Wednesday, November 15, 2017

On Dorothea Dix and Mental Asylums


On Dorothea Dix and Mental Asylums: As one of the earliest advocates for the mentally ill, Dorothea Dix spent much of her life helping to establish America's first generation of state hospitals. Having grown up in the 1810s in Worcester, Massachusetts, Dix extensively lobbied the state to open one of these hospitals in her city. Designed to care for the mentally unstable, these hospitals would operate in a very different manner than prisons. In fact, Dix made a point of going into prisons and identifying those who were mentally unfit for incarceration. She took them back to state hospitals because she believed there was a big difference between common criminals and those who suffered from debilitating mental afflictions. Criminalizing or socially isolating these individuals only made their mental illness worse. Unfortunately, Dix herself suffered from some serious bouts of depression at times, but she persisted in her attempts at "lunacy reform" (which originated in England).

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On the French and Indian War

On the French and Indian War: From 1754 to 1763, Britain and France fought for land in North America. Each country had substantial colonial interests (in the "New World") alongside Spain. Britain's lands were primarily coastal with ports extending from what is now Maine down to Georgia. New France's territory included interior lands stretching from Quebec, Canada, past the Great Lakes, and down to the Mississippi Valley. For the most part, British colonists were farmers, which meant they required vast swaths of (cleared) land in order to subsist. On the other hand, French colonists mostly consisted of hunters (fur trappers & traders). Thus, the French colonial lifestyle was more in line with how local Indians were living, including the Iroquois, Mohawk, and Seneca. When violence first erupted between the British and French in Western Pennsylvania, it was only natural for Indians to join the French. In fact, certain British officials like General Edward Braddock were notorious for referring to Indians as "savages," which made British-Indian collaboration (during the war) all but impossible.

Friday, September 15, 2017

On the Prospects of Digital Currency

On the Prospects of Digital Currency: As a virtual form of money, digital currency (or electronic capital) has the potential to upend the global marketplace. Blockchain technology, which consists of a digital ledger for financial/online transactions, can be used to bypass traditional tracking mechanisms of paper money. When a central bank prints paper money for a particular country, it inflates the value of that money in an attempt to manipulate supply. With digital currency, however, pre-designated limits (or caps) to the money supply have already been written into their software codes. Thus, the chances of these digital assets experiencing hyper-inflation have essentially been reduced to nil. Perhaps the three most popular digital currencies today are Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin.  All of which benefit from the peer-to-peer anonymity (or lack of traceability) offered by blockchain technology.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

On McMansions and Suburban Sprawl

On McMansions & Suburban Sprawl: In a word, a "McMansion" is an unnecessarily over-sized house. That means, it contains over 3,000 square feet of space, and is generally plopped on a half-acre lot (of land). At bottom, McMansions seem to embody the notion of "space for space's sake" (which contributes to sprawl) instead of traditional architecture's preference for durability and usefulness. Part of the reasoning behind the explosion in popularity for this style of American residential architecture was the shift from seeing the house as a practical family-raising space to a liquid financial asset. This paradigm shift in thinking among Americans largely occurred during the 1980s, when the federal government deregulated a variety of industries (including banking and housing). In short, most McMansions tend to disregard basic design principles (balance, symmetry, etc.), and that makes them prime examples of poor architecture. (Photo credit: Kate Wagner)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

On Parochial Education

On Parochial Education: Perhaps the biggest actor in parochial (religious) education is the Catholic Church. As the largest operator of non-governmental (private) schools in the world, the Church seeks to evangelize its mission by incorporating religion as a core component of K-12 curricula. Following Martin Luther's "95 Theses" (1517) and Henry VIII's creation of the "Church of England" (1534), there was a strong drive among Counter-Reformationists like Ignatius of Loyola to establish Catholic schools. With Anti-Catholicism surging in Northern Europe during the 1500s, Catholic orders (such as the Jesuits) sought to preserve the Church's customs/rituals through education. Traditionally, Catholic schools operated as single-sex institutions, but a push toward co-education in recent decades has become the norm. And this push has ultimately kept many Catholic schools afloat, as the cost of (private) education continues to rise around the world.