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Prof FLOTUS

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Jill Biden, first full-time employed US First Lady

by Sajitha Premathunga

There’s a lot of pressure on FLOTUS, specially since she has to live up to a 231-year tradition and measure up to the legacies of former First Ladies, the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama. This might not prove to be difficult for a first lady with four degrees; Bachelor of Arts, in English, from the University of Delaware in 1975; Master of Education from West Chester State College in 1981; Master of Arts in English from Villanova University, in 1987 and doctoral degree in education from the University of Delaware in 2007.

Breaking tradition, Jill will be doing double duty as FLOTUS and college English professor, after Joe Biden is sworn in, while also being actively involved in education policy. According to first-lady historian, professor at Ohio University, Katherine Jellison, quoted in USA Today, no previous FLOTUS has been ‘allowed’ to be like most modern American women, with both a work life and a family life. This is not the first time she had broken tradition, Jill was the first person to hold a non-political, non-legal, outside-the-Beltway job while serving as the second lady. She taught at Northern Virginia Community College during her husband’s tenure as vice president for Obama. She famously asked her Secret Service security detail to dress like students and carry laptops in order to blend in.

In fact, she delivered her national convention speech while standing in the empty classroom where she taught English at Delaware’s Brandywine High School in the early 1990s. Her illustrious teaching career, in which she taught at a community college, at a public high school and even at a psychiatric hospital for adolescents, is evidence enough for her versatility as an educator. She also served on the education taskforce for the Biden campaign and helped develop policy proposals. “Teaching is not what I do. It’s who I am,” she is supposed to have tweeted once.

Although Joe Biden had been a US senator for almost four decades and spent two terms as vice president to Barack Obama, Jill had kept a relatively low profile. Although, she made fast friends with Michelle Obama. In fact, Michelle Obama, in a statement to USA Today, has given Jill her personal recommendation saying, “She is going to be a terrific First Lady.”

 

Philanthropist

 

Jill worked on the Joining Forces military families project together with Michelle Obama. The programme involved helping military veterans and their families gain access to education and employment resources as well as health and wellness services. Jill was also involved with the nonprofit organization Delaware Boots on the Ground, which helped families whose members have been deployed. Her passion for advocating military families may have been inspired by her exposure as a military family member. Her father, Donald Carl Jacobs, was a US Navy signalman during World War II and Beau was a Major in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps with a year-long stint in Iraq.

Because Jill is an educator, most observe that Education would take top priority in the country’s agenda, along with military families and cancer awareness advocacy, since Joe Biden’s son from his first marriage, Beau, a former attorney general of Delaware and a rising Democratic party member died of brain cancer in 2015 and both Jill Biden’s parents died of cancer. After four of her friends were also diagnosed with breast cancer, she started the Biden Breast Health Initiative in Delaware in 1993, which educated over 10,000 high school girls on the importance of early detection. The Biden Cancer Initiative is an organization that brings together cancer researchers, health care providers, and patients to develop clinical trials, detection, care, and treatment plans. The Bidens are also Honorary Co-Chairs for the Global Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C. The Biden Foundation, co-chaired by the couple is a non-profit that champions causes such as support for military families, advancement in community colleges and support for LGBTQ equality.

In other philanthropic work, Jill has played an active but under the radar, role in advocating of girls’ and women’s rights and welfare in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone and also focused on women’s educational opportunities in a tour of Asia that took her to Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

In addition to being an educator and a ‘military mom’, Jill is also a published author. She wrote the children’s book ‘Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops’, based on her granddaughter, Natalie’s experience of her father, Beau’s deployment in Iraq. Her ‘Joey: The Story of Joe Biden’, about her husband’s formative years, that laid the groundwork for his political career, is peppered with interesting anecdotes about Joe’s childhood. Older readers will find quite interesting Jill’s 2019 memoir, ‘Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself’. She also co-founded the Book Buddies program.

Jill is known for her empathy, often keeping in touch with people dealing with personal loss or those undergoing chemo, she had met on the campaign trail. According to White House experts she has demonstrated qualities that would allow her to achieve what’s assumed to be the first lady’s number one goal: humanizing her husband and promoting his agenda.

