The Game: Weekly Varia 11/26/22

The Game kicks off in Columbus in about an hour. For those who don’t follow college football, The Game is the annual showdown between the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Michigan leads the all-time series 59-51-6, but the rivalry has been lopsided in the other direction for the better part of two decades. Going into The Game last year, Ohio State had only lost twice since 2001 when Jim Tressel took over as coach. Ohio State was rarely ranked outside of the top ten in the sport when the teams met during that period. Michigan put up a fight in a lot of years, but, outside of an excellent Michigan team in 2003 and an anomalous Ohio State year in 2011 between the end of Tressel and the start of Urban Meyer’s tenure, Michigan could not seem to win and often lost in heartbreaking fashion. Last year I left the TV off and played Civilization VI until a friend texted me in the fourth quarter telling me that I probably needed to tune in.

Sports fandom, and sports hatred in particular, are strange, tribal phenomena. I have hated many teams in my life, sometimes as specific iterations of a team and sometimes simply for the laundry. Sometimes I hate how a team or player plays their sport. Other times it is because my team can’t seem to ever win. However, I increasingly find myself without the emotional energy for hatred. I still don’t like teams and root for the teams that I’m a fan of, but full-on hatred both takes more energy and is best curated in groups. When it comes to a game like this one, where my fandom collides with the deep, simmering dislike of the other team, though, all bets are off.

I went back and forth a half dozen times this week on whether to tape The Game or watch it live this year. Ohio State is ranked #2 in college football, while Michigan is #3. Both teams are undefeated and the winner will likely end up with a bid to the college football playoff while the loser will “only” play in the Rose Bowl. The lure of live sports is proving too strong to resist, so I’ll be tuning in while also preparing myself for what I think will be a likely Michigan defeat. Go Blue.

This week’s varia:

  • A new study claims to have authenticated a coin found in 1713 long considered a possible forgery because it names an otherwise unknown Emperor Sponsian (the research is available on PlosOne). The researchers suggest it dates to c.260 CE when Dacia might have been cut off from the rest of the Roman Empire and thus minted coins under the name of a local military commander. There are, of course, skeptics. Numismatists, specialists in ancient coins, are suggesting that this study fails to account for numerous tenets of the discipline in their haste to scientifically authenticate the coin. To my mind, this study is a useful reminder about the fragmentary nature of evidence from the ancient world.
  • Graham Hancock’s show Ancient Apocalypse on Netflix is a “documentary” that offers “evidence” of a an advanced ice-age civilization was wiped out by a flood sometime in the dim past. This is pseudoarchaeology with racist bones (it denies the achievements of indigenous communities), so, of course, it is one of the most popular shows on Netflix. The Guardian calls it “the most dangerous show on Netflix,” while Bill Caraher has a more nuanced piece about the impossibility of debunk ing this sort of conspiracy theory and some suggesting for how to productively counteract their influence.
  • Corey Booker is introducing the Industrial Agriculture Accountability Act (Vox), which proposes to reform how the meat industry handles disaster. The bill includes requiring the industry to pay annual fees that would work as insurance in cases of disaster, mandating disaster preparedness plans, and putting companies on the hook for costs like cleaning up the after disasters and paying workers severance afterward. It also would ban the most inhumane culling methods and close some loopholes in American slaughter rules. I have disagreed with a number of Booker’s positions over the past few years, but his consistency in attempting to change one of the American industries most in need of reform is admirable.
  • Investigators are leveling accusations that some Russian military commanders encouraged their soldiers to commit sexual violence in Ukraine (Reuters). This investigation is part of the broader inquiry into Russian war crimes and, while it is too early to say how widespread the practice was, the implication that this violence was in some instances coordinated makes it all the more harrowing.
  • In the Washington Post’s “Made by History” column, Lauren Lassabe Shepherd explores how Ron DeSantis is the latest in a lineage of conservative political actors to make schools their chosen battleground to instill their vision of “America.” The hook here is that Florida recently became the fifth state to make students recognize a federal holiday that I missed when President Trump established it in 2017: Victims of Communism Memorial Day. Lassabe Shepherd is the author of a forthcoming book, Resistance from the Right: Conservatives and the Campus Wars.
  • John Warner, the author of Why They Can’t Write, remains my favorite commentator about the state of higher education. In his column at Inside Higher Education this week, he writes about why nostalgia is such a dangerous sentiment for colleges.
  • Rebecca Jennings at Vox argues that we should stop taking billionaires at their word when they say that they are “doing good” in the world. This argument is hardly new (cf. Winners Take All) and matches what I already believe, but American society remains easily seduced by a class of people who confidently assert vague platitudes while proudly refusing to engage with history or the humanities. But they’re rich, so they must know what they’re talking about, right?
  • In the realm of the silly, the New York Times Pitchbot is consistently the best satirist on Twitter: “This morning while we were listening to The Daily, my four year-old turned to me gravely and asked “Daddy, why are there no pictures of Naomi Biden’s wedding in the Times?” When I told him “because Vogue got an exclusive”, he started crying.”

