Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Acoustic Metal at Its Best

Acoustic Metal at Its Best: Given that acoustic music gained mainstream popularity in the 1960s as part of the folk genre (Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, etc.), it would seem somewhat ludicrous that such a genre could mesh with metal. Yet in the 1990s and 2000s, nu-metal bands like Godsmack and Korn began to experiment with performing their music acoustically, usually in a live (concert) setting. Part of what was driving these bands to perform acoustically had to do with the immense success of MTV's Unplugged series, which really started with grunge bands such as Nirvana and Alice in Chains. Of course, what's ironic about much of the acoustic movement was that it emerged almost entirely opposed to anything electronic (and yet many of the live performances required electronic amplification). If nothing else, acoustic metal offers its listeners the opportunity to experience a divergent take on whatever they have already come to know and love.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Why Did New York City Unify in 1898?

Why Did New York City Unify in 1898?: When Robert Van Wyck became NYC's 91st Mayor on January 1st, 1898, he suddenly presided over 3 million people and 300 square miles of territory. At the stroke of midnight on that New Year's Day, NYC consolidated into five boroughs. Prior to 1898, NYC merely consisted of Manhattan and parts of the Bronx. But for decades, Manhattan had been looking to grow its influence over surrounding areas like Brooklyn and Long Island City (Queens). In the 1850s, Albany legislators expanded the NYPD's jurisdiction to include Brooklyn. This act marked the first sociopolitical endeavor to unify NYC. Yet as the second half of the 19th century progressed, each decade saw more sociopolitical attempts at consolidation. In the 1860s and 1870s, bridges across the Harlem and East Rivers started to get built primarily because these rivers sometimes froze in the winter, which halted boat traffic and disrupted trade. By the 1880s and 1890s, it was clear that expanding the city's harbor through consolidation would greatly enhance commercial opportunities in the region. And lastly, when Chicago annexed over 100 square miles in 1889, NYC officials feared that many financial and manufacturing firms might move there to take advantage of the "cheap land."

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

On Teaching English-Language Learners (ELLs)

On Teaching English-Language Learners (ELLs): No matter what subject a teacher teaches, he or she is also a teacher of language. Nationwide, it's estimated that about 10 percent of American public school students are ELLs. But in states like California and Texas, the percentage is closer to 20. These percentages are only expected to grow as the years progress. Thus, it's becoming increasingly imperative that American educators receive some form of ELL training. Whether that training involves educational linguistics or cultural history, American teachers ought to be prepared for having language-minority students in their classrooms. For decades, a majority of American educators viewed ELLs as having "personal deficiencies," which resulted in lowered academic expectations. This viewpoint has only been complicated by the growth of standardization policies (Common Core, PARCC, etc.), which place exceedingly intense pressures on language-minority students. Yet with the adoption of ELL training as part of educator licensing, there's hope that the ELL experience in American public schools will be enhanced in the years to come.

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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

On the Eccentricities of John Wilkes Booth

On the Eccentricities of John Wilkes Booth: As far as his theatrical career went, J. W. Booth was the Brad Pitt or George Clooney of his day. By the end of the 1850s, he was earning around $20,000 per year (which would be over 500K per year in today's dollars). Growing up in Bel Air, Maryland, Booth was very competitive with his brothers and classmates. He always had to be the best or first at completing a task, whether it was reciting Cicero or riding horses. Having been baptized Episcopalian, which was the Booth family's traditional church, his childhood religious experience did not follow one particular path. Booth's father, according to Asia Booth Clarke's memoirs, was more of a "free spirit" than actual practitioner of the faith. And yet there were rumors that J. W. Booth himself had converted to Roman Catholicism. Although evidence of such a conversion was sparse, it nevertheless fueled conspiracy theories regarding a Catholic plot to overthrow the U.S. government (similar to Guy Fawkes in England). After the Civil War erupted in April 1861, Booth became an outspoken supporter of the Confederacy. At some performances in the North, he even feuded with audience members who wished to have him arrested for treason. But when Abe Lincoln won reelection to a second term in late 1864, Booth believed it was time for Lincoln's "tyranny" and "aggression" toward the South to end.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

