DART Mission, Successful Planetary Defense Test; What’s Next

NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab's DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) poster. (2021)

News services dialed their headlines back a bit Tuesday. But Monday’s planetary defense test was a big deal, no matter how much of a nudge it gave Dimorphos.

NASA successfully redirects asteroid NASA successfully crashes into asteroid
Natasha Zouves, Devan Markham, Kelsey Kernstine; (NewsNation)/KTLA 5 News (September 26, 2022 September 27, 2022)

“NASA successfully completed its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) on Monday, launching a spacecraft into an asteroid.

“The goal: To change the path of the asteroid, diverting it away from Earth.

“Don’t fret. There was no real threat here on Earth.

“The collision happened 7 million miles away from our planet, and the technology could someday be used to save humanity in an ‘Armageddon’ situation, according to NASA….”

Studio Foglio's Mr. Squibbs, used w/o permission.And I haven’t seen headlines of the ‘Reckless Government Experiment Endangers Humanity as Scientists Gloat’ or ‘Big Tech Targets Asteroid! Are You Next?’ variety.

Maybe my news feed isn’t inclusive enough. Or maybe “tampering with things man was not supposed to know” lost its popular panache, somewhere between the decline of disco and the rise of rave. More to the point, history happened on Monday, September 26, 2022.1

NASA’s DART Mission Hits Asteroid in First-Ever Planetary Defense Test
Josh Handal, NASA; Justyna Surowiec / Michael Buckley, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory; Press release (September 26, 2022; Updated September 27, 2022)

“After 10 months flying in space, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – the world’s first planetary defense technology demonstration – successfully impacted its asteroid target on Monday, the agency’s first attempt to move an asteroid in space.

“Mission control at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, announced the successful impact at 7:14 p.m. EDT.

“As a part of NASA’s overall planetary defense strategy, DART’s impact with the asteroid Dimorphos demonstrates a viable mitigation technique for protecting the planet from an Earth-bound asteroid or comet, if one were discovered.

“‘At its core, DART represents an unprecedented success for planetary defense, but it is also a mission of unity with a real benefit for all humanity,’ said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. ‘As NASA studies the cosmos and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this international collaboration turned science fiction into science fact, demonstrating one way to protect Earth.’…”
[emphasis mine]

By any reasonable standard, this is a big deal. Although I still cringe when I read “unprecedented” in a press release. And that’s another topic.

How much of a big deal? That’s something we’ll learn over the next several months.

DART, Double Asteroid Redirection Test: On Target

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory LLC's infographic: 'Spacecraft Orbit Diagram.'

Crashing into an astronomical body isn’t new.

Images sent back by DART’s camera as it flew into Dimorphos reminded me of the 1960s Ranger program: when, finally, Ranger 7 got off the pad, hit the moon and sent back pictures.

Hitting our 2,000-mile-wide moon with a five-foot-wide by 12-foot-tall spacecraft wasn’t going to change the moon’s orbit.

But this time, since Dimorphos is only a little over 500 feet across, and DART was moving very fast, scientists figure they’ve changed its orbit around Didymos.

Granted, DART only weighed 1,340 pounds, 610 kilograms — it’s a little larger than a vending machine — so it won’t have affected the orbit by much.

But astronomers have been keeping close track of the Didymos-Dimorphos pair for months. They’re reasonably sure they’ll get good numbers for how much the orbit has changed.

Dimorphos orbits Didymos about once every 12 hours. Astronomers will want observed times for many orbits, since the change may be barely measurable. We almost certainly won’t get results for a few months. They’ll want lots of timed orbits.2

And here’s a NASA news conference video, starting at 31:00/32:05, when they showed DART’s approach with a time lapse compiled from the probe’s camera.

(“NASA’s DART Mission Post-Asteroid-Impact News Briefing,” NASA (Sept. 26, 2022)

“No Real Threat”? “Potentially Hazardous Object”??

Sci-fi movie poster collage; including 'Plan 9 from Outer Space,' 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,' 'The Thing.'NASA and mainstream news coverage of the DART mission kept saying that there’s “no real threat” of this turning into something from the first reel of an old-school mad scientist film.

If editors editors had felt the urge, we might have seen far more colorful coverage.

Think “The Green Slime” meets “When Worlds Collide,” with a dash of “The Andromeda Strain.”

But, again, I haven’t seen scary ‘asteroid of doom’ headlines. I see this as good news.

On the other hand, Didymos-Dimorphos is a PHO, a potentially hazardous object and a NEO, near-Earth object. So I’m a little surprised that nobody’s sounding the alarm over NASA’s plot to destroy us all.

Not that I’ve noticed, that is; and I said surprised, not disappointed.

At any rate, Didymos-Dimprphos is a PHO because the asteroid pair’s orbit brings it almost as close to the sun as Earth: 1.0131 astronomical units.

Running a vending-machine-size robot into the pint-size portion of the pair won’t send it hurtling toward Earth.

But given time, gravitational interaction with the other 10,484 known Apollo asteroids might change the pair’s orbit so that they cross Earth’s orbit when Earth’s in that spot.

Then there are the ten thousand or so other Near-Earth objects we’ve spotted, plus everything else in the Solar System. Even if Didymos-Dimprphos never hits Earth, something else will.

Either Didymos, or Dimorphos, or both, falling out of our sky could be unpleasant. That’s why NASA, ESA and others have been planning missions like DART. I’ll get back to that.

When NASA and JPL went looking for DART target, their choices narrowed down to one.

The target had to get close enough to Earth, so that astronomers can measure its orbital period before and after impact. And still be far enough away so that the pair’s no more a threat than any other Apollo asteroid.3

Remembering Chelyabinsk, 2013, Tunguska, 1908: Asteroid Air Bursts

Doug Ellison and NASA's composite image of asteroid Dimorphos, taken by NASA's DART spacecraft shortly before impact. (September 26, 2022)
(From Doug Ellison/NASA, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Asteroid Dimorphos, as seen by DART , shortly before impact. (September 26, 2022))

Aleksandr Ivanov's photo of the Chelyabinsk meteor's fireball, frame from a dashcam video. (February 15, 2003)Sooner or later, the Didymos-Dimorphos pair might run into Earth. How bad would that actually be?

Again, Dimorphos is a little over 500 feet across. Didymos is considerably larger: 2,625 feet, roughly a quarter-mile across.

Dimorphos is almost certainly a ‘rubble pile’ — bits and pieces of rock held together (loosely) by the pile’s (slight) gravity.

Didymos may be a rubble pile, too, which might account for its equatorial ridge. Then again, maybe it isn’t. I haven’t found anything definite on the point.

Now, let’s compare that pair to an asteroid that did run into Earth.

The object that lit up the sky over Chelyabinsk back in 2013 was about 56 feet across.

Reuters' photo: building damaged by shock wave from Chelyabinsk meteor. (2013)When its kinetic energy turned into heat and a shock wave, nobody got killed. Only a thousand or so folks were seriously injured, and no buildings were completely destroyed.

The Chelyabinsk meteor was smaller than either Didymos or Dimorphos, on a different orbit, and probably made of different stuff. So comparing the two would be an apples-to-oranges situation.

