Today is the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist (or Birth of John the Baptist, or Nativity of the Forerunner, or colloquially Johnmas or (in German) Johannistag). Ordinarily, the day of a saint’s death is usually celebrated as his or her feast day, because it marks his or her dies natalis, or birth into eternal life. To this rule there are two notable exceptions: the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that of John the Baptist. According to Catholic tradition and teaching, Mary was free from original sin from the first moment of her existence (her conception itself is commemorated by a separate feast), while John was cleansed of original sin in the womb of his mother.
The sole biblical account of the birth of John the Baptist comes from the Gospel of Luke. John’s parents, Zechariah, or Zachary, a Jewish priest and Elizabeth, were without children and both were beyond the age of child-bearing. During Zechariah’s rotation to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem, he was chosen by lot to offer incense at the Golden Altar in the Holy Place. The archangel Gabriel appeared to him and announced that he and his wife would give birth to a child, and that they should name him John. However, because Zechariah did not believe the message of Gabriel, he was rendered speechless until the time of John’s birth. At that time, his relatives wanted to name the child after his father, and Zechariah wrote, “His name is John”, whereupon he recovered his ability to speak (Luke 1:5-25; 1:57-66).
If you follow my thoughts in this blog concerning the reliability of Luke’s testimony, you will know that I consider all of his writing prior to the ministry of Jesus (e.g. http://www.bookofdaystales.com/visitation-mary/ ) to be a convenient fabrication to explain why the disciples of John the Baptist should combine with the disciples of Jesus, rather than being rival factions. I am also less than happy with endless church dogma that developed in the 2nd century onwards — Immaculate Conception, Virgin Birth, Ascension of Mary, Original Sin, etc. etc. — that attempted to make logical sense out of the many conundrums that the gospels left unanswered.
At the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to inform her that she would conceive of the Holy Ghost, he also informed her that Elizabeth, her cousin, was already six months pregnant (Luke 1:36). Mary then journeyed to visit Elizabeth. Luke’s Gospel recounts that the baby “leapt” in Elizabeth’s womb at the greeting of Mary (Luke 1:44).
The Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24 comes three months after the celebration on March 25 of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, and six months before the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus. The purpose of these festivals is not to celebrate the exact dates of these events, but simply to commemorate them in an interlinking way. The Nativity of John the Baptist thus anticipates the feast of Christmas.
So, why does the celebration fall on June 24th rather than June 25th if the date is to be precisely six months before Christmas? It has often been claimed that the Church authorities wanted to Christianize the pagan solstice celebrations and for this reason advanced John’s feast as a substitute. This explanation is questionable because in the Middle Ages the solstice took place around the middle of June due to the inaccuracy of the Julian calendar. It was only in 1582, through the Gregorian calendar reform, that the solstice returned to June 21 as it had been in the 4th century.
Therefore, a more likely reason why the festival falls on June 24 lies in the Roman way of counting, which proceeded backward from the Kalends (first day) of the succeeding month. Christmas was “the eighth day before the Kalends of January” (Octavo Kalendas Januarii). Consequently, Saint John’s Nativity was put on the “eighth day before the Kalends of July.” However, since June has only thirty days, in our present way of counting, the feast falls on June 24
The Nativity of John the Baptist is one of the oldest festivals of the Christian church, being listed by the Council of Agde in 506 as one of that region’s principal festivals, where it was a day of rest and, like Christmas, was celebrated with three Masses: a vigil, at dawn, and at midday. It is also one of the patronal feasts of the Order of Malta.
Like the Birth of the Virgin, the subject is often shown in art, especially from Florence, whose patron saint John is. It was often given a prosperous contemporary setting, and often only the presence of a halo or two distinguishes it on a desco da parto or birth tray from a secular depiction of a mother receiving visitors while lying-in. The scene in the fresco cycle of the life of John in the Tornabuoni Chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence is probably the most famous, created by Domenico Ghirlandaio and his workshop between 1485 and 1490.
Martin Luther wrote a hymn about baptism, “Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam”, which became associated with the Baptist’s day. The feast was celebrated in Lutheran Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach composed three church cantatas for the occasion, especially a chorale cantata on Luther’s hymn:
Ihr Menschen, rühmet Gottes Liebe, BWV 167, 24 June 1723
Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7, 24 June 1724
Freue dich, erlöste Schar, BWV 30, 24 June 1738 or a later year
Because today is a patronal feast in Malta I have chosen a Maltese recipe, kusksu, which is a broad bean and pasta soup, named for the pasta in it (i.e. kusksu) which sounds like couscous, and may be related historically. On many YouTube videos cooks talk about this soup as an autumn dish, perhaps because they equate soup with cool weather, but broad beans are seasonal in spring in Malta (where they grow like weeds). Here is a video in Maltese which is foreign to me, but captures the idea: a base soup of onions, garlic, vegetables, and tomato paste into which you add the broad beans and pasta, and then top off with local goat cheese.
Independence Day ( បុណ្យឯករាជ្យជាតិ) is a national holiday observed annually in Cambodia on this date. The date celebrates Cambodia’s Declaration of Independence from France on 9th November 1953. I think of it as Be Careful What You Wish For Day. The country could not have foreseen the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot regime, whose legacy is still with us, that independence from France unleashed. Independence from colonial power is certainly to be striven for, but the path must be trodden carefully and thoughtfully. I will celebrate today as I have done for the past 2 years, but mindful of the dangers inherent in unthinking “freedom.” (All the photos here are mine).
France started controlling Cambodia in 1863. After being colonized for around 80 years, king/prince Norodom Sihanouk began claiming independence from France in 1949. In 1953, he was successful in gaining full independence, and France agreed to decolonize the whole country. Due to this accomplishment, Cambodian citizens view him as “the father of independence (ព្រះមហាវីរបុរសជាតិ – ព្រះបិតាឯករាជ្យជាតិ).”
Every year, Independence Day is a very special and happy day for the whole nation celebrated around the country, but the absolutely crucial one takes place at Independence Monument (វិមានឯករាជ្យ) in Phnom Penh. On that day, all the leaders and representatives of state organizations and public departments must participate and celebrate at the formal ceremony in the morning.
Usually the roads around the Independence Monument are closed to provide the space for the ceremony (and people like me (i.e.foreigners) are prohibited from getting close). The whole ceremony is broadcast on national television and radio.
Every state palace is decorated with slogans related to the independence of Cambodia and with lights.
At night, there is a firework display in the Chatomuk River (ទន្លេចតុមុខ) located in front of the Royal Palace.
Here is a video for making pork belly and egg soup which is very popular in Cambodia – rather different from dishes you might find in a Cambodian restaurant. Very much home cooking.
Today is Ninoy Aquino Day is a national non-working holiday in the Philippines observed annually, commemorating the assassination of former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. He was the husband of Corazon Aquino, who was later to become Philippine President. They are treated as two of the heroes of democracy in the country. His assassination led to the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos on February 25th, 1986, through the People Power Revolution. In 2004, the commemoration ceremony for the holiday was held and events were attended by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Fidel V. Ramos. Unlike other dates reserved for national heroes of the Philippines (like Bonifacio Day, Rizal Day, Araw ng Kagitingan, and National Heroes Day), the date is not a “regular holiday” (double pay for working nationals) but only a “special non-working holiday” (premium of 30% for working nationals).
