resolved all its problems…He further expounded to me certain truths which could be found neither in the reported sayings of the Imams of the Faith, nor in the writings of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazin.”

Finally, the moment of truth: Without provocation, the man took pen to paper and wrote, without hesitation, the first chapter in the beginning of what would be his great commentary on the Sirah of Joseph.

When Husayn accepted the veracity of the man’s claim, Siyyad Ali Muhammad announced the name he would be known as for the rest of his life and for generations after: the Báb, or “the Gate”.

See Martyrdom of the Báb

Shrine of the Báb

The Bab is one of the two divine messengers of God of the Baha’i Faith. He foretold the coming of the religion’s great prophet Baha’u’llah.

National Maritime Day

May 22

They say there’s nary a time like maritime — or is that no time like show time? At any rate, if there was ever a time to celebrate the merchant marine, that would be today, May 22, National Maritime Day.

Today the United States commemorates all those who have served in the merchant marine. Congress declared May 22 National Maritime Day in 1933. They chose May 22 because it was the anniversary of the day back in 1819 when the steamship SS Savannah left Savannah harbor in Georgia on its way to becoming the first steam-powered vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

The SS Savannah arrived in Liverpool, England, twenty-nine days and four hours later. Even though it spent most of the journey sailing rather than steaming, the success of the Savannah was an important milestone for a young nation bordered by two oceans, and the voyage  made more established nations  such as England, Sweden, Russia, and France take note. King Charles XVI even offered to buy the Savannah for $100,000 of hemp and iron.

The merchant marine would be a vital component of U.S. Defense over the next 190 years. In fact, during World War II, the merchant marine suffered a higher casualty than any branch of the armed forces except for the Marines. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that merchant marine veterans were accorded many of the rights and privileges of other veterans.

SS Savannah


National Maritime Day is also a good time to educate youngsters about those eternal questions of life at sea. Questions like “Why is it called a ‘poop deck’?” No, you don’t need to avoid the poop deck on humid days. Poop is from the French ‘la poupe’, meaning stern (stern like in rear, not like your 4th grade teacher). The poop deck is so named because it’s located in the aft of the ship.

As for the Savannah, its post-Atlantic life was less than glamorous. The steam-powered engined was removed to make more space for cargo. Two years later, the ship that sailed the Atlantic was wrecked off the coast of Long Island. It would take another 30 years for a second U.S. steamship to successfully cross the Atlantic.

City of Savannah – S.S. Savannah

Historic Speedwell – S.S. Savannah

Armed Forces Day – U.S.

3rd Saturday in May
(May 21, 2011)

“Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.”

–President Harry Truman, Presidential Proclamation of February 27, 1950

In addition to creating the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Act reorganized the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps within a unified Department of Defense. (UFO-conspiracy theorists point out that Congress passed this classified Act just one month after the Roswell debacle of 1947. Coincidence?…Yes.) The purpose of the reorganization was to better identify and respond to “transnational threats” defined as “any transnational activity (including international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the delivery systems for such weapons, and organized crime) that threatens the national security of the United States.”

Armed Forces Day was meant to replace the separate Army, Navy, and Marine Corps Days, although the Marines continue to observe Marine Corps Day each November 10. Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday in May, serves a dual purpose. It is partly for the country to pay homage to the men and women in the armed services. But it is also a ‘facetime’ opportunity–for the military to interact with and educate the public in an informal setting about the Armed Forces.

The city of Torrance has hosted the Armed Services Day Parade every year for nearly 50 years. Before and after the parade, spectators get a chance sit in Air Force helicopters, Coast Guard boats, Army trucks, and other military vehicles, while exhibits show the more scientific side of the Armed Forces, including geological, geographical, and zoological studies.

2008 marked the 100th anniversary of U.S. Army Reserve, which began in 1908 as the Medical Reserve Corps. The original Corps consisted of 160 doctors who could be called upon to serve their country at a moment’s notice in times of war. Ten years later at the end of World War I the Army Reserve numbered over 160,000 soldiers on active duty.

