Terrastock 7 info/tickets and more

I had been wondering about when things would finally get official and here’s the answer:

Main Terrastock page

Tickets are quite cheap this time around — $55 if you buy in February. Can live with that!

See you there if you’re at all into this!

“…someone had blundered.”

Ian Fletcher and Natalia Ischneko’s The Crimean War: A Clash of Empires is a good read. Dry, but good. That likely sounds like faint praise, but the Crimean War is one of those events that I’d wanted to learn more about for some time — it’s one of those things where you hear the term bandied about if you are a bit of a history buff, there’s Tennyson’s poem about a certain charge, even the realization that what folks in the UK call balaclavas derives from the harsh winter British troops spent on the peninsula the first time through, specifically the harbor town they were stationed in.

But for all that general knowledge, there’s this incredible void at the heart of the war in popular knowledge — namely, what exactly was the Crimean War? A little context too — there were a slew of ‘small’ wars in southeastern Europe throughout the nineteenth century, ‘small’ at least if you were lucky enough not to be in the middle of them. This one happened to involve most of the big names, though, so that’s part of the reason why it got the attention it did. Dig into the heart of it all, though, and you find that this war was a combination of such a ridiculous overlay of power politics and personal grievances that it’s both perversely impressive and just plain horrific.

More on that in a bit. The stated goals by the coauthors were to try and present a more rounded history of the War to their main respective audiences in the UK and in Russia — the two met while Fletcher was part of a tour group visiting Crimean War sites, and what was discovered was how vastly different the perceptions of what was memorable or worth noticing about the war were between the two countries. Nearly everything that holds a place in British and Anglophonic collective memory is treated with a shrug in Russia, while on the flipside the war itself in Russian memory differs from the siege of Sevastopol that was seen to follow it, even though in the West and elsewhere it’s all part of the ‘Crimean War’ in general.

With that goal in mind, the general goal of the book is achieved, though in itself in a strangely circumscribed way. By aiming at a more all-around view of the conflict, it’s still seen almost solely through British and Russian eyes — perhaps a necessary limitation given the length of the book and the detail provided, but the French side of the conflict is barely presented beyond the unavoidable key actors and decisions, while the Turks are barely remarked upon outside of their commander. If anything, the book ends up making you wonder more about their experiences — something which results from the useful decision on the part of the authors to include a regular amount of personal reflections, testimonials and letters from British and Russian soldiers and observers alike.

Meanwhile, while the book has a tendency to drag a bit — it always feels like two chapters at a time at most is all that’s readily manageable — it does provide both an overall portrait and a variety of telling if occasionally repeated details, from the long shadow of Wellington on the British Army preventing it from fully reforming as it ought to the story of Dasha Sevastopolskaya, a young orphan girl who took it upon herself to be an independent field nurse for Russian troops. I now have a better grasp on this simultaneously famous and obscure conflict, and the history fiend in me is satisfied for that reason.

Yet overall, the sheer sadness and waste of this all — a conflict arising out of Napoleon III’s desires to be a player on the international scene and any other number of political considerations that seems like so much rubbish now — is what one is left with, and which makes the occasional mentions of glory and honor (apparently without irony) rather jarring. Near the end is when the authors project the overall death toll at being 640,000 people at least — and then note that this overtops the death toll from the Civil War. 40,000 of them alone were Frenchmen who died of disease in the second winter of the war, and their utter anonymity in the text — mentioned briefly by this number once or twice, then not referred to again — seems like a final sad indignity.

Perversely, however, after it all, there’s something funny that came out of all this, though this isn’t mentioned in the book. As John D. tipped a bunch of us off to — one of Iron Maiden’s first big singles was directly inspired by the Crimean War, “The Trooper”:

And it’s because of that song that this performance by one Van Canto can exist:

And I can’t add much more to that.

Unpacking my digital library — third thoughts

The process of doing all this is…boring. By default.

The reason why I’ve been doing all this to begin with — burning things to individual discs over the years as I rip and sell back the archives (as I like to call my unwieldy collection of compact discs — another term’s been the Raggettstacks, which I’m always amused by) — is because I didn’t have an external hard drive to put it on. I always had a hard drive, I should note, but as part of whatever computer I had at the time. Also, it was only until recently that iPods were large enough to comfortably hold a functioning, overall collection.

