People Power Day – Philippines

February 22-25

“People Power” in the Philippines refers to the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

Famous in the West for his wife’s taste in shoewear, his administration was also known for embezzlement, corruption, despotism, fraud and rigging elections.

In 1972 President Marcos declared martial law in response to a bombing in Manila that killed killed nine civilians. Marcos had his political opponent Benigno Aquino arrested, and though no evidence connected him to the crime, a military tribunal found him guilty and sentenced him to death by firing squad. The sentence was later mitigated, but he remained in prison for seven years. In jail Aquino suffered a heart attack and was granted leave to receive surgery in the United States.

Aquino and his wife Corazon did not return to the Philippines for 3 years. In that time both were active speakers against the Marcos government, which had amended the Constitution in the 1970s and 80s to extend martial law, increase the scope of Marcos’s power and the length of his term.

Benigno Aquino returned to Manila on August 21, 1983. He was assassinated “by a lone gunman” according to the government, the moment he stepped off the airplane.

He was reportedly called “The Greatest President we never had,” by Liberal Party leader Jovito Salonga.

There was never proved any direct evidence linking Marcos to the assassination, but it sparked widespread discontent with the Marcos administration. In November 1985 Marcos announced Presidential elections to take place in February. Benigno Aquino’s widow Corazon ran against Marcos.

The Marcos government claimed to have won the election, but accusations of extreme voter fraud and massive public demonstrations against his rule combined with military opposition and U.S. pressure forced Marcos to resign on February 25, 1986.

Today People Power Day is not one day but four days, from February 22—marking the beginning of the demonstrations—to February 25, when Marcos stepped down.

Marcos loyalists attempted to bring down the Corazon Aquino administration, but were unsuccessful. President Aquino was the first woman and the first Asian to deliver a keynote address before the United States Congress.

Puerto Galera Accommodations

Mexican Flag Day

February 24

Flag of Mexico!
Legacy of our heroes,
Symbol of the unity of our parents and of our siblings,
We promise you to be always faithful
To the principles of liberty and justice
That make our Homeland
The independent, humane and generous nation
To which we dedicate our existence.

Flag Day is held on the anniversary of the creation of the Plan de Iguala in 1821, named for the city Iguala in which it was signed. The Plan did not end the War of Independence but paved the way for victory. It set forth three  ‘Guarantees’ or agreements of the future Constitutional Mexican government:

  1. Establishment of Roman Catholicism as the national religion<
  2. Creation of an independent, sovereign nation of Mexico
  3. Equality for social and ethnic groups

The call “Religión, Independencia y Unión” became the motto of the Mexican people, and the Plan led to the creation of national army, (the Army of the Three Guarantees) made up of the forces of Augustin de Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero.

Iturbide was one of the most colorful and important figures in Mexican history.

Augustin de Iturbide Augustin de Iturbide

(Augustin de Iturbide)

Born in Mexico, the son of a Spanish father and Mexican mother, he joined the Spanish army at age 15. By 27, when the war broke out, he was a lieutenant. By 33 he was the commander of Spanish forces of Northern Mexico. Then, in 1820 Iturbide did a remarkable thing: he did a complete about face and joined the cause of the Mexicans, taking most of his army with him.

Upon signing of the Plan de Iguala, Iturbide’s forces joined with those of Vicente Guerrero, future President of Mexico. The Treaty of Cordoba, signed by the Spanish Viceroy confirmed the establishment of an independent Mexico in late 1821.

In 1822 Iturbide was crowned Augustin I, Emperor of Mexico. Opposition to his military style government steadily grew. Forces under General Santa Anna forced Iturbide to abdicate and leave the country, with the understanding he would be executed upon setting foot in Mexico again. Mexico was declared a republic in 1823.

Iturbide traveled to Italy and London, but returned to Mexico in 1824, despite the threat of execution. Authorities made good on their promise. Iturbide was arrested in Tamaulipas and shot by law enforcement authorities in the nearby town of Padilla. He was 42.