On the other hand, either Didymos or Dimorphos are a great deal bigger than thing that detonated over Chelyabinsk.

Happily, folks recognized the Chelyabinsk air burst as a natural phenomenon almost from the get-go, nobody got killed, and cleanup wasn’t much worse than major storm damage.

And the folks running Russia weren’t “demilitarizing” one of their neighbors in a “special military operation.” back in 2013.

Ideally, even if something brighter than the sun exploded over either Moscow or Kyev today, whoever’s in charge would verify that it wasn’t a nuclear bomb before launching a counter-strike. But as I keep saying, we don’t live in an ideal world.4

Tunguska, the 1490 Ch’ing-yang Event, Averages and Non-Survivors

NASA/Planetary Science's Map showing frequency of small asteroid impacts (1994-2013). (October 20, 2014
(From NASA/Planetary Science, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(Objects roughly 1 to 20 meters in diameter impacting Earth’s atmosphere. (1994-2013))

Something like the Chelyabinsk event happens every few years, on average, somewhere on Earth. Only a few are newsworthy, since something like three quarters of the planet is ocean, and cities only cover a bit of the land.

Soviet Academy of Science's photo of fallen trees at Tunguska. (ca. 1927)Things like the 1908 Tunguska event are even rarer, happening on average every millennium or so.

That’s a good thing, since the blast was a thousand times more powerful than the one that punched out walls in Chelyabinsk.

I’ve given intervals between impacts as averages. Once every millennium could mean, for example, two ‘Tunguska events’ a year apart, than two millennia of just little booms.

So far, we’ve been lucky.

Apart from maybe the 1490 Ch’ing-yang event — which I gather some scholars say wasn’t properly documented — we don’t have records of a Tunguska-level event happening over a densely-populated area.

But I’m not sure that’s a comforting thought. We know about the Ch’ing-yang event because it happened in a province of China, about halfway through the Ming dynasty. The disaster affected only one part of a well-organized empire.

But for quite a bit of humanity’s history, a prosperous city-state might have been abruptly depopulated without leaving detailed records of the event.

Record-keeping, after all, requires observers and some way to record information from the observers. Today, observers could be near ground zero — and still preserve significant data before they died.

Like Robert Landsburg, who was near Mount Saint Helens when it went up.

As a pyroclastic cloud approached him, he took photos, rewound the film, put the camera in a backpack and shielded the backpack with his body. When searchers found his body, 17 days later, the film was intact.5

Asteroid Impact Avoidance, DART and Looking Ahead

NASA's 'Eyes on Asteroids' interactive real-time visualization.
(“Eyes on Asteroids“, “Real time visualization of every known asteroid or comet that is classified as a Near Earth Object (NEO).” (NASA/JPL))

Nobody had been tracking the Chelyabinsk object when it entered Earth’s atmosphere, partly because it came in from the general direction of the sun.

We’ve been finding and tracking a great many asteroids and comets since 2013, but I figure we haven’t spotted them all.

Even if astronomers did spot something like 99942 Apophis — an asteroid that’ll come close to Earth in April of 2029, but will miss us — heading for an impact in, say, 2032: we don’t have technology in place that could prevent it.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the DART mission has been a success so far, and we’ll have at least preliminary data on its effectiveness in a few months.

Maybe, by some miracle, members of the United States Congress could be convinced that the incoming asteroid wasn’t a plot by the other party: and give NASA the okay to save their lives.

We’re not the only fish in this pond, of course. Maybe the Parliament of Singapore would get the ball rolling.

In any case, I’m pretty sure that cobbling together an effective asteroid mover would involve NASA, ESA, JAXA and anyone else with tech and talent who’s living on Earth.

As it is, JAXA, the Italian Space Agency and several private aerospace companies have been involved in the DART mission.6

By the way, I recommend the NASA/JPL “Eyes on Asteroids” interactive visualization of stuff in the inner Solar System. It’s regularly updated, with fairly intuitive rotate-and-zoom controls: so it may take a while to load. But again: I recommend it.

We are Not Doomed: And We’re Learning

Scott Adams' 'Dilbert.' Dogbert's Good News Show. (April 30, 1993) used w/o permissionOne more bit of bad news, and then I’ll explain why I don’t think we’re doomed.

Right now, we’ve got a whole mess of methods for moving asteroids so that they won’t hit Earth; but we don’t know which look good on paper and will actually work.

That’s one of the reasons for the DART mission. In geek-speak, it’s a test of the kinetic impact method: basically, using Newton’s laws of motion the way we do while playing billiards. Which is a subset of cue sports, and that’s yet another topic.

Kinetic impact asteroid deflection is something we can do right now.

It’s something we have done, as of Monday, September 26, 2022.

What we don’t know yet is how much of the DART probe’s momentum transferred to the rubble pile we call Dimorphos. There’s also the question of what’s happened to Dimorphos, apart from a slight change in velocity.

Another, Hollywood-friendly, asteroid deflection method is setting off a nuclear bomb on or in the thing.7 Practical issues aside, I’m guessing this alternative will have to wait until politicos and activists are a trifle less rabid when atom bombs are in play.

Getting Ready Before the Next Tunguska Event

Deep Space Industries Fuel Harvester, artist's concept. (2012) from DSI, used w/o permissionSkipping over esoteric tech like ion beams, laser ablation and gravity tractors — that last isn’t, or isn’t quite, science fiction’s “tractor beam” and might be practical, someday — I think Deep Space Industries was on the right track, with their proposed asteroid mining systems.

On the right track, but decades to maybe a century ahead of the curve. Bradford Space acquired Deep Space Industries in 2019. Bradford Space has been focusing on logistics and components that folks need now.8

The good news is that NASA, ESA and a great many other organizations and individuals have been cooperating; tracking objects that might hit Earth, and working the bugs out of tech that can keep us from learning what a Tunguska event looks like when a city’s under the blast.

This is a good time for that sort of research and development: before we spot an asteroid headed our way.

We Can Develop the Technology: But Should We Use It?

Italian Space Agency's image of Dimorphos, taken by theirs LICIACube spacecraft a few minutes after the DART impact. (September 26, 2022)
(From ASI/NASA, via NASA, used w/o permission.)
(Asteroid Dimorphos a few minutes after the DART impact. (September 26, 2022))

ISA’s LICIACube CubeSat, a miniature spacecraft that had been riding with the DART mission, sent back that image a few minutes after DART hit Dimporphos.

Scientists will be analyzing, comparing, debating and learning from images like that and other data: for years, most likely. As I said earlier, we’re learning.

I think we will have the tech needed to keep rocks like the one that detonated over Chelyabinsk from hurting folks: before something like that happens over another city. Probably.

Again, although we’re getting a handle on how often on average impacts of a given size happen: that doesn’t tell us when mountains will fall out of the sky.

The odds are better that we’ll be ready in time to prevent another Tunguska event.

USGS/D. Roddy's photo of the Barringer Crater (2015)And we have, probably, quite a long time before something the size of the Canyon Diablo meteorite blows a kilometer-wide hole somewhere on our home.9

But, and maybe this is a no-brainer, but: is it right to try keeping folks from being killed?

Now, since I’ve noticed no recent religious objections to weather forecasts or lightning rods, I’m guessing that most folks have gotten over the notion that we should let disasters happen.