On Erik Erikson's Personality Theory

On Erik Erikson's Personality Theory: Building on Sigmund Freud's ideas concerning psycho-social development, Erikson concocted a comprehensive series of "stages" that depict personality growth. Regarding Freud, the id represents the irrational, unconscious, and pleasure-seeking aspect of an individual while the ego reflects reality, as it rationally/consciously tries to pursue what the id desires. Lastly, the superego symbolizes an individual's conscience, which attempts to mediate whatever conflicts occur between the id and ego. For Erikson, however, a personality consists of more than Freud's three basic components. In fact, Erikson's personality theory contains eight stages, as it describes how a person should psycho-socially develop from infancy to late adulthood. To simplify Erikson's stages, existential questions can be proposed to capture the gist of what each stage represents. For example, two questions of the adolescent stage (years 15 to 25) might be "who am I?" or "how can I become a contributing member of society?" And two questions of the middle-adulthood stage (years 35 to 55) could be "can I love another person?" or "how can I make life worth living?" Nevertheless, completion of each stage is NOT necessarily contingent upon answering its questions.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

On Kierkegaardian Absurdity and Insanity

On Kierkegaardian Absurdity and Insanity: On October 16, 1843, Kierkegaard published three separate works. One of the books published was Repetition and another was Fear and Trembling, which is perhaps Kierkegaard's most well-known work. In many respects, neither book has much in common, except when referencing ideas like absurdity and insanity. If when Abraham took Isaac up Mount Moriah to be sacrificed (at God's command) can be considered a definition of absurdity, then Fear and Trembling was spot-on with its discourse. And if repeating the same process/steps (as the Young Man did) while expecting different results is a definition of insanity, then Repetition has certainly made an indelible philosophical mark. For Kierkegaard, who tried to determine whether repetition actually existed in the world, the process of repeating something served as a vehicle to "eternalize" what would otherwise be temporal. He also connected this idea to another concept which he referred to as the "Knight of Faith." Because Kierkegaard's conception of Faith is partially rooted in both absurdity and insanity, it only seems fitting that Abraham and the Young Man act as Knights of Faith in their respective books. In short, the Knight of Fight is a paradoxical individual who "gracefully embraces life" on one hand, and places infinite trust in the possibility of divine salvation on the other.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Why James K. Polk Mattered BIG TIME

Why James K. Polk Mattered BIG TIME: As perhaps one of the most overlooked and/or underrated Presidents in American history, Polk presided over the admission of two vitally important states into the Union: Florida and Texas. Elected in 1844, he served when the idea of "Manifest Destiny" (white America's God-given right to conquer the West) hit a fever pitch. With members of Congress such as David Wilmot (Pro-Free Soil) and John C. Calhoun (Pro-Slavery) choosing sides over how westward expansion should proceed, Polk remarkably managed to maintain a pragmatic, down-the-middle approach. He (intentionally) provoked a war with Mexico in 1846 by stationing/quartering troops along the Rio Grande, which permitted Texas to consolidate its newly acquired statehood. And when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, Polk had expanded U.S. territory by two-fifths (from Texas to what would eventually become California). Indeed, it would be another half-century before much of this territory achieved statehood, but Polk clearly left his mark.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

On Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad: Born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, in 1822, not far from where famed African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born in 1818, Tubman had a rough childhood. Her mother "Rit" struggled to keep the family together, especially since she worked as a house servant on a large plantation while Harriet (and her brothers) frequently worked in the fields. Having been "hired out" to other plantation owners of numerous occasions, even after contracting the measles and suffering a serious head injury, Tubman vowed either to become free or die trying. Thus, on a September night in 1849, she embarked on a 90-mile journey northward along the Choptank River through Delaware and into Pennsylvania. The following year, Congress passed an infamous Fugitive Slave Law (as part of the 1850 Compromise), which allowed slave-owners to search for and forcibly retrieve their "runaway slaves" (stolen property) in any part of the country. Brushing aside the implicit danger of this new law, Tubman sought to expand the Underground Railroad for Southern slaves who wished to escape to the North. Although not literally an "Underground Railroad," the term referred to a network of safe houses that harbored runaway slaves on their journey northward. In fact, slaves would often use the North Star as a navigational guide during their trips.