The first Mexican national flag was adopted by the Decree of November 2, 1821 and confirmed two months later on January 7, 1822.

Its colors stand for:

  • Green: hope and victory
  • White: purity of ideals
  • Red: blood of national heroes

The symbol of the eagle sitting atop a cactus devouring a serpent dates back to a timeless legend. The ancestors of the Aztecs wandered about Mexico for 200 years in search of a homeland. They had been told by the god Quetalcoatl that the site of their future home would be marked by an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth. When they encountered such a scene they claimed the location as their homeland.

The site marks what is now Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world.

Defenders of the Fatherland Day

February 23

Today Russia celebrates Defenders of the Fatherland Day.

Russian Federation Flag

On February 23 (Julian Calendar) 1917, Russian women in Petrograd celebrated the 7th International Women’s Day. In response to food shortages caused by the war with Germany, the women of Russia’s capital city “poured onto the streets,” demanding “bread for our children” and “the return of our husbands from the trenches.”

The protests gained momentum the following days when workers’ strikes forced the closure of hundreds of factories. On February 26 the Tsar, who was away conducting the war, ordered his general to disperse the demonstrators, now numbering in the hundreds of thousands, saying such disturbances were “impermissible at a time when the fatherland is carrying on a difficult war with Germany.”
(Tony Cliff Lenin: All Power to the Soviets)

Russian troops fired on the crowds, killing dozens of protesters. But the real problem for the Tsar was that many of the Tsar’s troops refused to fire on crowds and sided with the strikers. The clashes of February 24-27 claimed about 1500 lives on both sides. In the end the Tsar lost the support of his own troops, was forced to abdicate his throne.

But that’s not why the Russians celebrate on February 23.

Nope, it’s because of what happened on February 23 the following year.

Nicholas II’s abdication gave way to a Russian Provisional Government, led by Social Revolutionary Alexander Kerensky. Under Kerensky the government declared Russia a republic, pronounced freedom of speech, made steps to encourage democracy, and released thousands of political prisoners.

But Kerensky, perhaps because he was the former Defense Minister, continued to keep the Russians engaged in the disastrous war against Germany. Bad move. Like the Tsar before him, the war would be his downfall.

Alexander Kerensky

How Russia got its Soviet:

The Russian word soviet meant “council.” Soviets were workers’ councils with little power, set up in the wake of 1905’s Bloody Sunday.

The Bolsheviks were an extremist minority party and as such could not hold much sway in a democratic assembly. Instead Lenin and the Bolsheviks bypassed the Provisional Government entirely and consolidated their power in these urban workers’ councils known as soviets, the most prominent one being the soviet in Petrogad.

In 1917 their platform called for the seizure of land, property and industry by the peasantry and workers, for the transfer of power to the local workers’ councils, and for the immediate end of war with Germany.

In April few took the Bolsheviks seriously.

By November they ruled the country.

What happened in 7 months?

Under Kerensky’s Provisional Government food and supply shortages worsened. Mass numbers of Russian soldiers continued to defect. And the drain of resources for the war effort strangled the economy. Even though most people were against the war, political parties would not withdraw. Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ opposition to the war bought them enough support to pull off the armed uprising later called the “October Revolution,” which occurred in—you guessed it—November. (Gregorian)

After the uprising the Bolsheviks put forth a resolution before the Provisional Government to transfer political power to the soviets.When the Provisional Government voted it down (What a surprise) the Bolsheviks walked out. The next day the Bolsheviks, with the support of 5,000 members of the Russian Navy in Petrograd, issued a decree dissolving the Provisional Government.

Lenin with Sunglasses
Lenin: Future's so bright, gotta wear shades

Lenin believed a standing army was a bourgeois institution and would not be necessary in a communist society; he was proved wrong. In order to ensure beneficial terms in an armistice with Germany, and facing a massive civil war, the Bolsheviks called for the establishment of a standing Workers’ and Peasants’ “Red” Army to replace the disintegrated Imperial Army.