Aquino was a well-known opposition figure and critic of the then-president Ferdinand Marcos. Due to his beliefs, he was later imprisoned for about eight years after martial law was declared in the country. Even in prison he sought a parliamentary seat for Metro Manila in the Interim Batasang Pambansa, under the banner of the Lakas ng Bayan (LABAN). He eventually led in the opinion polls and was initially leading the electoral count but eventually lost to the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) slate led by First Lady Imelda Marcos.
Aquino remained in prison but continued to fight for democracy in the country and against the oppression of the Filipino people. After suffering from a heart attack in March 1980, he and his family moved to the United States for medical treatment, eventually leading to his self-imposed exile for about three years. There, he continued his advocacy by giving speeches to the Filipino-American communities. Later, he planned to return to the islands to challenge Marcos for the parliamentary elections in 1984. Though some did not feel this was a good idea, he still did so in 1983. Upon returning to the Philippines at the Manila International Airport (now renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport in his honor), he was shot and killed on August 21st, 1983 as he was escorted off an airplane by security personnel. This led to several protests at his funeral that sparked snap presidential elections in 1986, which led to the 1986 EDSA Revolution, catapulting his wife, Cory Aquino, to the presidency.
The holiday was created by Republic Act 9256, which was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on February 25th, 2004, twenty-one years after his death and eighteen years after the People Power Revolution., and was sponsored by Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Jose de Venecia. A commemoration ceremony was held at the People Power Monument which was attended by presidents Arroyo and Aquino, the Aquino family, and government officials such as members of the cabinet, top police, and military brass.
The holiday was included in president Arroyo’s program of “holiday economics”, adjusting the observance of the holiday to the nearest Monday in order to boost the tourism industry with long weekends. In 2010, it was moved back to its original date by Aquino’s only son, president Benigno Aquino III.
One of my favorite Filipino dishes is papaitan, which is a tripe soup. Remember that I am a tripe aficionado!!! I have not ever made it myself, but I have eaten various versions, both in Manila and in Filipino restaurants in New York. Here’s a video for you:
Today is World Meteorological Day (WMD – ominous acronym!!) celebrating the founding of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on this date in 1950. It is the successor to the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), which was founded in 1873. WMO is the specialized agency of the United Nations for meteorology (both weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences. Its current Secretary-General is Petteri Taalas and the President of the World Meteorological Congress, its supreme body, is David Grimes. The Organization is headquartered in Geneva.
On 23rd March 2017, WMO released a completely revised and updated electronic version of the International Cloud Atlas — https://web.archive.org/web/20170525194647/https://www.wmocloudatlas.org/home.html — combining 19th century traditions with 21st century technology. The International Cloud Atlas was first published by WMO predecessor, IMO, in 1896. The new version contains hundreds of images submitted by meteorologists, photographers and cloud lovers from around the globe. It includes new classifications, including volutus, a roll cloud; clouds from human activities such as the contrail, a vapor trail sometimes produced by airplanes; and asperitas, a dramatic undulated cloud which captured the public imagination. It also features meteorological phenomena such as rainbows, halos, snow devils and hailstones.
Today would be a good day to have a teaching moment with someone who confuses weather and climate and says things like, “This winter has been really cold and snowy; how can climate change be real?” There are plenty of them, so you will have your work cut out for you. The theme for 2018 is “Weather Ready; Climate Smart.”
What recipe would make you “weather ready” today? It will very much depend where you are. It is always 32˚C during the day here in Phnom Penh (which reminds me that if you live in a benighted country that still uses Fahrenheit for weather reports, you might want to take some time to get used to Celsius). My old home in New York has been experiencing snow storm after snow storm this year, and it looks as if they are dreaming of a White Easter. Actually, whether it is snowing or baking hot, I always enjoy hearty soups (yes, I know, I am weird). To be ready for anything, especially if you are snowed in and making do with what you have, I always enjoy what I call “throw-everything-in-a-pot soup.” I have some on the stove right now. Some people in the US call it refrigerator soup (that is, pull everything out of the refrigerator you can find and simmer it up together). The difference for me is that I put in dried legumes, pasta, sauces, and vegetables from my garden, along with stuff knocking around in the refrigerator.
I usually start with a chicken stock base and add whatever meat or bones I have available. If I am using dried legumes they have to go in first because they need to cook for several hours (lentils, a little less). The trick is to time the addition of ingredients:
First: meats and dried legumes
The pasta is last because I like it just al dente when served. The absolute key to throw-everything-in-a-pot soup is taste, taste, taste. You need to adjust flavorings regularly according to the underlying taste of the stock. I may add soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, mushroom ketchup, and various herbs and spices depending on how the stock base is evolving. This is a real test of your culinary skills. If you are not careful you can wind up with something hideous. You can also end up with something magical. Have at it.
Today is known as World Day of Social Justice or Social Equality Justice Day, a day recognizing the need to promote efforts to tackle issues such as poverty, exclusion and unemployment. The United Nations General Assembly voted on 26 November 2007 to observe 20 February annually as a day for promoting social justice worldwide. The declaration reads in part:
For the United Nations, the pursuit of social justice for all is at the core of our global mission to promote development and human dignity. The adoption by the International Labour Organization of the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization is just one recent example of the UN system’s commitment to social justice. The Declaration focuses on guaranteeing fair outcomes for all through employment, social protection, social dialogue, and fundamental principles and rights at work.
The General Assembly invites Member States to devote the day to promoting national activities in accordance with the objectives and goals of the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth session of the General Assembly. Observance of World Day of Social Justice should support efforts of the international community in poverty eradication, the promotion of full employment and decent work, gender equity and access to social well-being and justice for all.
Social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity and social privileges. In Western as well as in older Asian cultures, the concept of social justice has often referred to the process of ensuring that individuals fulfill their societal roles and receive what was their due from society. In the current global grassroots movements for social justice, the emphasis has been on the breaking of barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets and economic justice.
Social justice assigns rights and duties in the institutions of society, which enables people to receive the basic benefits and burdens of cooperation. The relevant institutions often include taxation, social insurance, public health, public school, public services, labor law and regulation of markets, to ensure fair distribution of wealth, and equal opportunity.
Interpretations that relate justice to a reciprocal relationship to society are mediated by differences in cultural traditions, some of which emphasize the individual responsibility toward society and others the equilibrium between access to power and its responsible use. Hence, social justice is invoked today while reinterpreting historical figures such as Bartolomé de las Casas, in philosophical debates about differences among human beings, in efforts for gender, racial and social equality, for advocating justice for migrants, prisoners, the environment, and the physically and developmentally disabled.
