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Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

February 16, 2009



There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.


On February 16, 1884, Harper’s Weekly featured a cartoon about women’s rights.

Harper's Weekly Cartoon of the Day


“By All Means Commission the Ladies”

Neptune.  “I want to see the Captain of this ship.”

The Lady.  “I’m the Captain!”

Neptune.  “Shiver my Trident! my occupation’s gone.  A woman’s work is never done; and I can’t catch you napping.”

Artist: C. G. Bush

his Harper’s Weekly cartoon by C. G. Bush supports the commissioning of women as steamboat captains.

That position was also endorsed on the newspaper’s editorial page by George William Curtis, the longtime editor of Harper’s Weekly (1863-1892), who was a devoted champion of women’s rights.  In 1869, he helped found the American Woman’s Suffrage Association, and served for 20 years as one of its vice presidents. Curtis wrote and spoke often on the subject of securing political rights and advancing educational and economic opportunities for women.  He believed that women should be able to work at any occupation for which they were qualified by ability, to control their own wages legally, and to earn equal pay with men for doing the same job.

In his columns, Curtis encouraged the expansion of opportunities for women’s work and promoted women who engaged in labor reserved traditionally to men, denouncing the notion that those jobs would “unsex” the women.  When Kenneth Raynor, solicitor of the United States Treasury, denied Mary Miller of Louisiana a license to captain a steamboat on the Mississippi River, despite the fact that examiners had found her competent to command a steamer, editor Curtis and cartoonist Bush rallied to her support.  Raynor’s decision was soon overturned by Treasury Secretary Charles Folger, who granted Miller her commission.

Robert C. Kennedy

President’s Day


Titled Washington‘s Birthday, the federal holiday was originally implemented by the United States of America federal government in 1880 for government offices in the District of Columbia (20 Stat. 277) and expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices (23 Stat. 516). As the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen, the holiday was celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, February 22. On January 1, 1971 the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. A draft of the Uniform Holidays Bill of 1968 would have renamed the holiday to Presidents’ Day to honor both Washington and Lincoln, but this proposal failed in committee and the bill as voted on and signed into law on June 28, 1968 kept the name Washington’s Birthday.

By the mid-1980s, with a push from advertisers, the term “Presidents’ Day” began its public appearance. The theme has expanded the focus of the holiday to honor another President born in February, Abraham Lincoln, and often other Presidents of the United States. Although Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, was never a federal holiday, approximately a dozen state governments have officially renamed their Washington’s Birthday observances as “Presidents Day”, “Washington and Lincoln Day”, or other such designations. However, “Presidents Day” is not always an all-inclusive term. In Massachusetts, while the state officially celebrates “Washington’s Birthday,” state law also prescribes that the governor issue an annual Presidents Day proclamation honoring the presidents that have come from Massachusetts: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and John F. Kennedy. (Coolidge, the only one born outside of Massachusetts, spent his entire political career before the vice presidency there. George H. W. Bush, on the other hand, was born in Massachusetts, but has spent most of his life elsewhere.) Alabama uniquely observes the day as “Washington and Jefferson Day”, even though Jefferson’s birthday was in April. In New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois, while Washington’s Birthday is a federal holiday, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is still a state holiday, falling on February 12 regardless of the day of the week. In California, Lincoln’s Birthday is also a legal state holiday, however, observance is frequently moved to the Monday or Friday occurring closest to February 12. When Lincoln’s Birthday is observed on the Friday preceding Washington’s Birthday, the resultant four-day weekend is commonly called “Presidents’ Day Weekend”, particularly by retailers in their sale advertisements.

In Washington’s home state of Virginia the holiday is legally known as “George Washington Day.”

Observance and traditions

Many American schools use the days leading up to Presidents Day to educate students about the history of the Presidents of the United States, especially Washington and Lincoln.

Today, the February holiday has become well-known for being a day in which many stores, especially car dealers, hold sales. Until the late 1980s, corporate businesses were universally closed on this day, the way they are on (for example) Memorial Day or Christmas Day. With the late 1980s advertising push to rename the holiday, more and more businesses are staying open on the holiday each year, and, as on Veterans Day and Columbus Day, most delivery services outside of the U.S. Postal Service now offer regular service on the day as well. Some public transit systems have also gone to regular schedules on the day. Various theories exist for this, one accepted reason being to make up for the growing trend of corporations to close in observance of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, when reviewing the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill debate of 1968 in the Congressional Record, one notes that supporters of the Bill were intent on moving federal holidays to Mondays to promote business. Over time, as with many federal holidays, few Americans actually celebrate Presidents Day, and it is mainly known as a day off from work or school, although most non-governmental workers do not get the day off.

Consequently, some schools, which used to close for a single day for both Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthday, now often close for the entire week (beginning with the Monday holiday) as a “mid-winter recess”. For example, the New York City school district began doing so in the 1990s.

The federal holiday Washington’s Birthday honors the accomplishments of the man who has been referred to, for over two centuries, as “The Father of his Country”. Celebrated for his leadership in the founding of the nation, he was the Electoral College‘s unanimous choice to become the first President; he was seen as a unifying force for the new republic and set an example for future holders of the office.