The decree was issued on January 28. Ten days later on February 23* assemblies were held across the country to recruit soldiers for the new army. The “mass meetings brought 60,000 men into the Red Army in Petrograd, 20,000 in Moscow and thousands more in other places around the country.”

*(On February 1, 1918 Russia switched from the old Julian Calendar, abandoned by the West in the 16th through 18th centuries, to the Gregorian Calendar. As a result, the date February 1, 1918 in Russia was followed by February 14, 1918.)

February 23 was declared Red Army Day. It was changed to Soviet Army Day by Stalin. And to Defenders of the Fatherland Day following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Recently, according to

“the long reaching poisonous arms of capitalism have found a new virgin field to exploit and made this day a “Men’s Day” where the women gives (or should give) gifts to their fathers, brothers, boyfriends and male colleagues.”

So, ironically, the date on which the Russians once celebrated women, February 23, is now a holiday extolling men.

Defenders of the Motherland Day

Lyubov Tsarevskaya has a more traditional, patriotic view of the holiday:

“This is the ultimate reflection of one’s devotion and patriotism. As Jesus Christ said, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) The history of the army in Imperial, Soviet, and now, Russian times is replete in stirring examples of self-sacrifice and heroism.”

The Chechens regard February 23 in a remarkably different manner:

On Army Day Chechens Quietly Remember Mass Deportation

It Has Been 63 Years Since the Deporation of the Chechens and Ingush

Army Day blunder
A 2006 poster proclaiming “Congrats to the Russian Soldiers” mistakingly shows the USS Missouri.

George Washington’s Birthday?

Actual birthday: February 22?
Observed: 3rd Monday in February

George Washington’s birthday is observed on the third Monday in February. Since the third Monday falls between Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, many people celebrate it as Presidents’ Day. But the federal holiday’s name was never officially changed. It is still ‘Washington’s Birthday Observed’ even if it is commonly referred to as ‘Presidents Day’ by state legislatures and mattress stores alike.

(Flags George served)
Union Jack 1700s 1776 US flag US Flag 1777
(1700s Union Jack; early 1776 colonial flag; 1777 U.S. flag)

Thing is, George was actually born on February 11th, not February 22nd.

In 1732, British colonies still used a form of the Julian Calendar. Under the British system the calendar year ended on March 24 and the new one began on March 25. Thus March 24, 1732 would be followed by March 25, 1733.* (A modern equivalent would be if the U.S. calendar followed the tax year—if April 15 marked the end of 2008 and April 16 marked the start of 2009.)

Why anyone got rid of this ingenious system God only knows.

Anyway, Britain’s decree to adopt the Gregorian calendar on March 25, 1752, changed two things:

First, 11 days had to be axed from the calendar.** I don’t know who had a grudge against September, but that month was chosen to do the deed. Thus, the date “September 2, 1752” was followed by September 14, 1752.

Did this mean if your birthday fell on September 3rd you didn’t get a year older? No, most folks just reassigned their birthdays or other days of note to the corresponding Gregorian date. So September 3rd became September 14.

George Washington, 1772, by C. Wilson Peale

From the time of the switch onward, Washington chose to observe his birthday on February 22 rather than February 11. In fact, February 22 was celebrated as Washington’s birthday by Americans even when he was alive.

Also, 1752 became the shortest year ever in the British calendar. At just 9 months, it began on March 25 and ended December 31. Thus Washington’s 20th birthday on February 22, 1753 was exactly 365 days after his 19th birthday on February 11, 1751.

If you’re not confused yet, go here.


*[For millennia the beginning of Spring (what we’d consider February or March in the Northern Hemisphere) was considered the beginning of the year. The Roman calendar we use today was an exception rather than the norm. And in fact, even Romans considered March the first month of the new year up until 153 BC. It took centuries for that change to take hold in rural agrarian society.]

