Mixed Bags of History

Genghis Kahn’s empire killed 2/3 of Northern China, but people under his rule knew unrivaled gender equality and religious freedom. Mother Teresa gave aid to the poor, but also encouraged their suffering. Spiky cacti sometimes contain life-sustaining water, and even the most beautiful roses have thorns. We’re all some mix of good and bad.

Content advisory: today’s episode includes racial language in its historical context.

For 50+ years, the only thing people have known singer/actor Al Jolson for is for appearing in blackface in the first motion picture with embedded sound, The Jazz Singer. But he also promoted the work of playwright Garland Anderson, leading to the first all-black Broadway show, as well as pushing to hire a black dance group at a time when black performers were outright banned from Broadway. Beloved country singer Johnny Cash was an impassioned spokesperson for prison reform, going so far as to appear before a Senate subcommittee, to call for things like as separating first-timers from hardened criminals and focus on rehabilitation. But, he also started a forest fire that burned over 500 acres and displaced or killed dozens of endangered condors. Continue reading

This Is Only A Test


Tests are all around us, ubiquitous to every day.   You probably took a test the minute you were born.  Today we look at a number of test, from movie theaters to hospitals, that are named for the people who created them.

It’s known as the Bechdel test, and it goes like so: For a given work of fiction, usually a movie, to pass the test, the piece must have at least two female characters in it, with names, who talk to each other about something other than a man.  That must be pretty common, you say to yourself. You’d be surprised how many movies don’t meet the criteria. Think back to the original Star Wars or Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those movies have so few female characters that you can count them on one hands and those characters rarely share a scene, let alone a conversation. Continue reading

Stolen Innocents

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Funny how that only seems to apply to bad things. Without getting into current politics, which you’re safe from here, we can’t ignore the plight of children seized from parents of a particular group. And it’s not the first time either. The American government took tens of thousands of children from Native families and placed them in boarding schools with strict assimilation practices. Their philosophy – kill the Indian to save the man. My name’s Moxie and this is your brain on facts.

That was the mindset under which the U.S. government Native children to attend boarding schools, beginning in the late 19th century, when the government was still fighting “Indian wars.” There had been day and boarding schools on reservations prior to 1870, when U.S. cavalry captain, Richard Henry Pratt established the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. This school was not on a reservation, so as to further remove indigenous influences. The Carlisle school and other boarding schools were part of a long history of U.S. attempts to either kill, remove, or assimilate Native Americans. “As white population grew in the United States and people settled further west towards the Mississippi in the late 1800s, there was increasing pressure on the recently removed groups to give up some of their new land,” according to the Minnesota Historical Society. Since there was no more Western territory to push them towards, the U.S. decided to remove Native Americans by assimilating them. In 1885, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hiram Price explained the logic: “it is cheaper to give them education than to fight them.”
Continue reading