While the concept of social justice can be traced through the theology of Augustine of Hippo and the philosophy of Thomas Paine, the term “social justice” became used explicitly from the 1840s. A Jesuit priest, Luigi Taparelli, is typically credited with coining the term, and it spread during the revolutions of 1848 with the work of Antonio Rosmini-Serbati. In the late industrial revolution, progressive U.S. legal scholars began to use the term more, particularly Louis Brandeis and Roscoe Pound. From the early 20th century it was also embedded in international law and institutions; the preamble to establish the International Labour Organization recalled that “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.” In the later 20th century, social justice was made central to the philosophy of the social contract, primarily by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (1971).
There are many websites with suggestions for recipes for social justice. One theme is, of course, fair trade ingredients. I am going to take a different slant. The key element to social justice is equality. How about a recipe that involves equal proportions of all ingredients? This would be a little tricky in baking where one cup of flour, one cup of sugar, one cup of baking powder, one cup of eggs, one cup of butter, one cup of vanilla essence etc. would certainly be unpleasant. But soups and salads based on the equality of ingredients would be just fine. In fact, that is often my method with salads. I do not like one ingredient to dominate in a conventional salad. Put in a cup of each of the ingredients, diced or chopped, mix them together, and then dress them with extra virgin olive oil. Or make a soup of equal parts of onion, beans, potatoes, meat, celery, carrots, parsnips etc. I guarantee it will be good. Call them Social Justice Salad or Social Justice Soup.
On this date in 1963 W. W. Norton published The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, which is widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States.In 1957, Friedan was asked to conduct a survey of her former Smith College classmates for their 15th anniversary reunion. She found that many of them were unhappy with their lives as housewives which prompted her to begin research for The Feminine Mystique, conducting interviews with other suburban housewives, as well as researching psychology, media, and advertising. She originally intended to publish an article on the topic, not a book, but no magazine would publish her article.
During the year 1964, The Feminine Mystique became the bestselling nonfiction book with over one million copies sold. Friedan challenged the widely shared belief in 1950s that “fulfillment as a woman had only one definition for American women after 1949—the housewife-mother.”
The Feminine Mystique begins with an introduction describing what Friedan called “the problem that has no name”—the widespread unhappiness of women in the 1950s and early 1960s. It discusses the lives of several housewives from around the United States who were unhappy despite living in material comfort and being married with children. Furthermore, Friedan challenged women’s magazines, women’s education system, and advertisers for creating this widespread image of women. The detrimental effects induced by this image was that it narrowed women into the domestic sphere and led many women to lose their own identities.
In Chapter, 1 Friedan points out that the average age of marriage was dropping, the portion of women attending college was decreasing and the birthrate was increasing for women throughout the 1950s, yet the widespread trend of unhappy women persisted, although American culture insisted that fulfillment for women could be found in marriage and housewifery. Although aware of and sharing this dissatisfaction, women in the 1950s misinterpreted it as an individual problem and rarely talked about it with other women. As Friedan pointed out, “part of the strange newness of the problem is that it cannot be understood in terms of the age-old material problems of man: poverty, sickness, hunger, cold.” This chapter concludes by declaring “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.'”
Subsequent chapters go on to detail how the various organs of society – books, advertising, magazines, etc. – all perpetuated the narrative of the feminine mystique. Friedan also recalls her own decision to conform to society’s expectations by giving up her promising career in psychology to raise children, and shows that other young women still struggled with the same kind of decision. Many women dropped out of school early to marry, afraid that if they waited too long or became too educated, they would not be able to attract a husband. Friedan argues at the end of the chapter that although theorists discuss how men need to find their identity, women are expected to be self-sufficient, contained within a role set for them by society. She writes, “Anatomy is woman’s destiny, say the theorists of femininity; the identity of woman is determined by her biology.”
Here are more quotes:
Each suburban wife struggles with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– ‘Is this all?”
The way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.
In almost every professional field, in business and in the arts and sciences, women are still treated as second-class citizens. It would be a great service to tell girls who plan to work in society to expect this subtle, uncomfortable discrimination–tell them not to be quiet, and hope it will go away, but fight it. A girl should not expect special privileges because of her sex, but neither should she “adjust” to prejudice and discrimination.
Nowadays there are so many women who say, “I am not a feminist” without really understanding what they are saying. Do they mean that they want to live in the suburbs, cooking and cleaning the house, waiting on their husbands, and having no independent existence? I doubt it. There is still a long way to go before there is genuine equality between men and women, but things have come a long way since the 1950s and ‘60s.
In 1958, when my family moved to South Australia, we lived in a suburb where all the men went off to work in the morning, and all the women stayed home to clean and cook, and occasionally meet over tea in the afternoon. My mother barely tolerated this life for one year. She started taking the train to Adelaide to finish her secondary education, which she had not completed because of the war, and also began teacher training. It was an arduous task. She had to walk across a sheep pasture to get to a trestle train halt and flag down the train from Gawler to Adelaide. On the return she had to instruct the driver to stop at the halt, and then walk home across the pasture, often in the dark. She did this for 2 years and then began teaching at my school, first as a trainee, and then as a full-time teacher. All the time she was studying, and then teaching, my father hardly lifted a finger. He cooked on Saturdays for lunch, but otherwise he expected to be waited upon. He was born in 1917 and my mother in 1921. That was the only life he knew, and the one that my mother was determined to break for herself – well before The Feminine Mystique.
I grew up in a house where the feminine mystique was already a thing of the past, so the idea of feminism is very simple for me. It is about equality – period. It does not mean that men and women have to be the same. It means that women should not be subordinate to men whether at home or at work. They should be on a par. Both should be free to make of themselves what they want, or what they can. The idea is simple; carrying it out is still a work in progress.
When looking for recipes to honor The Feminine Mystique I came across the article “Cooking With Betty Friedan … Yes, Betty Friedan” by Betty Friedan and published in the New York Times in 1977. You can find it here. http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/05/09/specials/friedan-cooking.html By 1977 Friedan had discovered the joy of cooking when it has ceased to be drudgery as part of a woman’s role in society – the way men had known for centuries. This excerpt gives the idea. She had just opened a can of Campbell’s soup and was heating it with some added mushrooms and sour cream when her son, Jonathan, arrived without notice:
So when Jonathan arrived here unexpectedly on his way to Israel, I sprang into action. I got green noodles — which I tell myself are less fattening if they are made out of artichokes or spinach — and eggplants, onions, mushrooms and capers and made a pasta sauce from scratch. I browned more mushrooms to add to the Campbell’s soup and we had the smoked salmon that Jonathan brought from his island. For desert we had the Sacher torte I bought back home from lecturing in Vienna, eating it with natural honey ice cream instead of schlag. My friend Alex came by to give the traveler tips on Israel and he watched with a strange sort of beaming expression as I stirred around in all those pots adding oregano and things and not really concentrating on what they were talking about.
I was having a wonderful time. I felt unabashed, overwhelming love for my son as he ate up every bit of green pasta with eggplant and caper sauce. I delighted with glee as my friend took a second helping of the mushroom soup, which next time I swear I’ll make from scratch. Then I put my mind to serious political discussion of the Middle East — which somehow I’d never done with my son before — and I took delight in the beautiful way his mind works.
