The end of the Hapsburg dynasty

The line that gave us most of the Holy Roman Emperors–including Charles V, before whom Luther confessed his faith at the Diet of Worms, who was presented the Augsburg Confession, and who battled the Reformation with the sword–is now extinct.

The eldest son of the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire has died in Germany at the age of 98.

Otto von Habsburg was born in 1912, as the heir to the empire, but it collapsed at the end of World War I and the Habsburg family went into exile.

After World War II, Mr Habsburg became a champion of European unity during its Cold War division.

He served as a member of the European parliament for two decades. He is to be buried in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

Mr Habsburg only officially relinquished his claim to inherit the empire in 1961 and five years later was allowed to return to Austria for the first time since the family fled in 1919.

via BBC News – Habsburg: Last heir to Austro-Hungarian empire dies.

The Hapsburgs, or Habsburgs, ruled the Holy Roman Empire, including through the bloody attempt to exterminate Protestantism in the Thirty Years War, until Napoleon ended that institution.  After that, they reigned in the much-reduced empire of Austr0-Hungary, which did not survive World War I.  But now that long historic family line is ended.  But its historic nemesis, Lutherans, are still in existence.

CLARIFICATION:  As commenters have pointed out, there are still Hapsburg descendents.  But now that the Austro-Hungarian empire is gone, to which Otto had a claim, there is no longer a claimant to the hereditary throne.

Reagan veneration in Eastern Europe

In the context of a rather snarky column on congressional junkets, we learn that the ex-Communist countries of eastern Europe are putting on big celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, something we didn’t really do in the United States:

Yes, we’re told that the codel [congressional delegation], led by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), after a stop to mingle with the troops in Germany, was on hand Monday in Krakow, Poland, to kick off a week of celebrations across Europe to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan. (The birthday was Feb. 6, but . . . it’s a big event.)

Krakow was home to Pope John Paul II for four decades. The events there celebrated the special relationship between Reagan and the pope in the fight against the Soviets.

The traveling party’s next stop was Budapest, where it arrived Tuesday to join the Hungarian parliament’s commemorative session for Reagan. Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was on hand to speak.

A Reagan statue is to be unveiled Wednesday in Freedom Square, where the Soviets left a monument to remind the Hungarians that the Russians saved them from the Nazis. Reagan is staring down that monument, we’re told, looking through it to the U.S. Embassy. The Hungarians are putting on a gala dinner.

via European birthday bashes for Reagan – The Washington Post.

Public vs. Private tourist spots

My wife had a meeting in Lynchburg, Virginia, last week, so I tagged along.  While she was busy, I explored.  I went to Appomattox Court House to see where the Civil War ended.  (Did you know that Appomattox Court House is not the name of the building where Lee and Grant met to sign the terms of surrender?  Rather, Appomattox Court House is the name of the TOWN.  Not to be confused with Appomattox, Virginia, which is nearby.   Appomattox Court House was a little town that doesn’t exist any more, but the National Park Service has rebuilt part of it, restoring about half of the original buildings.  You can go to the Court House, but it’s now the Visitors’ Center.  The site of the surrender is the McLean House, which was owned by a prominent local merchant.   Most of the population had fled the war, but Grant’s adjutant, looking for a place to hold the meeting, did not want to break into someone’s home without permission.  Fortunately, Mr. McClean was still around and offered his home.   The site today is very moving, portrayed as the place where the nation came together again.  The film and exhibits put a lot of emphasis on how Grant and his army honored Lee and the defeated Confederates, refusing to vaunt over them and how both armies put on elaborate rituals of mutual respect.

Then I went to Red Hill, which was Patrick Henry’s home.  He had a nice spread, on the top of a beautiful hill, but his house was tiny, just a simple square whitewashed dwelling, far different from the palatial Mt. Vernon of George Washington and the sophisticated Monticello of Thomas Jefferson.  The obligatory movie had some fascinating clips of Henry’s speeches.  He really could turn a phrase, and his eloquence is moving even today.  Red Hill is run by a privately endowed foundation.  It is quite nice and well-preserved, out in the middle of nowhere, and I was the only visitor at the time.