“Armed Forces Day, above all, honors the dedicated individuals who wear the uniforms of their country. Each serviceman, wherever he may be, whatever his task, contributes directly and importantly to the defense of the nation.”

General Earle G. Wheeler, Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1967

“…Word to the Nation: Guard zealously your right to serve in the Armed Forces, for without them, there will be no other rights to guard.”

President John F. Kennedy, 1962

(Official AFD Poster, 1951)

Timor of the Rising Sun

O mundo é dos audazes. Timor triunfará!

— Jorge Heiter

East Timor (now Timor-Leste) is the eastern half of a small island–conveniently named ‘Timor’–southeast of Indonesia. ‘Timor’ actually means East, or Rising Sun, so technically it’s ‘East East’.

Timor-Leste is one of two Catholic countries in Asia, the other being the Philippines; and the only Asian country where Portuguese is a second language.

For over 400 years the Portuguese ruled East Timor as a colony, until a 1975 coup d’etat in Portugal ushered in an era of de-colonialization. With a destabilized government, fighting broke out between two Timorese political parties, one of which allied themselves with Indonesia. (Indonesia occupied the western half of Timor.) The other party, FRETILIN, unilaterally declared East Timor an independent nation on November 28, 1975.

That independence was short lived.

The following week the Indonesian military, under President Suharto, began one of the most brutal, and one of the most ignored, invasions and occupations of the second half of the 20th century.

The United Nations condemned the invasion, but took no further action. Indonesia justified the invasion by claiming that the artificial border that split the island was the result of European imperialism and political oppression. (The Dutch had once occupied West Timor.)

Constancio was a young boy at the time of the invasion. Like many others, he and his family fled to the jungle, where he witnessed friends and family die from illness and starvation. All the while the Indonesian air force continued bombing from above. After several months he was captured and interred in a make-shift concentration camp that was worse than the mountainous jungle.

“There were thousands of people in a small area that was infested by mosquitoes and with no running water, no food. At least 15 people died every day.”

The island was effectively cut off from the rest of the world; it is estimated that of a population of 700,000, up to 100,000 Timorese died in the first 5 years of occupation.

After being released, Constancio became a servant to an Indonesian police officer in Dili. He gained entrance to a private school and became active in a students’ movement for an independent East Timor.

In 1991 Constancio helped organize a demonstration protesting the murder of Sebastiao Gomes, a 22 year-old killed in a church the month before. As over 3,000 unarmed demonstrators converged on the cemetery where Gomes was buried, Indonesian troops opened fire using American-made M16s. He recalled…

“We didn’t think they would open fire with United Nations observers and journalists being there.

Over 250 Timorese were killed; 200 more ‘disappeared’ in the following military crackdown. What separated the massacre of Santa Cruz from previous atrocities was that it was documented by Australian media, one of the few events on the otherwise isolated island to be so. The massacre at Santa Cruz became a rallying point for supporters of Timorese independence.

With a little less luck, Constancio might have been one of the disappeared, but he was tipped off by an inside friend who warned him not to go home that night when the secret police were waiting for him.

Constancio escaped to the western half of the island with the aid of friends, false papers, and money to bribe an Indonesian official to issue him a passport to Singapore.

He never took a moment of his freedom for granted. Traveling to Portugal and the U.S., he spread awareness of the situation in East Timor. In 1993 he matriculated to Brown University and he continued speaking across the U.S. about his life, the East Timor people, and the horrors he had seen.

In 1996, two of his countrymen Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Ximenes Belo, won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts at ending the violence in East Timor, bringing international attention to the fate of the small island.

In the late 1990s the determination of Timorese like Pinto, Ramos-Horta, and Ximenes Belo, as well Australian journalists like Allan Naird, met with help from an unlikely source. The crash of the Asian markets in 1997 destabilized Indonesia, and the ensuing recession forced President Suharto to call an end to his 30-year reign in May 1998. Dependent on foreign support during the financial crisis, the new President gave in to the international community’s demands for an election in East Timor.