So in a way I’ve been working backwards this whole time — instead of storing things on a hard drive and putting them on discs as backups, I’ve created the backups first and now have a hard drive to put them. I knew for some time that there would be a point where hard drives would be big enough and cheap enough for me to afford even on my fairly low-key budget, it was just a matter of waiting it out.

Playing the long game with technology, I should note, is something that’s often underrated — too often it’s all about getting something now when a year or two later something better and cheaper has arrived. Anyone who has dealt with Apple for years knows the score on this front (and hey, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Apple user for over twenty years now), but this applies to all sorts of products by all kinds of companies. The thing also was that there’s just so much to do and enjoy in life that there was very little need at all for me to dig out the CDRs I’d created from things I’d sold back — I didn’t feel any impulse to do so, no crushing sense of ‘damn, if I only had that around again and knew how to easily find it.’

Now, of course, I can, and it’s been amusing to see and play around with the kind of instant recall something like iTunes provides. It’s a marvellously efficient database program that spits back results in a second, if you know what terms to use and what to search for — one reason to always improve your tags if you need to (and more often than not I do!). Mine is a fresh reaction where for most people it’s been commonplace all this time, so I’m still marvelling a bit — but doing so knowing that years upon years of work and use has gone into this combination of expectation and programming.

But it still takes time to copy over each disc’s contents. A lot of time. This might take all winter, because even after only a few discs of this I get restless and bored. But I wanted to create this so onward I go.

Requiem for a lightweight

Odd character, Rudy Giuliani. My first memories of him were as with most other people’s, I’d guess — some clean-cut guy who was a district attorney in New York City who made his name busting the mob a few times over. No bad thing, though in my youthful innocence I figured something like, “Okay, that’s done, so crime won’t be a big problem over there much any more.” Pitiful me.

Then he becomes mayor and I mostly shrug. I’m over near Los Angeles, he’s on the other coast, whatever. As time passes and I start to get to know people some more over in New York City and thereabouts, I learn that he’s not entirely loved, to put it mildly. In fact more often than not he sounds like a bit of a prick. Allegedly, however, he cleans up the streets, though it seems that the police force doesn’t exactly exhibit best behavior at all times.

He gets a chance to run against Hilary Clinton for the Senate and it seems that there’s a big ol’ battle royale forming and…he drops out. Turns out he’s a family man in the sense that he doesn’t mind exchanging one family set-up for another, which I’m sure his kids love. Clinton whomps the poo out of her opponent in 2000 and once again in 2006 and somewhere a lot of people growse about this fact to this day, probably.

Then there’s a day in September and the outgoing mayor is the Most Famous and Bestest Mayor and American EVER! for doing things like going on to Saturday Night Live and telling people it was okay to laugh again. We thank you. (We do?) And somewhere along the line he gets the idea that maybe the presidency isn’t that crazy a notion, even when Bernard Kerik’s legal troubles suggest that he’s not much of a guy for looking into pertinent details. (Maybe he busted the mob because they looked at him funny one day.)

This Washington Post story and this New York Times story [EDIT: and this Guardian piece] talk about how all that played out. Me, I shed no tears. I get the severe impression after all this time that this man was ultimately a coaster on reputation, no more or less so than many other people, no more or less so than your typical Presidential candidate, really. But for a while there he had the aura of invulnerability. Honestly, I’m glad to see it shattered.

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Embracing chance in cooking

Here’s an example of chance working nicely — so, last week I made up this soup, but had plenty of broth left over even after storing a bit of it. In a random moment of inspiration I froze that remainder, figuring I’d get a good idea of what to do with it. Yesterday I had that idea — use it, rather than just water or a simple broth to cook up a slew of rice.