White House experts opine that she would make a smooth transition, aided by the many years of experience. Their 40-plus years of marriage has exposed her to US politics as no FLOTUS before her. Eight years plus the president-elect’s 36 years in the US Senate, makes her uniquely qualified to handle the job of FLOTUS, says Kate Andersen Brower, author of books about the White House, including ‘First Women’, about modern first ladies, quoted in USA Today. Jill was instrumental in Biden’s race for presidency. “What Jill is best at helping me do is figure out who the people around me would be most compatible with me,” said Bidden in their CBS Sunday Morning profile.

 

How they met their mother

 

Born Jill Tracy Jacobs on June 3, 1951 in the state of New Jersey, Jill was the oldest of five sisters and grew up in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. It is interesting to know that she is not all American, as far as her, Sicilian paternal grandparents are concerned. She is a good sport, literally. Jill Biden is an infamous prankster with a penchant for running. Her daily exercise regime includes a five mile run five days a week, along with weight training for good measure, according to Runner’s World in 2010. Jill finished the 1998 Marine Corps Marathon and has done several half-marathons and 10-mile races, according to Women’s Health magazine.

The Bidens have been married since 1977. As the story goes that Jill had been in the process of getting a divorce from her highschool sweetheart, when she met Joe in 1975. According to reports, Jill used to do a bit of local modeling and Joe, nine years her senior and widowed at the time with two young sons, had seen a picture of her in an advert, of all places, on a bus shelter and became smitten. “…I had been dating guys in jeans and clogs and T-shirts, he came to the door and he had a sport coat and loafers,” she told Vogue about their first meet. “When we came home…he shook my hand good night…I went upstairs and called my mother at 1:00 a.m. and said, ‘Mom, I finally met a gentleman.’”

He was a senator at the time and she was still in college. It was Joe’s sons, Beau and Hunter, at the ages of 7 and 6, respectively, who urged him to marry Jill. It took five proposals from Joe for Jill to accept him.

Joe Biden’s first marriage to Neilia Hunter ended in tragedy, when Neilia and Naomi ‘Amy’ Biden, their one-year-old child, were killed in a car crash in 1972, only days after Joe Biden was first elected to the US Senate. Their two sons, Hunter and Beau, were also seriously injured. The couple had daughter Ashley in 1981 and raised the children in Wilmington, Delaware. As a senator, Joe famously commuted to and from Washington to Wilmington daily so he could spend time with Jill and the children. “She gave me back my life,” Biden said in his 2007 memoir ‘Promises to Keep’. “She made me start to think my family might be whole again.”

She helped put the broken Biden family together, after the death of Joe Biden’s first wife and daughter, when she raised Beau and Hunter as her own. But can she help Biden put together a country broken with racial and political division. “How do you make a broken family whole?” she asked. “The same way you make a nation whole. With love and understanding, and with small acts of kindness. With bravery. With unwavering faith,” she said in one of her campaign videos.



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Breathtaking new paintings found at ancient city of Pompeii

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The frescoes depict Greek mythology: Paris kidnaps Helen which triggers the Trojan War (BBC)

Stunning artworks have been uncovered in a new excavation at Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried in an eruption from Mount Vesuvius in AD79.

Archaeologists say the frescoes are among the finest to be found in the ruins of the ancient site.

Mythical Greek figures such as Helen of Troy are depicted on the high black walls of a large banqueting hall.

The room’s near-complete mosaic floor incorporates more than a million individual white tiles.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe The Black Room

The black room has only emerged in the last few weeks. Its white mosaic floor is almost complete (BBC)

A third of the lost city has still to be cleared of volcanic debris. The current dig, the biggest in a generation, is underlining Pompeii’s position as the world’s premier window on the people and culture of the Roman empire.

Park director Dr Gabriel Zuchtriegel presented the “black room” exclusively to the BBC on Thursday.

It was likely the walls’ stark colour was chosen to hide the smoke deposits from lamps used during entertaining after sunset. “In the shimmering light, the paintings would have almost come to life,” he said.