I think now that I will cook when I feel like it, when I want to or need to, and even maybe mostly enjoy it. I will cook for people I love or even for myself, maybe, with a minimum of fuss, or with a lot of relaxed, communal fuss, if the occasion arises. No big deal. But why deprive myself of the joys of chicken soup, of any part of my basic roots as a woman, or even the refined sophistication of cooking as an art, which my men friends are free to enjoy?
We women had to liberate ourselves from the slavish necessities, the excessive drudgery and guilt related to cooking in order to be able to now liberate ourselves from an excessive need to react against it. As for me, I’ve come out the other end of women’s liberation — to make my own soup.
Darwin Day is a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin on 12 February 1809. The day is used to highlight Darwin’s contribution to science and to promote science in general. The celebration of Darwin’s work and tributes to his life have been organized sporadically since his death on 19 April 1882, at age 73. Events took place at Down House, in Downe on the southern outskirts of London where Darwin and members of his family lived from 1842 until the death of his wife, Emma Darwin, in 1896.
Before I dribble on about Darwin Day, let me use the occasion to hammer home some persistent mistakes about natural selection:
I am heartily sick of hearing morons like Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang say things like, “I am more evolved than most people.” Darwin, and all later biologists, used the word “evolve” as a synonym of “change over time.” It does not contain any sense of getting better or progressing.
Darwin neither said nor believed in the “survival of the fittest.” If only the fittest survived there would be only one species or individual left.
The word “fit” in Darwinian terms means, “suited for the environment.” Lots of animals are fit: snails, cockroaches, lions, ants . . . They are fit in the niche they occupy.
Darwin neither said, nor believed, that humans evolved from apes or monkeys. He believed that modern apes and monkeys share a common ancestor with humans. All living things share a common ancestor somewhere along the line.
His major work is called On the Origin of Species, not, The Origin of THE species. The book is about how species of animals develop over time, and is only minimally concerned with humans. (While I am on it, “species” is both singular and plural. For good measure – Homo sapiens is singular, it has no plural.)
In 1909, more than 400 scientists and dignitaries from 167 countries met in Cambridge to honor Darwin’s contributions and to discuss vigorously the recent discoveries and related theories contesting for acceptance. This was a widely reported event of public interest. Also in 1909, on 12th February, the 100th birth anniversary of Darwin and the 50th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of Species were celebrated by the New York Academy of Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History.
Scientists and academics sometimes celebrated 12th February with “Phylum Feast” events—a meal with foods from as many different phyla as they could manage, at least as early as 1972, 1974, and 1989 in Canada. In the United States, Salem State College in Massachusetts has held a “Darwin Festival” annually since 1980, and in 2005, registered “Darwin Festival” as a service mark with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
The Humanist Community of Palo Alto, California, was motivated by Dr. Robert Stephens in late 1993 to begin planning for an annual “Darwin Day” celebration. Its first public Darwin Day event was a lecture by Dr. Donald Johanson (discoverer of the early hominid “Lucy”), sponsored by the Stanford Humanists student group and the Humanist Community on 22 April 1995. The Humanist Community continues its annual celebration of Darwin, science, and humanity, on 12 February.
Independently, in 1997, Professor Massimo Pigliucci initiated an annual “Darwin Day” event with students and colleagues at the University of Tennessee. The event included several public lectures and activities as well as a teachers’ workshop meant to help elementary and secondary school teachers better understand evolution and how to communicate it to their students, as well as how to deal with the pressures often placed on them by the creationism movement. In 2015, Delaware’s governor Jack Markell declared February 12 “Charles Darwin Day”, making Delaware the first state in the US to formally mark the occasion.
In the late 1990s, two Darwin enthusiasts, Amanda Chesworth and Robert Stephens, co-founded an unofficial effort to promote Darwin Day. In 2001, Chesworth moved to New Mexico and incorporated the “Darwin Day Program”. Stephens became chairman of the board and President of this nonprofit corporation with Massimo Pigliucci as Vice-President and Amanda Chesworth as member of the Board, Secretary, and Executive Director. Stephens presented the objectives of the organisation in an article titled “Darwin Day An International Celebration.” In 2002, Chesworth compiled and edited a substantial book entitled Darwin Day Collection One: the Single Best Idea, Ever. The objectives of the book were to show the multidisciplinary reach of Charles Darwin and to meld academic work with popular culture. In 2004, the New Mexico corporation was dissolved and all its assets assigned to the “Darwin Day Celebration”, a non-profit organization incorporated in California in 2004 by Dr. Robert Stephens and others.
Darwin Day Celebration redesigned the Web site, www.DarwinDay.org from a static presentation of information about the Darwin Day Program to a combination of education about Darwin and the Darwin Day Celebration organization, including automated registration and publication of planned and past celebratory events and the automated registration of people who want to receive emailings or make public declaration of support for Darwin Day. The website is now operated by the International Darwin Day Foundation, an autonomous program of the American Humanist Association.
Darwin Day is also celebrated by the University of Georgia. The event is co-sponsored by the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Division of Biological Sciences, Odum School of Ecology and the departments of cellular biology, plant biology, and genetics. Mark Farmer, a professor and division chair of biological sciences and organiser of Darwin Day at UGA. Farmer said he got the idea from the International Darwin Day Foundation and brought the event to UGA in 2009 in time for the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. The University celebrates the impact that Darwin’s work had on the scientific community through a series of lectures around campus.
Various events are conducted on Darwin Day around the world. They have included dinner parties with special recipes for primordial soup and other inventive dishes, protests with school boards and other governmental bodies, workshops and symposia, distribution of information by people in ape costumes, lectures and debates, essay and art competitions, concerts, poetry readings, plays, artwork, comedy routines, re-enactments of the Scopes Trial and of the debate between Thomas H. Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, library displays, museum exhibits, travel and educational tours, recreations of the journey of the HMS Beagle, church sermons, movie nights, outreach, and nature hikes. The Darwin Day Celebration Web site offers free registration and display of all Darwin Day events.
2009 marked an important year for Darwin Day celebrations. The year was the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and it also marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Events were planned, with the most prominent celebrations in Shrewsbury, the University of Cambridge and at the Natural History Museum in London. Darwin’s alma mater, Christ’s College, Cambridge, commemorated the bicentenary with the unveiling of a life-sized bronze statue of the Young Darwin, sculpted by their former graduate Anthony Smith. HRH Prince Philip unveiled the statue and it was later shortlisted for the Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture 2009.
Let’s have some fun with primordial soup as our recipe. The original primordial soup notion came about when Russian chemist Alexandr Oparin and English geneticist John Haldane each came up with the idea independently. It had been theorized that life started in the oceans. Oparin and Haldane thought that the mix of gases in the primordial atmosphere combined with the energy from lightning strikes could spontaneously create amino acids and other organic compounds in the oceans. Amino acids are the building blocks of life (particularly DNA) This idea is now known as the “primordial soup” model.