Monday, June 15, 2015

On the Jazz Age

On the Jazz Age: Although the term "Jazz Age" can be credited to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote a 1922 book called Tales of the Jazz Age, the birth of jazz music can be attributed to the African-American community in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the early 1900s. Given New Orleans' diverse urban history, jazz can be considered the product of various cultural heritages, especially Creole and French. After World War I, however, when the United States was attempting a "return to normalcy," jazz came to symbolize a laid-back and almost-whimsical attitude toward major events of the period such as prohibition (1919), women's suffrage (1920), and even immigration restriction (1924). But by the mid-1920s, jazz's popularity began to stretch across both ethno-racial and social-class lines, as upper-class whites like Cole Porter and lower-class blacks like Louis Armstrong each produced their own versions of "jazz" music. As a genre of musical fusion (drums, pianos, trumpets, etc.), jazz became particularly popular in underground "speakeasies," which served alcohol during prohibition. These speakeasies were generally patronized by artists, intellectuals, and mobsters alike. Perhaps the greatest congregation of speakeasies occurred in New York City during the 1920s, when alcohol, jazz, poetry, and painting went hand-in-hand to help fashion the Harlem Renaissance.

Monday, June 1, 2015

On Rousseau and His Novel "Emile"

On Rousseau and His Novel "Emile": Perhaps Jean-Jacques Rousseau's writings (along with Voltaire's and Diderot's) were the intellectual underpinnings of the entire French Revolution (particularly for the Jacobin faction). His work is also considered the inspiration behind the phrase "pursuit of happiness" in the American Declaration of Independence. Needless to say, Rousseau's influence on Enlightenment thinking in the late eighteenth century was very trans-Atlantic. But it was his novel Emile, which Rousseau thought of as his finest work, that can be viewed as one of the first educational philosophies in the Western world. And because Rousseau maintained such a cynical view of human nature, he felt that everything mankind built or touched would eventually succumb to degenerative forces like corruption and greed. Thus, schooling and teaching ought to be focused on undoing whatever "evils" society instilled in its members, not helping children to conform to the status quo. At times, Rousseau got very specific when mentioning topics such as "breast-feeding" and "swaddling," but on the whole, he kept his commentary generalized regarding Emile's continuous development. In short, Rousseau's educational philosophy largely downplayed "book-learning" while emphasizing the importance of everyday "experiences" and "interactions" with the physical world.

Friday, May 15, 2015

On Black Socialism and A. Philip Randolph

On Black Socialism and A. Philip Randolph: Unlike European socialism, which is very "statist" and "top-down" (coming from the government), American socialism is more "organic" and "bottom-up" (emerging from the people). Perhaps the most famous African-American socialist was A. Philip Randolph, a railroad worker who admired Eugene V. Debs' efforts at organizing the American Railway Union (ARU). Even though Randolph was about a generation behind Debs in terms of age, he followed Debs' lead by founding the nation's first black labor union in 1925. Known as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), the union sought to bargain collectively with the Pullman Company, which produced a variety of train cars for use in passenger rail travel. In the 1920s, the job of a "porter" was largely limited to baggage handling, ticket punching, and custodial duties. Over time, it became an occupation traditionally associated with African Americans. Thus, being a porter generally meant there was no chance of getting promoted to "conductor," which was a position often reserved for whites. As the BSCP progressed, Randolph pushed for changes in federal labor law during the 1930s. And in 1941, he succeeded in getting President Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 8802, which attempted to ban racial discrimination in the national defense industry. Although it was not a law, EO8802 marked the first federal effort to curb segregated labor practices.

Friday, May 1, 2015

On the Civil War Draft Riots

On the Civil War Draft Riots: Ten days after the Battle of Gettysburg ended, which was perhaps the Civil War's biggest turning point, the streets of Manhattan erupted. The Union Army, under direct orders from President Lincoln, began to conscript able-bodied men into fighting the Confederacy. Indeed, since New York City had seen an astronomical influx of European immigrants, especially Irish, during the preceding two decades, it made sense to target these "new" immigrants as recruits. Promises of steady employment, food, clothes, camaraderie, shelter, and even "full" citizenship were all presented as benefits to being conscripted into the Union Army. But many of these young (Irish) men would rather take their chances in gangs or working as clerks to jump potentially from the underclass to the middle class. Fighting in the Union Army meant leaving NYC to head South and liberate African-American slaves. And in many respects, these immigrants saw themselves as sharing the same socioeconomic status as Southern slaves. Thus, the conscription process was ultimately doomed from the start. The above clip is from Gangs of New York (2002), which did a terrific job portraying the city's draft riots.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On the Constitutional Implications of Privacy