Two set-piece frescoes dominate. In one, the god Apollo is seen trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra. Her rejection of him, according to legend, resulted in her prophecies being ignored.The tragic consequence is told in the second painting, in which Prince Paris meets the beautiful Helen – a union Cassandra knows will doom them all in the resulting Trojan War.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe One of the "black room" frescos discovered in Pompeii, showing Apollo trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra

The god Apollo is depicted on one of the frescos trying to seduce the Trojan priestess Cassandra (BBC)

The black room is the latest treasure to emerge from the excavation, which started 12 months ago – an investigation that will feature in a documentary series from the BBC and Lion TV to be broadcast later in April.

A wide residential and commercial block, known as “Region 9”, is being cleared of several metres of overlying pumice and ash thrown out by Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago.

Staff are having to move quickly to protect new finds, removing what they can to a storeroom.

For the frescoes that must stay in position, a plaster glue is injected to their rear to prevent them coming away from the walls. Masonry is being shored up with scaffolding and temporary roofing is going over the top.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco protection

A plaster glue must be injected behind a fresco or it is likely to come away from the wall (BBC)

Chief restorer Dr Roberta Prisco spent Tuesday this week trying to stop an arch from collapsing. “The responsibility is enormous; look at me,” she said, as if to suggest the stress was taking a visible toll on her. “We have a passion and a deep love for what we’re doing, because what we’re uncovering and protecting is for the joy also of the generations that come after us.”

BBC Map showing excavations in Pompeii

Region 9 has thrown up a detective story for archaeologists.

Excavations in the late 19th Century uncovered a laundry in one corner. The latest work has now revealed a wholesale bakery next door, as well as the grand residence with its black room.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Reception Hall

In the reception hall, rubble in the far right corner is from renovation at the time of the eruption (BBC)

The team is confident the three areas can be connected, physically via the plumbing and by particular passageways, but also in terms of their ownership.

The identity of this individual is hinted at in numerous inscriptions with the initials “ARV”. The letters appear on walls and even on the bakery’s millstones.

Dr Sophie Hay explained how a rich politician left his mark on the buildings

“We know who ARV is: he’s Aulus Rustius Verus,” explained park archaeologist Dr Sophie Hay. “We know him from other political propaganda in Pompeii. He’s a politician. He’s super-rich. We think he may be the one who owns the posh house behind the bakery and the laundry.” What’s clear, however, is that all the properties were undergoing renovation at the time of the eruption. Escaping workers left roof tiles neatly stacked; their pots of lime mortar are still filled, waiting to be used; their trowels and pickaxes remain, although the wooden handles have long since rotted away.

Dr Lia Trapani catalogues everything from the dig. She reaches for one of the thousand or more boxes of artefacts in her storeroom and pulls out a squat, turquoise cone. “It’s the lead weight from a plumb line.” Just like today’s builders, the Roman workers would have used it to align vertical surfaces.

She holds the cone between her fingers: “If you look closely you can see a little piece of Roman string is still attached.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Plumb line

It’s possible to see a remnant piece of string around the neck of the plumb line (BBC)

Dr Alessandro Russo has been the other co-lead archaeologist on the dig. He wants to show us a ceiling fresco recovered from one room. Smashed during the eruption, its recovered pieces have been laid out, jigsaw-style, on a large table.

He’s sprayed the chunks of plaster with a mist of water, which makes the detail and vivid colours jump out.

You can see landscapes with Egyptian characters; foods and flowers; and some imposing theatrical masks.

“This is my favourite discovery in this excavation because it is complex and rare. It is high-quality for a high-status individual,” he explained.

BBC/Jonathan Amos Ceiling fresco

The archaeologists have had to piece together a ceiling fresco that was shattered during the volcanic eruption (BBC)

But if the grand property’s ceiling fresco can be described as exquisite, some of what’s being learned about the bakery speaks to an altogether more brutal aspect of Roman life – slavery.

It’s obvious the people who worked in the business were kept locked away in appalling conditions, living side by side with the donkeys that turned the millstones. It seems there was one window and it had iron bars to prevent escape.

It’s in the bakery also that the only skeletons from the dig have been discovered. Two adults and a child were crushed by falling stones. The suggestion is they may have been slaves who were trapped and could not flee the eruption. But it’s guesswork.

“When we excavate, we wonder what we’re looking at,” explained co-lead archaeologist Dr Gennaro Iovino.

