Monday, December 30, 2013

On the "Seattle Sound" (Grunge)


On the "Seattle Sound" (Grunge): As a sub-genre of alternative rock, the origins of grunge music can be traced specifically to the mid-1980s in Seattle, Washington. Now this kind of specificity is rare when locating a musical genre's roots. Many genres' origins can be identified within a particular decade, but not a specific place (especially not in one city). Nonetheless, for a city that sees an average of 3 feet of rainfall per year coupled with an average of 225 cloudy days per year, Seattle's weather may have had something to do with the stylistically hardcore (and somewhat downbeat) sounds associated with grunge music. Also, for an American city not named New York or Los Angeles to become a net exporter of musical culture (and talent) for an extended period of time was a massive feat in its own right. And without question, during the first half of the 1990s, Seattle grunge bands such as Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden dominated the playlists on American rock radio stations.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

On Why "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"


On Why "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia": When the show first aired on FX in August 2005, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia did not receive "rave" reviews. As a sitcom about four underachieving bar owners ("The Gang") in their late twenties, it wreaked of amateurish inexperience and needed an element of middle-aged depravity to complete many of its plot lines. At the time, Danny DeVito and his production company Jersey Television were still producing Reno 911!, yet he quickly recognized the show's main void and saw how it could be filled. From the moment Season 2 began airing in June 2006 (take the above clip as an example), the show felt not only more realistic, but also more hopelessly dysfunctional. In effect, the addition of Frank Reynolds (DeVito's character) helped explain why certain members of "The Gang," especially Dee and Dennis Reynolds, act so unsympathetic and egotistical toward others at times. And when Frank becomes friends with Mac and Charlie (the other "Gang" members), the level of scheming gets ratcheted up from episode to episode. Ultimately, the show will enter its 10th season in 2014, which is a tremendous achievement for any TV series these days.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

On Advertising and Consumer Capitalism

On Advertising and Consumer Capitalism: Let's relativize these two concepts for a minute. That is, put some distance between them and our "postmodern" selves. Why is advertising important? In a way, it's the "nexus" of commerce and culture. And it's the primary funding vehicle for delivering cultural content, whether that content gets delivered via the radio, television, or internet. Perhaps advertising is also the main reason why many people aspire to live by the values of middle-and-upper-class life. Advertising, therefore, has a homogenizing effect in this regard. But one must dig deeper into the industry's history to uncover its elitist origins. When the ad industry professionalized in the early 20th century, many of the "ad men" had upper-class backgrounds with Ivy League educations. Consumer capitalists needed these ad men to connect the products they were selling to the customers they wanted to buy them. Thus, it became the ad man's job to manipulate consumer demand by creating a kind of "anxiety" within the customer. This anxiety, according to historian Roland Marchand, became the basis from which certain products could be sold. Take the above Listerine ad from the 1920s for example. It's constructed to make you believe the seated woman is unpopular because she has "bad breath."

Friday, November 15, 2013

On Juxtaposing MLK, Jr. with Malcolm X


On Juxtaposing MLK, Jr. with Malcolm X: Both men approached Afro-American civil rights in a unique manner. While Martin Luther King, Jr. proved polished and refined, Malcom X became notorious for his aggression and bluntness. Perhaps one of the best ways to juxtapose their leadership styles was to examine famous public speeches that each had delivered. For King, his "I Have a Dream" speech from August 1963 has become entrenched in American civil religion as a kind of "Sermon on the Mount" for civil rights. In it, he advocated a non-violent end to racial discrimination in the United States, especially institutional racism. And King believed it was only a matter of time before the U.S. lived up to its founding principles, replacing racism and hate with freedom and equality. On the other hand, Malcom X's "Ballot or Bullet" speech in April 1964 struck a very different chord in the Af-Am civil rights community. At that time, Senate "Dixiecrats" (Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd, etc.) planned to thwart passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And X did not hold back in labeling them "white political crooks" who made violence almost inevitable. For X, the ballot served as a kind of political bullet. Thus, unlocking black America's pent-up rage to achieve full voting rights was central to X's philosophy.

