Friday, December 30, 2016
On the Stages of Grief: Developed by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969, the stages of grief consist of five basic levels. A popular way of describing these levels involves the acronym DABDA, which stands for denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Since Kubler-Ross spent time working with terminally ill patients, much of her early psychiatric research was published in her first book On Death and Dying. For the most part, she was motivated by the lack of medical school curricula that covered the topic of death (especially from the perspective of the mind). Thus, after a variety of patient interviews conducted at University of Chicago's medical school, Kubler-Ross was able to compile a series of lectures on how people come to "accept" death. Unfortunately, she regretted proposing each grief stage in a linear fashion. In other words, denial does not necessarily have to be the first grief symptom, and likewise, acceptance may not even be the last (as some people might never quite "accept" death as a reality). For absurdist philosophers like Albert Camus, questions of death can quickly become futile when one starts to question the actual amount of choices a person can make on a day-to-day basis.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
On the Irish Diaspora: Pictured above are statues of Irish emigrants along the River Liffey in Dublin. These statues depict not only emaciated adults, but also malnourished babies and pets. Collectively, they represent a vivid reminder of the trials and tribulations which many Irish folks underwent in the mid-to-late 1800s. For the most part, Ireland's population peaked at 8.5 million around the 1840s. But due to the Great Famine (1845-52), when potato blight decimated the nation's primary food supply, Ireland's population declined by as much as 25 percent. The two most popular international destinations for Irish emigrants at the time were Britain (Liverpool) and the U.S. (Boston, New York, & Philadelphia). By 1890, it is believed that as many as 40 percent of Irish-born people were living abroad. Cities like Boston and New York were quickly overwhelmed, as shortages in housing, employment, churches, and even schools all became major afflictions for these people. And yet today, nearly 40 million Americans claim Irish as their main ethnicity.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
On the Great Depression, 1929-39: Contrary to popular belief, the Great Depression was not simply a decade-long downturn of the American economy. In fact, the Depression occurred in other countries around the world as well. Additionally, there were even periods of prosperity during parts of the 1930s. Yet it was events at the beginning (Black Thursday in 1929) and at the end (1937-38 Recession) of the decade that caused the most economic hardship. Perhaps what best captured that hardship were the unemployment statistics. At times during the 1930s, nearly 25% of the American workforce had no official (wage) income. And two basic (complementary) reasons for this high unemployment rate have often been cited by historians and economists: overproduction and underconsumption. With overproduction, economists pointed to the massive output of industrial goods (in the 1920s) by car companies like Ford and steel companies such as U.S. Steel. Workplace advancements like the assembly line and scientific management had made the 1920s into a mass-production decade. But when demand collapsed in the early 1930s, many companies took awhile to scale back their outputs. Similarly, many consumers could no longer afford to purchase these goods. Yet if you could pinpoint two goods that Americans refused to give up during the Depression, it was their cars and radios. Houses became afterthoughts.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
On Substitute Teaching: Perhaps the scariest part of substitute teaching is figuring out if you can control the classroom. At the middle school level, this is a particularly challenging aspect of the job. There's something uniquely rambunctious about having 25(+) 13-year-olds in one room for 5 or 6 periods during the school day. From the start, a substitute teacher gets thrown into the middle of a learning unit which he or she has to quickly adapt to in order to help students. And aside from being an adult, the substitute teacher does not command the same degree of respect from students as the full-time teacher. With these two key disadvantages, a substitute teacher can rapidly become overwhelmed. Nevertheless, there are certain elements of substitute teaching which can be quite rewarding. For instance, some students will embrace the substitute teacher as a welcome change of pace. While other students will start to trust the substitute, and thus, divulge some intriguing information. And with middle schoolers, there's little-to-no filter.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
On B. F. Skinner and Behaviorism: Often considered one of the most important psychologists of the 20th century, Skinner was a pioneer in the field of behaviorism. And for the most part, behaviorism can be seen as a kind of 20th-century reaction to the 19th-century development of psychoanalysis. Whereas Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical methods tried to uncover "meaning" behind deep dreams and repressed feelings, Skinner's behavioral techniques put forth that dreams and feelings were secondary concerns. What truly mattered to behaviorists like Skinner were social appearances and personal actions. With a limited free will (and a limited capacity for self-expression), Skinner argued that most people could be conditioned to act a certain way. By examining routines, and conducting experiments involving reward mechanisms, he believed that through the principle of reinforcement, people could be programmed to learn specific behaviors.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
On Genteel Racism: Ever since French aristocrat Arthur de Gobineau helped legitimize "scientific" racism in the 19th century (with his writings), there have been numerous cultural consequences. First in Europe, and later in the Americas, the idea that people could be categorically separated and classified according to certain genetic traits or physical features spread like wildfire. From anthropologists measuring skull sizes to psychologists recommending lobotomies (eugenics), "scientists" started to take racial theories to extreme lengths by the early 1900s. Yet what was particularly intriguing about the rise of scientific racism was how much it permeated Western culture in song, dance, art, advertising, and cuisine. Regarding song and dance, minstrel shows ("Jump Jim Crow") and blackface actors were widespread well into the 20th century. As for advertising, the creation of a character like Bibendum (by the Michelin tire company) has dubious origins at best (esp. since tires are generally black). Perhaps most controversial with cuisine is the nickname "jimmies" for chocolate sprinkles, which remains popular even today throughout the Northeastern region of the United States.
