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:


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

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