Friday, November 1, 2013

On Critical Culture Theory

On Critical Culture Theory: Before diving into cultural theory, it's important to offer a working definition of "culture." For historian Kristin Hoganson, culture is a common framework of methods and references to help one understand the human experience. To put it another way, culture consists of all the basic units that make up a community. A key feature of culture is language, which serves as the primary vehicle for communicating words/ideas (and their respective meanings). Take the above image, for example (semiotics). The line separating the written word "TREE" from a common symbol for a tree teaches us that there is no rational or inherent connection between words and symbols that represent them. It's only through experience that people build an understanding of written/spoken words and the descriptive symbols to which they refer. But aside from language, there are other key features of culture, including "memes" and "texts." Memes effectively transport the units of cultural life. Having emerged from Darwinian thought, memes are to culture what genes are to biology. Their sole purpose is to replicate, especially by capturing the attention of a wide audience. With cultural texts, however, they can be anything that demands meaning from you (a book, a song, a film, a painting, etc.) In short, both memes and texts seek legitimacy by impacting culture at large.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Did the War of 1812 Prove?


What Did the War of 1812 Prove?: Not much, is the short answer to this question. After American armed forces battled the British (and British-Canadians - Sir Isaac Brock) for 32 months between 1812 and 1814, status quo ante bellum was the official outcome. And aside from Washington, D.C. burning to the ground and Tecumseh's Confederacy being defeated, there were no major physical/boundary changes that stemmed from the conflict. In fact, the British have mostly written off the war as a kind of annoying sideshow to the larger Napoleonic Wars happening in Europe at the time. For Americans, however, the war had enormous socioeconomic and cultural ramifications. Because much of the war was fought at sea, the British Navy had a 50-to-1 numerical (sailor) advantage over the tiny American Navy, which only formed in the late 1790s. With this vast advantage, the British were able to capture American ships, impress American sailors, and establish crippling blockades around American ports. Ultimately, it was these blockades which destroyed America's ability to conduct not only naval warfare, but also international trade. Even after the war ended, the British continued to make international trade a hassle for American merchants. Thus, by the 1820s, the U.S. had begun to double-down on two emerging industries of the early nineteenth century: homegrown slave labor (as opposed to imported) and cotton textiles (water-powered mills).

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On DuPont and Wallace Carothers

On DuPont and Wallace Carothers: One year after General Electric (GE), DuPont established the nation's second corporate research and development (R&D) laboratory in 1902. The main purpose behind an R&D lab was two-fold. First, to create new products for the consumer market, and second, to create new uses for existing products. As one of America's premier chemical engineering firms, some of DuPont's most notable products include gunpowder, spray paint (to be used on automobile exteriors), and freon (for the budding refrigerant industry in the early 20th century). However, it was the discovery of nylon by DuPont chemist Wallace Carothers (pictured above) in 1935 which not only made the company into a household name, but also helped position it for dominance in the new synthetic polymer industry. Other important synthetic polymers to emerge from DuPont's Experimental Station laboratory near Wilmington, Delaware, included neoprene (diving suits) and kevlar (bulletproof vests). Yet despite his brilliance as a chemist, Carothers was a deeply depressed individual. Since about 1931, when he was working on the commercial development of neoprene, Carothers kept a capsule of cyanide attached to the end of his watch chain. And in 1937, he ingested that capsule mixed with lemon juice in a Philadelphia hotel room, choosing not to leave a suicide note.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What Drove American Military Production in WWII?