Saturday, October 1, 2016
On Québécois Separatism: At the bottom of Quebec's license plates it reads "Je me souviens," which translates from French to English as "I remember." For decades, the meaning of this phrase has been debated among Canadians. The phrase dates back to the 1880s, when the architect of Quebec's provincial Parliament had it carved into the stone above the main doorway. That architect, Eugene Taché, never left an explanation of the phrase's meaning. But in the early 1900s, the phrase became adopted as Quebec's official motto. And early historians of Quebec's heritage began to reconcile the phrase with Canada's colonial past. Ever since Canada gained its independence from Britain in 1867, there had been a large constituency of French-speaking people in Quebec who resented ever being subjected to British rule. By the mid-twentieth century, however, Canadian historians started to see the phrase more as a rallying cry for the Quebec sovereignty movement. Thus, whenever the phrase "Je me souviens" gets uttered, it's a reminder for the people of Quebec to recall the days of Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, and New France. Days when French Jesuits missionized the natives while settling the St. Lawrence River. Days before Quebec became part of British Canada.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
How African Slavery Proliferated: Aside from the Atlantic slave trade and the Arab slave trade, which took slaves off the African continent, how did slavery grow and develop in Africa? Like Europe or the colonial Americas, between the 1600s and the 1800s, slavery was widespread in African societies. According to historian John Thornton, the main reason why African slavery proliferated, especially in Atlantic Africa, was because "slaves were the only form of private, revenue-producing property recognized in African law." In Europe, however, "land was the primary form of revenue-producing property." Thus, land ownership became a major factor behind slavery's growth in Europe and the colonial Americas. And as such, the master-slave relationship functioned like a landlord-tenant relationship in European legal systems. Yet it was the absence private (landed) property in African societies that helped slavery proliferate on the continent. Anthropologists have sought reasons for Africa's lack of private land ownership, and two factors seem to surface consistently. Low population densities coupled with a lack of agricultural technologies made land plentiful for much of Africa, and thus, little need to declare ownership of it.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
On the Pearl Harbor Attack: Often considered an immediate cause of the U.S. entering WWII, the Attack on Pearl Harbor marked a major short-term victory for the Japanese Imperial Navy. Early in 1941, President Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Pacific Fleet to be moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in an effort to thwart Japanese expansion throughout the region. Part of Roosevelt's reasoning here stemmed from the idea that Pearl Harbor was a shallow water lagoon, which would make torpedo attacks from planes very difficult. After a plane-dropped torpedo hits the water, it needs to reach an appropriate depth to achieve maximum speed, and thus, create mass destruction by hitting a ship's bow or stern. And although many of the torpedo strikes that sunk American battleships came from Japanese planes, the Imperial Navy also stationed numerous submarines near the harbor's entrance to deter escape. Yet when the U.S. ended its oil exports to Japan in July 1941 (to protest Japanese aggression in China), relations between the two nations had become largely toxic (although each side held non-aggression talks until late November).
Monday, August 15, 2016
On Resisting Apartheid: After WWII, when many European nations started to relinquish their colonial empires (Britain, France, etc.), decolonization pushed certain parts of the world into chaos. For a country like South Africa, that chaos came in the form of resisting governmental policies. Although South Africa originally gained its independence from Britain in 1910, it was not until the post-WWII era that resistance to racial segregation (apartheid) laws began to build momentum. The focal point behind much of this resistance was the African National Congress (ANC), which served as a center-left political party in South Africa. Key figures who led boycotts and other non-violent ANC campaigns included Albert Lutuli, Nelson Mandela, and Steve Biko. In the 1960s, Lutuli won the Nobel Peace Prize, while in the 1990s, Mandela became South Africa's first black president. But it was Biko's role in the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) during the 1970s which focused worldwide attention on the violence that apartheid policies caused (pictured above are people fleeing violent police clashes in the 1976 Soweto Uprising).