In 1953, US scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey decided to test this theory. They combined the reducing atmosphere gases in the amounts that were hypothesized the early Earth’s atmosphere was thought to have and simulated an ocean in a closed apparatus. With constant lightning shocks simulated using electric sparks, they were able to create organic compounds, including amino acids. In fact, almost 15% of the carbon in the modeled atmosphere had turned into various organic building blocks in only a week. This ground-breaking experiment seemed to have proven that life on Earth could have spontaneously formed from non-organic ingredients.
Popeye the Sailor, created by Elzie Crisler Segar, first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip, Thimble Theatre, on this date in 1929, and Popeye became the strip’s title in later years. Popeye has since appeared in cinematic and television animated cartoons. Segar’s Thimble Theatre strip was in its 10th year when Popeye made his debut, but the one-eyed (left) sailor quickly became the main focus of the strip, and Thimble Theatre became one of King Features’ most popular properties during the 1930s. After Segar’s death in 1938, Thimble Theatre was continued by several writers and artists, most notably Segar’s assistant Bud Sagendorf. The strip continues to appear in first-run installments in its Sunday edition, written and drawn by Hy Eisman. The daily strips are reprints of old Sagendorf stories.
In 1933, Max Fleischer adapted the Thimble Theatre characters into a series of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures. These cartoons proved to be among the most popular of the 1930s, and Fleischer—and later Paramount’s own Famous Studios—continued production through 1957. These cartoon shorts are now owned by Turner Entertainment, a subsidiary of Time Warner, and distributed by its sister company Warner Bros. Entertainment.
Over the years, Popeye has also appeared in comic books, television cartoons, arcade and video games, hundreds of advertisements, and peripheral products (ranging from spinach to candy cigarettes), and the 1980 live-action film directed by Robert Altman, starring Robin Williams as Popeye.
Differences in Popeye’s story and characterization vary depending on the medium. Originally, Popeye got his strength from rubbing the head of the Whiffle Hen, changing to spinach by 1932. Swee’Pea is definitively Popeye’s ward in the comic strips, but he is often depicted as belonging to Olive Oyl in cartoons. There is no absolute sense of continuity in the stories, although certain plot and presentation elements remain mostly constant, including purposeful contradictions in Popeye’s capabilities. Popeye seems bereft of manners and uneducated, yet he is often depicted as capable of coming up with solutions to problems that seem insurmountable to the police or, most importantly, the scientific community. Popeye has, alternatively, displayed Sherlock Holmes-like investigative prowess (determining, for instance, that his beloved Olive was abducted by estimating the depth of the villains’ footprints in the sand), scientific ingenuity (as his construction, within a few hours, of a “spinach-drive” spacecraft), or oversimplified (yet successful) diplomatic arguments (by presenting his own existence—and superhuman strength—as the only true guarantee of world peace at diplomatic conferences). Popeye’s pipe also proves to be highly versatile. Among other things, it has served as a cutting torch, jet engine, propeller, periscope, musical instrument, and, of course, a whistle with which he produces his trademark toot. Popeye also on occasion eats spinach through his pipe, sometimes sucking in the can itself along with the contents. Since the 1970s, Popeye is seldom depicted using his pipe to smoke tobacco.
Popeye’s exploits are also enhanced by a few recurring plot elements. One is the love triangle among Popeye, Olive, and Bluto, and the latter’s endless machinations to claim Olive at Popeye’s expense. Another is his near-saintly perseverance in overcoming any obstacle to please Olive, who often renounces Popeye for Bluto’s dime-store advances. She is the only character that Popeye will permit to give him a thumping. Finally, Popeye usually uncovers villainous plots by accidentally sneaking up on the antagonists as they brag about or lay out their schemes.[citation needed.
Thimble Theatre was cartoonist E. C. Segar’s third published strip when it first appeared in the New York Journal on December 19, 1919. The paper’s owner William Randolph Hearst also owned King Features Syndicate, which syndicated the strip. Thimble Theatre was intended as a replacement for Midget Movies by Ed Wheelan (Wheelan having recently resigned from King Features). It did not attract a large audience at first, and at the end of its first decade appeared in only half a dozen newspapers. In its early years, the strip featured characters acting out various stories and scenarios in theatrical style (hence the strip’s name). It could be classified as a gag-a-day comic in those days.
Thimble Theatre’s first main characters were the thin Olive Oyl and her boyfriend Harold Hamgravy. After the strip moved away from its initial focus, it settled into a comedy-adventure style featuring Olive, Ham Gravy, and Olive’s enterprising brother Castor Oyl. Olive’s parents Cole and Nana Oyl also made frequent appearances. Popeye first appeared in the strip as a minor character. He was initially hired by Castor Oyl and Ham to crew a ship for a voyage to Dice Island, the location of a casino owned by the crooked gambler Fadewell. Castor intended to break the bank at the casino using the unbeatable good luck conferred by stroking the hairs on the head of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. Weeks later, on the trip back, Popeye is shot many times by Jack Snork, a stooge of Fadewell’s, but survives by rubbing Bernice’s head. After the adventure, Popeye left the strip but, due to reader reaction, he was quickly brought back.
The Popeye character became so popular that he was given a larger role, and the strip was expanded into many more newspapers as a result. Initial strips presented Olive as being less than impressed with Popeye, but she eventually left Ham Gravy to become Popeye’s girlfriend and Ham Gravy left the strip as a regular. Over the years, however, she has often displayed a fickle attitude towards Popeye. Castor Oyl continued to come up with get-rich-quick schemes and enlisted Popeye in his misadventures. Eventually, he settled down as a detective and later on bought a ranch out West. Castor has seldom appeared in recent years.
In 1933, Popeye received a foundling baby in the mail, whom he adopted and named “Swee’Pea.” Other regular characters in the strip were J. Wellington Wimpy, a hamburger-loving moocher who would “gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” (he was also soft-spoken and cowardly; Vickers Wellington bombers were nicknamed “Wimpys” after the character); George W. Geezil, a local cobbler who spoke in a heavily affected accent and habitually attempted to murder or wish death upon Wimpy; and Eugene the Jeep, a yellow, vaguely dog-like animal from Africa with magical powers. In addition, the strip featured the Sea Hag, a terrible pirate, as well as the last witch on earth (her even more terrible sister excepted); Alice the Goon, a monstrous creature who entered the strip as the Sea Hag’s henchwoman and continued as Swee’Pea’s babysitter; and Toar, a caveman.
Segar’s strip was quite different from the cartoons that followed. The stories were more complex, with many characters that never appeared in theatric cartoons (King Blozo, for example). Popeye rarely ate spinach, and Bluto made only one appearance. Segar would sign some of his early Popeye comic strips with a cigar, due to his last name being a homophone of “cigar” (pronounced SEE-gar).
After Segar’s death in 1938, many different artists were hired to draw the strip. Tom Sims, the son of a Coosa River channel-boat captain, continued writing Thimble Theatre strips and established the Popeye the Sailorman spin-off. Doc Winner and Bela Zaboly, successively, handled the artwork during Sims’s run. Eventually, Ralph Stein stepped in to write the strip until the series was taken over by Bud Sagendorf in 1959.