What Drove American Military Production in WWII?: Historians have argued at length about how American industry converted from producing consumer to military goods during WWII. One group, represented by Paul Kennedy, essentially believes it was America's vast engineering force which refined mass production techniques to the point of mass efficiency. Another group, represented by Arthur Herman, emphasizes major American businessmen such as Henry Ford and Henry Kaiser. Either way, the federal government played a vital role in organizing the defense contracts that American companies desperately sought. For Kennedy's engineers, mass production of military goods had almost everything to do with feedback mechanisms. That is, engineers offered real-time responses to problems with military equipment that soldiers and sailors were having. And American engineers (people like Vannevar Bush and Crawford Greenewalt) were exceptional at developing feedback mechanisms, as soldiers/sailors were often able to fix their guns, tanks, airplanes, and ships on the front lines. Yet for Herman's businessmen, if there was one American industry which really adapted mass production techniques (assembly lines, interchangeable parts, etc.) for military purposes, it was automobiles, as Ford and GM each converted their plants to produce tanks, planes, half-tracks, etc.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

On Jesse Jackson's 1984 Presidential Bid

On Jesse Jackson's 1984 Presidential Bid: Perhaps most people remember Rev. Jackson's 1988 presidential bid because of its impact on the Democratic Party's nomination process. But his 1984 bid represented one of the more dramatic developments in modern American political history. To be clear, Jackson's 1984 presidential bid was a "campaign-movement," as it fused traditional political objectives (taxation, spending, etc.) with social issues afflicting America's underclass (poverty, discrimination, etc.). And in the larger context of "Reagan's America" (coupled with Cold War thinking), Jackson's fusion approach seemed radical. Yet it was Jackson's non-profit civil rights organization Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), which helped him rise to national political prominence by the early 1980s. At the time, Jackson had become fundamentally disenchanted with the Democratic Party. After witnessing the Party's endorsement debacle in Chicago's 1983 mayoral race, whereby Harold Washington became the city's first black mayor, he felt the Party had moved too far to the center. What Jackson ultimately wanted to accomplish in running for the presidency was reintroduce the Democratic Party to the idea of the state as "final arbiter," especially in matters of equality relating to education, employment, and housing.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Wireless Telegraphy and the Radio


On Wireless Telegraphy and the Radio: Contrary to popular belief, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi did not invent the radio. He developed the wireless telegraph and brought it to the United States in 1899. It was a major upgrade from the standard telegraph because it allowed for the transmission of coded messages through the air. This proved especially important for ships at sea, which could now communicate over long distances and without the use of flags or lights. The wireless telegraph did not, however, allow for sounds (human voice, music, etc.) to be transmitted. That was precisely where the radio had a distinct advantage. But it would be another twenty years before advances in electronics technology could incite the growth of a full-fledged radio industry. Ultimately, what was needed for radio wave broadcasting were vacuum tubes (complex light bulbs). American inventor Lee de Forest had been experimenting with them in the early 1900s, having developed a triode ("The Audion") to amplify electronic signals. And in 1907, de Forest completed the world's first ship-to-shore radio broadcast while on a boat in Lake Erie. After which, he gloated, "I discovered an Invisible Empire of the Air, intangible, yet solid as granite."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

On General Electric and Irving Langmuir

On General Electric and Irving Langmuir: When General Electric (GE) formed in 1892, Thomas Edison had already decided to abandon the electrification business and move on to motion pictures. He spent a majority of the 1880s installing direct current (DC) electrification systems for commercial buildings like J. P. Morgan's investment firm at 23 Wall Street. But his original 1879 patent for the incandescent light bulb was expiring, so GE sought to improve (and hopefully re-patent) it. To accomplish such a feat, GE established the nation's first corporate research and development (R&D) laboratory in 1901. The primary problem with Edison's light bulb lay in its carbon filament, which produced a blackened film around the inside of the bulb when lit. As a chemist who did part of his doctoral research on light bulbs, Irving Langmuir (pictured above) understood this problem well. GE hired him in 1909 to work in their R&D lab, and thus, Langmuir began experimenting with different filament materials to make the light bulb more efficient. He settled on tungsten because it has a very high melting point, and therefore, would not produce any unwanted by-products when lit for long periods of time. With Langmuir's tinkering, GE was able to re-patent the light bulb and avoid financial ruin.

