Sunday, November 15, 2015

On the Conestoga Wagon

On the Conestoga Wagon: For much of the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States (and Canada), a heavy, covered wagon known as the "Conestoga" was widely used, especially by farmers and travelers. Often drawn by horses, oxen, or mules, the wagon originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with the area's German Mennonite settlers during the early 1700s. The wagon received its name from the Conestoga River, which it frequently crossed. If caulked properly, the Conestoga kept its contents dry, as "fording" shallow parts of the river became increasingly commonplace. Prior to the American Revolution, Conestoga wagons helped open the Appalachian Mountains to colonists. By the early 1800s, Pittsburgh and Ohio had been invaded by Conestoga wagons. As a result, the first installation of toll roads gained traction around this time. And for the most part, tolls depended on both tonnage and distance traveled. A typical Conestoga, which was around twenty feet long, could carry up to six tons of weight when fully loaded. With that kind of storage capacity, the Conestoga became an iconic symbol of American westward expansion in the mid-19th century (Oregon Trail??).

Sunday, November 1, 2015

On Buddhism, Money, and Meaning

On Buddhism, Money, and Meaning: As a religion, Buddhism teaches that money is temporary, and ultimately meaningless in the long-run. As a philosophy, Buddhism questions how people can view something which is increasingly abstract (money), as something extremely practical. In the days of Ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt, money was typically synonymous with precious metals (gold, silver, copper, etc.). For millenia, metallic coins served as the primary vehicles used to catalyze the process of exchanging goods. Throughout the 19th century, however, a variety of industrializing nations (beginning with Britain in the 1820s) adopted paper money as their basic facilitator of trade. Today it seems that money is becoming ever-more electronic (or paperless), as credit cards, Bitcoin, and PayPal-type mechanisms are starting to dominate the point-of-sale process. But why do people continue to attach themselves to something which is becoming less and less tangible? Buddhist philosophy states that no amount of money will ever make one feel secure. Yet one could set a personal money-saving limit to reach, which could one day lead to financial Nirvana.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

On "Seinfeld" and Nothingness

On "Seinfeld" and Nothingness: As the predominant sitcom on American network TV (NBC) in the 1990s, Seinfeld was largely a show about nothingness. But nothingness is something. And to that point, nothingness can be defined within a spectrum of things, mostly minutia. Perhaps Seinfeld was at its best when minutia (or trivial details) became prevailing motifs/themes in any given episode. With episode titles like "The Parking Space" and "The Gum," Seinfeld was still able to maintain a full story (with sub-plots and counter narratives) on what would otherwise be considered trivial matters. If anything, the show teaches its audience that human existence really does center on the "little things." Whether it's a trip to the post office or a phone call to order Chinese food, individuals are conditioned to believe that such events are relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of their lives. Yet if taken personally enough, that phone call to order Chinese food could quickly contain infinite meaning (especially if you have to make an existential choice between "Wonton" and "Hot and Sour" soup when you have a peanut allergy).

Thursday, October 1, 2015

On the Intellectual Roots of Modern Liberalism

On the Intellectual Roots of Modern Liberalism: After World War I, a swift dissolution of Progressivism occurred in the United States, which effectively divided liberals into two main groups. On one hand, there were the moral, middle-class types who pushed for prohibition, women's suffrage, and a general "leveling" of social classes. While on the other hand, there were the radical, elitist types who advocated the establishment of a new industrial "order" (or "lack of order") to guide the masses. And it was the latter of the two groups, which included folks like H. L. Mencken, Randolph Bourne, Emma Goldman, and Floyd Dell, whose ideas precipitated the kind of American liberalism that emerged in the 1960s. Of the four aforementioned candidates, perhaps the greatest example of "modern liberal" thinking in the 1920s was Mencken. His classically sarcastic reporting for The Baltimore Sun coupled with his general preference for anything European over anything American made him one of the first elitist snobs to garner mass attention in American society. In particular, Mencken took special pride in introducing the American public to radical European thinkers such as George Bernard Shaw and Friedrich Nietzsche, whom he believed epitomized modern liberal thought in an industrializing and urbanizing world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

On the Insanity of General Curtis LeMay

On the Insanity of General Curtis LeMay: During his tenure with the U.S. Air Force, General LeMay certainly lived-up to his nickname of "Bombs Away" LeMay. His penchant for carpet-bombing and mine-laying first became evident as the U.S. was preparing to invade Japan (prior to dropping the atomic bombs in August 1945). Given that wood (bamboo), and not steel or brick/mortar, was the primary building material used in urban Japanese buildings, LeMay advocated fire-bombing with special incendiary devices. These devices decimated Japanese cities, but LeMay persisted in his belief of bombing the enemy into submission. This idea even characterized LeMay's mindset toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War. When the Berlin Airlift commenced in 1948, LeMay felt that in addition to the vast number of food packages being sent to Berliners, the U.S. ought to sneak a few bombs in the airlifts for the Soviets. And when President Eisenhower announced his nuclear strategy of "massive retaliation" in 1954, LeMay believed in flying American B-52s over Soviet territory to bait the enemy into committing an "act of war." Lastly, as head of Strategic Air Command (SAC), LeMay helped make "nuclear warfare" a major component of American defense.