Tomorrow’s History: Weekly Roundup (Austria Moves Right-wing – Unphotogenic: The ‘Not-Kate’ Effect)

Austria’s Far-right Party Loses Election, But Wins As A Movement

While Americans continue to be entranced by the ongoing boxing match between U.S. Presidential candidates, another election has just thrown a spotlight on political conditions across the Atlantic. Austria, which for many people is associated more with Edelweiss and Von Trapps than political innovation, has just given the rest of the world a rare opportunity to see a political future in advance.

Ironically, Austria has, in many ways, been right at the heart-beat of European politics, from the Holy Roman Empire on to the time of the First World War, and most definitely during the Second World War and the short-lived Nazi supremacy, it has often shared the fate of its neighbor, Germany.

In this case, jubilation has broken out across most of the European Union after Alexander Van der Bellen, a leftist and academic took the election for the Austrian Presidency. Interestingly, he won by a miniscule (only 31,000 votes) majority following the counting of absentee votes, a unique and curious circumstance that is likely only to feed the fires of the political opposition that barely lost (Bernd Riegert, “Opinion: Black Eye for Austria as Van der Bellen Wins Presidency,” Deutsche Welle at DW.com, May 23, 2016).

The opposition candidate, Norbert Hofer, is a right-wing politician who supports a nationalist, EU-skeptic state and opposes whole-sale entry of refugees from the Middle East. And while he may not be seated in government, the real news is that a right-wing party has gained enough momentum in Europe to take and nearly win a presidential election. And where Austria goes, Germany may follow, a well acknowledged relationship governs these two language-sharing states. The centrist Social Democrats of Austria lost the election in a big way (the same party with which German leader Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat [which is a political party, not just a statement of faith], has a ruling coalition), indicating Austria may have just become a harbinger of the political winds that are about to change in Germany.

The refugee crisis has served on the one hand, to highlight the precarious nature of the European Union and it’s fragile infrastructure of allied nations. On the other hand, it has shown that when large numbers of people (in the millions) begin to shift around the globe there will be wars. This has happened from the very ancient past onward. If a million people move from one place to another, and there is not enough room where they are going, they will bump others to the side and be perceived as a threat. That threat has been perceived in Europe, and the beginnings of a militant reaction are evident, even in this latest Austrian election.

It is well to remember the purported Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times.” I think it’s safe to say that interesting times have arrived!

The Awkward Ones: Being Unphotogenic In The Age Of Digital Cameras

And now, let’s go lighthearted for a change.

I recently read an amusing article by British journalist Sarah Vine. She commented on the unfortunate fashion choices of the Princesses of York, Beatrice and Eugenie, that clashed with the willowy grace of the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) at a recent garden party held at Buckingham Palace. Kate, in a beautiful cream suit flowed gracefully in the direction of adoring party-goers, whilst trailing behind were the York sisters, who with less statuesque height chose frocks that were somewhat unusual in shape (read: ill-fitting), and bold in print and color. In the framed image, they follow behind the Duchess looking as though they are glaring daggers at the back of her head. Sigh, such is life for the imperfectly photogenic.

In reality, in the image, the sisters were undoubtedly looking elsewhere (and do in fact possess their own brand of beauty), but in the “click-click” nature of digital photography that one frame caught what looked like both a fashion and a deportment faux-pas. The author of the article goes on to discuss the challenges of those who don’t look good on camera, or who always look slightly goofy, while others always seem to be perfectly composed. I can relate to the former! (Sarah Vine, “I Know Exactly How Beatrice and Eugenie Feel When They’re Photographed Next To Kate: I’ve Been There Too, Says Sarah Vine,” The Daily Mail at DailyMail.co.uk, May 25, 2016.)

But it brings up an interesting historical question (one the author also posits): What must it have been like before cameras were around? Back when the best you could hope for to perpetuate your physical appearance was a painting or sculpture? It’s a thought, isn’t it.