Dominion, Responsibility, and Incoming Asteroids

March 15, 1915: Billy Sunday giving another rip-roaring performance.On the other hand, folks still do express odd notions: sometimes in my culture’s traditional style, sometimes the same old song with updated lyrics.

“…’It’s scary. It’s this new language that’s forming — I don’t even recognize,’ she said. ‘It’s scary to know, it’s been proven through science, that climate change is due to human activity. And we continue to ignore it, and the only voice we have is through voting,’ Lawrence said. After Long said the American public had recently voted and selected Trump, who has denied the existence of climate change in the past, Lawrence said the result was “startling.’
”’You’re watching these hurricanes now, and it’s hard — especially while promoting this movie, not to feel Mother Nature’s rage and wrath,’ she said….”
(“Jennifer Lawrence calls hurricanes ‘Mother Nature’s rage and wrath’,” Entertainment Weekly (September 8, 2017))

“… There was the burgeoning Gulf Coast gambling industry, with a new casino that was to open on Labor Day weekend. But of course, what is a little gambling if it supports ‘education’ and brings revenue into government coffers? And then there was the 34th Annual gay, lesbian and transgender ‘Southern Decadence’ Labor Day gala to be held from August 31st to September 5th….”
(“Katrina: God’s Judgment on America” Anonymous; Restore America, via Beliefnet (2005))

“I have read in the Philosophical Transactions the account of the effects of lightning on St. Bride’s steeple. ‘Tis amazing to me, that after the full demonstration you had given, of the identity of lightning and of electricity, and the power of metalline conductors, they should ever think of repairing that steeple without such conductors. How astonishing is the force of prejudice even in an age of so much knowledge and free enquiry!”
(Letter, To Benjamin Franklin from John Winthrop, 6 January 1768, via founders.archives.gov)

Religious scruples regarding “metalline conductors” — lightning rods — is something that’s taken on a life of its own over the last two and a half centuries, and that’s yet again another topic, for another day.

I don’t see a problem with using our brains or saving lives, partly because I’m a Catholic.

First, I think we have dominion over this world. (Genesis 1:26, 2:58)

And since I’m a Catholic, I realize that our dominion doesn’t mean we can do whatever we like with our home.

Our “dominion” means having the authority and responsibility that comes with one of our jobs: taking care of this world and leaving it in good condition for future generations. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 16, 339, 356-358, 2402, 2415-2418, 2456)

And I figure that includes keeping an eye out for falling mountains, and developing the tech needed to nudge them aside when necessary.

I was going to talk about DART’s autonomous navigation system, ESA’s follow-up mission, and what we’ll be learning about asteroids. But I’ve run out of time this week.

Meanwhile, here’s vaguely-related stuff:


1 An asteroid and last century’s music:

2 NASA’s DART mission, background:

3 Science and three science fiction flicks:

4 Miscellany:

5 Disasters and data:

6 Asteroids and agencies:

7 Newton’s laws of motion and a Michael Bay film:

8 Looking ahead:

9 Science and technology, research and development:

Posted in Discursive Detours, Science News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

My Church in Sauk Centre, Minnesota: Vandalized

Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota: west entrance. Picture is a print of Tiepolo's 'The Immaculate Conception.' (1767-1768)
Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) in Sauk Centre, Minnesota: northwest entrance. (September 20, 2022)

First, the good news. As far as I know, nobody got hurt during last weekend’s incident.

That much I could tell from what wasn’t in a metro area station’s news item.

Charges: ‘Very intoxicated’ man admits to vandalism at Sauk Centre church
Nick Longworth, KMSP/FOX9 (September 19, 2022)

“A man who reportedly admitted to being ‘very intoxicated’ caused extensive damage to a Sauk Centre church Friday, criminal charges detail.

“On Sept. 17, at 1:08 p.m., officers were called to Our Lady of the Angels Church in Sauk Centre on the report of vandalism. When an officer arrived he found extensive damage to the inside of the church entrance area and sanctuary, including a tipped-over statue, urine on the carpet, damaged candleholders and other items….

“…A cross was also moved and damaged, and other items in the church were moved or tampered with, a press release said. A red glass globe was also determined to be missing from the church, police said.

“An investigator was able to review video surveillance from the church showing two males entering the church at 6:27 a.m., and leaving at 6:38 a.m., carrying a candleholder. Surveillance from areas within the church showed two people enter, with one appearing to urinate on the statue in the front….”

If I’d been at Mass that Sunday, I’d have learned about the damage then.

But I hadn’t been, due mainly to having overslept that morning. And that in turn stemmed from an earlier sleepless night, and a glitchy knee that had affected all of the above.

Getting to Mass each Sunday is a good idea. A very good idea.1 I’m not happy that I missed last Sunday’s, but I can’t go back and wake myself up in time. So I’ll sort this gap out when and how I can. And that’s another topic.

Anyway, The KMSP article said that law enforcement took photos from the surveillance videos, showing them to various folks.

Then one of the two who’d been making alterations to my parish church’s interior decor contacted law enforcement and admitted doing the damage.

Seems that he and his cousin were “very intoxicated” at the time.

The man who turned himself in is 29. His cousin is 19. Old enough, at least in principle, to know better.

I gather that they’re both “facing charges in the incident,” but don’t know specifics.

I stopped by our church Tuesday afternoon and took a few pictures.

This Could Have Been Much Worse

Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota: stairs leading to worship area entrance, with Infant of Prague statue and candle rack.
Candle rack and our parish’s Infant of Prague, near OLA’s worship area entrance. (September 20, 2022)

The “extensive damage” could have been much worse, and again: nobody was hurt. Not physically, at any rate.

We’re down a table and a bulletin board or two in the entrance, but the windows are intact and so is another bulletin board.

I don’t know whether the two folks who were charged thought being “very intoxicated” was an excuse, or figured they’d best admit everything.

Either way, I don’t see alcohol as the problem. Make that not the main problem.

So instead of ranting against demon rum, or whatever the contemporary equivalent is, I’ll talk about temperance: Catholic style.

“Joy of Heart … a Snare for the Fool” — the Choice is Ours

Oliver Herford's 'Demon Rum Leads to Heroine' cartoon for Life magazine. (June 26 1919)Drinking, in moderation, is okay. Getting drunk isn’t. It’s a bad idea and I shouldn’t do it. (Ecclesiastes 9:7; Sirach 31:2531; 1 Timothy 5:23; Catechism, 2290)

The key word here is moderation.

I figure that what’s moderate depends on individual differences. But I’m quite sure that “moderate” drinking stops well short of being so sloshed, hammered and soused that vandalizing a church feels like a good idea.

We’ve known this for a long time.

