The Eagle Huntress of Mongolia

Ashol Pan, 13-year-old Eagle Huntress , Mongolia Ashol Pan, 13-year-old Eagle Huntress , Mongolia II Ashol Pan, 13-year-old Eagle Huntress , Mongolia III Ashol Pan, 13-year-old Eagle Huntress , Mongolia IV Ashol Pan, 13-year-old Eagle Huntress , Mongolia V Ashol Pan, 13-year-old Eagle Huntress , Mongolia VI

This is Ashol-Pan, a 13-year-old Kazakh eagle huntress living in the rugged Altai Mountains of western Mongolia. The daughter of a famous hunter, she’s one of only 400 practicing eagle hunters, and the only known female to ever partake in the tradition in its 2,000-year history.

The Kazakhs of the Altai mountains are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, which are taken from nests at a young age. Females are chosen due to their larger size — the typical adult is around 15 pounds, with a wingspan of over 90 inches. Hunts occur in winter, when the temperatures can drop to -40F. Hunters work in teams, trekking on horseback for days in order to reach a mountain or ridge for a better view. When an animal is spotted, riders charge towards it to flush it into the open, and an eagle is released. If the eagle fails to make a kill, another is released.

After years of service, a hunter releases his mature eagle once and for all during the spring, leaving a slaughtered sheep as a farewell present. This ensures that the eagles go back to nature and have their own strong newborns, for both their future and those of the hunters that depend on them.

Source: BBC

The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

This is going to be the first of many posts that highlight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, cultural and natural landmarks that are identified for their incredible value for humanity. 

The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras — which span five sites — was the first property to be included in the cultural landscape category of the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.

Built 2,000 years ago and passed on from generation to generation, the Ifugao Rice Terraces are a marvel of engineering, built on steeper slopes and reaching a higher altitude than most other terraces. The terrace pond fields were created using stone or mud walls, and were carved carefully to follow the natural contours of the hills and mountains. They’re irrigated through an intricate system that harvests water from the forests of the mountain tops. The rice terraces are incorporated almost seamlessly into nature.The maintenance of these living rice terraces require a cooperative approach among the entire community. They rely on detailed knowledge of the rich diversity of biological resources existing in the Ifugao ecosystem, a finely tuned annual system respecting lunar cycles, meticulous zoning and planning, extensive soil conservation, and mastery of a complex pest control based on the careful processing of a variety of herbs, all accompanied by religious rituals.

Archaeological evidence reveals that these techniques have been used in the region virtually unchanged for 2,000 years. Because they illustrate the persistence of cultural traditions and remarkable continuity and endurance, they were included in a list reserved for sites of profound global importance to humanity — rightfully so, in my opinion.

The Origin of April Fools’ Day

The origins of April Fools’ Day (also spelled April Fool’s Day and sometimes called All Fools’ Day) are somewhat obscure. The oldest known prank tradition in the world is Sizdah Bedar, an Iranian holiday that has been celebrated since the sixth century BC on the 13th day of the Persian New Year (Nowruz), which lies on April 1st or 2nd; however, there’s no clear link between this holiday and contemporary April Fools’ Day.

Other precursors or possible influences include the Roman festival of Hilaria, held March 25, and the Medieval Feast of Fools, held December 28 and in turn inspired by the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. There is reference to a French prank holiday being celebrated April 1st in the early 16th century called Poisson d’Avril (literally “April fish”), in which a paper fish is unknowingly attached to the victim’s back (it is still celebrated to some extent in French-speaking countries).

From the Early Middle Ages, up until the late 18th century, many European communities celebrated New Year’s Day on March 25 (Feast of the Annunciation), with some making it a week-long holiday that ended on April 1st. It’s been suggested that April Fools’ Day originated from those who celebrated the new year on January 1st making fun of those who celebrated the alternative festival.

Happy 25th Birthday World Wide Web!

March 12 was the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, otherwise known simply as the Web, a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet. On that day in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist and engineer at CERN, wrote a proposal to his administrators for developing an effective communication system to be used by the organization’s members.

He eventually realized the wider applications of this concept, and teamed up with Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau in 1990 to further refine the concept of a hypertext system that would “link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will”. Hypertext is simply text displayed on a computer with references to other text via “hyperlinks”. Berners-Lee finished the first website in December of that year, which you can still see here (for information on the first image ever uploaded, which was a GIF, click here). 