Imagine a time when animation of features, expression, and voice were valued over the angles of cheekbones and thinness of limbs. Imagine that strength of arm, determination of mind, aptitude of intellect, ability to cultivate and grow plants and animals, keep a clean, healthy, productive home, cook nutritious, delicious meals, and raise healthy, balanced children was the stuff of which virtue was made, and didn’t take a back-seat to some rarefied, hormone-driven vision of what feminine “beauty” is. Difficult isn’t it?

Let Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fame help us, when the subject of his contemplations are demanded of him by the hovering Miss Bingley, he replies, “…My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”

Fine eyes, no less! When was the last time I heard that?!

Difficult as it may be, I think we need to spend time in that past world, imagining it more often. I have nothing against the photogenic, beauty adds to our world, but we need to find a better balance! Beauty of virtue is a thing, too (for more info, please read the book of Proverbs, chapter 31 in the Bible). If we let it, history can remind us that there is more to this life than just surface value.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

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Getting the Story…the Whole Story

get-the-story-the-whole-story

Source: morguefile.com/eskodesign

HISTORY.   Or just, the news. When does the one become the other?

A hundred years ago the news was on the page of a newspaper, heard through the local telegrapher’s office, or announced at public meetings or church assemblies…or through gossip. Radio hadn’t quite arrived in 1916, and TV was a long way off, to say nothing of the Internet. So the news usually came at you…relatively slowly.

Is it slow anymore?   Hardly.

What do we owe our intelligence as consumers of this deluge of digital, video, audio or printed matter? We owe ourselves and we owe others the truth.

How do you get the truth from three minute video news stories. Twitter and Facebook posts of a handful of words? Instagram images that tell but one single thread of what ought to be a fully woven story?

TAKE YOUR TIME, QUERY YOUR SOURCES

FIND your way, slow the news down. Digest the story. Then consume another. Look at a story or news item as if with facets. Each side should be explored and there are usually even more than two posited sides of the story. Find those facets and analyze them by a standard of truth.

Find out the bias of the report you’ve just read or watched. Learn about the writer, the  news agency, what is their political interest, what is their national interest? Analyze the thread of logic. Seek wisdom, and if there is none, find out why.

Go to news sources outside your country, not because they are always right, but because as was wisely written…

“…in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14).

TRUTH

THERE is truth. You have to assume that somewhere, buried beneath the landslide of blather it exists. But to find it, you often have to put your own self interest aside. The greater good…what is it? The rule of law…what supports it? What precedents lead to good government? Good leadership?

And remember…after you find the truth, don’t let go of it.

History is made in the stacking up of events. News stories are made, in many cases, in the moment and for a moment’s notice.

Seek the long term. Find the history.

– Amanda Stiver

What Other Flags Fly in Support of Slavery?

IT’S A WEEK for heavy subjects, so let’s look at the recent flag removals from Southern state capitals…

Though the removal of the flag of the Confederate States of America (a long-dead representative republic based, economically and culturally, on the repugnant sin of human slavery) ought to have come many years ago, not just in reaction to a tragic massacre, but as a matter of course of the acknowledgement of the Union of the United States after the American Civil War; one cannot help but notice a certain hypocrisy among American politicians.

Readily and eagerly they hop on the bandwagon of publicity by taking down flags of a defunct republic (a noble thought, but not one that faces significant opposition), while at this very time, a mere 12 hour flight away, another self-proclaimed nation/terror state – the Islamic State, which is a theocracy, and does violence and murder to any under the rule of its flag, is also presently, culturally based on the human slave trade.

Why are these same voices in America so utterly silent? Why, if they truly wish to abolish the sin of human slavery, do they not declaim those who continue to indulge in its depravity around the world, in the Middle East, in Asia, and other places?

Keep thinking history.