“Or if one loves righteousness,
whose works are virtues,
She teaches moderation and prudence,
righteousness and fortitude,
and nothing in life is more useful than these.”
(Wisdom 8:7)

“Let not wine be the proof of your strength,
for wine has been the ruin of many.
“As the furnace tests the work of the smith,
so does wine the hearts of the insolent.
“Wine is very life to anyone,
if taken in moderation.
Does anyone really live who lacks the wine
which from the beginning was created for joy?
“Joy of heart, good cheer, and delight
is wine enough, drunk at the proper time.
“Headache, bitterness, and disgrace
is wine drunk amid anger and strife.
“Wine in excess is a snare for the fool;
it lessens strength and multiplies wounds.
“Do not wrangle with your neighbor when wine is served,
nor despise him while he is having a good time;
Say no harsh words to him
nor distress him by making demands.”
(Sirach 31:2531)

“Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable….”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1809)

Temperance, along with prudence, fortitude and justice are what Catholics call the cardinal virtues. (Catechism, 1804-1809)

They’re also much easier to talk about than to actually do.

Justice and Statues, Saints and Art

Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota: main entrance to worship area, showing space formerly occupied by a statue.
Main entrance to the OLA nave/sanctuary. One of our statues isn’t there. (September 20, 2022)

I’ve been saying how Saturday morning’s binge in Our Lady of the Angels church could have been worse, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about the situation.

Maybe I’d discuss how I feel about our parish church getting messing up, if I wasn’t feeling a trifle — numb, I think. Since ‘numb’ is easier for me to deal with than anger or rage, I’m not complaining.

Giovanni Dall'Orto's photo: the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, painted in gold on a clear blue dish. (2008) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.So instead of an impression piece about how I miss a statue that’s not near the door any more, I’ll talk about justice and whatever else comes to mind.

Justice comes in three flavors: original, commutative and legal.

Justice: The cardinal moral virtue which consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor (1807). Original justice refers to the state of holiness in which God created our first parents (375). Commutative justice, which obliges respect for the rights of the other, is required by the seventh commandment; it is distinguished from legal justice, which concerns what the citizen owes to the community, and distributive justice, which regulates what the community owes its citizens in proportion to their contributions and needs (2411) See Social Justice.”
(Glossary, Catechism)

Original justice and “the state of holiness” that we’re not enjoying ties in with original sin: which isn’t the notion that humanity is rotten to the core.

From a Catholic viewpoint, original sin started when the first of us decided that ‘what I want now’ matters more than what God says.

It was a daft idea then, and still is. I’m not personally responsible for that bad decision, and human nature didn’t become all bad. Our nature was and is wounded, not corrupted. And, like everyone else, I’m living with consequences of humanity’s bad start. (Catechism, 397-406)

Missing a Familiar Object

Collage: Bernhard Plockhorst's 'Guardian Angel,' Bernini's statue on the Ponte Sant'Angelo, Winged Victory of Samothrace and Nunut as shown on Tut's pectoral plaque.Before last Saturday morning, the parish had four statues of an angel holding a small basin. Now we have about three and seven-eighths.

The one that used to be on my right as I walked in isn’t there any more.

I’ll miss it. Particularly since it had been my habit to touch the holy water in that particular basin before Mass.

Since I’m Catholic, maybe a quick review of angels and statues is in order.

First, I realize that the statues of angels in my parish church are conventional representations of angels, appropriate to my native culture.

Angels don’t “look like” that, or anything else. they’re “spiritual, non-corporeal beings” with “intelligence and will.” They’re persons who are as real as I am; but with no bodies. (Catechism, 328-336)

I don’t worship statues, my health, family: or anyone other than God. Doing so would be idolatry, and a very bad idea. (Catechism, 2112-2113)

Having visual reminders around helps me remember who’s in charge, and who some of the heroes of our faith are. And that’s yet another topic.2

Art Over the Altar
Art inspired by Tiepolo's 'The Immaculate Conception,' over the altar in Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota.
Over OLA’s altar area, art inspired by Tiepolo’s ‘The Immaculate Conception.’ (September 20, 2022)

As far as I can tell, the altar in Our Lady of the Angels is undamaged, and so is the artwork in the half-dome overhead. That’s good news.

Again, I know that’s not really Mary of Nazareth up there. Honestly, who would believe that’s so?!

And, although I have a great respect for our Lord’s mother, I don’t worship her. That’d be a bad idea, and besides: she wouldn’t like it.

Mary is a woman of few words, but she’s consistently pointing us at Jesus:

“[And] Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”
“His mother said to the servers, ‘Do whatever he tells you.'”
(John 2:45)

And that’s yet again another topic.

Repairing Harm Done: When Possible
Statues in Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota, that were not damaged.
Happily-undamaged statues near OLA’s altar area. (September 20, 2022)

Other statues in our worship area seemed undamaged, which again is good news. Considering how much damage two sozzled young men could have done: well, I’m glad that they missed so much.

Getting back to justice, the commutative variety, I’m not sure what can be done in terms of undoing Saturday morning’s damage.

Commutative justice, doing “what is possible in order to repair the harm,” might include paying for cleanup. But mending what was broken includes damage that has happened in the inebriated pair who made the mess. (Catechism, 1459)

Judging persons, deciding that someone is “bad,” is profoundly not part of my job. (Catechism, 1861)

I am, however, expected to think about which actions are good ideas and which are not. (Catechism, 1776-1794)

I’m quite sure that breaking community property and pissing on at least one statue in a local church is not a good idea. It strikes me as exhibiting a certain lack of respect.

Whatever sort of commutative justice gets applied, however, I’m also fairly sure that ‘unbreaking’ that statue of an angel isn’t an option.

I saw it, tucked into an alcove and partly covered with a garbage bag. There seem to be significant parts missing. I could be wrong about that, since I didn’t look inside the bag.

Those statues were here when I came to Our Lady of the Angels, a third of a century and more back now, so replacement likely won’t be an option either.

Remembering Arson Down the Road

1566 propaganda print, celebrating faith-based vandalism.Even so, this parish got off easy. Down the road, back in 2016, some kid set fire to St. Mary’s Church.

Stearns sheriff: Teen admits burning historic Melrose church
MPR News Staff (June 20, 2018)
“A teenager recently confessed to intentionally setting fire to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Melrose, Minn., in March 2016 and was charged with first-degree arson in juvenile court, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday….
“…The church played a central role in the town for nearly 120 years before the fire. It was revered for its historic significance and design. Its twin steeples and onion-shaped domes are visible from nearby Interstate 94.
“No one was hurt in the fire, although it caused at least $1 million in damage. Diocesan leaders, citing the extensive fire damage and other problems with the old church have recommended replacing the structure….”

Crews demolish beloved Melrose, Minnesota church damaged in arson
Rob Olson, KMSP/FOX9 (May 19, 2020)
“The community of Melrose, Minnesota gathered to remember the old Church of St. Mary as it was demolished Tuesday, years after an act of arson destroyed the interior.
“After the fire in March 2016, a group called Restore St. Mary’s fought to fix the beloved church.
“Advocates ultimately decided to build a new, larger church a few blocks away, but for many, the old church still held a lot of memories…..”

I’ll be thankful that nobody was hurt or killed back in 2016, and that our parish church is still intact. I’m not so happy that we’ve now got vandalism cleanup on the parish to-do list, on top of dealing with water damage from the other year.

And I’m not at all happy about St. Mary’s in Melrose. It was a beautiful building, particularly the interior. But, again, nobody was killed. That’s nice.