On the Constitutional Implications of Privacy: Aside from a few state constitutions, namely California, Florida, and Montana, there is no explicit "right to privacy" in American constitutional law. Over time, however, there have been various judicial interpretations which have sought to mesh the concepts of privacy and constitutionality. One of the first examples of this involved an 1890 Harvard Law Review article titled "The Right to Privacy" by-then law firm partners Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis. Later in his career, Brandeis would become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and explicate what was perhaps the greatest defense of privacy rights in Olmstead v. United States (1928). Yet apart from Brandeis, one might look to the Bill of Rights as an early source of privacy rights. There are two amendments in particular that speak implicitly to privacy rights, and they include Amendments IV and V. These amendments were at the heart of the Olmstead case, which involved a police wiretap of a suspected bootlegger's telephone line. Amendment IV protects American citizens from "unreasonable searches and seizures," while Amendment V claims "private property" cannot be taken for "public use" without "just compensation." Also, Amendment V protects "mental privacy" in that no American citizen can be forced to serve as a "witness against him/herself."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On T. Thomas Fortune and Black Newspapers

On T. Thomas Fortune and Black Newspapers: As co-founder and editor of one of the first African-American newspapers since the Antebellum Era, Timothy Thomas Fortune became an influential figure in New York City's post-Civil War black community. The name of Fortune's newspaper was the New York Age, and it published (both daily and weekly) at various times throughout its existence from 1887 to 1953. The primary purpose of black newspapers like the New York Age was to inform African Americans about where to live, shop, and attend church/school in cities. This idea was especially true for former slaves from the rural South, who may have migrated to the urban North in search of better jobs, better schools, and better housing. Indeed, many of these former slaves from the rural South, of which Fortune was one (born a slave in Florida in 1856), were illiterate. Thus, maps and pictures became important sources of information within early black newspapers. But like other African-American newspapers, Fortune produced his with a white audience in mind. Causes such as anti-lynching and anti-segregation were frequently touted in editorials. And attempting to generate cross-racial support for such causes was actually what helped give birth to civil rights organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the early twentieth century.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

On the Peculiarities of General Dan Sickles

On the Peculiarities of General Dan Sickles: If there was ever an American Civil War General who led an extraordinary life not named Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant, it was Daniel E. Sickles. For starters, he lived to the age of 94, having been born in 1819 in New York City, and later dying there in 1914. Prior to the Civil War, Sickles worked as a lawyer and served as a legislator in the New York State Assembly. He married a woman who was half his age in the early 1850s, and by 1857, he was elected to serve in the U.S. Congress as a Representative from New York. While in Washington D.C., his young wife (who was only about 20 at the time) had taken up an affair with the local district attorney (who also happened to be Francis Scott Key's son). Upon learning of his wife's infidelity, Sickles proceeded to shoot and kill Philip Barton Key II. At the trial, Sickles pleaded "temporary insanity" and was actually acquitted of murder. His plea is often considered the first use of an "insanity" defense in the history of American jurisprudence. But aside from Sickles' legal issues, he is perhaps best known as the General who lost his leg during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Although the cannonball that tore through his leg effectively ended his military career, Sickles was happy to donate both the cannonball and his amputated leg to the newly formed Army Medical Museum. And on every anniversary of the amputation, Sickles visited the display that contained his shattered leg.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

On Buddy Cianci's Providence

On Buddy Cianci's Providence: As mayor of Providence for two (non-consecutive) decades, Vincent "Buddy" Cianci epitomized the city's "underworld" reputation. Ever since Providence's founding by Roger Williams in 1636, it has been known as a refuge for religious exiles, political prisoners, and career criminals. Situated under the arm of Massachusetts, it has been referred to as both "the sewer" and "the armpit" of New England. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Catholic immigrants, mainly from Ireland and Italy, converged upon the city to work in its burgeoning textile industry. It was under these circumstances that some of Cianci's ancestors emigrated from Italy to Rhode Island in the 1890s. By the early 1900s, Providence's various neighborhoods had become divided along ethnoracial lines. The Italians settled in Federal Hill, the Irish in Smith Hill, the "old-moneyed" WASPs in College Hill, and the African Americans in Wanskuck. Cianci actually grew up in Cranston, but he attended a private school in the wealthy College Hill neighborhood (where Brown University is located). Yet as the city's youngest-elected and first-ever Italian mayor, Cianci sought to smooth over the city's ethnoracial divides (which persisted throughout the decades). And although he survived two felony convictions, with the second one sending him to prison for five years, Cianci has become an icon in Providence. The city will not be the same without him.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

