Sunday, May 15, 2016

On the Mississippi Delta Region


On the Mississippi Delta Region: Not to be confused with the Mississippi River Delta, which is mostly in Louisiana, the Delta region is actually a large portion of Northwest Mississippi. Because it sits between two major rivers (the Mississippi and the Yazoo), it frequently floods. And after the Native Americans were forced from the area in the 1830s, other peoples moved to settle there. With over 7,000 sq. miles of arable land, the Delta region produced everything from sugar cane to rice to indigo to tobacco, and especially cotton. Unfortunately, the production of these various cash crops first came from slave labor (before the Civil War), and then from cheap (sharecropping) labor (after the War). Sharecropping originated in the Delta, and it became the primary way for former slaves to earn a living. Sharecroppers would often relinquish a portion of whatever crops they grew (usually cotton) as a form of rent. Yet in the early 1900s, demographic shifts began to change the Delta region. As black Americans migrated North in search of industrial jobs around World War I, a swarm of Mexican-American laborers filled the Delta's agricultural void. Thus, the region's cultural diversity, particularly in terms of food, started to flourish.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

On Special Education and IEPs

On Special Education and IEPs: Ever since the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, American public schools have been required by law to accommodate students with special needs. Indeed, the earliest needs focused mainly on physical disabilities such as deaf-blindness, diabetes, and orthopedic-related injuries. More specifically, it was Section 504 of this 1973 law that made way for "plans" to be incorporated into a student's public school schedule. This concept was further developed in the 1990s after the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) became law. By this time, mental disabilities had shot to the forefront of special education, and thus, individualized education programs (IEPs) were born. IEPs are effective mechanisms for helping students work around their disabilities, but not every student with a disability requires one. It's important to treat IEPs as a kind of "last resort" for students having academic troubles in school. General education teachers can make a variety of changes to their instructional methods and classroom set-ups before eliciting the help of a special educator. Lastly, the biggest misconception surrounding IEPs is that they serve as "remedies" for a student's disability. Unfortunately, that disability will probably still remain, long after the student has tested out of his or her IEP.

Friday, April 15, 2016

On the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial

On the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial: Legally speaking, there was nothing terribly shocking about the O.J. Simpson verdict in October 1995. After it became clear that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) tampered with evidence, exoneration of criminal liability was the only option for the jury. Culturally speaking, however, the Simpson murder trial had a major rippling effect on American society, especially in terms of race relations. At a time when affirmative action statutes were being deemed no longer necessary, the Simpson trial brought questions of race and justice back into the fold. To add some context here, the trial occurred a mere three years after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Thus, the city was still raw with a heightened sense of racial tension. Like the Rodney King trial, where four LAPD officers were acquitted of brutal behavior, the Simpson trial called the American ideal of "equal justice under law" into serious question. But what made the Simpson trial particularly intriguing was how it divided Americans along racial lines. Overwhelmingly, Caucasian-Americans attributed guilt to Simpson's actions while African-Americans believed he was innocent. Above all, technicalities matter tremendously in American law, as they often serve as the drivers of due process.

Friday, April 1, 2016

On Folk Catholicism and Drug Trafficking

On Folk Catholicism and Drug Trafficking: In many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, aspects of the Catholic Church (especially sainthood) have meshed with elements of localized folk religions. Thus, "folk Catholicism" is really any kind of ethnic or localized expression of Catholic teachings that have either be confirmed or denied as blasphemous by the Church. Perhaps one of the most well-known "saints" in folk Catholicism is Santa Muerte (pictured above). In Mexico and parts of the American Southwest, Saint Death is worshiped on a cult level as a protector of souls making the transition to the afterlife. Although worship of her is considered heretical by the Catholic Church, she is particularly popular among drug traffickers (who live with prospects of death all the time). Aside from Santa Muerte, drug traffickers also pay homage to a folk saint named Jesus Malverde. But unlike Saint Death, Malverde is believed to have been an actual person who lived in Sinaloa, Mexico, from the 1870s to the early 1900s. Growing up under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, Malverde saw how impoverished the people of Sinaloa had become. And after his parents died in poverty, he became a "righteous" bandit committing robberies and smuggling illicit goods with a Robin Hood mentality in mind.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On the Austro-Hungarian Empire


On the Austro-Hungarian Empire: If there was ever an empire that embodied the imperial decadence of late-nineteenth-century Europe, it was Austria-Hungary. Formed in 1867 after a compromise between two quasi-independent lands of the former Holy Roman Empire (ruled by the Habsburgs), Austria needed to redefine itself in the wake of two embarrassing and expensive wars. In fact, the Franco-Austrian War of 1859 and the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 pushed Austria to the brink of financial collapse. On the other hand, the Kingdom of Hungary was looking to distinguish itself as a major player in European affairs (probably since the days of Attila the Hun). It also sought protection from potential incursions by the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the compromise that birthed the Austro-Hungarian Empire was rather ill-conceived. At its core, however, Austria-Hungary suffered from an identity crisis. Was it more Austrian or more Hungarian? And where was its primary seat of power, Vienna or Budapest? In short, the Empire struggled to recognize its vast diversity of Germanic, Slavic, and Muslim peoples, which ultimately helped spark World War I in 1914. Perhaps Franz Ferdinand was better off not assuming the throne.