Sagendorf wrote and drew the daily strip until 1986, and continued to write and draw the Sunday strip until his death in 1994. Sagendorf, who had been Segar’s assistant, made a definite effort to retain much of Segar’s classic style, although his art is instantly discernible. Sagendorf continued to use many obscure characters from the Segar years, especially O.G. Wotasnozzle and King Blozo. Sagendorf’s new characters, such as the Thung, also had a very Segar-like quality. What set Sagendorf apart from Segar more than anything else was his sense of pacing. Where plotlines moved very quickly with Segar, it would sometimes take an entire week of Sagendorf’s daily strips for the plot to be advanced even a small amount.
From 1986 to 1992, the daily strip was written and drawn by Bobby London, who, after some controversy, was fired from the strip for a story that could be taken to satirize abortion. London’s strips put Popeye and his friends in updated situations, but kept the spirit of Segar’s original. One classic storyline, titled “The Return of Bluto”, showed the sailor battling every version of the bearded bully from the comic strip, comic books, and animated films. The Sunday edition of the comic strip is currently drawn by Hy Eisman, who took over in 1994. The daily strip began featuring reruns of Sagendorf’s strips after London was fired and continues to do so today.
Even though Popeye did not use spinach to gain strength in his earliest incarnation, spinach and Popeye are now completely wedded. Spinach is an extremely versatile food, and is one of my favorites. I always grew it in containers in my garden in New York, and used it primarily for salads. Because raw spinach contains oxalic acid, which blocks absorption of iron and calcium and may contribute to the formation of kidney stones, there was a time when health nuts avoided spinach that was not cooked. It is now understood, however, that the amount of oxalic acid in spinach is not as deleterious as once thought, and regular eating of probiotics in natural yoghurt and kefir counteracts the acid. On the other hand, if you boil or steam spinach you should discard the water, as well as the liquid it is packed in if you use canned.
I will put spinach in pretty much anything if I have it on hand: soups and stews, omelets, pots of lentils or beans. Curries in India can be made with all the ingredients cooked slowly for hours and if they have spinach (sa’ag) in them, it becomes silky and smooth, almost blending into the sauce. Or you can lightly steam spinach on its own. I cook it by rinsing it thoroughly in a colander, then placing it in a dry saucepan over high heat covered, and letting it steam for a few minutes until it cooks down. Drain off the excess juices and serve it hot or cold as a side dish – plain or dressed with a little sesame oil (although in keeping with the Popeye theme it ought to be olive oil — no comment on extra virgin please). You can put chopped, steamed spinach in sour cream or yoghurt as a dip, or use it as the main ingredient in cream of spinach soup. Spinach will go with anything. Eggs Florentine are like eggs Benedict except you replace the ham with spinach – delicious. “Florentine” is the culinary shorthand for “with spinach.” Hollow out a baked potato and stuff it with spinach and cheese for potatoes Florentine. Use your imagination.
Today is the birthday (1809) of Louis Braille, inventor of a system of reading and writing for use by the blind or visually impaired. His system remains virtually unchanged to this day, and is known worldwide simply as braille. The immense personal legacy of Louis Braille was described in a 1952 essay by T.S. Eliot:
Perhaps the most enduring honor to the memory of Louis Braille is the half-conscious honor we pay him by applying his name to the script he invented – and, in this country [England], adapting the pronunciation of his name to our own language. We honor Braille when we speak of braille. His memory has in this way a security greater than that of the memories of many men more famous in their day.
To honor Louis Braille’s achievement, today is celebrated as World Braille Day.
Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, a small town about twenty miles east of Paris. He and his three elder siblings – Monique Catherine (b. 1793), Louis-Simon (b. 1795), and Marie Céline (b. 1797) – lived with their parents, Simon-René and Monique, on three hectares of land and vineyards in the countryside. Simon-René maintained a successful enterprise as a leather maker and manufacturer of horse tack. As soon as he could walk, Braille spent time playing in his father’s workshop. At the age of 3, he was playing with some of the tools, trying to make holes in a piece of leather with an awl. Squinting closely at the surface, he pressed down hard to drive the point in, and the awl glanced across the tough leather and struck him in one of his eyes. A local physician bound and patched the affected eye and even arranged for Braille to be met the next day in Paris by a surgeon, but no treatment could save the damaged eye. In agony, he suffered for weeks as the wound became severely infected. The infection then spread to his other eye, likely due to sympathetic ophthalmia.
Braille survived the torment of the infection but by the age of 5 he was completely blind in both eyes. Braille did not realize at first that he had lost his sight, and often asked why it was always dark. His parents made many efforts to raise Braille in as normal a fashion as possible. He learned to navigate the village and country paths with canes his father made him, and he grew up seemingly at peace with his blindness.
Braille went to school in Coupvray until the age of 10. Then he attended one of the first schools for blind children in the world, the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles (National Institute for Blind Youth), in Paris. At the time the Institute was underfunded, but it provided a relatively stable environment for blind children to learn and associate together. The children were taught how to read by a system devised by the school’s founder, Valentin Haüy, who was not blind himself, but was a philanthropist who devoted his life to helping the blind. He designed and manufactured a small library of books for the children using a technique of embossing heavy paper with the raised imprints of Latin letters. Readers would trace their fingers over the text, comprehending slowly.
Braille was helped by the Haüy books, but he also despaired over their lack of depth: the amount of information kept in such books was necessarily small. Because the raised letters were made in a complex artisanal process using wet paper pressed against copper wire, the children could not hope to write in this manner by themselves. So that Braille could send letters back home, Simon-René provided him with an alphabet made from bits of thick leather. It was a slow and cumbersome process, but he could at least trace the letters’ outlines and write his first sentences.
The handcrafted Haüy books all came in uncomfortable sizes and weights for children. They were laboriously constructed, very fragile, and expensive to obtain: when Haüy’s school first opened, it had a total of three books. Nonetheless, Haüy promoted their use enthusiastically. To him, the books presented a system which would be readily approved by educators and they seemed – to the sighted – to offer the best achievable results. Braille and his schoolmates, however, could detect all too well the books’ crushing limitations. Haüy’s efforts still provided a breakthrough achievement – the recognition of the sense of touch as a workable strategy for sightless reading.
Braille read the Haüy books repeatedly, and he was equally attentive to the oral instruction offered by the school. He proved to be a highly proficient student and, after he had exhausted the school’s curriculum, he was immediately asked to remain as a teacher’s aide. By 1833, he was elevated to full teacher status. For much of the rest of his life, Braille stayed at the Institute where he taught history, geometry, and algebra. Braille’s ear for music also enabled him to become an accomplished cellist and organist through classes taught by Jean-Nicolas Marrigues at the school. Later in life, he played the organ for churches all over France. Braille was a devout Catholic, and held the position of organist in Paris at the Church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs from 1834 to 1839 (where Marrigues had played on a famous Clicquot organ), and later at the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul.
Braille was determined to invent a system of reading and writing that could bridge the gap in communication between the sighted and the blind. In his own words:
Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we [the blind] are not to go on being despised or patronized by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way this can be brought about.