**[Astronomers under Julius Caesar suggested that inserting an extra day (leap day) in the calendar once every four years would make up for the fact that the solar year was actually 365.25 days, not 365. That calculation was slightly off, but only by less than a day per century. After fifteen centuries the disparity was too great to ignore. So Pope Gregory instituted a new calendar, removing three leap days every four centuries. But to make up for lost time—or gained time depending on how you look at it—countries adopting the Gregorian calendar had to skip 11 to 13 days on their calendars.]

George Washington: Unanimous my Animous

Ash Wednesday

February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday, by Carl Spitzweg, ca. 1855

Don’t tell your co-worker he has dirt on his face; he’s been told this a dozen times already today, and it’s not dirt.

The ashes on his forehead, resembling the shape of a cross, most likely come from palms that were burned last year after Palm Sunday and were blessed by a priest. On the morning of Ash Wednesday, Catholic priests and some Protestant ministers mark their parishioners foreheads with the ashes, which symbolize both repentance and mortality.

“…till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Genesis 3:19

Or as the Book of Common Prayer succinctly puts it: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Ashes have symbolized repentance since the days of Moses, when Hebrews used the ashes of a burnt sacrificial cow for purification:

“Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke…It is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered…The heifer is to be burned…

…A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer… They shall be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin.” Numbers 19:2-9

Later, in the time of Esther:

“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.”  — Esther 4:1

Sackcloth and ashes often went hand in hand in the Scriptures.

According to  Questions on the Lessons, Collect, Epistle, and Gospel in the Sunday Morning Service of the Church (1847) by Reverend Thomas Jackson:

“The name of Ash Wednesday is derived from a custom that prevailed in the primitive Church, for penitents at this time to express their humiliation by lying in sackcloth and ashes.”

Though featured prominently in the Bible, sackcloth was no fashion statement. It referred to different fabrics over the centuries, often a coarse material made of goat hair. Whatever it was, it wasn’t comfy. Criminals were forced to wear it as punishment, and to signify their status to others. People also wore sackcloth for mourning and repentance.

“Such persons as stood convicted of notorious crimes were on this day excommunicated by the Bishop, and not admitted to reconciliation with the Church until after the most public testimony of sorrow and repentance, and the greatest signs of humiliation.” (Jackson, 1847)

The sackcloth-and-ash self-flagellation combo was firmly established by Jesus’ day. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus denounces cities in which he had previously performed miracles by saying:

“If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”  Matthew 11:20-21

The Ash ritual became an annual event that marked the beginning of Lent sometime around the 7th century. Forty days before Easter, sinners were denounced and temporarily excommunicated. They were cast out, like Adam and Eve from Eden, and forced to live apart from their families and the parish for 40 days, hence the root of our word quarantine (“40 days”).

It’s actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The “40” days don’t include Sundays.

During the Middle Ages the emphasis on repentance shifted from from sins against the public to internal sins against God, a theme that is still at the heart of period known as Lent.

George Washington: unanimous my animous

Observed: Third Monday in February
Actual Birthday: February 22


Was George Washington elected unanimously?

The tallies of the first presidential election in 1789, submitted by electors of 10 of the 13 United States of America, were as follows:

  • George Washington: 69 votes
  • John Adams: 34 votes
  • John Jay: 9 votes
  • Robert Harrison: 6 votes
  • John Rutledge: 6 votes
  • John Hancock:4 votes<
  • George Clinton: 3 votes
  • Samuel Huntington: 2 votes
  • John Milton: 2 votes
  • James Armstrong: 1 vote
  • Edward Telfair: 1 vote
  • Benjamin Lincoln: 1 vote

[Source: The Papers of George Washington: the Electoral Count for the Presidential Election of 1789]
So you see John Adams had 1 short of half as many votes as Washington. Why do we say Washington was elected unanimously?