Wow! The Wheelchair’s Still Intact! — or — Unknown Motives

Our elevator, a wheelchair and a crucifix, in Our Lady of the Angels, Sauk Centre, Minnesota's entrance area.
In the OLA entrance area: the elevator, a wheelchair and a crucifix. (September 20, 2022)

I don’t know why last weekend’s vandals didn’t break windows, left our wheelchair intact, and didn’t smash the crucifix that’s near the elevator. For that matter, I don’t know why they made the mess that they did.

H.E. Fowler's 'Papal Octopus,' featured in Jeremiah J. Crowley's (1913) 'The Pope: Chief of White Slavers High Priest of Intrigue,' p. 430. (1913)Maybe it’s just something done by a couple of drunks, and that not even they know why they acted as they did.

But having grown up in a time and place where “Christian” radio was infested with frothing preachers whose zeal in denouncing all things Catholic was matched only by their enthusiasm for the latest End Times Bible Prophecies — I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually learn that last week’s vandalism was inspired by alcohol-fueled fervor against “Romanism.”

The fact is that I don’t know why some kid torched a Catholic church in a nearby town, or why two men whizzed on a statue in our church and made a mess for us to clean up.

America’s traditional anti-Catholic spasms have roots going back to Puritans fleeing oppression and Christmas, Europe’s religion-themed propaganda during the era of state-sponsored religions, and — going back to the start of our problems — that appallingly bad decision the first of us made.

EEEK! Catholics!!! — or — Acting Like Love Matters, Anyway

Thomas Nast's 'The American River Ganges,' warning Americans against the Catholic threat. (1875
(From Thomas Nast, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(“The American River Ganges:” Nast cartoon in Harper’s Weekly magazine (1875))

Nothing I do or say will change the mind of someone who’s convinced that the Catholic Church is in league with Satan, subverting good old American values.

John James Barralet's 'Apotheosis of Washington,' based on work by Gilbert Stuart. (1800-1802)Or convince someone with more up-to-date assumptions that Catholics aren’t hellbent on subjugating women: and generally failing to play along with the powers that be.

That last item isn’t entirely inaccurate.

We’re out of step with cultural norms, and have been for two millennia. We’ll be out of step with whoever’s on top two millennia from now. And that’s — you guessed it — still more topics.

Instead, I’ll be glad that we don’t see much of the good old-fashioned “apotheosis of Washington” attitude any more, and repeat what I’ve said before. Often.

I can make being a Catholic as complicated as I want. But the basics are simple.

Jesus said that loving God and my neighbor is “the whole law and the prophets.” Simple, right? One more thing. Everybody is my neighbor. Everybody. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 1789)

Love God, love my neighbor, remember that everybody’s my neighbor.

It’s simple, easily remembered. Acting as if I believe it matters can be incredibly hard. Particularly when my neighbor hasn’t acted neighborly.

But it’s still a good idea.

I’ve talked about art, Saints, statues, justice, and acting like love matters before:


1 Mass: it’s important:

2 Saints and sacred art, a few quotes and a resource:

…Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.
“Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world, and for this purpose she has trained artists. In fact, the Church has, with good reason, always reserved to herself the right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use.
“The Church has been particularly careful to see that sacred furnishings should worthily and beautifully serve the dignity of worship, and has admitted changes in materials, style, or ornamentation prompted by the progress of the technical arts with the passage of time….”
(Sacrosanctum concilium, Pope St. Paul VI (December 4, 1963))

“..all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life … They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history….”
(“Lumen gentium, Pope St. Paul VI (November 21, 1964))

“By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. ‘The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history.’ Indeed, ‘holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal.'”
(Catechism, 828)

“Sacred art is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God – the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love visible in Christ, who ‘reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature,’ in whom ‘the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.’ This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God, the angels, and saints. Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier.”
(Catechism, 2502)

  • Saints
    USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
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Queen Elizabeth II of England: Historical Perspective

British Ministry of Information official's photo of Princess Elizabeth in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. (April 1945)
(From British Ministry of Information, via Chicago History Museum and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. (April 1945))

My news feed has been full of the usual stuff: war and rumors of war, looming doom on the economic and climate fronts, and assorted political perturbations.

But ever since September 8, there’s been at least one item involving Elizabeth II of England each day. Like this sampling from Monday’s news:

That’s understandable, since Queen Elizabeth II of England been a constant — at least for the English-speaking world — for 70 years, 217 days. That’s longer than any monarch other than King Louis XIV of France.1

Obituary: Queen Elizabeth II
BBC News (September 8, 2022)

The long reign of Queen Elizabeth II was marked by her strong sense of duty and her determination to dedicate her life to her throne and to her people.

“She became for many the one constant point in a rapidly changing world as British influence declined, society changed beyond recognition and the role of the monarchy itself came into question….”

It’s been an eventful seven decades.

There had already been many changes when Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor became Queen Elizabeth II on February 6, 1952.

I’ll be looking at the British Empire, how assorted Englishmen saw themselves and their country, and — briefly, for me — Elizabeth II’s seven-decade reign.

Feel free to skip ahead, using these links.


Sic Transit Gloria Mundi: The Late Great British Empire

Walter Crane's Map of the British Empire. (1886) Map of the British Empire.
(From Walter Crane, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(The British Empire in 1886, with allegorical trimmings.)

Take the British Empire, for example.

Depending on which temporal landmarks I pick (I talked about periodization last week) the British Empire began in 1296. That’s when English forces took the Stone of Scone from Scotland’s Scone Abbey.

If England’s imperial status depended on custody of the Stone of Scone, then the British Empire ended in 1996, when the British Government repatriated the Stone of Destiny.

I imagine it’ll be temporarily released from Edinburgh Castle for use in England’s St. Edward’s Chair, making Charles III’s coronation official.

Portrait by an anonymous artist: Henry VIII of England, in the style of Hans Holbein the Younger. (1542)Another option for defining when the British Empire began is the The Ecclesiastical Appeals Act 1532, AKA Statute in Restraint of Appeals.

Officially, it’s an act of the English Parliament, although English records show that Henry VIII had Thomas Cromwell draft the document; and at the time Parliament wasn’t likely to cross Henry.

At any rate, the Act made Henry VIII of England a sort of mini-pope for that England, Wales, and any other territory Henry VIII held.

“…this realm of England is an empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and king, having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial crown of the same, unto whom a body politic, compact of all sorts and degrees of people, divided in terms, and by names of spiritualty and temporalty, be bounden and ought to bear, next to God….”
(extract from Statute in Restraint of Appeals (1532) via Wikipedia)

Bookending England’s imperial era with Henry VIII’s Act, the British Empire began in 1532 and ended when the whole Act went off the book in 1969. Or 1963 or 1967, when bits and pieces of it were revoked.

To their credit, neither Henry VIII or George III were officially “emperors,” although Parliament offered the title to the latter.

On the other hand, England’s had three empresses: Matilda (1114-1125), Victoria (1876-1901) and then Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1936-1952) who is Queen Elizabeth II’s mother.

Queen Victoria’s additional title, “Empress of India” was, I gather, her way of dealing with European diplomacy, precedence and protocols.2

Henry VIII, Hong Kong and Seditious Children’s Books

Minghong's photo: Happy Valley Racecourse, Hong Kong. () via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.Yet another starting year for the British Empire could be either 1529, when the Tudor invasion of Ireland began, or 1530, when the Irish Parliament said Henry VIII was the Irish King.