On August 30, 1999, East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia. But even after the election, paramilitary groups continued attacks on unarmed civilians in an attempt to provoke widespread violence and justify the need for Indonesian peacekeepers. Despite provocation, the Timorese kept their side of the peace.

Under international pressure, the last Indonesian troops left East Timor on October 31, 1999.

On this day in 2002 Timor-Leste became the first newly-independent nation of the 21st century.

Timor Com Dor e Com Amor

Flight from East Timor: Student works from Brown base toward freedom for his homeland – Richard Morin

East Timor and the International Community – Heike Krieger

The Future of East Timor

The Path out of Poverty

Instability Sours Timor Celebration

I have come a long way, but East Timor has come further

Turkey – Youth and Sports Day

May 19

Four of Turkey’s national holidays stem from the Turkish War for Independence (1919-1923). Youth and Sports Day commemorates the beginning of the Turkish War for Independence on May 19, 1919.

*  *  *

After World War I, the Ottoman Empire found itself under the influence of Western powers. Sultan Mehmed VI appointed Mustafa Kemal, a general and hero of WWI, to oversee demobilization of army divisions. However, concerned about foreign dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal took a ferry from Istanbul to Samsun on the main Turkish peninsula on May 19, 1919 to rally support for a unified, independent Turkey. His landing is considered the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence.

In Ankara the following year, Mustafa Kemal convened the first Turkish Grand National Assembly. In 1921 and 1922 he defeated the Greek army at the battles of Sakarya and Dumlupinar, and he refused to sign any treaty that undermined Turkish sovereignty. The Treaty of Lausanne recognized Turkey’s independence in 1923 and Mustafa Kemal became the country’s first president in October of that year. He remained in power until his death in 1938.

Mustafa Kemal established Youth and Sports Day during his presidency; however, since his death, Turks have observed it more as “Commemoration of Ataturk.”

Ataturk is Mustafa Kemal’s honorary title. It means “Father of the Turks.”

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Basra, 1924
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Basra, 1924

Flag Day – Haiti

May 18

Today is Flag Day in Haiti. Flag Day is a major holiday for Haitians both in Haiti and overseas. On this day (May 18) in 1803, Haitian leaders of the revolution (Petion and Dessalines) in the city of Archahaine removed the center column of the French flag to create the red and blue symbol of Haitian independence.

The design was turned on its side the following year when Haiti won its independence to create the horizontally stripped flag Haiti has today. Between 1964 and 1986 Haiti used a red and black flag. The flag was returned to red and blue following the fall of the Duvalier regime.

Despite being enemies during the 1790s and early 1800’s, the Haitian struggle for independence embraced many of the same ideals of the French Revolution—Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity—making the French flag an appropriate basis for the burgeoning nation’s symbol.

May is also Haitian Heritage Month for Haitians in the United States. It marks several important Haitian holidays and milestones, including the May 20th birthday of Haiti’s national hero, slave-turned-general Toussaint L’Ouverture.

According to May is Haitian Heritage Month…

“To remember the unity reached by the Black and Mulatto officers at their historic congress on May 15-18, 1803 to fight together against slavery in the French colony of St. Domingue, and for its independence, which they proclaimed on January 1, 1804.

To celebrate the creation of the blue and red Haitian flag on May 18, 1803.

To honor Haitian General Toussaint Louverture who was born on May 20 1743.

To celebrate Haitian achievements and contributions across the globe.

To raise awareness and understanding about Haitian culture and traditions.

To strengthen the self-esteem of Haitian/Haitian American youth.
To honor Haitian tradition of celebrating:

  • The month of May as Mary’s, the mother of Jesus (Haitian Catholics)
  • May 1st as Labor and Agriculture Day
  • May 17 as Teacher’s Day
  • May 18 as University Day
  • Last Sunday of May as Mother’s Day”

Constitution Day – Norway

May 17


In 1814 the four-century union between Denmark and Norway abruptly ended when Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden following the Napoleonic Wars. Norway also lost what had once been its own. Iceland and Greenland, settled by the Norse in the 9th and 10th centuries, would remain in Denmark’s possession.