Monday, July 15, 2013

On the Springfield Armory


On the Springfield Armory: From 1777 to 1968, the Springfield Armory stored ammunition (gunpowder) and produced weapons (guns and bayonets) for the U.S. Army. Founded at the request of General George Washington, the first weapon designed and manufactured at the Armory was a flintlock musket in the 1790s. But why Springfield, Massachusetts? The town was far enough inland (along the Connecticut River) to avoid a coastal attack and it had easy access to commodities such as water and timber. Its location permitted military officers and skilled craftsman to work in a secure and semi-isolated environment. Yet as the demand for weapons grew, Armory operators quickly realized that they could not rely on the hands of gunsmiths alone. In the 1820s, the Armory adopted the newly invented Blanchard lathe, which was a machine developed for cutting irregular shapes (mostly from wood). And by the Civil War, the Armory was producing around 1,000 guns per day. Other technological improvements to gun design that occurred at the Armory during the 19th century included percussion locks (1840s), breech loading (1860s), and bolt-action magazines (1890s). The main advantage behind these improvements resided in the ability to fire more rounds per minute. Also, guns from the Armory were present in World War I and II, as the M1903 Springfield rifle and John Garand's M1 semi-automatic rifle were standard issue for American soldiers.

Monday, July 1, 2013

On the Boston Manufacturing Company

On the Boston Manufacturing Company: When Francis Cabot Lowell returned from England in 1812, he set out to establish the first integrated textile mill in the United States. An integrated mill meant one which contained power looms alongside power carding and spinning machines (Samuel Slater's Pawtucket mill only had power spinning capabilities). The power, of course, came from a waterfall's gravitational force, such as the Moody Street Dam on the Charles River in Waltham, Massachusetts (pictured above). For Lowell, the Boston Manufacturing Company's primary goal was to produce a low-cost, coarse-fiber cotton fabric. The ideal market for this cotton fabric included farmers, factory workers, and slaves. But the real genius of Lowell's business model centered on its vertical integration of the textile industry. To integrate vertically, Lowell saw the need to convert raw cotton directly into a usable fiber. The only "X" factors in the integration process resided in the production of raw cotton (Southern slaves) and the demand for textiles (advertising). By 1815, Nathan Appleton and others had convinced Lowell of the need to create demand through marketing. They also believed the entire company hinged on the effectiveness of its power looms, because that was where the highest fixed costs existed. Workers could be hired and fired, but debt repayments for the power looms had to be consistent.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

On the Waves of Imperialism


On the Waves of Imperialism: Did Europe, especially Britain and France, purposefully under-develop Africa? That is one of the primary questions which historians have been debating for decades. To contextualize this question, historians generally divide the history of imperialism into two waves. The first wave began with the Portuguese invasion of Morocco (Battle of Ceuta) in 1415 and ended around 1830 when France invaded Algeria. Lasting roughly 400 years, this wave included everything from Columbus, the Conquistadors, and the "Age of Discovery" to Napoleon's armies marching across Europe. The primary economic ideology behind this imperialistic wave was mercantilism, and the sole purpose of such a system was to make the state wealthy. Mercantilism, which put merchants at the center of its scheme to acquire markets, drove the trading of anything from gold and guns to slaves and sugar. But what changed in the mid-nineteenth century to cause historians to identify a "second wave" of imperialism? More countries and new technologies (Quinine, Maxim gun, etc.) got involved, as nationalism and industrialization encouraged new players to join the game. Thus, the second wave included nations like Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the United States. Ultimately, it lasted from 1830 to the post-World War II period when many African and Asian countries gained their independence.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

On Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

On Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: When Congress passed the Boggs Act of 1952, the United States entered the realm of mandatory sentencing. More specifically, the Boggs Act called for minimum prison terms and maximum punishable fines for people found in possession of marijuana. Thus, mandatory sentencing began as a means to deter the sale and use of a drug. But by the mid-1980s, the criminalization of drugs went into hyper-drive. With the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Congress enacted a variety of new mandatory sentences for drugs including cocaine, marijuana, and MDMA (ecstasy). Perhaps the biggest change in federal drug policy at the time was the heightened emphasis on the punitive instead of the rehabilitative. The state had effectively tossed aside judicial discretion (in certain circumstances) and cast an "unequal gaze" (as Foucault would say) toward the perpetrator. It was a "modernization of punishment" according to government officials. It was also a grand experiment in transparency, making it known to citizens that if you commit "X," you will receive "X's" punishment. And although mandatory sentences started in response to drugs, they have since spread to cover nearly all felonies, as states like California have adopted a "three-strikes law," which has dramatically increased incarceration rates. As a result, the U.S. has become a prison-industrial complex where cheap criminal labor helps sustain corporate profit margins.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On the Ideology of "True Womanhood"


On the Ideology of "True Womanhood": In 1966, historian Barbara Welter published an article in American Quarterly titled "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820 - 1860." The word "cult" seemed too strong and incongruous at times, so I have replaced it with the term "ideology." Nevertheless, Welter argued that a majority of middle-to-upper class (white) women in nineteenth-century America (Britain and Canada) had agreed on what it meant to be a "true woman." To a certain extent, much of this ideology overlapped with the moral values emanating from the British Empire under Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Not surprisingly, "true womanhood" was pervasive in New England, where a large portion of white (Anglo-Saxon) Protestant women lived. Their values included piety, sexual restraint, proper etiquette, proper dress, spousal submission, and domestic (household) work. Of course, modernism developed mostly as a response to these "Victorian values." But what made "true womanhood" especially prevalent was the way it influenced basic elements of society such as architecture, art, fashion, and religion. For example, many upper-class houses at the time were built to accommodate the "separate spheres" of men and women, as men had their gun rooms and women had their sewing rooms. Even the purpose of the "parlor" changed under "true womanhood," as it became the house's primary space where well-to-do women greeted their male suitors.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On Synthesizing the Birth Control Pill

On Synthesizing the Birth Control Pill: Pictured above is Gregory Pincus, co-inventor of the birth control pill. As a Harvard-educated Jewish-American biologist, Pincus designed his hormone therapy experiments on previous research regarding menstrual disorders. Such research had been conducted in the 1930s, when organic chemists discovered how to synthesize hormones like progesterone from naturally occurring plant steroids. One of Pincus' main goals with his experiments was to reduce significantly menstrual discomfort by preventing ovulation altogether. Considered too controversial for Harvard in the 1950s, he moved his research to Central Massachusetts in an effort to attract private funding. It worked, as Pincus met Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, who was certainly interested in funding his research. He then elicited the help of Catholic gynecologist John Rock to conduct clinical trials on women with small doses of synthetic estrogen and progesterone. And in May 1960, the FDA approved the combined oral contraceptive pill (Enovid) for use with 10 mg doses. But there were serious side effects associated with these early pills, as blood clots (and birth defects) became the two primary consequences of suppressing ovulation with synthetic hormones.

Monday, April 15, 2013

On the Birth of American Environmentalism


On the Birth of American Environmentalism: In 2009, American filmmaker Ken Burns directed a PBS documentary titled "The National Parks: America's Best Idea." The title originated with Wallace Stegner's 1954 book Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, which traced the life of John Wesley Powell and his 1869 expedition to explored the interior of the Colorado River watershed. As some historians have argued, most notably Douglas Brinkley in Wilderness Warrior (2009), the Progressive conservationist movement, which centered on the 1906 Antiquities Act, marked the greatest American achievement between the Civil War and World War I. Perhaps President Theodore Roosevelt captured the central ethos of the future National Parks system when he remarked in 1903 about the Grand Canyon in Arizona, "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it." Ultimately for Burns (and co-producer Dayton Duncan), the National Parks symbolized a practical application of the Jeffersonian impulse, namely the pursuit of happiness. And what better way to express that impulse than to set aside public lands for the benefit of all.