Normans, French-speaking Vikings, had been there since the 12th century. As with most things involving humans, it’s complicated.

Or I could say the Empire began in the 1570s, when Martin Frobisher called a bay on Baffin Island Frobisher Bay and said it was English territory. Or 1584, when Queen Elizabeth I gave Sir Walter Raleigh the go-ahead to start a colony on North America’s east coast.

If I say the Commonwealth of Nations is a continuation of the British Empire, then the sun still shines on British Empire 24/7. Metaphorically, at least.

I suspect that the 1947 partition of India may become a common, maybe even consensus, end point for the British Empire.

Or maybe most historians will use the 1997 Hong Kong handover as the British Empire’s final act. That’s when England’s government followed through on the 1898 Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory and 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.

England originally leased Hong Kong from the Qing dynasty during the First Opium War. Despite that tainted, my opinion, start — Hong Kong grew into a thriving city.

Now that it’s been freed from the imperialistic yoke of capitalistic oppressors, Hong Kong is doing wonderfully well. Or not. Depends on who’s talking.

On the one hand, under the wise leadership of China’s government, Hong Kong authorities are protecting the people from sedition and other threats to national security.

On the other hand, at least five folks are in a Hong Kong hoosegow for publishing seditious children’s books: the Sheep Village series. I am not making this up.3

Elizabeth II, the British Empire, Controversy and Conventional Comments

'A busy stacking room in the opium factory at Patna, India,' lithograph after W. S. Sherwill. (ca. 1850)Meanwhile, I’ve been seeing conventional responses to Elizabeth II’s death.

Including some that are conventionally uncomplimentary, faithfully following shibboleths and taboos established during my ‘good old days.’ Which I do not miss.

Not everyone mourns the queen. For many, she can’t be separated from colonial rule
Juliana Kim, NPR (September 12, 2022)
“…the scars of colonialism linger. Many note the enslavement, violence and theft that defined imperial rule, and they find it difficult to separate the individual from the institution and its history.
“…Moses Ochonu, a professor of African studies at Vanderbilt University, told NPR the queen’s death brought attention to ‘unfinished colonial business.’…”

Queen Elizabeth II’s demise rekindles fury over British Empire’s colonial atrocities” Edited By C. Krishnasai, WION (September 11, 2022)
“…Similarly, Cornell University professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi slammed the ‘theatre’ surrounding the Queen’s death.
“‘If the queen had apologized for slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism and urged the crown to offer reparations for the millions of lives taken in her/their names, then perhaps I would do the human thing and feel bad. As a Kenyan, I feel nothing. This theatre is absurd,’ she said….”

That’s nothing new. The British Empire has been controversial for centuries. Bear with me, please, this actually has something to do with Elizabeth II of England.

“…’If then we are a part of the British empire, we must be subject to the supreme power of the state, which is vested in the estates in parliament.’
“Here again we are to be conjured out of our senses by the magic in the words ‘British empire,’—and ‘supreme power of the state.’ But however it may sound, I say we are not a part of the British empire. Because the British government is not an empire. … If Aristotle, Livy, and Harrington, knew what a republic was, the British constitution is much more like a republic than an empire. They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men….”
(“Adams Papers Digital Edition – Massachusetts Historical Society,” The Letters of Novanglus (23 January–April 1775), VII. To the Inhabitants of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay (6 March 1775) via Digital MHS, Massachusetts Historical Society (emphasis mine))

“[I]f our ancestors had cared for the rights of other people, the British empire would not have been made.”
(Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, Remarks to the Cabinet, as recorded in Lord Derby’s diary (8 March 1878), quoted in John Vincent (ed.), “The Diaries of Edward Henry Stanley, Fifteenth Earl of Derby” (1994), via Wikiquote)

“…I hope we may be able sooner or later to federate, to bring together, all these great dependencies of the British Empire into one supreme and Imperial Parliament, so that they should be all units of one body, … that all should have a share in the welfare and sympathize with the welfare of every part….”
(Joseph Chamberlain, Speech in Rawtenstall (8 July 1886), quoted in The Times (July 9, 1886), via Wikiquote (emphasis mine))

Looking back at what John Adams, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury and Joseph Chamberlain said with 20-20 hindsight, I think they all made sense. To an extent.

John Adams and other British subjects decided that, empire or republic, they’d had quite enough of the British government. They eventually cobbled together a constitution we’re still fine-tuning.

The 3rd Marquess of Salisbury’s concerns are, for the most part, academic. The British Empire no longer exists. Although, again, the Commonwealth of Nations (membership optional) — and British Overseas Territories.4 — are arguably a sort of British Empire 2.0.

Joseph Chamberlain’s “Imperial Parliament,” a unified and equitable union of Earth’s people, sounds pretty good. Until I look at what else he said.

“Anglo-Saxon Race” and a Duke’s Principle of Paramountcy

. Strickland Constable's illustration for 'Ireland from One or Two Neglected Points of View.' (1899) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.

Edward Linley Sambourne's 'The Rhodes Colossus:' Caricature of Cecil John Rhodes, after announcing plans for a telegraph line and railroad from Cape Town to Cairo. (December 10, 1892) from Punch, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.I’ve said this before.

I look Anglo, but I’m not. My father’s the son of an Irishman. My mother’s people are those short, black-haired Norwegians you don’t hear about: but not Saami. As far as I know, the Scandinavian part of my ancestry hasn’t been assigned an ethnic label.

I’ve also shared what one of my ancestors said about another, when asked about the family of her daughter’s boyfriend: “He doesn’t have family. He’s Irish.”

So I’m not inclined to cheer someone who extols the virtues of being Anglo-Saxon.

“…I believe that the people of this country have decided this matter in their minds, and have determined that they will take their full share in the disposition of these new lands and in the work of civilisation they have to carry out there. I think they are justified in that determination—justified by the spirit of the past, justified by that spirit which has shown that the spirit of travel and adventure and enterprise distinguishing the Anglo-Saxon race has made us peculiarly fit to carry out the work of colonisation.…”
(Joseph Chamberlain, Speech in the House of Commons (March 20, 1893) via digitised editions of Commons and Lords Hansard, the Official Report of debates in Parliament (emphasis mine))

“The Duke of Devonshire… left a permanent mark on British colonial development, by a declaration of policy which brought upon him severe criticism from many quarters. This was in regard to British East Africa—or Kenya, as it was now called. … the Duke laid down the principle of ‘paramountcy’. It was formally declared that on any question which might arise where the interests of the settlers and native inhabitants were in conflict, those of the latter must be regarded as ‘paramount’. In 1923 this doctrine, if not revolutionary, was certainly unexpected. Great pressure was brought upon the Duke to withdraw or amend it. But he remained quite firm and, for good or ill, this decision set the pattern of events which culminated in some of the decisions which Governments had to take many years later. “
(Harold Macmillan, Winds of Change, 1914–1939 (1966) via Wikiquote))

“Lately some picked graduates from Canada are beginning to play their part in looking after those parts of the Empire where the white man goes out, often alone, to teach, to educate and to bring along the more backward races of Empire. There is no more self-sacrificing work, there is no finer work, ….”
(Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, Speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto (6 August 6, 1927), quoted in Our Inheritance (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1938), via Wikiquote (emphasis mine))

“As we study [the British Empire’s] destiny, we are bound to think of it less as a human achievement than as an instrument of Divine Providence for the promotion of the progress of mankind.
(Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, speech in Hyde Park (May 24, 1929), quoted in This Torch of Freedom (1935), via Wikiquote)

I’m very glad the days of “Irish Need Not Apply” are behind us.