Worked like a charm! The broth’s rich but not overwhelming flavor settled into the rice perfectly, while the remaining beans, scallions and herbs made for an excellent flavoring. Some more of this combination is in the fridge tonight, meantime, for eating tomorrow. If you stop thinking of them as leftovers and start thinking of them as new possibilities for new dishes, your culinary world does expand nicely…

Some cookbook recommendations

And I might have more at a later time. However, a comment from friend Eve in my post yesterday regarding some recommendations for a seasonally-based cookbook made me realize a general post might not go awry. So here’s a short-list of what I’ve been using a lot lately and/or have a particular faith in, with reference to trying to eat vegetarian:

  • Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, as discussed yesterday, so I won’t dwell on it here again. Suffice to say, though, that this one I’m recommending while not having read a word of it — I just know it’ll be that excellent. Get it, thank me later.
  • John Peterson’s Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables — this one is already achieving a certain legendary status among folks as being a key text for anyone interested in CSA programs as well as organic cooking and vegetarian approaches. It’s actually probably the one cookbook I refer to the most, in part because of its excellent organization, broken into three main sections covering early, mid and late growing season fruits and vegetables. Combined with a chatty, easygoing series of pieces and some gentle reflection on the nature of organic farmwork, it’s a treat all around.
  • Laurel Robertson’s The New Laurel’s Kitchen, an older book that was among the first high profile vegetarian cookbooks when it was first published in the 1970s, then republished in the mid-eighties, but one which has still provided me with a slew of ideas over time. Friend Stripey lent it to me some time back and I’ve used it off and on over the moons when otherwise unsure of what to try. You can find a copy for pretty cheap through that Amazon link, worth having around!
  • Meantime, I’ve also checked out a book I noticed randomly at the library today: Larousse Gastronomique: Vegetables and Salads, a selection from the classic text’s latest revision focusing on said two fields. This is by no means a vegetarian cookbook — many of the preparations contain meat of some sort — but as a crash course in French cooking and recipes with a focus on vegetables in general, it already looks promising.

    There are many more books I could suggest, of course, and this is only meant to be an initial starting point — and I use random internet scrounges all the time for recipes (just plug in the random ingredients you have around the house and see what’s up!). Post any further recommendations here if you’ve got ‘em…

Summing up the State of the Union — and this presidency

It’s often been said that certain news media organizations aim to select the most unattractive photos around of certain people, or aim for images that are perhaps suggestive.

I wouldn’t know about that. All I have to say is that, sometimes, one shot does say it all, having encountered it when reading this Dan Balz post:

HI DERE

So he squints on, boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. None too soon at that.

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Unpacking my digital library — second thoughts

And by this I don’t mean I’m changing my mind, merely that it’s the next entry.

There was a story over on Idolator today which put me in mind of the comments I dug up from 1999 on my end in yesterday’s post regarding how albums as such would no longer be a dominant form. To quote the story:

The end result, then, seems to be same as pundits have been predicting for the last few years: as the audience that grew up on the album as it’s understood dies out, the format itself will become an ever-shrinking, vestigial art practiced by throwbacks and holdouts ignoring that MP3s have long-since-obliterated any sense of obligation on listeners’ parts to keep the songs they think suck, the art form doomed to a (very slow) death once playlists made it possible to self-edit an album without having to wear our your skip button or nudge the stylus ahead every few songs.

The comments section exploded into a bit of a war over that but the conclusion strikes me as sound, if of an overdetermined sort. If there’s been a constant complaint about the record industry over this decade, it started with the idea, often voiced in the days of Napster, that companies were charging too much for discs that people only ever wanted one or two songs off of in the first place. It’s a comment that tends to reinforce its own logic, but it is always has a curiously built-in assumption — namely, that albums were uniformly created in a cookie-cutter way where there was a key item of purported economic value surrounded by a bunch of unnecessary packaging.

You can flippantly agree with that if you like, but step back a bit — we’re not talking about endless bags of potato chips where half the content is always guaranteed to be air. If every person thought every album was always going to be the same way in the sense described — if in fact that could be proven to be the case, objectively — then it would make sense. Instead, it became an understandable but illogical canard, but one with just enough emotional impact to work. After all, we’d think, we’ve all been burned that way before, one way or another. True, doubtless — but constantly?

This may all seems little more than sophistry at this point; the cows have long since bolted, etc. etc. — pick a metaphor or simile you’re comfortable with. Still, even though I agree with there things are going now, I’m not thinking it was necessarily the baseline assumption made at the start of the decade — if anything, that was more an understandable excuse. Playlists, as the Idolator post notes, were the real turning point — the ability to rapidly search, organize and present material, whether through iTunes or iPods or something else again. The impact will continue to play out, of course.