The holiday is also a tribute to the general who created the first military badge of merit for the common soldier. Revived on Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932, the Purple Heart recognizes injuries received in battle. Like Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Washington’s Birthday weekend offers another opportunity to honor the country’s veterans.

Community celebrations often display a lengthy heritage. Historic Alexandria, Virginia, hosts a month-long tribute, including the longest running George Washington Birthday parade, while the community of Eustis, Florida, continues its annual “George Fest” celebration begun in 1902. At the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Westmoreland County, Virginia, and at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia, visitors are treated to birthday celebrations throughout the federal holiday weekend and through February 22.

In Alabama, the third Monday in February commemorates the birthdays of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (who was born in April).

In Arkansas, the third Monday in February is “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day,” an official state holiday.

In New Mexico, President’s Day, at least as a state government paid holiday, is observed on the Friday following Thanksgiving.

In 2007, the country celebrated both Washington’s 275th birthday and the 75th anniversary of the rebirth of the Purple Heart medal.

Since 1862, there has been a tradition in the United States Senate that George Washington’s Farewell Address be read on his birthday. Citizens had asked that this be done in light of the approaching Civil War. The annual tradition continues with the reading of the address on or near Washington’s Birthday.

1923Howard Carter unseals the burial chamber of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Howard Carter

Howard Carter (9 May 1874 – 2 March 1939) was an English archaeologist and Egyptologist, noted as a primary discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

In 1891, at the age of 17, Carter began studying inscriptions and paintings in Egypt. He worked on the excavation of Beni Hasan, the grave site of the princes of Middle Egypt, c. 2000 BC. Later he came under the tutelage of William Flinders Petrie.

He is also famous for finding the remains of Queen Hatshepsut‘s tomb in Deir el-Bahri. In 1899, Carter was offered a job working for the Egyptian Antiquities Service (EAS), from which he resigned as a result of a dispute between Egyptian site guards and a group of French tourists in 1905.

Tutankhamun’s tomb

Tomb of Tutankhamun

In 1907, after several hard years, Carter was introduced to Lord Carnarvon. Soon, Carter was supervising all of Carnarvon’s excavations.

Carnarvon financed Carter’s search for the tomb of a little known pharaoh, Tutankhamun, whose existence Carter had discovered. After several years of fruitless searching, Carnarvon was becoming dissatisfied with the lack of return from his investment and, in 1922, he gave Carter one more season of funding to find the tomb.

On 4 November 1922, Carter found the steps leading to Tutankhamun’s tomb (subsequently designated KV62), by far the best preserved and most intact pharaonic tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings. He wired Carnarvon to come, and on 26 November 1922, with Carnarvon, Carnarvon’s daughter, and others in attendance, Carter made the famous “tiny breach in the top left hand corner” of the doorway, and was able to peer in by the light of a candle and see that many of the gold and ebony treasures were still in place. He did not yet know at that point whether it was “a tomb or merely a cache”, but he did see a promising sealed doorway between two sentinel statues. When Carnarvon asked him if he saw anything, Carter replied: “Yes, I see wonderful things”.

The next several weeks were spent carefully cataloging the contents of the antechamber. On 16 February 1923, Carter opened the sealed doorway, and found that it did indeed lead to a burial chamber, and he got his first glimpse of the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. All of these discoveries were eagerly covered by the world’s press, but most of their representatives were stuck in the hotels; only H. V. Morton was allowed on the scene, and his vivid descriptions helped to cement Carter’s reputation with the British public.

Carter’s own papers suggest that he, Lord Carnarvon and Lady Evelyn Herbert entered the tomb shortly after its discovery – without waiting for the arrival of Egyptian officials (as stipulated in their excavation permit). Artifacts and jewelry from the tomb were found in Carter’s home after his death, suggesting that he had violated his permit

When he discovered the tomb, it was said he also found 150 gold amulets and even a death mask weighing 11 kilograms, with which the pharaoh was buried. Carter was thought to have used an axe to retrieve the gold charms and the mummy was broken into 18 pieces. Due to the poor archaeological knowledge at the time, Carter left the mummy for hours without protection under the sun (in November, more than 35 degrees Celsius).


Liberals not pleased with go-slow approach by Obama

Frank Polich, Bloomberg News

IN CHICAGO: President Obama on his way to a friend’s house to watch the NBA All-Star game. Obama has been criticized for equivocation by some liberal groups.

Activists recall his promises as a candidate and express frustration at his equivocation as president. They cite stem cell research and the detainee policy as examples.

By Peter Wallsten
February 16, 2009

Reporting from Washington — Slowly over the last few weeks, some of Barack Obama’s most fervent supporters have come to an unhappy realization: The candidate who they thought was squarely on their side in policy fights is now a president who needs cajoling and persuading.

Advocates for stem cell research thought Obama would quickly sign an order to reverse former President Bush’s restrictions on the science. Now they are fretting over Obama’s statement that he wants to act in tandem with Congress, possibly causing a delay.

Critics of Bush’s faith-based initiative thought Obama had promised to end religious discrimination among social service groups taking federal money.