Later, on our way back home, we stopped at Natural Bridge, a huge stone archway some 200 feet tall.  Perhaps Virginia’s oldest tourist attraction, George Washington as a young surveyor supposedly carved “G.W.” in the stone, initials that go way back and that are currently marked with a white rectangle.  Then we drove home by way of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which turned into Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park, 105 miles of a 35 mph speedlimit, winding roads of sublime vistas.

Here is my topic for discussion:  Conservatives generally prefer privatization to the government running things.  But when it comes to National Parks and other National Monuments (such as Appomattox Court House and Shenandoah National Park), they tend to be better presented than commercially-run attractions.   The Natural Bridge was magnificent, but you had to go through a souvenir shop to get to the path through the woods, and it was accompanied by a wax museum, an Indian village, a toy museum, a butterfly exhibit, and a hotel.   Don’t get me wrong:  the attraction is worth going to, with well-kept paths and helpful staff.  But there sure was a lot of commercialism.  The National Park service, in contrast, made everything accessible, but it was also kept relatively pristine, with a helpful ranger to tell you all about it.  I suppose the Patrick Henry site shows another option:  It is private but not commercial, with the foundation being devoted to preservation rather than turning a profit, so it doesn’t matter that much whether anyone comes to see it or not.  Still, could we agree that certain historical and natural sites are best thought of as public goods, like roads and the military, and so the legitimate business of the federal government?  Or do you think the principle of private ownership should extend even to what are now national parks and monuments, with the inevitable commercialization simply the price we have to pay?

Athenians vs. Visigoths

Thanks to Joe Carter for posting this commencement address (which he never gave) by the late media scholar Neil Postman. Read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts that set forth the basic paradigm:

I want to tell you about two groups of people who lived many years ago but whose influence is still with us. They were very different from each other, representing opposite values and traditions. I think it is appropriate for you to be reminded of them on this day because, sooner than you know, you must align yourself with the spirit of one or the spirit of the other.

The first group lived about 2,500 years ago in the place which we now call Greece, in a city they called Athens. We do not know as much about their origins as we would like. But we do know a great deal about their accomplishments. They were, for example, the first people to develop a complete alphabet, and therefore they became the first truly literate population on earth. They invented the idea of political democracy, which they practiced with a vigor that puts us to shame. They invented what we call philosophy. And they also invented what we call logic and rhetoric. They came very close to inventing what we call science, and one of them—Democritus by name—conceived of the atomic theory of matter 2,300 years before it occurred to any modern scientist. They composed and sang epic poems of unsurpassed beauty and insight. And they wrote and performed plays that, almost three millennia later, still have the power to make audiences laugh and weep. They even invented what, today, we call the Olympics, and among their values none stood higher than that in all things one should strive for excellence. They believed in reason. They believed in beauty. They believed in moderation. And they invented the word and the idea which we know today as ecology. . . .

The second group of people lived in the place we now call Germany, and flourished about 1,700 years ago. We call them the Visigoths, and you may remember that your sixth or seventh-grade teacher mentioned them. They were spectacularly good horsemen, which is about the only pleasant thing history can say of them. They were marauders—ruthless and brutal. Their language lacked subtlety and depth. Their art was crude and even grotesque. They swept down through Europe destroying everything in their path, and they overran the Roman Empire. There was nothing a Visigoth liked better than to burn a book, desecrate a building, or smash a work of art. From the Visigoths, we have no poetry, no theater, no logic, no science, no humane politics. . . .