Originally the Constitution asked state delegates to submit two names for President. The idea being the person with the most votes would become President and the one with the second most votes would be Vice-President.

Every single one of the 69 delegates across the 10 participating states voted for George Washington as one of their two choices. The remaining 69 votes were split among 11 other prospects as shown above. John Adams was unique among the 11 others in that he acquired votes not just from his own state (Massachusetts) and its neighbors but as far south as Virginia.

Inauguration of Washington, by Elorriaga
Inauguration of Washington, by Ramon de Elorriaga

On April 30, 1789 George Washington was inaugurated President. The ceremony took place on a Federal Hall balcony overlooking Wall Street in New York City, the nation’s first capital. Ironically, New York was the one state that had ratified the Constitution but had not voted for Washington. Or anyone else. New York legislators had failed to pass an Election Act in time to select delegates to participate in the election.

North Carolina didn’t ratify the Constitution until November 1789, 7 months into Washington’s Presidency. Rhode Island ratified it the following year.

Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Inauguration
Rhode Island ratifies Constitution
This Day in History: Washington unanimously elected by Electoral College
NY Times Article on Elorriaga’s Painting: The Inauguration in Oil, April 21, 1889

Name 3 words that end in ‘gry’

February 21

Language is the soul of a nation… Do you want to make a people disappear? Destroy its language.

Jules-Paul Tardivel, L’anglicisme, voila l’ennemi, 1880


Today is International Mother Language Day.

For some reason the excitement surrounding this occasion is not quite as intense as other more important holidays, such as Talk Like a Pirate Day. This may be because our national linguistic experience differs from most countries. As one joke goes:

What do you call someone who speaks two languages?


What do you call someone who speaks three languages?


What do you call someone who speaks one language?


Even our neighbors to the north have had a very different outlook on language. In Canada there are laws monitoring the use of the French and English languages, down to the size of words on cereal boxes.

Conflicts between dueling languages (like the Quebecois woman who complained to a pet store owner that her parrot didn’t speak French) are not always trite. As Quebec’s Jean-Charles Harvey wrote:

In the middle of an ocean of English-speaking men and women, the only chance of survival for the French is if it becomes synonymous with audacity, culture, civilization and freedom.

Jean-Charles Harvey, La peur, 1945

+  +  +

The origin of International Mother Tongue Day lies in the aftermath of the bloody partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The nation now known as Bangladesh was East Pakistan after the partition. Even though over half of Pakistan’s 69 million inhabitants lived in East Pakistan, the country was largely ruled from West Pakistan’s central government. In 1948 the central government declared Urdu as the nation’s only official language. This meant Bengali, the native language of over 90% of the people of East Pakistan (and thus one of the most spoken languages in the world) could not be taught in school or used in government affairs. The change also threatened to make the majority of educated people of East Pakistan essentially ‘illiterate’ and unable to participate in government or hold national posts.

This understandably outraged the East Pakistanis, and a Bengali Language Movement formed. Pakistani Governor-General Muhammed Ali Jinnah proclaimed that the Bengali language movement was a “fifth column” movement attempting to sabotage true Pakistani unity.

In February Dhaka University planned mass protest demonstrations, but the central government imposed a ban on all public assemblies in the city of Dhaka. On February 21 students held the protest anyway.

Bangladesh demonstrators, Feb. 22, 1952
University of Dhaka demonstrators, Feb. 22, 1952

Police attacked the students with batons. Students fought back, throwing bricks at the police, who responded with tear gas and gunfire. Several students were killed. The outcry over the police attacks led to more demonstrations and violence over the following days. On February 22 police attacked a mourning rally, presumably for violating the ban on assemblies.

The government-censored news reports purported that the demonstrations were instigated by communists and Hindu foreign influences. After two more years of protest Pakistan passed a resolution accepting Bengali as a national language of Pakistan along with Urdu, and the anniversary of the first martyrs was adopted by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day in 1999.