It’s amazing how far it’s come since that humble page , and where the web will be another 25 years from now. Berners-Lee actually shares his thoughts on the future of the Internet in general here and I recommend you give it a read.

Note that despite being used interchangeably, the Internet and the Web are two distinct things: the former is a massive networking infrastructure that connects millions of computers together globally — a network of networks, so to speak. Information that travels over the Internet does so via a variety of languages known as protocols.

The Web, on the other hand, is a way of accessing that information using the HTTP protocol, which is one of only many languages used in the Internet to transmit data. Email, for example, relies on the SMTP protocol, and therefore isn’t technically part of the Web.

Mexico’s Unknown African Heritage

The first known successful and self-governing black community in the Americas was the town of San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo, which was established in Mexico in the 17th century by Gaspar Yanga, a leader of a slave rebellion. A former member of the royal family of Gabon, he successfully led a band of revolting slaves near Veracruz around 1570, fleeing to the difficult terrain of the highlands, where they built a small colony. The community grew for more than 30 years as a haven for other fugitive slaves, surviving off the land and by raiding caravans.

In 1609, the Spanish colonial government tried to retake the territory, but despite its superior numbers and weapons, failed in the face of the maroons’ effective guerrilla tactics and superior knowledge of the area. After seven years of stalemate, the Spanish agreed to Yanga’s terms: the community would remain part of the empire but be subject to self-rule, just as any other municipality. An independent community of blacks — let alone one of former slaves — was virtually unheard of at the time. This unique town was fully established by 1630, and remains to this day under the name of its founder, Yanga.

This wouldn’t be the last time that blacks played a prominent role in Mexican history. Several of the country’s revolutionary leaders and founding fathers, such as José María Morelos, were of African (and for that matter indigenous) descent. One of them, Vicente Guerrero, would actually serve as one of Mexico’s earliest presidents, and one of the Western Hemisphere’s first black heads of state. Though his term was brief, he managed to rebuff Spain’s efforts to reconquer Mexico, and issued a proclamation abolishing slavery on September 16, 1829.

To learn more about Mexico’s unique black heritage (and for that matter Peru’s), check out the following excellent documentary series from PBS:

Lessons of Hope from

Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful. And when you are old you appreciate it more. When you are older you think, you remember, you care and you appreciate. You are thankful for everything. For everything.”

My temperament. This optimism and this discipline. Punctually, at 10 a.m., I am sitting there at the piano, with everything in order around me. For 30 years, I have eaten the same — fish or chicken. Good soup, and this is all. I don’t drink — not tea, not coffee, not alcohol. Hot water. I walk a lot with terrible pains, but after 20 minutes it is much better. Sitting or lying is not good.

That was Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest-known Holocaust survivor, in a 2006 interview with the Guardian. died in London this past Sunday at the age of 110. Most people her age (or even younger) would hardly be as sprightly and enthusiastic, yet despite both her years and her tremendous personal tragedy, she remained this way to the end. As NPR noted:

Bear in mind: In 1943, Herz-Sommer and her husband, Leopold Sommer, and their son, Raphael, were sent from Prague to a Nazi camp for Jews in the Czech city of Terezin. According to The Guardian, “she never saw her husband again after he was moved to Auschwitz in 1944 and many in her extended family and most of the friends she had grown up with were also lost in the Holocaust.”

According to the BBC, Herz-Sommer and her son “were among fewer than 20,000 people who were freed when Terezin was liberated by the Soviet army in May 1945. An estimated 140,000 Jews were sent there and 33,430 died there. About 88,000 were transported on to Auschwitz and other death camps, where most were killed.”

Even amid the unspeakable misery and despair of a concentration camp, she did everything in her power to keep hope alive. As shown in the Oscar-nominated documentaryThe Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Herz-Sommer, then already a pianist, joined others to perform music in order to lift the spirits of prisoners.

