Friday, December 15, 2017

On Thomas Nast's Political Cartoons

On Thomas Nast's Political Cartoons: In mid-19th-century America, when literacy rates of the general public were not particularly high, Nast's abilities as a cartoonist had a powerful effect on people. One of his first jobs after art school (as a teenager) was to illustrate news stories for a popular magazine (Harper's Weekly). It was clear at an early age that Nast had a knack for drawing. But when a friend encouraged him to caricature evil-doers (especially in the world of politics), it pushed Nast to create the modern political cartoon. And while residing in New York City during the age of Boss Tweed and corruption at Tammany Hall, he incessantly lampooned politicians for their unjust ways (embezzlement). It's stated that between the 1860s and 1880s, Nast's political cartoons even had a profound impact on presidential elections. Perhaps the two most lasting images of Nast were the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant, which became the symbols for each political party.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

On Dorothea Dix and Mental Asylums

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On the French and Indian War

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

On the Prospects of Digital Currency

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

On McMansions and Suburban Sprawl

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

On Parochial Education

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

On the Gombe Chimpanzee War

On the Gombe Chimpanzee War: In the mid-1970s, an outbreak of war-like violence between two distinct communities (or groups) of chimpanzees occurred in the Gombe Stream National Park (GSNP). Located in Western Tanzania, along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, the GSNP covers only 20 square miles. Despite being the smallest national park in Tanzania, it's perhaps the most famous because of Jane Goodall's research efforts there. In total, she spent over 30 years conducting observations of chimp behavior in the GSNP. When Goodall's memoir emerged in 1990, it depicted the Gombe Chimpanzee War from a firsthand perspective. Critics of Goodall pounced on her insistence that the Gombe chimps actually had a "war." In fact, many of these critics believed she was anthropomorphizing the chimps to an extreme degree. How could chimpanzees have a human-like war? Did they use guns, planes, and tanks? No, but they did have sticks, fists, and rocks. Plus, many chimps were even known to use rape as a weapon of intimidation.

Monday, May 15, 2017

On Casino Design and Compulsive Gambling

On Casino Design and Compulsive Gambling: There's a unified purpose behind the lack of wall clocks and windows at casinos: confusion. That unique purpose only gets extended when you factor in the wacky carpets, hard-to-find bathrooms, and free drinks. What casino designers hope to achieve is a genuine lack of awareness among gamblers to the point where all they focus on is gambling.  In effect, neither time nor basic human functions should matter when it comes to betting money. Yet if you do manage to find the bathrooms, casinos usually maintain top-notch facilities. Needless to say, compulsive gambling becomes a distinct psychological problem when considering the numerous factors working against the gambler. But aside from all of the casino's purposeful distractions, compulsive gamblers often go to extreme lengths just to recoup any kind of losses. Unfortunately, it tends to morph into a downward spiral that never ends well.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

On the Samaritan Woman at the Well

On the Samaritan Woman at the Well: Not too many people today, at least in the First World, obtain their water from a well or a cistern. Two-thousand years ago, however, it was quite common. For the most part, people would go to the well at either sunrise or sunset. Yet in this Gospel of John story, Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well around noon. This peculiar fact indicates that she may not have been a highly respected individual in Samaria. What's more is that she's said to have had five husbands. Perhaps it's this reason alone why the Samaritan woman has been shunned by the local community. Whatever the case may be, the idea that Jesus (a Jewish man) sought out this Samaritan woman for a spiritual conversation (involving water as a metaphor for eternal life) shows how diplomatic He could be. And diplomacy was always important between Judea and Samaria, especially since the Jews and Samaritans tended to view each other with disdain.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

On the Prospects of Cancer Immunotherapy

On the Prospects of Cancer Immunotherapy: Essentially, immunotherapy entails the use of a person's immune system in treating cancer. There are both active and passive forms of immunotherapy. Active immunotherapies mostly involve the extraction of immune cells from a patient's blood (or tumor) to be genetically modified, incubated, and returned to the patient with the intention of targeting a specific cancer. Unfortunately, many active immunotherapies are still in varying phases of development at a number biopharmaceutical companies around the world. In fact, one of the only FDA-approved active immunotherapies is a drug called Provenge, which targets prostate cancer. Regarding passive immunotherapies, however, the use of monoclonal antibodies (or MABs) are the main focus. And they are largely designed to supplement the body's response to the active immunotherapies.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On the Origins of Black History Month

On the Origins of Black History Month: Dating back to the 1920s, Black History Month originally began as "Negro History Week." Carter G. Woodson, a black historian who was only the 2nd African American to graduate with a Ph.D. from Harvard (after W. E. B. Du Bois), first proposed the idea to coincide with the birthdays of President Lincoln (February 12th) and Frederick Douglass (February 14th). And because Douglass was one of the first African Americans to visit the White House (with Lincoln in 1862), the concept of "Negro History Week" made a great deal of socio-cultural sense. Although "Negro History Week" did not officially become Black History Month until the 1970s, its primary purpose remained the same. And that was to teach history through biography. In other words, school children (of all backgrounds) ought to be made aware of the special contributions that black Americans have made to U.S. History.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

On Microaggression Theory

On Microagression Theory: Perhaps this psychological theory amounts to nothing more than self-victimization, or perhaps it reveals some deeper truths about the basic super-culture that drives modern, Western capitalism. Originating in the 1970s, which was a decade that saw the Post-WWII block of American hegemony start to fracture (think Vietnam), it's a theory that ultimately gave rise to major sociopolitical concepts of the 1980s like "political correctness" and "identity politics." Nevertheless, microagressions can assume a wide variety of forms, as they encapsulate everything from casual comments about race, class, age, ability, or sex/gender to unconscious actions indicating a fear of "otherness." Examples of microagressions, which are similar to stereotypes, may include something like "what's up with your accent?" or "why are Asians so good at math?" These statements can be collectively considered indications of a dominant culture acting against perceived threats to its power. Yet like any theory involving power relations, if taken too far, pointing out microagressions can begin to limit free speech.