Friday, January 15, 2016

On Why the Cold War Never Ended

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

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.