On the film’s website, Herz-Sommer was quoted about the role music played in her life:

She speaks with great pride and passion of playing more than 100 concerts inside the concentration camp and she likens that experience, both for the performers and their imprisoned audience as being close to the divine. Alice is unequivocal in stating that music preserved her sanity and her life — while bringing hope into the lives of countless others. To this day Alice never tires of saying ‘music saved my life and music saves me still.’ “

The film’s creators added an even more remarkable observation:

Despite all that has befallen her, Alice insists that she has never, ever hated the Nazis, and she never will. Some see in her tolerance and compassion a secular saint who has been blessed with the gift of forgiveness, but Alice is far more pragmatic — she has seen enough in her life to know all too well that hatred eats the soul of the hater, not the hated.

I’m at a loss on how someone can be so liberated of hate and despair despite so much tragedy (indeed, her son had died abruptly in 2001, but years later she remained no less positive about life). Even as she approached the end of her 110-year-long life, she remained a passionate and accomplished musician — in fact, she was also the oldest pianist. Here is a brief but touching video of how she was still touching lives even at a 109.

Lesser-Known Fun Facts About Each U.S. Presidents

Unfortunately, I’m working this Presidents Day — which is the birthday of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln — so I’ve decided to just share this interesting article from HuffPost that offers at least one quirky fact about each president (Taft gets two, since he is the only president to have served two non-consecutive terms — there’s a fun fact!). Here are some of my favorites:

  • Andrew Jackson had a pet parrot that he taught how to swear.
  • Supposedly, President Van Buren popularized one of the most commonly used phrases to date: “OK”, or “Okay”. Van Buren was from Kinderhook, NY which was also called “Old Kinderhook”. His support groups came to be known as “O.K. Clubs” and the term OK came to mean “all right”.
  • When Abe Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois in 1831, he ran into a local bully named Jack Armstrong. Armstrong challenged Lincoln to a wrestling match outside of Denton Offutt’s store, where Lincoln was a clerk, and townspeople gathered to watch and wager on it. Lincoln won.
  • Andrew Johnson was drunk during his inauguration (go figure, he’s considered one of the worst presidents in U.S. history).
  • After leaving office, William Taft became the only ex-president to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, effectively becoming the only person to serve as the head of two branches of government. In doing so, he swore in both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover to the presidency. (On an unrelated note, he also lost 150 pounds after leaving office.)
  • To date, Woodrow Wilson was the only president to hold a doctorate degree, making him the highest educated president in the history of the United States. He was awarded the degree in Political Science and History from Johns Hopkins University. He also passed the Georgia Bar Exam despite not finishing law school.

Enjoy and have a safe and happy Presidents Day!

Valentine’s Day Stuff

Valentine’s Day was once better known as St. Valentine’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Valentine, a Christian holiday that commemorated one or more early saints named Valentinus. The are several martyrdom stories for the figure associated with the holiday, the most famous being that of Saint Valentine of Rome. There are many variations of this story that more or less have the same theme.

According to legend, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death for performing weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry. While in prison, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius, whom he fell in love with. Before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell, which presumably inspired the tradition of sending cards to loved ones. While it has no historical basis — for example, soldiers were never forbidden to marry — it was nonetheless an engaging story. (Valentine’s Day is still celebrated among some Christian sects and circles.)

February 14th was was first associated with romantic love during the High Middle Ages, as first recorded in the Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer. During this time, the practice of courtly love became popular; this was a presumably chivalrous expression of love and admiration that was usually practiced in secret between members of the nobility (note that it was generally not practiced between husband and wife).

Like most holidays, it was during the Industrial Era — namely 18th-century England — that modern Valentine Day as we know it emerge. By then, it had evolved into an occasion in which people expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). Many of the symbols used today — such as heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid — became popular around know. While handwritten notes were once the norm, they soon gave way to mass-produced valentines cards, which were first produced and sold in the United States in 1847 by Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts (they were made of embossed paper lace).

According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Greeting Card Association (yes, that’s a real thing) approximately 190 million valentines are sent annually in the U.S., half of which are given to family members other than a husband or wife, usually to children. If you include the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities, the number goes up to 1 billion, with teachers receiving the most valentines.

As for the iconic heart shape associated with Valentine’s Day (and love in general), that too seems to have its earliest origins in the High Middle Ages, beginning in the 15th century and becoming popular in the 16th century onward. Here’s the first known depiction of the heart shape, from the mid-13th century French manuscript, Roman de la poire:

There are various theories as to the origin of the shape, none of which are definitive: hypotheses include that it’s the shape of the seed of the silphium plant, used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive; or stylized depictions of features of the human female body, such as the female’s buttocks, pubic mound, or spread vulva.