In 1821, Braille learned of a communication system devised by Captain Charles Barbier of the French Army. Some sources depict Braille learning about it from a newspaper account read to him by a friend, while others say the officer, aware of its potential, made a special visit to the school. In either case, Barbier willingly shared his invention called “night writing” which was a code of dots and dashes impressed into thick paper. These impressions could be interpreted entirely by the fingers, letting soldiers share information on the battlefield without having light or needing to speak. The captain’s code turned out to be too complex to use in its original military form, but it inspired Braille to develop a system of his own.
Braille largely completed his system by 1824, when he was 15 years old. From Barbier’s night writing, he innovated by simplifying its form and maximizing its efficiency. He made uniform columns for each letter, and he reduced the twelve raised dots to six. He published his system in 1829, and by the second edition in 1837 he had discarded the dashes because they were too difficult to read. Crucially, Braille’s smaller cells were capable of being recognized as letters with a single touch of one finger.
Braille created his own raised-dot system by using an awl, (ironically, the same implement which had blinded him). In the process of designing his system, he also designed an ergonomic interface for using it, based on Barbier’s own slate and stylus tools. By soldering two metal strips across the slate, he created a secure area for the stylus which would keep the lines straight and readable. “It bears the stamp of genius” wrote Dr. Richard Slating French, former director of the California School for the Blind, “like the Roman alphabet itself.”
The system was soon extended to include braille musical notation. Braille was passionate about his own music, and wanted a musical notation system for the blind that would be “flexible enough to meet the unique requirements of any instrument.” His first book, published in 1829, Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them, included music notation along with standard writing. By a strange twist of fate, this book was first printed by using the raised letter method of the Haüy system.
Although Braille was admired and respected by his students, his writing system was not taught at the Institute during his lifetime. The successors of Valentin Haüy, who had died in 1822, showed no interest in altering the established methods of the school, and, in fact, they were actively hostile to the use of braille. Dr. Alexandre François-René Pignier, headmaster at the school, was dismissed from his post after he had a history book translated into braille.
Braille had always been a sickly child, and his condition worsened in adulthood. A persistent respiratory illness, long believed to be tuberculosis, dogged him, and by the age of 40, he was forced to relinquish his position as a teacher. Despite the lack of a cure at the time, Braille lived with the illness for 16 years. When his condition reached the terminal stage, he was admitted to the infirmary at the Royal Institution, where he died in 1852, two days after his 43rd birthday.
Through the overwhelming insistence of the blind pupils, Braille’s system was finally adopted by the Institute in 1854, two years after his death. The system spread throughout the French-speaking world, but was slower to expand in other places. However, by the time of the first all-European conference of teachers of the blind in 1873, the cause of braille was championed by Dr. Thomas Rhodes Armitage and thereafter its international use increased rapidly. By 1882, Dr. Armitage was able to report that “There is now probably no institution in the civilized world where braille is not used except in some of those in North America.” Eventually even these holdouts relented: braille was officially adopted by schools for the blind in the United States in 1916, and a universal braille code for English was formalized in 1932.
I am not a great fan of television, and I especially dislike so-called “reality” shows, which are clearly manipulated (sometimes even scripted). I used to watch chef competitions once in a while, however, not because I was interested in the competitors, but because I got inspiration from the dishes they prepared once in a while. By chance I came across a blind competitor, Christine Hà (Vietnamese: “Hà Huyền Trân) on Masterchef in 2012 when I was flipping channels one evening. I especially despise Masterchef, and really cannot watch it. Gordon Ramsay is a (carefully crafted) self-important prick, and it’s abundantly clear that his “reality” cooking shows are staged. I expect Masterchef predetermines the winner for the sake of entertaining television. The fact that Hà won seems like a no-brainer in crafting a following and good ratings. Nonetheless, her dishes are worth a look. This was her audition to see if she would get an apron in able to be a competitor in the 3rd series.
If you are not convinced it is fake, take note of the judges’ votes. The first is enthusiastic, the second says no. So it is up to Ramsay (big drama !!!) to cast the deciding vote. I’m sure she is a good cook, and she is certainly comfortable in the kitchen. The fact that she had no rice to accompany the soup in her first dish was a major mistake. In SE Asia in general, soup is always accompanied by rice. There is no recipe given, or even shown, on the Masterchef clip, but canh chua (catfish soup) is a well-known Vietnamese dish. Here’s a recipe for you to try.
½ lb catfish steaks (on the bone)
2 tbsp fish sauce
8 cups chicken stock
5 tbsp granulated sugar (or to taste)
2 tbsp tamarind powder
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 medium size taro stem (sliced thin)
2 cups bean sprouts
4 large tomatoes, quartered
1 Thai pepper, sliced thin.
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp fresh Thai Basil, sliced in thin strips
Douse the catfish with fish sauce, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes (preferably refrigerated overnight).
Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pan. Add the catfish, with its juices, and simmer for 15 minutes. Skim any scum that rises as the fish cooks.
Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet and sauté the garlic until it is pale golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and dry with paper towels. Mix with the chile and basil, and set aside.
Add the tomatoes, taro stems, sugar, tamarind, and salt to the soup, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the bean sprouts and immediately remove from the heat.
Serve the soup in bowls with the garlic, chile, and basil mix as a garnish. Serve plain boiled rice separately.
On this date in 1777, captain James Cook sighted Kiritimati and named it Christmas Island. It should not be confused with Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean which is an Australian external territory. The name “Kiritimati” is a respelling of the English word “Christmas” in the Kiribati dialect of Gilbertese, in which the combination /ti/ is pronounced /s/, and the name is thus pronounced /kəˈrɪsməs/. Kiritimati was first discovered by Europeans when the Spanish expedition of Hernando de Grijalva found it in 1537, and named it Acea. At the time it was uninhabited. This discovery was referred to by a contemporary, the Portuguese António Galvão, governor of Ternate, in Tratado dos Descubrimientos of 1563. Cook visited on Christmas Eve 1777, but did nothing more about it. It was claimed by the United States under the Guano Islands Act of 1856, though little actual mining of guano took place. Permanent settlement started by 1882, mainly by workers in coconut plantations and fishermen but, due to an extreme drought which killed off tens of thousands of coconut palms – about 75% of Kiritimati’s plant stock – the island was abandoned between 1905 and 1912.
The island has the greatest land area of any coral atoll in the world, about 388 square kilometers (150 square miles). Its lagoon is roughly the same size. The atoll is about 150 km (93 mi) in perimeter, while the lagoon shoreline extends for over 48 km (30 mi). Kiritimati comprises over 70% of the total land area of Kiribati, a country encompassing 33 Pacific atolls and islands. It lies 232 km (144 mi) north of the Equator, 2,160 km (1,340 mi) south of Honolulu, and 5,360 km (3,330 mi) from San Francisco. Kiritimati Island is in the world’s farthest forward time zone, UTC+14, and is one of the first inhabited places on Earth to experience the New Year. Despite being 2,460 km (1,530 mi) east of the 180˚ meridian, a 1995 realignment of the International Date Line by the Republic of Kiribati moved Kiritimati to west of the dateline.
