All posts by Don

International Year of Millets, 2023

Early last year I noted India’s proposal to make 2018 the International Year of Millets (IYOM) and its subsequent rolling out of its own National Year of Millets in the same year. Apparently that IYOM proposal, submitted to FAO too late in 2017 to realistically have a chance, has been working its way through the system to where 2023 has been identified as the target year.

Samples of several millets (source:

In December 2018, the FAO Council decided to support India’s proposal for an IYOM, in 2023. The proposal, in the form of a draft resolution (see Appendix F in the Report of the Council of FAO, 160th Session) was supported by the Africa and Asia regional groups, European Union, Russian Federation, China, Sudan, Kenya, Cuba, Austria, Afghanistan, Thailand, Egypt, Senegal, and Mali.

2018, 2019, 2023

When its initial proposal did not go through, India subsequently (in mid-2018) advocated having the IYOM in  2019. That again might not have left enough time to organize such an observation. Also, the 2019 calendar was already pretty crowded with three international years (on indigenous languages, the periodical table, and moderation).

It is not clear what the process was of deciding on 2023, although that will certainly leave adequate time. The next step is getting a formal United Nations General Assembly resolution declaring IYOM 2023 and its objectives.

Millets (not simply “millet”) are several related grains that have been discussed at some length on this blog (see tag millets, plus an archived version of a post from another site). One question is whether the whole millet spectrum will be covered by IYOM 2023 – from sorghum at the large end to fonio and teff at the small end, via all the grains in between that are surnamed “millet” in English (pearl millet, proso millet, finger millet, foxtail millet, and others).


International Year of Moderation, 2019

The International Year of Moderation 2019 (IYM2019) was declared in a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution in December 2017. It is one of three UN international years being observed in 2019 – the other two concerning Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) and the Periodic Table (IYPT2019) – but so far the one getting the least attention.

IYM2019 was an initiative proposed by Malaysia, and was framed by former Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in terms of an effort to “combat the spread of extremism and radicalism by adopting moderation.”

The UNGA resolution cast the Year’s purpose formally as “an effort to amplify the voices of moderation through the promotion of dialogue, tolerance, understanding and cooperation.”

However, the IYM2019 observance does yet not appear to have as well-developed a public (social media) presence as the other two international years. The UN Alliance of Civilizations, which was “invited” in the UNGA resolution to “facilitate the observance” of IYM2019 “in collaboration with other relevant organizations” has nothing on its website. I found only, on Facebook, a page entitled “2019 as the International Year of Moderation,” and an associated event from the beginning of the year (from which I found the image above).

The slow start may be related to former PM Najib’s political and legal problems, and to the closure of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation in mid-2018. Presumably these would have been prominent in organizing the IYM2019 observance.

Another factor could be the UNGA resolution’s stipulation that “the cost of all activities” in connection with the Year “should be met from voluntary contributions.” Should we conclude that IYM2019 has not (yet) generated sufficient donor interest?

A personal comment: It seems that a year devoted to “moderation” might also, beyond the aims stated above, encourage discussion of moderation as a virtue in other ways. It is for example discussed in philosophy and religious teachings. But it also has very practical benefits, such as in resource use or habits relating to health. If observance of IYM for the rest of 2019 is too narrow in its conceptualization, an opportunity for wider learning would be missed.

(Further edits were made to this post on 30 June 2019)


International Year of the Periodic Table, 2019

Another of the three United Nations (UN) year-long observances for 2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT2019), which has its opening ceremony today at UNESCO in Paris.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Dmitri Mendeleev‘s discovery of the periodic system and publication of the first periodic table (1869). It was on this basis that in 2017 the UN General Assembly and UNESCO designated 2019 as the IYPT.

The tagline for IYPT2019 is “a common language for science.” The official website explains:

The Periodic Table of Chemical Elements is one of the most significant achievements in science, capturing the essence not only of chemistry, but also of physics and biology.

UNESCO’s webpage on IYPT2019 pitches it as: “A yearlong initiative to raise awareness of chemistry and its applications for sustainable development.”

The National Informal Stem Education Network in the US has a short page with links to some resources related to IYPT2019.


International Year of Indigenous Languages, 2019

Earlier today, the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) was officially launched at UNESCO in Paris. There will also be an event on February 1 at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York

The theme of the year, “Indigenous languages matter for sustainable development, peace building and reconciliation,” echoes the “Languages matter” theme of the 2008 International Year of Languages. It also seems to highlight connections with the Sustainable Development Goals and even the concurrent International Year of Moderation (which will be the subject of a separate post).

IYIL2019 was declared in the 2016 UNGA resolution on the Rights of indigenous peoples., based on a resolution of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

A general statement of the purpose of the Year from the official webpage sets the theme:

Languages play a crucial role in the daily lives of people, not only as a tool for communication, education, social integration and development, but also as a repository for each person’s unique identity, cultural history, traditions and memory. But despite their immense value, languages around the world continue to disappear at an alarming rate.