The frothing rants delivered by radio preachers during my youth put a permanent crimp in my attitude toward Divine Providence allegedly being a monopoly of either ‘regular Americans’ or “the Anglo-Saxon race.”

But I can’t turn the “God agrees with me” and “Anglo-Saxon States of America” attitude around, and assume that all Anglo-Saxons are latter-day Simon Legrees. Not reasonably.

And trying to believe what I was taught during teacher indoctrination — that “all whites are racist” — makes even less sense.

Although I see how the notion may work as a slogan. — Given the assumption that “all whites” are a monolithic unit, composed entirely of heirs to Boston Brahmins and/or Old South plantation owners.5

Contrasting Attitudes

'The Flags of a Free Empire,' Arthur Mees. (1910) Map of the British Empire.
(“The Flags of a Free Empire,” Arthur Mees. (1910); from Cornell University Library, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(The British Empire in 1910, from a British viewpoint.)

Recapping —

In 1878, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury thought that the British Empire had been formed by folks who didn’t care about “the rights of other people.”

Then, in 1886, Joseph Chamberlain expressed hope that the British Empire would one day be federated “into one supreme and Imperial Parliament.” And in 1893 he said that “the Anglo-Saxon race” is “peculiarly fit to carry out the work of colonisation.”

In 1927, the 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley compared “the white man” with “the more backward races of Empire.” In 1929, he said that the British Empire was “an instrument of Divine Providence.”

Small wonder the Duke of Devonshire’s 1923 Devonshire White Paper didn’t with one sure stroke banish ethnic and economic injustice from all the realms. That’s the one establishing “the principle of ‘paramountcy’.”6


The Importance of Being English: George V and Public Relations

Leonard Raven-Hill's A Good Riddance.' For Punch, or the London Charivari. Cartoon showing King George V of England sweeping away his family's German titles, and changing his house name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor. (June 17, 1917)Meanwhile, the British Royal Family was having problems of their own.

George V was King of the United Kingdom and Emperor of India — the latter title started with Queen Victoria and lasted until 1948 — but this was seven centuries after the Magna Carta.

And I very strongly suspect that even theoretically absolute monarchs pay some attention to public relations, or become former monarchs.

Anyway, George Frederick Ernest Albert became King George V of England in 1910. World War I started in 1914.

Even before that war, a fair fraction of folks in England didn’t like Germany or Germans. Never mind that Anglo-Saxon Englishmen were descendants of the Saxons whose neighbors had stayed closer to home and were now called Germans. Well, some Germans.

Anglo-Saxon, English, German, or Mulligan stew folks like me: we’re all human. And history tells me that, at least on a practical and personal level, many of us have little to no regard for racial or ethnic purity. But then, I’m part-Irish, so — — —

Here’s one of George V’s problem during World War I.

Part of the British public concentrated their dislike of Germans and the war on the German Emperor, Wilhelm II.7

And that was was an embarrassment, at best, for their “German” king.

New Name for an Old House

Sodacan's rendering of the Badge of the House of Windsor, based on an example found at yeomenoftheguard.com; as approved by King George VI in 1938, in the style used from 1952 to the present (as approved by King George VI in 1938. In the style used from 1952 to the present) from Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.Backing up a bit. George V’s extended family was called the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was and is what Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha looks like in English. They’re both the name of a German aristocratic house.

Many Brits hadn’t liked Germany and Germans before World War I started.

During the war, they often focused their dislike on Wilhelm II of Germany.

Wilhelm II of Germany was George V of England’s first cousin. So, for that matter, was Nicholas II of Russia. But that apparently wasn’t the major public perception problem that the German connection was..

There’s no way George V could change his ancestry. Or, more to the point, public perception of his ancestry. Not with British notions about freedom of speech being what they were. But he could re-name his English branch of the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family.

Which he did, and it’s been the English-sounding House of Windsor since 1917.

William the Conqueror, the Norman king who invaded England in 1066, had built the original Windsor Castle, so “Windsor” seemed properly British.8


War and the End of Empire

H. Mason's photo: London, seen from the roof of St Paul's Cathedral towards the Old Bailey, after the second Great Fire of London. (January 3, 1941) From Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.
(From H. Mason, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(View from St. Paul’s Cathedral, after the Second Great Fire of London. (January 3, 1941)

Hohum's montage for the Wikipedia World War One page. (20130 From Wikipedia, used w/o permission.World War I was unpleasant, but England was on the winning side.

The 1919 Treaty of Versailles gave the British Empire an extra 1,800,000 square miles (4,700,000 square kilometers) of land and 13,000,000 new subjects.

It also punished Germany and Germans for losing the war, and arguably made WW II nearly-inevitable.

But the British Empire was bigger than it ever had been. Or ever would be.

Egypt had been designated as a British protectorate when WW I started. That didn’t last. The country was granted independence in 1922 or 1954: depending on whether being a client state counts as being independent.

The Suez Canal, a 19th century French company’s shortcut between the Mediterranean and Red Sea, belonged to the Egyptian government. But the company operating the canal was owned by Europeans: mostly English and French.

Folks in India were still British subjects, although quite a few weren’t happy about living in occupied territory.

A British Brigadier general’s massacre of folks who were (peacefully) protesting the arrest of two pro-independence activists/agitators/whatever didn’t help ’empire forever’ proponents back in England.9

Times were changing. Caring about “the rights of other people” was catching on. In some circles, at least.

“Such is the End of Empire”

Survivors in London, England. National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 195566 (World War II)
(From National Archives and Records Administration, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(London, between bombings, World War II.)

Wesel, Germany, 1945.Then World War II started. It was very unpleasant for several years, and ended with a surprising number of survivors.

England and the British Empire were on the winning side again. But this time there wasn’t a Versailles Treaty to punish the losers and reward Merry England.

The 1947 Partition of India was good news for folks who had been working for Indian independence, displaced between 10,000,000 and 20,000,000 folks, and set off a continuing series of problems.

In 1956, Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser said that the Suez Canal and the company running it belonged to Egypt now. Someone, maybe English Prime Minister Anthony Eden, maybe others, decided that invading Egypt was a good idea.

It wasn’t. It profoundly wasn’t. The invasion met its military objectives. But Egypt kept the canal, the United Nations sent military units to the Egypt-Israel border, and the canal eventually became navigable again.10

Which may explain why it’s difficult to dig out whose bright idea invading Egypt had been.

Skipping ahead to July 1, 1997, Hong Kong stopped being a colony and dependent territory of the United Kingdom.

Folks in Hong Kong became even more free from colonial oppression in 2020.

That’s when the Hong Kong national security law began protecting the people from secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign organizations. Discussing separating Hong Kong from China is now a crime. And that’s another topic.