Upon Western discovery, Kiritimati was uninhabited. As on other Line Islands there might have been a small or temporary native population, most probably Polynesian traders and settlers, who would have found the island a useful replenishing station on the long voyages from the Society Islands to Hawaiʻi, perhaps as early as 400 CE. This trade route was apparently used with some regularity by about 1000 CE. From 1200 onwards, Polynesian long-distance voyages became less frequent, and had there been human settlement on Kiritimati, it would have been abandoned in the early-mid second millennium CE. Two possible village sites and some stone structures of these early visitors have been located. Today, most inhabitants are Micronesians, and Gilbertese is the only language of any significance. English is generally understood, but little used outside the tourism sector.
Many of the toponyms in the island date back to Father Emmanuel Rougier, a French priest who leased the island from 1917 to 1939 and planted around 800,000 coconut trees there. He lived in his Paris house (now only small ruins) located at Benson Point, across the Burgle Channel from Londres (today London) at Bridges Point where he established the port. Joe’s Hill was named by Joe English, who served as plantation manager for Rougier between 1915 and 1919. English was left alone on the island for a year and a half (1917–19), with two teens, when cholera broke out in Papeete and transport stopped due to the First World War. English was later rescued by Lord John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, admiral of the British Fleet. English, still thinking the war was in effect and that the ship was German, pulled his revolver on the British admiral, causing a short standoff until some explanation defused the situation. Upon his rescue, English’s adventures were later chronicled in the Boston Globe.
Kiritimati was occupied by the Allies in World War II. US troops took over the island garrison, allowing Australian troops to be used for mainland defense. The first contingent of US troops was a company from the 102nd Infantry Regiment, a National Guard unit from New Haven, Connecticut. The Island was important to hold because if the Japanese had captured it, an airbase could have been constructed that would have allowed obstruction of the main Hawaii-to-Australia supply route. The first airstrip was constructed then for servicing the US Army Air Force weather station and communications center. The airstrip also provided rest and refueling facilities for planes traveling between Hawaii and the South Pacific. There was also a small radio-meteorological research station operated by the Kiribati Meteorological Service. In 1975 the Captain Cook Hotel was built on the former British military base.
During the dispute over the Carolines between Germany and Spain in 1885, arbitrated by Pope Leo XIII, the sovereignty of Spain over the Caroline and Palau islands as part of the Spanish East Indies was analyzed by a commission of cardinals and confirmed by an agreement signed on 17th December. Its Article 2 specifies the limits of Spanish sovereignty in South Micronesia, being formed by the Equator and 11°N Latitude and by 133° and by 164° Longitude. In 1899, Spain sold the Marianas, Carolinas and Palaus to Germany after its defeat in 1898 in the Spanish–American War. However, Emilio Pastor Santos, a researcher for the Spanish National Research Council, claimed in 1948 that there was historical basis, supported by the charts and maps of the time, to argue that Kiritimati (or Acea as in the Spanish maps), and some other islands, had never been considered part of the Carolines. Thus, Kiritimati was not included in the description of the territory transferred to Germany, and therefore was not affected, on the part of Spain, to any cessation of transfer and theoretically Spain should have had the only jurisdiction and right to the island. Pastor Santos presented his thesis to the Spanish government in 1948. In the Council of Ministers of Spain on 12th January 1949, the Minister of Foreign Affairs declared that the proposal had passed to the first stage of public attention. The Cabinet of Diplomatic Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs circulated the following note:
The Minister of Foreign Affairs informed the Council of Ministers of the situation in which we find ourselves in view of information and public commentary in the press and because of the requests made of the Spanish administration. The Ministry recognizes that it is a certain fact and historic truth due to Article 3 of the Treaty of 1 July 1899, that Spain reserved a series of rights in Micronesia and for another thing, the specifications of the territories which Spain ceded in 1899 leaves apart certain groups of islands in the same zone.
However, no Spanish government has made any attempt in this respect, and this case remains as a historical curiosity related to Kiritimati.
During the Cold War there was some nuclear weapons testing in the Kiritimati area. The United Kingdom conducted its first successful hydrogen bomb test at Malden Island on 15th May 1957; Kiritimati was the operation’s main base. In fact, this test did not work as planned, and the first British H-bomb was successfully detonated over the southeastern tip of Kiritimati on 8th November 1957. Subsequent test series in 1958 (Grapple Y and Z) took place above or near Kiritimati itself. The United States conducted 22 successful nuclear detonations as part of Operation Dominic here in 1962. Some toponyms (like Banana and Main Camp) come from the nuclear testing period, during which at times over 4,000 servicemen were present. By 1969, military interest in Kiritimati had ceased and the facilities were abandoned and for the most part dismantled. Some communications, transport and logistics facilities, however, were converted for civilian use and it is due to these installations that Kiritimati came to serve as the administrative center for the Line Islands. Islanders were usually not evacuated during the nuclear weapons testing, and data on the environmental and public health impact of these tests remains contested.
The natural vegetation on Kiritimati consists mostly of low shrubland and grassland. What little woodland exists is mainly open coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) plantation. There are three small woods of catchbird trees (Pisonia grandis), at Southeast Point, Northwest Point, and on Motu Tabu. The latter were planted there in recent times. About 50 introduced plant species are found on Kiritimati. They are most plentiful around settlements, former military sites and roads. Beach naupaka (Scaevola taccada) is the most common shrub on Kiritimati; beach naupaka scrub dominates the vegetation on much of the island, either as pure stands or interspersed with tree heliotrope (Heliotropium foertherianum) and bay cedar (Suriana maritima). The latter species is dominant on the drier parts of the lagoon flats where it grows up to 2 m (6.6 ft) tall.
More than 35 bird species have been recorded from Kiritimati. Only the bokikokiko (Acrocephalus aequinoctialis), perhaps a few introduced Rimitara lorikeets (Vini kuhlii) – if any remain at all – and the occasional eastern reef egret (Egretta sacra) make up the entire landbird fauna. About 1,000 adult bokikokikos are to be found at any date, but mainly in mixed grass/shrubland away from the settlements. On the other hand, seabirds are plentiful on Kiritimati, and make up the bulk of the breeding bird population. There are 18 species of seabirds breeding on the island, and Kiritimati is one of the most important breeding grounds anywhere in the world for several of these.
The local cuisine of Kiribati is what you would expect, fish, shellfish, bananas, and coconuts predominate, cooked in Polynesian fashion. This website gives the basic idea: https://www.internationalcuisine.com/category/kiribati/ I’ll go with pumpkin and coconut soup because it’s very common, but is also easy to prepare practically anywhere these days. The soup can be served hot or chilled
Kiribati Pumpkin and Coconut Soup
2 lbs pumpkin, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
1 13.5 fl oz can coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
coconut oil for frying
chives to garnish
Heat the coconut oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the pumpkin and ginger and cook until the pumpkin is soft, but not browned. Cover the pumpkin with water, bring to the boil, and simmer until the pumpkin is cooked and easily mashed with a fork.
Drain and then mash the pumpkin with a fork, or use a food processor. Add the mashed pumpkin back to the pot with the coconut milk and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Either heat through to serve warm, or chill in the refrigerator to serve cold.