Monday, April 1, 2013

On the Birth of American Populism

On the Birth of American Populism: Toward the end of the nineteenth century, bimetallism (or the option to pay for goods in gold and silver) became a major political issue in the United States. In 1873, Congress passed the Fourth Coinage Act, which essentially did away with the silver option and pegged the U.S. dollar to the price of gold. This law heavily favored East Coast urban elites like bankers and had drastic consequences for many Midwestern farmers. After a series of severe droughts in the 1880s, which eroded the livelihoods of many farmers, noted populist writer Mary Elizabeth Lease stated "We need to raise less corn and more Hell!" And by the early 1890s, a Populist Party formed to advocate a bimetallist platform and compete with the Democratic Party for political influence in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the Populist movement's peak occurred during the 1896 presidential election when William Jennings Bryan delivered his famed "Cross of Gold" speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In effect, Bryan was the fusion candidate of the Populist and Democratic parties who offered this scathing proposition to gold-toting Republicans: "Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country."

Friday, March 15, 2013

On Defining Modernity


On Defining Modernity: How does one define the term modernity? And when did it arrive? Many Western historians point to the Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648), which resulted in a significant decline of the Catholic Church's influence over European political affairs, as the birth of modernity. But other intellectuals tend to emphasize certain technologies that emerged from industrialization. Perhaps the two most important ones were electricity and railroads. With electricity, the routines of daily life (which usually followed the Sun's rhythms), changed drastically. In fact, Edison's 1879 carbon filament light bulb, while providing over 1200 hours of light, helped people work through the night without the use of fire. Regarding railroads, Aldous Huxley wrote, "To us, the moment 8:17 AM means something - something very important, if it happens to be the starting time of our daily train. To our ancestors, such an odd eccentric instant was without significance - did not even exist. In inventing the locomotive, [James] Watt and [George] Stephenson were part inventors of time." And as steam locomotives approached speeds of 70 MPH by the end of the 1800s, people began to experience the sensation of speed for the first time in history. At bottom, modernity is all about the annihilation of time and space.

Friday, March 1, 2013

On Jane Jacobs and Urban Renewal

On Jane Jacobs and Urban Renewal: In 1961, urban theorist Jane Jacobs published her magnum opus, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Encouraged in part by urban historian Lewis Mumford, she attempted to define the role of planners in the city-building process. Having witnessed some of New York's major urban renewal projects like the United Nations complex and Stuyvesant Town, Jacobs saw urban renewal as hastening deindustrialization and eroding the city's tax base. She was the primary ideological foe of city planner Robert Moses, who developed the Cross-Bronx Expressway and Lincoln Center under the guise of "slum clearance." For Jacobs, Moses represented the "expert class," which many Americans in the 1950s had come to revere with a kind of blind trust. Until Moses became the city's official "construction coordinator" in 1946, New York's grid-like street pattern was sacrosanct. But Jacobs claimed that Moses' renewal projects were destroying the social fabric of many neighborhoods. In fact, she contended that instead of new highways and buildings, what city planners needed to emphasize was mixed-use zoning, pedestrian permeability (short blocks), and density. For Jacobs, these factors ultimately encouraged diversity while revitalizing older sections of the city.