More tomorrow, as I continue to work through all those CDRs…

The joy of kohlrabi greens

Sure, there’s the kohlrabi itself, but don’t forget the leaves. Cooked up a touch, tossed with soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil, topped with shichimi — good eats! (That and a basic but good stir-fry makes a fine meal.)

Next time around I’ll probably just steam the leaves but if you’d like to try it it’s quite simple:

Ingredients
1 large bunch kohlrabi with greens
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
~ Good quality soy sauce, to taste
~ Shichimi, to garnish (see note)

Steps

1. Tear the leaves away from tough ribs and stems. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the kohlrabi leaves, and boil until tender, 1 to 3 minutes, depending on the age of the leaves. Fish out a leaf and taste it after 1 minute to determine cooking time.

2. Drain the greens in a colander and push on them with a spatula to remove as much water as possible. Roughly chop the cooked greens and place them on a serving plate. Toss with the sesame oil and soy sauce to taste. Sprinkle with shichimi and serve as a side dish with rice and steamed fish or a meat stir-fry.

Meanwhile in Iraq…

An extremely interesting piece has surfaced over here, co-written by Max Boot, one of the war’s strongest supporters still. A key part:

…the government headed by Nouri Maliki is moving with agonizing slowness, running the risk that civil war may be reignited.

The danger grows because the five surge brigades — fully one-quarter of American combat power — are scheduled to return home by August. Coincidentally, thousands of former insurgents will be released from American-run prisons. In Baghdad alone, more than 30 detainees a day are expected to return at a time when there are substantially fewer American soldiers on the streets.

Meanwhile, American and Iraqi units still have to drive Al Qaeda from Mosul and the desert close to the border with Syria, which remains a sanctuary for extremists. Iran also continues to train and fund Shiite extremist gangs. So Petraeus has his hands full. His task will become more difficult if shortsighted officials in Washington push for even more troop reductions later this year.

However, it is the government’s ineffectiveness, not the insurgency, that is Iraq’s biggest problem.

It goes on from there, ending on this note:

The U.S. should support democracy in Iraq, not Maliki per se.

A few weeks ago, the Kurds threatened a “no confidence” vote if the prime minister did not share power. Chastened, Maliki seemed to agree. The tests will be whether he permits Sunnis to join the police force in representative numbers, disburses funds to the provinces and permits legislation for provincial elections certain to weaken his authoritarian efforts to control Iraq. If he doesn’t come through, the American president may have no choice but to cast his vote — probably a decisive one — against the Iraqi prime minister.

To say there are shades of policy decisions and arguments paralleling the support or lack thereof of South Vietnamese regimes here is to understate. Nothing irritates those who still believe in this whole mess than Vietnam comparisons, but it has to be said that pieces like these are not doing their cause any favors.

This said, go back to the first part I noted and consider time here. I’ve said before and will say even more forcefully now that the timing of the end of the surge as such is a massive risk on the part of the administration, and it is one that is not necessarily panning out. The hope — clearly — was that Bush would be able to claim that all was well going into the presidential election itself, in the hopes that it would be fully off the table now. The surge troops will be back by a few months before the election, though, and all signs have been that there’s a fragile stability at best — this isn’t wishful thinking, it’s something that’s been repeatedly said by military officials, and while plenty of anecdotal evidence has surfaced from individual soldiers and milbloggers that things are even more tense than might be guessed.

I’ve also said before that all we can do is watch and wait, and that’s pretty much what’s happening here, but the undertones are worth observing. Boot and his co-author’s seemingly diffident conclusion, but only in a misdirecting sense (‘may have no choice but to cast his vote — probably a decisive one,’ please — talk about having your cake and eating it too!) may not be overtly driven by US political calculations but it’s lurking there, waiting. If things descend into a bloody mess once again, GOP dreams of victory in November are even more fantastical than ever.

Of course, the thing to note is that at this point predicting the exact future in Iraq is impossible — in many ways it has defied all predictions but the succinct made by my friend years ago that the war would be won easily, but the peace would not. To reiterate again, meanwhile, nobody but a cruel fool wants more death and destruction. It’s entirely possible that that’s what we’re going to get, though, beyond the rolling tragedies that still occur, such as the bombing in Mosul that killed five US soldiers earlier today.

But again, all we can do now is watch, and wait. And hope.

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