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The “Crying Indian” Ad That Fooled the Environmental Movement

By | November 9, 2017

It’s probably the most famous tear in American history: Iron Eyes Cody, an actor in Native American garb, paddles a birch bark canoe on water that seems, at first, tranquil and pristine, but that becomes increasingly polluted along his journey. He pulls his boat ashore and walks toward a bustling freeway. As the lone Indian ponders the polluted landscape, a passenger hurls a paper bag …

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The Origins of Burma’s Old and Dangerous Hatred

By | November 8, 2017

In a recent interview with a Guardian journalist, the Burmese monk U Rarzar expressed his country’s rationale for fearing and repressing its Muslim minority. “[The] Ma Ba Tha is protecting people from terrorists like ISIS,” U Rarzar told the British newspaper. “Muslims always start the problems, such as rape and violence.” While U Rarzar’s comments might seem shocking, they repeat a script that Burmese Buddhists …

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How Fishing Created Civilization

By | November 7, 2017

Of the three ancient ways of obtaining food—hunting, plant foraging, and fishing—only the last remained important after the development of agriculture and livestock raising in Southwest Asia some 12,000 years ago.
Yet ancient fisher folk and their communities have almost entirely escaped scholarly study. Why? Such communities held their knowledge close to their chests and seldom gave birth to powerful monarchs or divine rulers. And …

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When Variety Theaters Tantalized the Frontier West

By | November 6, 2017

In the spring of 1897, Spokane, Washington’s Spokesman-Review published an exposé of its city’s thriving red light district—known as Howard Street. The newspaper lingered on distasteful scenes in variety theaters with names like the Comique or the Coeur d’Alene: Places where a man could pick up a game of keno, watch a show, and—for the cost of a drink—enjoy the flirtations of “waiter girls” in …

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The Role of War and Sacrifice in Russia’s Mythic Identity

By | November 3, 2017

If you want to understand Russia better, think of war. But not the one in eastern Ukraine or the frightening possibility of a conflict with NATO.
Go back instead to Russia’s 1945 victory over Nazi Germany. That triumph is the greatest event in Russia’s thousand-year history. In the largest war ever, Russia led the Soviet Union in crushing absolute evil and thereby saved the world …

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How New Mexico’s “Peons” Became Enslaved to Debt

By | November 2, 2017

Imagine a time and place where a small debt—even just a few dollars—could translate into a lifetime of servitude not only for the debtor, but also for his or her children. For much of the 19th century, the American Southwest was just such a place. There, a system commonly called debt peonage relegated thousands of men, women, and children to years of bondage to a …

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How Don Quixote’s Battles Predicted Piracy in the Digital Age

By | November 1, 2017

Although Don Quixote wasn’t the first great novel (that honor belongs to the Tale of Genji, written by an 11th-century lady-in-waiting at the Japanese court), it was the first to do something important: capture a new world of print.
That world had begun when Johannes Gutenberg improved upon Chinese printing techniques and combined them with paper, itself an invention that had arrived from China via …

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How the Evolution of the Human Brain Led Us to God

By | October 31, 2017

The human brain is the most intriguing object in the universe, populated with 100 billion neurons connected by nerve fibers, which, if laid end to end, could circle the earth four times. British neurologist Macdonald Critchley spoke of “the divine banquet of the brain … a feast with dishes that remain elusive in their blending, and with sauces whose ingredients are even now a secret.” …

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How Americans Can Stop Fighting the Civil War

By | October 30, 2017

It began as a loving effort to heal the South’s wounds, to properly mourn the young men who gave their lives for a lost cause, and to extract dignity from the humiliation of defeat.
Immediately after the Civil War ended, the white women of the South went to work. They tended graves, erected modest monuments, and followed former president Jefferson Davis’ plea to “keep …

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The Greatest Story Ever Told About Hyperbole, Humbug, and P.T. Barnum!

By | October 27, 2017

In 1835, Phineas Taylor Barnum was down on his luck and anxious to find an “amusement” that would attract paying customers. One lucky day a stranger came into the shop where Barnum worked and told him that he possessed half-ownership of a “curiosity”: a woman named Joice Heth who, the stranger claimed, was the 161-year-old slave who raised George Washington.
Barnum examined Heth and the …