Friday, February 15, 2013

On "the Problem that Has No Name"


On "the Problem that Has No Name": When Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, she was reacting to a widespread feeling of "unhappiness" among women in the 1950s. Coming from a decade in which women were marrying young and having large families, many suburban housewives were feeling isolated and wanted more than just a "nuclear family" or material comfort. This collective yearning for more became known as "the problem that has no name." But Friedan also argued for a masculine mystique. In fact,  it was the men with long hair and sympathies for female reproductive rights who initially co-rode the "second-wave" of feminism in the 1960s. Yet by the 1970s, the masculine mystique had mostly dissipated, as a more radicalized strain of feminist thinking took hold. Led by Gloria Steinem and her Ms. magazine, she published the names of women who had abortions in the United States before Roe v. Wade. Ultimately, it was this radicalization which not only rode the Civil Rights Movement's coattails, but also exposed a fundamental contradiction in feminism, namely that feminists pushed for socioeconomic and political equality (Title IX, ERA, etc.) with men while also seeking special recognition of women's biological functions (birth control, abortion, etc.).

Friday, February 1, 2013

On the "Atlanta Compromise"

On the "Atlanta Compromise": On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington (pictured above) went from being a regional African-American educator to a national black leader, overnight. After delivering the keynote address at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition on that day, he became the de facto speaker for the African-American community in the United States. Northern white elites like Andrew Carnegie (steel magnate) donated money in droves to Washington's Tuskegee Institute while Southern whites such as Porter King (Mayor of Atlanta) praised him for advocating an accommodationist approach to racial segregation. However, not everybody approved of Washington's speech, especially Northern black elites like W. E. B. Du Bois. In effect, Du Bois felt the speech represented a relinquishment of the struggle for racial equality. It had been thirty years since the end of the Civil War and there were a variety of unfulfilled promises (Freedmen's Bureau, "40 acres and a mule", etc.) hanging over black Americans. And if Washington was choosing the "go-along-to-get-along" method of negotiation in his speech, then shrugging off second-class citizenship and attaining civil rights would become an increasingly difficult and lengthy challenge.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Catholicism and Polish Solidarity


On Catholicism and Polish Solidarity: In October 1984, three members of the Polish secret police bludgeoned Catholic priest Jerzy Popiełuszko to death. It was the half-way point of what seemed like a ten-year strategy by the Catholic Church to put pressure on the Communist regime in Poland. In June 1979, Pope John Paul II visited his homeland for the first time since becoming the Bishop of Rome one year prior. And like Fr. Popiełuszko's funeral, hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens greeted the Pope in the streets. The Communist regime had planned to crush any riots that developed as a result of the Pope's visit, but no such action was necessary. Instead, the Pope's visit helped spark the Solidarity (trade union) movement in the shipyards of Gdańsk. In August 1980, future President of Poland, Lech Wałęsa, organized the first non-communist-party-controlled trade union in a Warsaw Pact country. At its peak, Solidarity had nearly 10 million members and represented about one-third of the entire Polish workforce. By the late 1980s, after enduring years of martial law and political repression, Solidarity succeeded in negotiating semi-free elections with the Communist regime, which resulted in a partial coalition government.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On Modernism

On Modernism: When Nietzsche wrote "The world is a work of art that gives birth to itself" in the 1880s, he captured modernism's central thrust. Even the above painting (Salvador Dalí's surrealist piece The Persistence of Memory - 1931) defined the modernist ethos of breaking down time and space. In doing so, modernists sought to dissolve rationality itself. The primal superseded the rational, especially since modernists believed it existed before reason along the scale of evolutionary consciousness. Generally speaking, modernism was a distinct period of cultural history grounded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Art, literature, and philosophy all underwent massive shifts in directional thinking. The rigid societal norms of Victorianism provided the reactionary backdrop for many British and American modernists, while Bismarck's Second Reich served a similar purpose for German modernists. As the world's population surpassed one billion around 1850, many people questioned how they would continue to exist. Although advances in agricultural, medical, and transportation technologies (mech. reapers, anesthetics, and trains) helped people survive the nineteenth century, they scared modernists because each innovation effectively reinforced the primacy of time and space.