Monday, August 1, 2016
On Behavior and Classroom Management: Unfortunately, terms such as "classroom management" make teachers sound more like business executives than proper educators. Yet part of the struggle here, especially with elementary and middle schoolers, really centers on showing students that their teacher is a human being too. If students can see that their teacher is not just a disciplinarian, but rather an honest adult who cares about his or her students, then classroom management techniques become much easier to implement. In effect, the main objective behind managing a classroom should be geared toward creating an authentic, distraction-free learning space that is governed by democratic ideals such as participation and respect. Common managerial tactics might include ignoring, proximity controlling, and appealing to a student's core values. Perhaps the two most important things to avoid when managing student behavior are sarcastic humor and yelling. At the middle school level in particular, when students are undergoing hormonal changes, shouting simply gets the teacher nowhere. If anything, yelling merely de-motivates students by subverting their self-esteem.
Friday, July 15, 2016
On Catholic Guilt: In the Church's early days, the origins of Catholic guilt can really be traced to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For the most part, parishioners confessed their sins publicly, i.e., in front of the entire congregation. Such an act usually brought instant shame to the confessor, and likewise, appropriate behavioral changes. These days, however, Catholic guilt mostly refers to lapsed parishioners, or those who merely attend church services (Mass) around liturgical holidays like Christmas and Easter. Nevertheless, unlike Protestantism, which generally preferences faith over works, Catholic guilt often pushes churchgoers to think in depth about the ultimate consequences (and motivations) behind their actions. Unfortunately, with this kind of intense scrutiny given to one's personal actions, guilt can be considered a precipitating factor in the development of psychological disorders like OCD. In short, although guilt tends to complicate the inner-workings of one's psyche, it can also liberate one's soul.
Friday, July 1, 2016
On Peggy Shippen, Benedict Arnold, and Betrayal: The Shippens had become a well-known Philadelphia family by the late 1700s. As lawyers, judges, and politicians in the Pennsylvania Colony, the Shippens owed a great deal of their success to the British Crown. And when the American Revolution began in the 1770s, the family held mostly Loyalist beliefs. In effect, Loyalists like the Shippens believed the Revolution was nothing more than a movement to make the Colonists more British. Becoming independent, i.e., creating a new government and raising a new military, would not be not such a radical experiment, because so much of it would be modeled on British traditions. Nevertheless, when the Continental Army recaptured Philadelphia in 1778, Arnold and Shippen started a courtship. Despite being 20 years her senior, Arnold became exposed to a variety of British folks and folkways, mainly because the Shippens often entertained British guests. Over time, Arnold began to feel his services as a military commander would be more appreciated by the British, and thus, he defected soon after marrying Shippen. Arnold's name has since become a byword for betrayal in American English.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Remembering the Battle of Lake Erie: In military history, how people remember a particular battle, skirmish, or even war, can be more important than the event itself. Perhaps the most notable event in American history where memory matters is the Civil War. It's often stated that the North won the war, but the South won Reconstruction (and how the war is remembered). Regarding the War of 1812, however, where the Battle of Lake Erie was a major incident, Americans were really just trying to PROVE themselves to the British. In other words, Americans sought reassurance that their "first victory" over the British was not just a fluke. And because many of the war's battles (Siege of Detroit, Battle of New Orleans, etc.) occurred along America's burgeoning borderlands (frontier), incidents like the Battle of Lake Erie helped give birth to an early ethos of westward expansion. For if Commodore Oliver Perry could score a decisive naval victory over the British, which secured the Great Lakes and opened the Midwest, then there was seemingly nothing left but Native Americans (Tecumseh) and wilderness to halt American growth.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
On Psychological Warfare: Sometimes called "psychological operations" or PSY-OPS, the struggle to decimate an enemy's morale (or fighting spirit) has probably been around since the Punic Wars when Hannibal brought war elephants to battle the Romans. Ironically, there was a German mortar/rocket launcher (Der Nebelwerfer) from WWII that sounded eerily similar to Hannibal's elephants. Nevertheless, at its core, psychological warfare is about intimidation. Anything from printing newspapers/leaflets to broadcasting subliminal messages to amplifying ominous sounds can be considered part of psych warfare. Perhaps there was no greater master of psychological warfare than the German military, especially during the 1930s/40s. From V-1 rockets whose engines emitted a pulsating buzz to Stuka planes (dive bombers) whose propellers wailed like sirens, the German military certainly understood the value of mass demoralization. In fact, by the end of WWII, the Germans had launched around 10,000 V-1s, with about 2,500 striking London. And since these rockets were unguided, they basically fell to Earth after their engines died (scary stuff).