Album of the week: Gin Blossoms, New Miserable Experience (Deluxe Edition).

Currently reading: Susanna Carlsson, Hellenistic Democracies; Becky Chambers, A Psalm for the Wild-Built.

How Austria almost won the Great War

And it had nothing to do with the battlefield. For all of its longevity and prestige, the Hapsburg Monarchy was not usually associated with military strength. They were badly walloped by Napoleon and any number of other Europeans, were saved by Poles and the weather when Suleiman came knocking, but when the Ottoman Empire was in decline and Napoleon long defeated, the Hapsburg Empire remained. Gone were the days of their global empire, ruled from Spain and gone was the German Empire ruled from Austria, yet at the dawn of the 20th century the Hapsburg Dynasty under Franz Joseph was creating a new empire; one of nations.

As the Ottoman Empire regressed the Austrian (from here on out, I refer to Austria to represent the Hapsburg Empire, the Emperor of Austria being one of numerous royal titles held) one advanced, except where met by newly freed Orthodox Christian states such as Serbia and Greece. It was in this theatre where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the military overseer of the Balkans was assassinated by a political activist who wished to remove the Austrian military presence. As the story goes, this single act, and one that was not at all unusual for the day, brought about World War One.

Now prior to the war and during it, Franz Joseph and his successor, Emperor Karl attempted a truly amazing thing: to harness the powers of nationalism for the betterment of the Hapsburg Empire. In part it was attempted because of the disparate population in the Empire already, so instead of conquering new peoples, it was bringing the brethren of current subjects into the fold. Austria fared poorly at first (supposedly 82% of the pre-war army of 1 million men were casualties by three months in), but the tide turned and by 1918 Austria possessed Northern Italy, half of Ukraine, Poland and Serbia and wanted peace.

Yet the two objectives were actually Poland and Ukraine, to be annexed by Archduke Stefan and his son Wilhelm respectively. The plan was thus: allow these men and any family they had to ingratiate themselves with their respective country, using flattery, privileges to the minority in Austria, natural linguistic skill (Wilhelm spoke English, French, Ukrainian, German, Italian and Polish all with near fluency), and absolute adoption of the country’s cause to actually become a member of that society. From there they could use their Hapsburg lineage to become national monarchs or at least the regent of the territory for the Hapsburg Monarch.

In reality these would be little more than provinces, but they would be self-governing provinces ruled in their best interest by a direct representative of the Hapsburg Emperor.

At first this seems ludicrous, something akin to showing up, saying you are king and having everyone acquiesce. Then comes the realization that it almost worked. The Hapsburgs offered national unity within a united Eastern Europe (more or less). Stefan and most of his family fervently adopted the cause of Poland, while Wilhelm was unequivocally pro-Ukrainian. Further, both ethnic groups were already in the Hapsburg fold, and so it was merely unifying the groups.

All of this was not enough for Woodrow Wilson, who wanted true independence, and certainly this pleased neither France, Britain, Tsarist Russia, nor Bolshevik Russia, but with Russia driven back and torn within, had Austria persuaded Germany to end the war about the time the Americans joined–and before the Serbs and Italians could regroup, then they would have come out on top. There is a real possibility that both Poland and Ukraine would have become Austrian provinces, while Germany was defeated, but not destroyed (perhaps thwarting the Nazi movement) and the Kaiser may have not abdicated and the status quo remained in Western Europe. Who knows what would have happened with the Great Depression lurking around the corner, but if Austria could have repainted themselves as ending the bloodshed, then it would have doubled in size and changed the face of Europe as we know it.

It didn’t work, but it was damn clever.