The story of Bengali has been repeated, and preceded, by countless stories of language repression

In the twentieth century Spanish dictator Franco banned the Basque language—one of the oldest languages in the world—for thirty years, nearly destroying it. (Basque has no known linguistic relations, and as such is one of the four language families in Europe: the others being Indo-European, Uralic, and Turkic.)
Picasso's depiction of the bombing of Guernica

Of the over 6,000 recorded languages in the world today, less than 300 are spoken by populations of 1 million or more. Much like how McDonald’s and Barnes & Noble have driven out local restaurants and book stores, so the larger languages are replacing indigenous ones. According to the U.N. thousands of languages are in danger of extinction.

South America had an estimated 1,500 languages before European contact. Today it has 350. Strangemaps displays a map of the world (from Limits of Language by M. Parkvall) distorting the size of nations and continents by their linguistic diversity:

Lingual Map
Linguistic map of the world

The lingual giant Papua New Guinea boasts some 850 languages. Countries in red speak over 200 languages.

The U.S. gets a bad rap for how few languages we speak, but as you can see, as a whole its inhabitants speak nearly as many as the entire European continent.<

Yesterday I drove through a stretch of Westminster, California that, I kid you not, was entirely in Vietnamese.

The most popular* languages in the world are:

  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Hindi
  • English
  • Spanish
  • Arabic
  • Russian
  • Portuguese

and the one that started today’s holiday: Bengali.

(*popular as in how many people speak them, not as in votes on Americal Idol)

Today’s language question: Name three words in English that end in “gry”

Language map of Europe
European Language Map

Also from Strange Maps:

Languages of Europe: Praise the Lord and Pass the Dictionary

Other Links:

Urdu controversy is dividing the nation further

National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language

Bengali Language Movement and History

Wikipedia: Bengali_Language_Movement

Wikipedia: Languages of Europe

Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia

Date varies. February 21-23, 2012

Mongolian flag

Today Mongolians celebrate Tsagaan Sar, or “White Month.” It roughly mirrors the Chinese Lunar New Year (but don’t say this out loud in Mongolia) and heralds the coming of spring.

The beginning of spring is definitely something to look forward to in Mongolia where temperatures hover well below 0°F in the winter months. A couple weeks ago the temperature was under -30º F.

This year’s Tsagaan Sar is a particularly harrowing one for the residents of Mongolian’s capital Ulaanbaatar (Mongolian for “City of many A’s”)

Last month the police shut down the city’s numerous vodka distilleries after alcohol poisonings:

by Ch. Sumiyabazar

An illegal vodka distilling factory in the Songinokhairhan District of Ulaanbaatar was discovered in a police raid last Sunday. The Uurag Altai company, whose operation license was halted two years ago, was found distilling vodka with the fake label “Morit Khangal,” whose vodka has killed 14 people and hospitalized dozens of others…

‘The small room where this business was conducted was horrible, small and had a terrible stench. A container used for mixing chemicals was unclean. There were no safety or hygienic standards at all,’ said a police officer.

Last week, two additional deaths were reported due to tainted vodka produced by the Asian Wolf company in Baganuur District that killed eleven people on New Year’s Eve. The deaths followed an emergency situation banning sales, distribution and bottling of alcholic products in the metropolitan area.

The Deputy Premier M. Enkbold appealed to the public not to celebrate the upcoming holiday, Tsagaan Sar lunar new year, with vodka.

Let’s hope they heed the warning.

Ulaana,’ who is researching in Mongolia, blogs: “My Tsagaan Sar experiences have been so vodka soaked, it’s hard to imagine a celebration here without it.”

Perhaps vodka-less celebrations wouldn’t be as fun, but probably more memorable.

Saikhan Shinlarai to all!

Posted February 9, 2008

Mongolian Lunar New Year

Tsagaan Sar – an Australian in Mongolia

Tsagaan Sar – a peace corp blog

Mongolians Brave Sub-Zero Winter to Welcome New Year – Feb. 2010