Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses is a site of pilgrimage in northern Lithuania. The precise origin of the practice of leaving crosses on the hill is uncertain, but it is believed that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort after the 1831 Uprising. Over the centuries, not only crosses, but giant crucifixes, carvings of Lithuanian patriots, statues of the Virgin Mary and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here by Catholic pilgrims. The number of crosses is unknown, but estimates put it at about 55,000 in 1990 and 100,000 in 2006.

In 1795, Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. Poles and Lithuanians unsuccessfully rebelled against Russian authorities. These uprisings are connected with the beginnings of the hill: as families could not locate bodies of perished rebels, they started putting up symbolic crosses in place of a former hill fort.

When the old political structure of Eastern Europe fell apart in 1918, Lithuania once again declared its independence. Throughout this time, the Hill of Crosses was used as a place for Lithuanians to pray for peace, for their country, and for the loved ones they had lost during the Wars of Independence.

Most recently, the site took on a special significance during the years 1944–1990, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. Continuing to travel to the Hill and leave their tributes, Lithuanians used it to demonstrate their allegiance to their original identity, religion and heritage. It was a venue of peaceful resistance, although the Soviets worked hard to remove new crosses, and bulldozed the site at least three times (including attempts in 1963 and 1973).

Today the hill remains under nobody's jurisdiction; therefore people are free to build crosses as they see fit.


Sunday, May 23, 2010


A Caganer is a small statue found in Catalonia, in neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra, and in other parts of Spain, Portugal and Italy. The figure is depicted in the act of defecation. Caganer is Catalan for "sh--ter".

In Catalonia, as well as in Spain and in most of Italy and Southern France, traditional Christmas decorations consist of a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to the Nativity scenes of the English-speaking world but encompassing the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The caganer is a particular feature of modern Catalan nativity scenes, and is also found in other parts of Spain. Accompanying Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, the caganer is often tucked away in a corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene.

The Caganer can also be found in other European cultures:
In Dutch / Flemish : Kakkers / Schijterkes ("Pooper"/"Little Pooper")In French : Père la Colique ("Father Colic")In German : Choleramännchen or Hinterlader ("Little Cholera Man" or "Breech-loader")


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov

Vladimir Petrovich Demikhov was a Soviet scientist and organ transplant pioneer, who did several transplantations in the 1930s and 1950s, such as the transplantation of a heart into an animal and a lung-heart replacement in an animal. He is also well-known for his transplantation of the heads of dogs. He conducted his dog head transplants during the 1950s, resulting in two-headed dogs.

The first head transplant was actually done by Professor A. G. Konevskiy of the Operative Surgery and Topographical Anatomy Department of Volgograd State Medical University. The head transplant wasn't planned. Konevskiy had planned an experimental heart transplant but the puppy was involved in an automobile accident. Not wanting to "waste the sterilized operating table", the surgeon proceeded with the head transplant.

Demikhov died in obscurity in 1998, but was awarded the Order "For Services Rendered to the Country", Third Class, shortly before his death.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Emu War

The "Emu War" was a nuisance wildlife management operation undertaken in Australia over the latter part of 1932 to address public concern over the number of emus said to be running amok in the Campion district of Western Australia. The attempts to curb the population of emus, a large flightless bird indigenous to Australia, employed soldiers armed with machine guns – leading the media to adopt the satirical name "Emu War" when referring to the incident.

Subsequent to the cessation of hostilities after World War I, large numbers of ex-soldiers from Australia, along with a number of British veterans, took up farming within Western Australia. Having served in World War One, the soldier-settlers were well aware of the effectiveness of machine guns, and they requested their deployment. The Minister of Defence readily agreed, although with conditions attached: the guns had to be used by military personnel, the transport of the troops had to be paid for by the Western Australian government, and the farmers would provide food, accommodation, and payment for the ammunition. Pearce agreed on the grounds that the birds would make good target practice.

The "war" was conducted under the command of Major G.P.W. Meredith. In his report he claimed 986 kills with 9,860 rounds, at a rate of exactly 10 rounds per confirmed kill. In addition, Meredith claimed 2,500 wounded birds had died as a result of the injuries that they had sustained.

In spite of the problems encountered with the cull, the farmers of the region once again requested military assistance in 1934, 1943 and 1948, only to be turned down by the government. Instead, the bounty system that had been instigated in 1923 was continued, and this proved to be effective: 57,034 bounties were claimed over a six month period in 1934.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tsutomu Yamaguchi

A resident of Nagasaki, Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on business for his employer Mitsubishi when the city was bombed on 6 August 1945. The following day he returned to Nagasaki and, despite his wounds, returned to work on 9 August, the day of the second atomic bombing.

Hiroshima bombing
Yamaguchi lived and worked in Nagasaki, but in the summer of 1945 he went to Hiroshima for a three month business trip. On 6 August he was preparing to leave the city with two colleagues, Akira Iwanaga and Kuniyoshi Sato, and was on his way to the station when he realized he had forgotten his hanko, and returned to his workplace to get it. At 8:15 he was walking back towards the docks when the American bomber Enola Gay dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb near the centre of the city, only 3 km away. Yamaguchi recalls seeing the bomber and two small parachutes, before there was "a great flash in the sky, and I was blown over" The explosion ruptured his eardrums, blinded him temporarily, and left him with serious burns over the left side of the top half of his body. After recovering he crawled to a shelter, and having rested he set out to find his colleagues. They had also survived and together they spent the night in an air-raid shelter before returning to Nagasaki the following day. In Nagasaki he received treatment for his wounds and, despite being heavily bandaged, he reported for work on 9 August.

Nagasaki bombing
At 11 am on August 9, Yamaguchi was describing the blast in Hiroshima to his supervisor, when the American bomber Bocks Car dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb onto Nagasaki. His workplace again put him 3 km from ground zero, but this time he was unhurt by the explosion.