With the emergence of a national ‘farm culture’ in Norway, and a growing awareness of the French and American Revolutions, a movement for Norwegian sovereignty gained momentum. Crown Prince Christian Frederik assembled a congress of Norwegian leaders in Eidsvoll to draft a Norwegian Constitution, which was signed on May 17, 1814. To this day Norway celebrates May 17, Constitution Day, as its most important national holiday.

The road to independence was not that easy though. The Swedes attacked Norway in July (The last war the Swedes have ever fought) leading to a ceasefire agreement in August. The treaty establish a ‘personal union’ with Sweden, in which Norway recognized the authority of the Swedish King.

Ninety years later the Norwegian parliament declared its independence as a constitutional monarchy, backed by a united populace, and the Swedish parliament voted to accept the dissolution a few months later.

It wasn’t until 1991 that Harald V, the present King of Norway, became the first native-born Norwegian monarch since Queen Margaret’s 17 year-old son King Olaf died in 1387.

At 16 I traveled to Norway as a foreign exchange student. Aside from a week in Canada, I had never left the United States. Before I left, a friend from Spain made fun of me for wanting to go to Norway. He assured me I would be surrounded by cows.

I stayed in a tiny sea-side town (they’re just about all sea-side, or fjord-side, towns) near Molde, between Bergen and Trondheim. The town’s population was smaller than my high school back in the States. I remember my host family’s TV. It had one TV station, and it went off the air each night to be replaced by a static signal. The signal was more intriguing to me than the actual programming. I had never seen dead air:

Norwegian television

Traveling from Long Beach, California (alma mater of Snoop Dogg) to Elnesvågen, Norway was a shock. I had always been taught I lived in the greatest country on earth, yet here I was in a near social utopia. A land where crime had, relatively speaking, disappeared and poverty was a non-issue. Norway was years ahead of us even in issues like gender equality. And it didn’t hurt that the Norwegian landscape was pristine and picture perfect. I still believe it’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world.


One week my host siblings took me in a tiny motorboat to an island off the coast, named Bjornsund. There we caught crabs (the edible kind) and had to pump our own water. It was like traveling to another world, another century.

Of all my travels since, perhaps none has affected me like that first journey to Norway. It showed me that there are alternative ways of living, of governing. That the wide divide between rich and poor and the persistence of crime are not absolutes. Yes, the tax rate was high, but Norwegians got a lot in return, health care included.

The question was–I could never be sure–was the U.S. behind Norway, or was Norway behind the U.S.?

I mean, hopefully it was the former. That America was on the path to making equality a reality instead of a mantra. That by emulating countries like Norway we would reduce crime, improve our social services, and increase our standard of living for all citizens.

But more and more I feared it was the other way around. As Norway dealt with new immigration from other parts of Europe and the Middle East, for example, I could see the beginnings of racism where homogeneity had long been the norm. Was Norway ahead of the world, our was it destined to lose its sense of community and follow in the footsteps of other modern countries plagued by urban violence and disparity in the mass media-crazed 21st century?

I returned six years later to Norway, to that same house with the one TV station. It was still too early to tell what was in store for Norway’s social future. But I did notice that my host family in Elnesvågen now had 200 channels.

There was another way Norway affected me. Just as my Spanish friend predicted, the house I lived in was sandwiched between two farms. Being a city boy I couldn’t help but notice the ever-present aroma of cow manure. Though I eventually got used to it, the memories of that summer were woven indelibly into my olfactory lobes.

To this day, when we pass a farm on the highway and smell the fertilizer, others may plug their noses.

I close my eyes, and remember Norway. (-;

Vartdal med Vartdalsfjorden, Ørsta, Norge; by Andreas Vartdal