“Much like a theatre stage, you have the scenery, the backdrop, and the culprit, which is Mount Vesuvius. The archaeologist has to be good at filling in the gaps – telling the story of the missing cast, the families and children, the people who are not there anymore.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Mosaic floor
There are certainly more than a million tiles in the mosaic floor, possibly up to three million (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Roman lamp
Boxes full of artefacts: One of the many oil lamps recovered during the excavation (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco showing Leda and the Swan
Another fresco depicts Leda and Zeus in the form of a swan, whose union would lead to Helen’s birth (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe A piece of moulded cornicing painted in bright colours
Brilliant colours: Ornate cornicing was also preserved under the volcanic debris (BBC)
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Democracy continuing to be derailed in South Asia

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A scene from Sri Lanka’s ‘Aragalaya’ of 2022.

Sections of progressive opinion in Sri Lanka are currently commemorating the second anniversary of the country’s epochal ‘Aragalaya’, which brought down the dictatorial and racist Gotabhaya Rajapaksa regime. April 9th 2022 needs to be remembered especially as the date on which Sri Lankans in their tens of thousands, irrespective of ethnic, religious and language differences rose as one to impress on the country’s political class and rulers that their fundamental rights cannot be compromised or tampered with for whatever reason and that these rights should be realized henceforth.

During the ‘Aragalaya’, Sri Lanka attained nationhood, since the totality of the country’s social groups, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, spoke out for equity and equality among them, from the same platform. Thus was Sri Lankan nationhood born, which is quite different from statehood. It is left to progressives to ensure that Sri Lankan nationhood, thus born out of the ‘Aragalaya’, does not prove to be stillborn.

To express it briefly, political ‘Independence’ or statehood is believed by most Sri Lankans to have been attained in 1948 but this is not tantamount to achieving nationhood. The latter is realized when equity and equality are established among a country’s communities.

Of course, we are a long way from achieving these aims but the historic significance of the ‘Aragalaya’ consists in the fact that the ideals central to nationhood were articulated assertively and collectively in Sri Lanka as never before. The opinion climate conducive to nation-building, it could be said, was created by the ‘Aragalaya’.

It is left to the progressives of Sri Lanka to forge ahead with the process of realizing the ideals and central aims of the ‘Aragalaya’, without resorting to violence and allied undemocratic approaches, which are really not necessary to bring about genuine democratic development.

The ‘Aragalaya’ was a historic ‘wake-up’ call to the country’s political elite in particular, which, over the years could be said to have been engaged more in power aggrandizement, rather than nation-building, which is integral to democratic development. Given this bleak backdrop, it amounts to a huge joke for any prominent member of the country’s ruling class to make out that he has been ‘presiding over the only country in Asia where democracy is completely safeguarded.’

To begin with, a huge question mark looms over Sri Lanka’s true constitutional identity. It is not a fully-fledged parliamentary democracy in view of the substantive and sweeping powers wielded by the Executive Presidency and this issue has been discussed exhaustively in this country.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka is not free of strong theocratic tendencies either because there is no clear ‘separation wall’, so to speak, between religion and politics. The fact is that Sri Lanka’s rulers are constitutionally obliged to defer to the opinion of religious leaders. Therefore, Sri Lanka lacks a secular foundation to its political system. This columnist is inclined to the view that in terms of constitutional identity, Sri Lanka is ‘neither fish, flesh nor fowl.’

Moreover, the postponement of local and Provincial Council polls in Sri Lanka by governments alone proves that what one has in Sri Lanka is at best a ‘façade democracy’.

derailing democracy in Sri Lanka goes Religious and ethnic identities in particular continue to be exploited and manipulated by power aspirants and political entrepreneurs to the huge detriment of the countries concerned.

Needless to say, such factors are coming into play in the lead-up to India’s Lok Sabha polls. They are prominent in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well. Statesmanship is a crying need in these societies but nurturing such leaders into existence will prove a prolonged, long term project, which also requires the interplay of a number of vital factors, many of which are not present to the desired degree in the countries concerned.

However, of the ‘South Asian Eight’, India is by far the most advanced democracy. It has a Constitution that explicitly enshrines the cardinal rights of the people, for example, including the very vital Right to Life. Such a right is non-existent in the Sri Lankan Constitution, for instance, and this is a huge drawback from the viewpoint of democratic development. Among other things, what this means is that the Sri Lankan state exercises substantive coercive power over its citizens.