Sunday, May 15, 2016
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: 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: 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: 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 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 the 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: 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.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
On Why Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear: There are various theories regarding Van Gogh and what happened to his left ear in December 1888. For starters, ever since about 1880, Van Gogh's father wanted his son committed to an insane asylum, because he experienced serious bouts of psychosis (delirium, depression, etc.) from time to time. When Van Gogh's father died in 1885, these psychotic episodes appeared more frequently. In the late 1880s, Van Gogh had been living in the south of France (Arles on the Rhone to be exact). He intended to turn the city into a colony for artists of the post-Impressionist genre. In fact, some of his most well-known paintings (Starry Night over the Rhone and Cafe Terrace at Night) originated during his time in Arles. And for two months in late 1888, Paul Gauguin lived with Van Gogh. Yet after Gauguin made plans to return to Paris, Van Gogh confronted him. The prevailing theory is that Van Gogh cut off his ear in a fit of rage during the ensuing argument, and gave it to a woman at the local brothel. Some art historians believe that Gauguin and Van Gogh shared a love interest with this woman, and thus, Gauguin might have actually attacked Van Gogh in a fit of jealousy. Whatever the case may be, this story will forever fascinate scholars of late-19th century impressionism.
Monday, February 15, 2016
On African-American Vernacular English: Perhaps the more accurate term for this topic nowadays is "urban American English," because other minority groups such as Hispanics have also adopted this version of English, especially in cities. Common characteristics of AAVE include a heavy use of slang (or idioms), with special emphasis given to contractions and subject-verb disagreements. For example, the mainstream American English sentence "they are having fun" would most certainly translate into AAVE as "they is havin' fun." In many ways, AAVE is merely a "bare-bones" version of mainstream American English, especially since it attempts to rid the language of silent letters. Linguistically, however, AAVE shares a lot of phonological similarities with English dialects spoken in the American South. One popular theory is that AAVE originated from the linguistic mixing (creoles and pidgins) which occurred during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. And because cities served as zones of exchange, where various peoples would assemble to trade goods, linguistic heterogeneity often ensued. Yet even though the South did not experience much urbanization till after the Civil War, AAVE still flourished.
Monday, February 1, 2016
On the Steam Engine: As one of the greatest innovations in engineering history, the steam engine marked the first practical way of converting heat into mechanical work. Of course, people had been boiling water to generate mechanical motion for thousands of years prior to the 1700s, but no single device had yet standardized the process. In 1712, English inventor Thomas Newcomen built the first usable steam engine. Since Newcomen had a background in ironmongery, he had a vested interest in designing and selling specialized tools to miners. One big problem that miners faced in the early 1700s was excess water (which frequently flooded mine tunnels). Thus, Newcomen's engine became the primary pumping mechanism for getting excess water out of (coal and tin) mines. Unfortunately, Newcomen's engine was not very efficient, which prompted Scottish innovator James Watt (and his English business partner Matthew Boulton) to improve it. By the mid-1770s, Watt had successfully doubled the steam engine's (fuel) efficiency, and became the de facto "godfather" of modern engineering. Because Watt recognized a problem, developed a series of potential solutions, and settled on an effective improvement, he embodied the true essence of what it meant to be an "engineer" (instead of just an inventor).
Friday, January 15, 2016
On Why the Cold War Never Ended: Europeans were ecstatic when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and again when East and West Germany unified in 1990. But the birth of the Russian Federation in 1991 did not seem to precipitate the same kind of jubilant response. In general, nobody really knew what the "Russian Federation" signified. It was not until 1993 that something resembling a "constitution" was even in place to govern this newly democratized country. And with dual executive positions (Russia has both a President and a Prime Minister), people became confused over where the political power to govern actually resided. In fact, for the past fifteen years, the President (currently Vladimir Putin) and the Prime Minister (currently Dmitry Medvedev) have essentially swapped positions. With this kind of political back-and-forth (spoils system), many foreign observers continue to remain skeptical, as Russia's executive functions appear not-so-different than that of the Soviet politburo. Yet what's particularly troubling are Russia's recent military advances in the Ukraine and Syria. For if there's one thing Putin understands it's power (he's a realist), and he knows the United States lacks the political will to confront Russian aggression.
Friday, January 1, 2016
On the Erie Canal: From Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo on Lake Erie, the Erie Canal originally stretched over 360 miles. Built between 1817 and 1825 at a cost of nearly 7 million dollars, the canal was certainly an impressive feat of modern engineering. Under the leadership of New York Governor DeWitt Clinton, the canal contained 36 locks while rising and falling around 600 feet. The canal ended-up approximately 40 feet wide by 4 feet deep, and it was largely hand-dug by Scots-Irish immigrants. Basic facts aside, the canal's ultimate value for New York rested in the idea of opening trade with the Midwest. New York City could effectively send goods up the Hudson River and along the canal to emerging Midwestern cities such as Cleveland and Chicago. Other states, especially Pennsylvania, tried to replicate New York's success by funding canal construction. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania went bankrupt in the 1840s after failing to build any major canals, apart from the Delaware and Lehigh. As a result, Pennsylvania turned to railroads for moving goods to the Midwest. Ultimately, it was the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) which became the nation's most successful passenger-freight railway to date.