– Amanda Stiver

Tragedy in Charleston…Division is Destructive

YOU KNOW, what strikes me with this latest tragic shooting in Charleston, is that while the US media has been preoccupied with the high profile psychological problems of two individuals (Bruce Jenner and Rachel Dolezal), we have been neglecting the core principles of what makes America great. It is our heritage of honor, dignity, respect, morality (hard fought for during a bloody Civil War), and, most importantly, fear of God and His Law, regardless of ethnicity, that has made and can make America great. Bluntly, our professional media is divisive and destructive. Respectful coverage of the lives of the individuals lost in this recent shooting will be neglected for political aims (as we lead up to a campaign year), and skewed for various agendas. Tragedy of loss of life, compounded by the tragedy of division.

As a student of history it is not impossible to understand that what happens when a society is riveted by its rifts and hatreds, its criminals, and its moral inadequacies. We can look to the debauchery of Rome as it slid into oblivion to see a case study for lost focus. America is great because it is full of regular folks, being regularly law abiding, and caring about their neighbors, regardless of ethnicity. Millions of immigrants from various backgrounds have come here to become “Americans.” Some came by force, some came by choice, but without that coalescing of identity into “American” – we will become stressed and fractured by division, hatred and violence. America is framed by a set of laws, a Constitution. Back in the day, a constitution was what we called our human frame, our bodies. If you don’t have a body of laws that frame our society, that protect the individual and define respect for same, we have nothing, we simply have to wait for the “strong men” who want a piece of the action to hack away through violence and intimidation so we can pay for the pleasure of not being killed. Am I being extreme? I think not…please refer to recent coverage of the Middle East and the rise of ISIS.

ABRAHAM Lincoln once quoted this simple statement, “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” If you want to quote Lincoln’s source, see the book of Mark, chapter 3, verse 25.

If we continue to feed on divisions, to disdain the beauty and mechanics of law abiding, and to neglect the value of life, our house, our nation will fail. If by chance, we can summon the courage, by the grace of God, to reject division and those that feed on it, to treasure the Divine intelligence of Law, and to respect life…we might, might have a chance. The choice is ours.

Value, and keep thinking history! For we are living tomorrow’s history today.

– Amanda Stiver

Ignorance Is Disaster: Why It Pays To Know History

“Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.” – variation of a quote by George Santayana

Those ignorant of this quote are doomed to hear it repeated also. I’ve heard history professionals praise and condemn this concept. Those who praise it (I am one) revel in its quality of just comeuppance. They like to think that their superior knowledge will avail them in the future when others are forced to replay some rather nasty bits of history. This is the ego in human nature, but that doesn’t make the quote untrue.

Those that condemn this idea of ignorance breeding repetition are either fans of experiential history where each generation must make its way on its own instincts, or they simply don’t want to face the fact that this particular quote is true, painfully true. Ignorance is only bliss for a while.

The truth is that the ones who are ignorant of history usually trump the ones that have studied it in that so many people are ignorant of history in general – the odds are in their favor. Bad ideas have a greater chance of being replayed because of this. Each succeeding generation, ignorant of the pain and suffering an idea or course of action caused those who came before, get a flash of brilliance and think, hey, this might work after all – let’s try it again.

Socialist hiccups

Communism is like this. Even among historically educated people, often in academic circles, is a day-dream like coma to the realities of applied Communism in history, past and present. Life in the Soviet union was terrible, especially if you got on the wrong side of the firing squad. Life in communist Cambodia was horrible, especially if you lived long enough. Castro’s Communist Cuba is not a land of a thousand delights. Communism and it’s relatives, Socialism, dictatorship, and Fascism have led to the most wholesale genocide in virtually the entirety of history. It is insanity to think it will work again (and yet, people want to try)!

A connoisseur of irony, my favorite response from academic types trying to make excuses for violent Communist excess was, “Well, it wasn’t Communism that was the problem, it was the Russians/Slavs/Cambodians/Cubans/Vietnamese/Koreans/Chinese, etc… that messed it up. Now, if we would try it, it would be different!” If you keep trying the same thing and expect a different result each time, is that not the definition of insanity?