With this in mind, the United Nations declared 2019 The Year of Indigenous Languages (IY2019) in order to raise awareness of them, not only to benefit the people who speak these languages, but also for others to appreciate the important contribution they make to our world’s rich cultural diversity.

The IYIL2019 has five (5) “overarching” objectives (taken from the CFP, below; the website has a slightly different set of 5 action areas):

  1. Informing about the importance of indigenous languages for social development
  2. Creating greater awareness about the critical status of indigenous languages around the world
  3. Stimulating intercultural debate around indigenous languages
  4. Imparting new knowledge on the importance of indigenous languages
  5. Shaping attitudes of relevant stakeholders about indigenous languages.

CFP within the context of IYIL2019

As part of the Year, there is a call for research papers (deadline 1 March 2019) addressing one or more of seven key areas of intervention:

  1. Humanitarian affairs, peace-building and national development plans
  2. Indigenous education and life-long learning
  3. Indigenous knowledge in science and health
  4. Gender equality
  5. Social inclusion and urbanization, ethics and civic engagement
  6. Cultural heritage and diplomacy
  7. Technology, digital activism, and artificial intelligence


World Religion Day 2019: Protestant-Catholic relations in 2 American towns, in the mid-1800s

On this World Religion Day, an international observance dedicated to interfaith dialogue begun by American Baha’is in the late 1940s, I’d like to spotlight Protestant-Catholic relations in two locations in the United States where a branch of my family once lived. The first is Fitchburg in northern Worcester County, Massachusetts, where the first Catholic church in that part of the commonwealth was built in mid-1800s. The second, is Kalamazoo, Michigan, which also had a young Catholic congregation in the same period. This article is prompted in part by a remark heard last year about anti-Catholic attitudes in the latter town.

St. Bernard Church, Fitchburg, Mass.

The last St. Bernard Church (with tall pointed spire), built in 1880 to replace the 1852 church.
Source: “St. Bernard’s Church, Laurel St. Cemetery from Rollstone,” M.J. Caton,

The first Catholic church in Fitchburg and northern Worcester County, Massachusetts was St. Bernard’s. According to the parish history, a growing Catholic population in Fitchburg had to hold mass in the street in summer 1845, due to lack of a house of worship and being prohibited from using public buildings.

In the US during this period – roughly 1840s to mid-1850s – there was both growing immigration of Catholics from Ireland and Germany, and a nativist, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant movement called the “Know Nothings.” For a brief time (1854-57) this group actually controlled the Massachusetts government.

So, it is of interest that in Fitchburg at least, notables of the city who were evidently mostly (or all?) Protestants – among whom was my great3-grandfather Joseph Warren Mansur – assisted the local Catholic priest, Father Gibson, in the efforts he and his parishioners were making to obtain land and build a church.

The Catholics were able to do this in 1848, but storm damage required them to rebuild in 1852, and it was that church that the then bishop of the Boston diocese, John Bernard Fitzpatrick, consecrated in that same year.

Bishop Fitzpatrick and his delegation apparently stayed with J.W. Mansur (who at about that time was a Senator in the Massachusetts legislature) and family.

“The Bishop and Clergy, during their stay enjoyed the frank and gentlemanly hospitality of the Hon. Joseph Mansur; his kindness and that of his amiable household cannot be easily forgotten.— Mr. Mansur, Alvah Crocker, Esq., and other Protestant gentlemen of the town, have, from the beginning, shown an active interest in the success of the Rev. Mr. Gibson’s efforts, to provide a fit place of worship for his increasing flock.”

New Church at Fitchburg,” Boston Pilot 15(39):5, 25 Sep 1852

All of this transpired, of course, before the electoral victories of the Know Nothings in 1854. While the apparent comity around the creation of St. Bernard’s tells us something about Fitchburg, one wonders whether these events could have played out similarly under a radically different Massachusetts government.

J.W. Mansur’s wife, and my great3-grandmother, Anna Fitzpatrick (no known relation to the bishop) was Irish-born and evidently a Catholic. In a small way, perhaps, their marriage added another dimension to the Protestant-Catholic relations in Fitchburg of that era.

St. Augustine Cathedral, Kalamazoo, Mich.

Cathedral of Saint Augustine (this building completed in 1951) Source: Bill Dolak,

Fast forward to a summer 2018 visit to St. Augustine Cathedral in Kalamazoo, Michigan (which by coincidence also had a preceding smaller structure completed in 1852). I was seeking some specific information concerning the Mansur family, who moved there when J.W. bought the Kalamazoo Gazette in 1862.

