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

Life After Death, with Dumb & Busted podcast

Death doesn’t mean everything stop for you. There are lots of ways we can live on after shuffling off the mortal coil. From body parts taken from famous bodies, to cells that won’t stop growing, to a taxidermied person on display in a museum, we look at bodies and body parts that don’t let death slow them down. Thanks to our special guests, Dumb & Busted podcast.

Turn of Phrases

For more than a century, the taxidermy diorama “Arab Courier Attacked by Lions” – a man on camelback, fending off Barbary lions with a long dagger – has stood in Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Throughout all those years, the piece has kept a disturbing secret from hundreds of thousands of visitor eye. Created by French taxidermist Edouard Verreaux in 1867 and acquired by industrialist Andrew Carnegie for the museum in 1899, “Arab Courier Attacked by Lions” was long known to contain real human teeth. As recently as last summer, however, staffers believed it contained no other human remains. During a restoration that began last year, a CT scan revealed that—like its camel and lions—the display’s rider was constructed with “natural” materials. In this case, an actual human skull. My name’s Moxie and this is your brain on facts. Continue reading

Swiss Army Wife, with Bunny Trails Podcast

I’m pretty good at this wife business, but I can’t say that I would take over my husband’s public office after his death, re-edit his film to launch a genre-defining franchise, or kill an enemy general after he was over-run. However, there are a lot of women in history who would, and did, all those things and more.

From French pirates to Chilean warrior to American filmmakers, we look at women who earn the title “super wife,” with help from Bunny Trails Podcast.

It’s not uncommon, across the world and throughout history, for a woman who has been widowed to take over her husband’s business. This may be a ranch or a store, even a mine, but what if your late husband earned his bread in the US Congress? Believe it or not, there is a protocol known as “widow’s succession” or “widow’s mandate.” “Widow’s succession used to be THE way that women got into Congress, with very few exceptions,” explains Debbie Walsh of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. It wasn’t a blue-moon occurrence. 47 women have taken over their husband’s seat, 8 in the Senate and 39 in the House. Neither was this an old-timey system that’s been long forgotten. The practice actually peaked in the mid-twentieth century. “There was a period when you could look at all the women serving in Congress, and a majority had initially gotten in that way.” Widow’s Succession has declined, but two women are serving in Congress presently because of it – Lois Capps and Doris Matsui, both Democrats from California.
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Ink and Pain: Tattoos, with Hobbit from GUI Podcasts

“The body is a temple and it’s our job to decorate it.” From tatau in Polynesia to Sailor Jerry to the oppressed class that gave rise to the Yakuza, we touch on some highlights from the history of tattoos.

Huge thanks to my guest presenter Mike “Hobbit” Bickett from Geeks Under the Influence Podcast network. Check out the episode of Smack My Pitch Up he let me do with him.

For those who don’t know me personally, I’m coming to you today from Richmond, VA, the #4 most tattooed city in America, depending on which list you’re looking at, a city with 15 tattoo shops per 100,000 people. Our unnofficial motto is “The body is a temple and it’s our job to decorate it,” right after “We don’t like the way things are, but don’t you dare suggest changing it.”

Tattooing is one of the earliest visual art forms and has served as a means of self-expression for thousands of years. The process was probably discovered when ash or dirt became embedded in an open wound, leaving an indelible mark when healed. The word tattoo is derived from the Tahitian word ‘tatau’ which means to mark. The earliest known reference to the word was made by Joseph Banks, a naturalist aboard Cpt. Cook’s the Endeavour, “I shall now mention the way they mark themselves indelibly; each of them is so marked by their humour or disposition”. By the 1700s, the word tattoo was in use in Europe. The term and knowledge of the practice was probably re-introduced to Europe by sailors returning from Polynesia. I say “re-introduced,” because early Britons used tattoos in ceremonies. The Danes, Norse, and Saxons tattooed themselves with clan sigils, an early form of family crest. The practice took a major hit when Pope Hadrian banned tattooing in the eighth century, but it was the Norman Invasion of 1066, with its ink-antagonist Normans that caused it to disappear from Western Europe until the 16th century.
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Foxtrot Alpha Charlie Tango Sierra

For Independence Day, we’re doing a two-parter on heroic animals, innovations from the field, and noteworthy bad-asses. Topics include a pigeon who saved hundreds of lives, a crossbow for grenades and Jack Churchill, who went into WWI with a claymore and bagpipes, despite not being Scottish. Part 2 is in the Read More.

3,150 soldiers and 54,000 pigeons made up the United States Army Pigeon Service, from 1917 to 1957, who delivered messages with an astounding 90 percent success rate. One American pigeon known as G.I. Joe, no joke, even received a medal for gallantry after delivering a vital, last-minute message informing British forces that the Italian village they were about to attack was actually under British control, thus preventing a friendly fire disaster that might have resulted in a thousand deaths.

Though I’m related by blood, marriage, and ex-marriage to a member of all five branches of the service – yes, the Coast Guard counts – I myself am civilian through and through and not intimately familiar with daily life in the military. I’d probably be more useful, and less dangerous, in a support role than in the infantry. It takes between 1 and 4 support roles to keep one soldier in the field. There can be obvious things, like medics and supply, and more niche jobs like writers and graphic design. We had a poll on your Facebook and Instagram last week on what the topic for this week should be. Strange military jobs took a slight lead, but when I started researching, the other topics starting falling into my lap, so we’ll get to the jobs on another episode, possibly for Veteran’s Day.
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The Last Word(s)

We assign a great deal of significant to last words. We expect them to be deep and profound, the sort of thing you immortalize on a $3,000 headstone. We hope we’ll say something really clever when it’s our turn, and not “what’s this button do?” or “hold my beer.”  But you may end up with last words like American author Henry David Thoreau, who simply said “moose…Indian.” From the profound to the prophetic, from the ironic to the ignominious, from founding fathers to TV stars, we look into the final utterances of the famous and infamous alike.

“I am about to — or I am going to — die; either expression is correct.” These were the last words of 17th century French Jesuit priest, grammarian, and man after my own heart, Dominique Bonhours. That’s right up there with 18th century aristocrat the Marquis de a Favras, who pronounced, “I see you have made three spelling mistakes,” as he read over his own death warrant. We assign a great deal of significant to last words. We expect them to be deep and profound, the sort of thing you immortalize on a $3,000 headstone. We hope we’ll say something really clever when it’s our turn, and not “what’s this button do?” or “hold my beer and watch this.” But you may end up with last words like American author Henry David Thoreau, who simply said “moose…Indian.” My name’s Moxie and this is your brain on facts.

Many people think Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde’s last words were, “Either this wallpaper goes or I do.” That would be typical Wilde, but there are two small factual inaccuracies there. The actual quote is “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do,” and he said this a few weeks before he died. Oscar Wilde’s actual last words were a mumbled Catholic prayer. He did also say toward the end of his life, as he lay in bed sipping champagne, ”I am dying beyond my means.” With about a third of the world being Christian, it’s not surprising that God gets mentioned a fair amount. When the priest performing last rites for Charlie Chaplain reached the line,“may God have mercy on your soul,” Chaplain replied, “Why not? After all, it belongs to him.”

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