My plea to you – pick up a book and learn about history – the true kind. Don’t be one of the many who are fooled into thinking that a bad idea (any bad idea not just Communism) the first time, might become a good idea if we simply try it again!

– Amanda Stiver

Praising John Adams

The U.S. had its fair share of kingmakers and quasi-aristocrats in its early years, but the venerable John Adams seems not to have been among them. That didn’t stop his opponents from labeling the force behind the Declaration of Independence a royalist!

From a farm in Braintree, Massachusetts and working as a lawyer in Boston and environs, Adams stood up for what was right and faced down those with whom he disagreed, most vociferously at times and sometimes to the annoyance of others – many others.

However, an aristocrat he was not and seemed not to have been riddled by the double standards that plagued Jefferson and others. He is fast becoming one of my favorite patriots of the revolutionary period.

I draw these conclusions from the masterful biography, John Adams, written by David McCullough. I know that it doesn’t do to rely only on one book to try to understand an historical figure, but I was struck by the fairness of McCullough’s approach to Adams, his friends, and his enemies.

The author treats his subjects as men with all their flaws, but doesn’t deny that they were extraordinary men in extraordinary times. Especially touching is the skillful way he weaves in the relationship between John and Abigail Adams and that of their extended family. Their vast letter writing capacity despite years and years of separation proves that a happy marriage isn’t based solely on the physical, but requires a strong intellectual attraction as well.

I strongly recommend this book as a basic primer on Adams. McCullough’s very approachable style of writing turns a somewhat lengthy book into a compelling page-turner. If you are trying to sink your teeth into history, this is a good place to start. I will admit that it slows as the narrative follows Adams life to its close, but perhaps that is because the 1770’s in America were so packed with action that the 1820’s seem placid in comparison.

For the interested historian John Adams is a fabulous resource of excerpts from letters and written works by Adams and others. A good author knows how and when to use a source directly rather than a paraphrase and this book is proof of that. Hearing the subject in his own words helps us draw a better picture of the man, more so because Adams was a straightforward individual (agree with him or not) and free of rank political duplicity.

Great book, great man, great marriage – great history.

– Amanda Stiver

America: A Vision for the Present

Lately I’ve been reading David McCullough’s John Adams, upon which the recent HBO series was based. Although I won’t write a review yet (I haven’t quite finished it), some interesting observations can be drawn from this era of history.

As I read the comments in letters and writings of individuals like John Adams, Abigail Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Rush and others, I found myself reading sentiments of modern proportions.

Devaluation of money, excessive national debt, wartime alliances, and visions of America for centuries to come and not just as a mere 13 British colonies. After the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, men and women worried about America’s acceptance with the British, if we were to be continually their enemy or treat for total peace and recognition. Whether America would be a collection of very loosely confederated, nearly autonomous states, a pure, overwhelming national state with a central government, or united in balance under state and federal establishments.

Policies and Politics

Mud was slung between politicians and between factions. Republicans (at that early stage) stood for continuous revolutions and applauded the bloody, messy French Revolution, while Federalists looked to a strongly central government.

These positions would switch back and forth between liberal and conservative parties through the centuries. Today a less empowered federal government is the aim of conservatives while liberals yearn for a highly centralized, intensively regulated state.

Adams worried about America’s future with dire forebodings about the continual practice of slavery. Constant was his worry about how the new nation would be received in Europe and if it would or should get involved in the wars of that continent.

Past and Present

This is how history affects us. The same worries tie us to an era whose daily life is so very different from our own. The industrial revolution had not yet begun in earnest and everyday life was much as it had been for thousands of years.

You traveled by horse, your house was unplumbed, electricity was a gleam in Benjamin Franklin’s eye, and cooking was done over an open wood fire!

And yet, the human yearning for liberty is not sequestered by physical environment. Despite the differences of our dress, manner, speech, and abode, we all still cling to the hope of freedom – to live a free and virtuous life full of opportunity.

For more on this, please read The Declaration of Independence.

– Amanda Stiver