Now, the point I want to make is that the Athenians and the Visigoths still survive, and they do so through us and the ways in which we conduct our lives. All around us—in this hall, in this community, in our city—there are people whose way of looking at the world reflects the way of the Athenians, and there are people whose way is the way of the Visigoths. I do not mean, of course, that our modern-day Athenians roam abstractedly through the streets reciting poetry and philosophy, or that the modern-day Visigoths are killers. I mean that to be an Athenian or a Visigoth is to organize your life around a set of values. An Athenian is an idea. And a Visigoth is an idea. Let me tell you briefly what these ideas consist of.

To be an Athenian is to hold knowledge and, especially the quest for knowledge in high esteem. To contemplate, to reason, to experiment, to question—these are, to an Athenian, the most exalted activities a person can perform. To a Visigoth, the quest for knowledge is useless unless it can help you to earn money or to gain power over other people.

To be an Athenian is to cherish language because you believe it to be humankind’s most precious gift. In their use of language, Athenians strive for grace, precision, and variety. And they admire those who can achieve such skill. To a Visigoth, one word is as good as another, one sentence in distinguishable from another. A Visigoth’s language aspires to nothing higher than the cliche.

To be an Athenian is to understand that the thread which holds civilized society together is thin and vulnerable; therefore, Athenians place great value on tradition, social restraint, and continuity. To an Athenian, bad manners are acts of violence against the social order. The modern Visigoth cares very little about any of this. The Visigoths think of themselves as the center of the universe. Tradition exists for their own convenience, good manners are an affectation and a burden, and history is merely what is in yesterday’s newspaper.

To be an Athenian is to take an interest in public affairs and the improvement of public behavior. Indeed, the ancient Athenians had a word for people who did not. The word was idiotes, from which we get our word “idiot.” A modern Visigoth is interested only in his own affairs and has no sense of the meaning of community.

And, finally, to be an Athenian is to esteem the discipline, skill, and taste that are required to produce enduring art. Therefore, in approaching a work of art, Athenians prepare their imagination through learning and experience. To a Visigoth, there is no measure of artistic excellence except popularity. What catches the fancy of the multitude is good. No other standard is respected or even acknowledged by the Visigoth.

Now, it must be obvious what all of this has to do with you. Eventually, like the rest of us, you must be on one side or the other. You must be an Athenian or a Visigoth. Of course, it is much harder to be an Athenian, for you must learn how to be one, you must work at being one, whereas we are all, in a way, natural-born Visigoths. That is why there are so many more Visigoths than Athenians. And I must tell you that you do not become an Athenian merely by attending school or accumulating academic degrees. My father-in-law was one of the most committed Athenians I have ever known, and he spent his entire adult life working as a dress cutter on Seventh Avenue in New York City. On the other hand, I know physicians, lawyers, and engineers who are Visigoths of unmistakable persuasion. And I must also tell you, as much in sorrow as in shame, that at some of our great universities, perhaps even this one, there are professors of whom we may fairly say they are closet Visigoths. And yet, you must not doubt for a moment that a school, after all, is essentially an Athenian idea. There is a direct link between the cultural achievements of Athens and what the faculty at this university is all about. I have no difficulty imagining that Plato, Aristotle, or Democritus would be quite at home in our class rooms. A Visigoth would merely scrawl obscenities on the wall.

Obama wants Israel to go back to 1967 borders

President Obama’s peace plan for the Middle East calls for Israel to go back to its borders before the 1967 war.  In that war, the Arab states attacked Israel from all sides but were route.  Israel seized the rest of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and other regions–originally all the way to the border with Egypt, though much of that land has been given back.  But Israel has retained a buffer for its own security.

So are the Arab states less hostile to Israel now than they were in 1967?

 

Netanyahu, Obama and 1967 borders: Reactions to the speech – BlogPost – The Washington Post.

Color photos of the Depression

Go here for a treasure trove of rare color photos of Depression-era America: Rare Library of Congress colour photographs of the Great Depression | Mail Online.

They are of astonishing vividness.  These here folks are my people:


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