Anyway, you all have a happy Valentine’s Day. I’ve got no significant other to spend it with, but I do have a great singles-party to enjoy, complete with a party bus and nightclub destination! :D Whatever your plans, have a great one my loyal readers.

Eight Cool Photos of the Monuments Men

I’m not sure how the upcoming film will turn out, but the real-life story of the “Monuments Men” is certainly amazing. I wish I had the time to get into it, but here’s a brief summary: in 1943, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program — whose staff was known collectively as ” Monuments Men” —  to help rescue art and cultural property from obliteration or looting during World War II.

Previously, there had been academic and cultural institutions working to identify or protect European art that was in danger of destruction or plundering. But as the war intensified and the Allies advanced into occupied territory, these groups realized that military and government support was needed, and took their concerns to Washington to spur action. At its peak, the MFAA unit comprised 345 men and women from 13 countries, which included a mix of servicemembers and some of the foremost curators, art historians, museum directors, and other cultural figures.

By 1945, the group sifted through more than 1,000 stashes of art to identify and save an estimated 5 million pieces of artwork and cultural items, mostly stolen from wealthy Jews, museums, universities, and religious institutions. Even six years after the surrender, a smaller group of about 60 Monuments Men continued scouring Europe as private art detectives. Most of the unit would go on to serve in universities, museums, art galleries, and archives across the world.

Anyway, you can check out some of these great photos here. I hope the new film, which I am interested in watching, does this amazing and under-appreciated effort justice.

Project 562

That’s the name of an excellent project up on Kickstarter launched by Matika Wilbur, who aims to collect photographic stories from citizens of every federally recognized tribe in the United States. Not only will this gather the vital narratives and perspectives of a marginalized and under-appreciated group,  but it will result in books, exhibitions, and curricula that will educate generations for years to come. Here’s a great summary of this initiative by the ambitious Wilbur herself:

Last December, I sold everything in my Seattle apartment, packed a few essentials into my war pony, and hit the open road. Since then, I’ve been embarking on an epic adventure: Project 562.

For the past year I have been fulfilling the project’s goal of photographing citizens of each federally recognized tribe in the United States (there are now 566). Most of the time, I’ve been invited to geographically remote reservations to take portraits and hear stories from a myriad of tribes, while at other times I’ve photographed members of the 70 percent of Native Americans living in urban settings. My hope, is that when the project is complete, it will serve to educate the nation and shift the collective consciousness toward recognizing our own indigenous communities.

Imagine walking through an exhibit and realizing the complex variety of contemporary Native America. Imagine experiencing a website or book, that offered insight into every Tribal Nation in the United States. What if you could download previously untold histories and stories from Apaches, Swinomish, Hualapai, Northern Cheyenne, Tlingit, Pomo, Lumbee, and other first peoples? What if you had heard those stories in grade school?

Such a task hasn’t been undertaken since 1906, so we’re long overdue for a contemporary and vital recollection of America’s misunderstood indigenous heritage. Indeed, as the project’s official mission statement notes:

Project 562 creatively addresses and remedies historical inaccuracies, stereotypical representations, and the absence of Native American images and voices in mass media and the national consciousness.  I believe that there is an open space that is yet to be filled- that space is authentic images and stories from within Native America. My work aims to humanize, the otherwise “vanishing race”, and share the stories that our people would like told. In this respectful way, I have been welcomed into hundreds of tribal communities, and I have found that people welcome Project 562, because they are ready to see things change. Conversations about tribal sovereignty, self-determination, wellness, recovery from historical trauma, and revitalization of culture will accompany the photos in captions, video, and audio recordings.

The time of sharing, building cultural bridges, abolishing racism and honoring the legacy that this country is built on is among us. Project 562 is that platform.

You can learn more about the project on Upworthy or visit the official Kickstater page here, where to can see more videos, photos, and details, and donate whatever you can before February 21st. Thankfully, Project 352 has already garnered nearly three times its funding goals, which means we can expect an even more beautiful and in-depth collection of stories and photos.