“Such is the end of Empire…”
(Prince Charles, entry in private journal, referring to his flying business class to the Hong Kong handover ceremony, while leading politicians flew first class. (1997) via The Age, Australia)


Remembering Elizabeth II of England

Queen Elizabeth II of England. April 21, 1926 - September 8, 2022. From BBC News, used w/o permission.

Getting back, finally, to Queen Elizabeth II of England.

She was born in 1926. Her grandfather, George V, was still king. Although she was third in line to inherit the throne, Brits figured their next monarch would be her uncle Edward, or maybe her father.

Edward became Edward VIII, topping off a brief and unconventional reign by saying that he was going to be an American’s husband number three. Then he abdicated.

Along the way, he’d also earned a reputation for being more involved in politics than was expected of a British monarch.

Edward VIII’s abdication made Elizabeth’s father, Albert Frederick Arthur George, King George VI. He picked “George” as his regnal name, emphasizing continuity with old King George V’s reign, and reassuring folks that England and the monarchy were okay.

Tying up loose ends left by Edward VIII’s colorful reign and abdication kept George VI occupied at least until World War II started.

When the bombs stopped falling, he went back to being less disruptive than Edward VIII, while overseeing a dissolving empire. Then, in 1952, he died.11

(It’s now Friday afternoon, September 16, 2022. There’s a great deal to say about Queen Elizabeth II, and not nearly enough time left before my Friday-evening deadline. So I’d better get back to writing this thing.)

A Debacle, Empire Loyalists and Changing Times

(Mike Peel's photo. Part of Merton’s Priory, after Henry VIII's agents did their work. Via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)Queen Elizabeth II’s BBC News obituary referred to the invasion of Egypt as “the Suez debacle in 1956.” I think they’re right about that.

I also think they’re right about Queen Elizabeth II’s role in the political mess left when Prime Minister Eden resigned.

Remember Eden? He was PM when someone decided that sending troops to Egypt was a good idea.

Anyway, England’s Conservative Party — capital C capital P, and this isn’t a ‘political’ post in the ‘demonize them, deify us’ sense — hadn’t developed a process for electing a new leader. Which left Elizabeth II holding the bag.

Oversimplifying the situation something fierce, the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, where they’ve got a queen or (now) a king who has influence and responsibilities, but nowhere near the ‘my way or the Tower’ power of folks like Henry VIII.

And one of Elizabeth II’s policies was to stay away from British politics. From what I’ve seen of it, and the American version, I don’t blame her. At all.

However, England’s Conservative Party was missing a leadership position and apparently expected a new boss to just drop into place. So Elizabeth II talked with various folks and “invited Harold Macmillan to form a new government,” as BBC News put it.12

I’d be astounded if that wasn’t controversial at the time. I also think stepping in and heading off yet another crisis was a good idea.

I’m going to do an excerpt from that BBC News obituary. I’m running seriously short on time.

“…The Queen also found herself the subject of a personal attack by the writer Lord Altrincham. In a magazine article, he claimed her court was ‘too British’ and ‘upper-class’ and accused her of being unable to make a simple speech without a written text.

“His remarks caused a furore in the press and Lord Altrincham was physically attacked in the street by a member of the League of Empire Loyalists.

“Nevertheless, the incident demonstrated that British society and attitudes to the monarchy were changing fast and old certainties were being questioned….

“…The Queen was once more at the centre of a political row when in 1963, Harold Macmillan stood down as prime minister. With the Conservative Party still to set up a system for choosing a new leader, she followed his advice to appoint the Earl of Home in his place.

“It was a difficult time for the Queen. The hallmark of her reign was constitutional correctness, and a further separation of the monarchy from the government of the day. She took seriously her rights to be informed, to advise and to warn – but did not seek to step beyond them.…”
(“Obituary: Queen Elizabeth II,” BBC News (September 10, 2022) (emphasis mine))

From “Monarchy” to “Royal Family”

(Photo of Balmoral Castle. (ca. 1890-1905)
(From Photoglob AG, Zürich, Switzerland or Detroit Publishing Company, Detroit, Michigan/Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons; used w/o permission.)
(Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland; once owned by Elizabeth II of England.)

I was a few months old when Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor became Queen Elizabeth II of England. So, like many folks, I don’t remember a time when she was not Queen of England.

That, and her apparent determination to give England the queen they needed, may explain this week’s pedestrian traffic jam in Westminster Hall.

“…People of all ages and from all walks of life have paid their respects to the late queen, joining a well-organised line that stretches along the south

“But by mid-morning, the line was just too big – a testimony to the public’s respect and affection for the queen, who died in Scotland on Sept. 8 at the age of 96 after a 70-year reign.

“‘Entry will be paused for at least 6 hours,’ Britain’s culture department said shortly before 10 a.m. (0900 GMT) ‘Please do not attempt to join the queue until it re-opens.’

“It warned of waiting times of up to 12 hours. Some 750,000 people in total are expected to file past the queen’s coffin….”
(“King Charles visits Wales, miles-long line to see queen lying in state paused,” Michael Holden, Kylie Maclellan; Reuters (September 16, 2022))

I don’t doubt that Elizabeth II could have done more for England, the United Kingdom and the world.

But what she did was remarkable — being what BBC News called “…one constant point in a rapidly changing world….”

When she became queen, World War I was a living memory for many. Her subjects included League of Empire Loyalist members and folks who thought colonial independence was a good idea.

What’s even more remarkable is that although Elizabeth II was a “constant point” in the sense of showing stability, her policies weren’t static.

“…Encouraged by her husband, notoriously impatient with the court’s stuffiness, the Queen began to adapt to the new order.

“The practice of receiving debutantes at court was abolished and the term ‘the Monarchy’ was gradually replaced by ‘the Royal Family’….”
(“Obituary: Queen Elizabeth II,” BBC News (September 8, 2022))

I think it’s easy to forget how much the world has changed since 1952. Take this remark from 1972, for example, which at the time was meant as a compliment:

“…The Queen has been absolutely determined all through … She is impatient of the attitude towards her to treat her as … a film star … She has indeed ‘the heart and stomach of a man’ … She loves her duty and means to be a Queen….”
(“The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People,” Harold Macmillan (1972) via Wikipedia (emphasis mine))

Macmillan’s “…heart and stomach of a man…” is a paraphrase or misquote from Elizabeth II’s speech to English forces gathered in Essex, responding to the Spanish Armada’s threat.

“…I have the heart and stomach of a king….”
(“Speech to the Troops at Tilbury,” Elizabeth I of England (1588) via Wikipedia)

Well, one of the versions of the speech, as recorded in Elizabethan times.

And that’s yet another topic. Topics.

I was also going to talk about authority, citizenship and related ideas. But I’ve done that before, and probably will again:


1 Record-setting monarchs:

2 Imperial background:

3 Assorted historical topics:

4 Empire, territories and Commonwealth:

5 Attitudes and ethnicity:

6 More attitudes and aristocrats:

7 Still more atitudes, and ethnicity:

8 Being British, sort of:

9 Selections from the 20th century’s first half:

10 Suez SNAFU and Hong Kong:

11 Wars and British monarchs:

12 Two monarchs, two styles:

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