But Obama, in announcing his own faith-based program this month, said only that the discrimination issue might be reviewed.

And Obama’s recent moves regarding a lawsuit by detainees have left some liberal groups and Bush critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, feeling betrayed, given that Obama was a harsh critic of Bush’s detainee policies when running for office last year.

The anxiety is also being felt in the labor movement, one of Obama’s most important support bases. Some union officials and their allies are frustrated that at a crucial point in negotiations over his massive stimulus package, Obama seemed to call for limits on “Buy American” provisions in the bill aimed at making sure stimulus money would be spent on U.S.-made materials.

Obama has been president for less than a month, and his liberal critics concede that the economic crisis has understandably taken the focus off their issues. But some of the issues in play were crucial to building excitement on the left and mobilizing grass-roots support for Obama’s candidacy.

“He made very clear promises, and he should live up to them,” said Arthur Stamoulis, director of the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, which received an unqualified “yes” from Obama on a campaign questionnaire last year when the group asked if he would support “Buy American” requirements. “The fact that he’s hedging on this is not promising. He’s catering much too much to the desires of Republicans who are not going to support the change that voters wanted.”

Thea Lee, policy director of the AFL-CIO, said, “We would like to have him stand more forthrightly behind the positions that he took during the campaign.”

Obama has long said his administration will be driven by competence, not political ideology. He has blamed the nation’s problems on a failed and highly partisan political system, and has said that solutions should come by building coalitions that cross the traditional battle lines in Washington policy fights.

Moreover, White House aides say, Obama has already fulfilled promises such as enacting a labor-backed pay equity law and beginning the process of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“Given that we have only been here for three weeks, that is a pretty good start,” said White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.

Yet for some who supported him, Obama’s recent actions contain either outright abandonment of what they thought had been campaign promises, or at least a hesitation on Obama’s part to follow through quickly and clearly.

Union leaders were taken aback this month when Obama, during television appearances discussing the stimulus legislation, spoke skeptically of “Buy American” provisions in the bill giving U.S. makers of steel and other materials an advantage in bidding for contracts.

Obama told Fox News that the U.S. “can’t send a protectionist message,” and he cautioned on ABC News that the requirements could be a “potential source of trade wars that we can’t afford at a time when trade is sinking all across the globe.”

That language mirrored the criticisms that business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had used in arguing against “Buy American” rules.

Business groups were thrilled at Obama’s words.

“That was an extremely important moment,” said John Murphy, vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the biggest business associations. “The business community is very pleased that the White House stepped in and showed leadership on this issue.”

“Buy American” rules remain in the stimulus bill that the president is scheduled to sign Tuesday, but labor advocates were alarmed by Obama’s willingness to insert himself in the debate as a champion of business concerns. They said his stance was far different than during the presidential election, when Obama was trying to win union votes and called for rebuilding America with union-made materials.

Obama’s new language was “a little disturbing,” said Jeff Faux, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, which has received funding from labor unions. He said the president had “moved so quickly to concede on this question without really drawing the debate out.”

Now, some labor advocates worry about how aggressively the new president will push to fulfill other key campaign promises, such as passage of the so-called card check legislation that would make it easier to form labor unions.

At the ACLU, Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said his group’s disappointment was “deep and unparalleled” after the Justice Department decided to keep in place one of the most controversial legal tactics of the Bush anti-terrorism arsenal: using the “state secrets” doctrine to block lawsuits by detainees.

The Justice Department invoked the privilege last week in arguing that a case should not proceed because it might lead to the disclosure of state secrets.

As a candidate, Obama had attacked Bush for using the tactic and had pledged to reverse such policies.

“Clearly, the state secrets campaign promise is broken,” Romero said, “on his watch, with his attorney general, and with his government lawyers articulating the Bush administration policies.”

Advocates of medical research using human embryonic stem cells are also watching Obama.

When he was a candidate, Obama told the website that he would reverse Bush’s restrictions on federal funding for the research “through executive order.” Immediately following his campaign victory, transition director John Podesta told reporters that the stem cell order would be one of the first priorities.

But Obama recently signaled in remarks to Democratic lawmakers that he intended to wait for action in Congress.

Wary of a delay, one prominent advocacy group sent Obama a letter recently saying that he had pledged to revoke the Bush order. “We wanted him to know that we were still counting on the campaign commitment,” said Amy Comstock Rick, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research.

Senior Obama advisor David Axelrod told Fox News on Sunday that action could come soon.

Under Bush’s faith-based initiative, religious groups taking federal money to provide social services were allowed to discriminate in hiring against people of other religions.

Obama, as a candidate, had seemed to attack that policy when he said that groups receiving federal grants should not discriminate against the people they served, “or against the people you hire on the basis of their religion.”

But instead of reversing Bush’s policy, Obama has said his own faith-based team may conduct a case-by-case review.

“People know that this looks like a promise that has been deep-sixed,” said Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Though Lynn said he was upset by Obama’s Feb. 5 announcement of his policy on religious discrimination, “I’m more disillusioned now because there has been weeks of healthy criticism and yet no movement by the White House.”


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