I knew that Anna Mansur was connected with that parish from a mention of a gift she gave on the occasion of a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ordination of its then priest, Rev. Isadore Antoine Lebel (c. 1864):

“Mrs. J.W. Mansur presented a rich antique vase, of foreign manufacture, and also a set of knife racks.”

“Old TImes,” Kalamazoo Augustinian, XXI(13): 5, 7 Feb 1903

Although I did not find the particular information in Kalamazoo that thought I might (which itself was useful), one of the take-aways was an unexpected mention in conversation of prejudicial attitudes of some Protestants towards Catholics in local interfaith gatherings.

As context, it turns out that the Kalamazoo area was not considered friendly to Catholics back when the first members of that confession settled in the area (c. 1830). Also, the Know-Nothing “American Party” was victorious in the 1856 elections in Kalamazoo (and some other locations in that region of Michigan).

So in this regard, Michigan and Massachusetts shared some trends. On the other hand, there did not seem to be as much civic support in Kalamazoo for St. Augustine’s as there was in Fitchburg for St. Bernard’s. (From descriptions, it seems that Father Lebel had to carry most of the load himself, while Father Gibson had some well-placed allies.)

Inter-denominational prejudice & interfaith dialogue?

One of the things I like about World Religion Day is the opportunity for people of different faiths to come together on an equal footing. Interfaith dialogue during the rest of the year is where the work gets done, I suppose, and maybe it is in those settings that residual and deeper prejudice might seep out. In any event, it was a bit jarring to hear of such attitudes between denominations, or towards one denomination, within one faith in the 21st century US. How common is this elsewhere in the country?

The initial intent of this article was to highlight what seemed like the more positive story from Fitchburg in 1852, but I found that the more vexing issues raised in Kalamazoo, as well as the later ones in Massachusetts as a whole, belonged in the same discussion.

So what does this say about the potential for ongoing dialogue among religions when even denominations may harbor negative attitudes? Of course we are aware that it was not that long ago that Northern Ireland had open conflict between Protestants and Catholics, and that in several countries, there is frequent violence between Sunnis and Shi’as, etc. So it is a measure of how much work there is to do for religious understanding more broadly.

Also, I was coming at this from the viewpoint of genealogical research. That is the process that led to focus on these particular locations, and in the telling, it’s another thread to connect the two. Bringing it back to that point, I am wondering how Protestant attitudes towards Catholics in Kalamazoo (and perhaps the other way too) in the 1860s compared with those the Mansurs, as a denominationally mixed family, experienced in Fitchburg a few years earlier.

J.W. Mansur sold the Gazette in 1865, after the end of the Civil War, and the Mansurs left Kalamazoo. The few cursory mentions of that portray it as a business decision, but was there more to the story?


“They” – a 1971 perspective on othering

As a sophomore at Willowbrook High School in 1971, I penned a short piece entitled “They” for the holiday edition of the school’s newspaper, The Skyline. It is republished below with 3 minor copyedits (!). There is a lot I’d word differently if I were to write this today – after lots more education and life experience. Such as it is, however, the article reflects an emerging awareness about formation of attitudes (and prejudices) towards groups different than our own, and about what we call today, othering. And sadly, its theme is still relevant almost a half-century later.

It is “they!” Are “they” coming? No, they’re here. Are “they” invading us? How could they, we created them. Then who are “they”?

Most every day, each one of us, to differing degrees uses a stereotype or generalizes about some group(s) of people. “They” are the objects of generalization and often degrading stereotypes. “They” can be those of any group, as seen by someone from the outside. “They” are nobody in particular, but everybody in general.

Generalization is lumping all people of one group in one category (“all blacks are lazy,” “people over 30 are untrustworthy,” etc.) without regard to the fact that sub-groups and more importantly, individuals within each group are different.

A stereotype is an image tagged on to a group. For example, the typical stereotype of a Mexican is a man taking a siesta sitting against a wall, with a big sombrero pulled over his face. Like generalization, stereotypes are unfair, because they put one label on each individual of a group.

Generalization and stereotypes usually are caused by lack of understanding about others. In turn, they promote more misunderstanding among people. But, an even worse problem is that unfound[ed] prejudice or hatred also give rise to stereotypes and generalization. Whatever their cause, it is incumbent on us to strive to eliminate these two promoters of misunderstanding in order to keep alive the hope of “Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men.”

“They,” by Don Osborn, The Willowbrook Skyline, 16 Dec 1971, p. 2


A quick note of remembrance for my journalism teacher at the time, and the longtime advisor for the Skyline, John M. Rowley, who passed away in 2012. RIP.

Mr. Rowley, as we knew him, was patient, generous with advice while not imposing his solutions, and had a good sense of humor (which more or less he had to). His lessons about concise headline writing I particularly remember, as they turned out to be transferable many years later to writing 140 character tweets!