On the other hand, the Indian Supreme Court has time and again creatively interpreted the Right to Life, so much so life-threatening conditions faced by Indian citizens, for instance, have been eliminated through the caring and timely intervention of the country’s judiciary. Sri Lanka needs to think on these things if it intends to entrench democratic development in the country. Thus far, the country’s track record on this score leaves much to be desired.

A predominant challenge facing progressives of South Asia, such as the ‘Aragalaists’ of Sri Lanka, is how to forge ahead with the task of keeping democratization of the state on track. A negative lesson in this connection could be taken from Bangladesh where the ideals of the 1971 liberation war under Shiekh Mujibhur Rahman were eroded by subsequent regimes which exploited divisive religious sentiments to come to power. In the process, religious minorities came to be harassed, persecuted and savaged by extremists in the centre.

Whereas, the founding fathers of Bangladesh had aimed to create a secular socialist state, this was not allowed to come to pass by some governments which came to power after the Sheikh, which sought to convert Bangladesh into a theocracy. A harrowing account of how the ideals of 1971 came to be betrayed is graphically provided in the international best seller, ‘Lajja’ by Taslima Nasrin, the exiled human and women’s right activist of Bangladesh.

At page 60 of the 20th anniversary edition of ‘Lajja’, published by Penguin Books, Nasrin quotes some persons in authority in Bangladesh as telling the country’s Hindus during the religious riots of 1979; ‘The government has declared that Islam is the state religion. If you want to stay in an Islamic country all of you must become Muslims. If you don’t become Muslims you will have to run away from this country.’

Not all the post-liberation governments of Bangladesh have turned against the ideals of 1971 and the present government is certainly not to be counted as one such administration. But the lesson to be derived from Bangladesh is that unless progressive opinion in a secular democracy is eternally vigilant and proactively involved in advancing democratic development, a country aiming to tread the path of secularism and democracy could easily be preyed upon by the forces of religious extremism.

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Homemade…to beat the heat

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With lots of holidays cropping up, we are going to be on the move. Ok, that’s fine, but what about the scorching heat! With temperatures soaring sky high, skin issues are bound to surface.

Well, here are some beauty tips that will give your skin some relief:

Aloe Vera: Apply fresh aloe vera gel to the skin. It helps to soothe and heal sunburn. Aloe vera contains zinc, which is actually anti-inflammatory.

Papaya: Papaya pulp can be applied on the skin like a mask, washing it off after 20 minutes. Papaya contains enzymes and helps to remove dead skin cells. Add curd or lemon juice to the pulp to remove tan. Fruits like banana, apple, papaya and orange can be mixed together and applied on the face. Keep it on for 20 to 30 minutes. Papaya helps to cleanse dead skin cells. Banana tightens the skin. Apple contains pectin and also tones the skin. Orange is rich in Vitamin C. It restores the normal acid-alkaline balance.

 Lemon Juice: Lemon is a wonderful home remedy for sun tan because of its bleaching properties. You can apply lemon juice by mixing it with honey on the tanned skin and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes before washing it off .

Coconut Water and Sandalwood Pack: Sandalwood has great cleansing properties, whereas, coconut water is widely known for a glowing skin. Mix coconut water with one tablespoon of sandalwood powder to make a thick mixture and apply it all over the face. Wash it off after 20 minutes. This is a perfect cure for tanned skin.

Cucumber, Rose Water and Lemon Juice:The cucumber juice and rose water work as a cooling means for soothing the brown and red-spotted skin. To use these effectively, take one tablespoon of cucumber juice, lemon juice, and rose water and stir it well in a bowl. Use this solution on all over the face and wash it off with cold water after 10 minutes. This helps to turn your skin hale and healthy.

Milk Masks: Yes, milk masks do give glowing effect to tired skin. Just apply milk mixed with glycerin all over the face. Relax for 15 minutes and rinse with water. The treatment softens, rejuvenates and restores a natural PH balance, thus protecting the skin from the negative effects of the sun. You can also take half cup of milk and add a pinch of turmeric in it. Apply the mixture on your face and wait till it gets dry. Use this solution on a daily basis for exceptional results.

(Yes, time to take care of your skin and beat the heat!)

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