On the Birth of American Judicial Review

On the Birth of American Judicial Review: This concept may seem somewhat rudimentary, but it's crucial to the founding of the United States federal government. In 1803, a major case involving the constitutionality of a federal law came before the Supreme Court, which did not have a permanent home in Washington D.C. till around 1810. Known as Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall, whose formal legal training was no longer than six weeks, held that part of the Judiciary Act of 1789 was "unconstitutional." In doing so, Marshall established the principle of "judicial review," which saw the Supreme Court curbing the power of Congress (and the Presidency). This principle essentially completed the trifecta of "checks and balances" that the Constitution's writers had originally envisioned (and borrowed from Montesquieu). Ultimately, it would be fifty-four years before the Supreme Court invalidated another federal law (see the 1857 Dred Scott decision). And although Alexander Hamilton had discussed "judicial review" in his Federalist No. 78 essay, the concept had never been put into practice. Thus, until Marshall rose to the occasion in the Marbury case, the Supreme Court (or Judicial Branch) was commonly viewed as the weakest (or least effective) branch of the federal government.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

On the Golden Age of Caribbean Piracy

On the Golden Age of Caribbean Piracy: Pictured above is a version of the Jolly Roger (flag) flown by pirates (mostly English privateers) during the early eighteenth century. A more traditional Jolly Roger would contain crossbones instead of crossed swords. This specific version was actually invented by Calico Jack, who was perhaps the most notorious pirate to operate from New Providence Island in the Bahamas during the early 1700s. What made Calico Jack particularly intriguing was the fact that he allowed two female pirates in his crew, Mary Read and Anne Bonny. For the most part, the presence of female pirates on ships was extremely rare throughout the Caribbean, as eighteenth-century seafaring occupations were almost entirely male-dominated. In fact, Read often had to dress like a man in order to be taken seriously as a privateer. Although Read was born in England and Bonny in Ireland, they both ended up in the Bahamas by the late 1710s. Read was originally part of the British military (dressed as a man), but left after realizing that her prospects for promotion were severely limited in peacetime. Bonny, on the other hand, had married a small-time pirate named James Bonny, who eventually became an informant for the Bahamian Governor (Woodes Rogers). Yet Anne decided to join forces with Calico Jack, becoming his mistress and "baby mama" in 1720.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Why American Public Schools Have Struggled

Why American Public Schools Have Struggled: American public schools today seem concerned about almost everything except education itself. From Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to 504 plans to English-language learners (ELLs), how are teachers expected to educate "all" children to high standards? And how did it get to be this way? To answer this question, one ought to examine the emergence of Progressive education in the early 1900s, when the very definition of "school" was entirely up-for-grabs. According to education historian Diane Ravitch, when the American high school curriculum started to become standardized in the 1890s (in preparation for college admissions), it opened the door for a series of "experts" to assess how knowledge transferred from teacher to student. These "experts" largely possessed backgrounds in child psychology, and included people like G. Stanley Hall, Henry Goddard, and Edward Thorndike. For Ravitch, these "experts" represented a kind of "anti-intellectualism," which diverted attention away from the process of teaching a traditional curriculum and toward the process of satisfying student needs. Unfortunately, American educators simply forgot how to say "no," as every conceivable student need started to seep into the once revered curriculum.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

On the End of History

On the End of History: Ideologically speaking, the end of history is not the same thing as the end of time. Whereas the end of time has a kind of religious connotation to it, the end of history is merely philosophical. With that being said, there have been a variety of philosophical viewpoints put forth on this topic from thinkers like Kant, Hegel, and even Nietzsche. Yet the two philosophers who have probably made the biggest impact on "end-of-history" thinking are Karl Marx and Francis Fukuyama. For Marx, the end of history would arrive once communism had replaced capitalism as the sole socioeconomic ideology in the world. This meant, in effect, that social classes would cease to exist, that private property would be abolished, and that the state would become the primary source of socioeconomic engineering (jobs, education, healthcare, etc.). But Marx could/did not foresee the rise of labor unions, which often served to mitigate/reconcile tensions between capital and labor (bourgeoisie and proletariat). For Fukuyama, who's writing roughly 150 years after Marx, the end of history coincided with the end of the Cold War. In a sense, the absence of a legitimate communist threat meant there was no longer any major ideological obstacles for Western-style liberal democracy to overcome. However, in the time since Fukuyama first published his thesis (1989), the globe has seen a significant rise in Islamic fundamentalism that frequently seeks to destroy Western democracy.