Friday, February 20, 2009

The Harvard Regiment Goes To The OC

I took my lecture about the 20th Massachusetts on the road a few days ago and presented it to the Orange County Civil War Roundtable. I take a good deal of pride in delivering a worthwhile and engaging discussion, and I think Tuesday's episode was a solid effort. The audience seemed to really enjoy it and the syllabus that goes along with the verbiage from me again provided a strong sense of engagement and involvement for the listeners.
One of the highlights of this talk, and really any lecture I've ever delivered, is the Q/A at the end. Usually the queries spin into the subtext of the presentation and allow expansion on other themes, which is a blast. You get other perspectives and ideas, and since you don't prepare specifically for something you can't anticipate, it's a great mental exercise to mine your knowledge base on the spot for a cogent answer. I love that!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crazy Tennis/Coffee/Cocktail Tapestry Post

I know that sometimes this blog is a bit of a whirlwind, what with the myriad Civil War threads we're weaving, all the while hyped up on coffee, gravel-voiced from screaming at another Nadal-Federer tennis classic, and sticky-fingered from mixing some new concoction. All comes together to make one crazy tapestry.
I like it this way, I like having lots of different stories being told at the same time. It makes everything dynamic, unpredictable, and fun. You don't know if I've been reading some thick tome on Reconstruction, tinkering with my coffee roaster, playing tennis, or all at the same time; thus, you (and I) don't know what's coming next.
To honor this, I've got a few things to say on a few different subjects. So I don't step on my own posts by putting up multiples in one day (a costly mistake, some people won't scroll far enough to find the new stuff), we've got a crazy silly-putty-that-rolled-down-gravel-driveway amalgam for you to chew on.
First up is a favorite punching bag of this space, Starbucks. This monolith of coffee mediocrity, exploitation, and marketing is about to roll out a new gimmick: instant coffee.
I love the use of marketing terms like "innovation", "game-changer", and "value". Here's the bottom line, if you buy this stuff, you're getting a double whammy of being ripped off and screwing the farmers who grew the beans, they'll see maybe 5 cents on the dollar. Just remember, you have a choice, so don't buy this crap.
Speaking of choices, the United Arab Emirates made a poor one when it revoked the travel visa of Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer on the eve of the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship.
Now there are international headlines blasting the decision, the tournament nearly got canceled and may get yanked off next year's WTA schedule, and the Tennis Channel made the courageous decision of canceling its television coverage in protest.
Many Gulf nations have had standing policies that Israeli citizens and those with Israeli visa stamps in their passports will be denied entry. I say "many" instead of "all" because nearly one year ago to the day, Peer broke ground as the first Israeli woman to compete in a professional tournament in the Gulf. Now a huge step backwards has been taken with this gruesome misuse of sport to make a despicable political statement.
WTA chairman Larry Scott had this to say on the issue, I direct your attention to the last sentence of the statement:
"The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour believes very strongly, and has a clear rule and policy, that no host country should deny a player the right to compete at a tournament for which she has qualified by ranking"
Then, Mr. Scott, you have a responsibility to enforce this policy. This issue did not come out of nowhere, and without an assurance that a host city can apply this policy, tournaments should not be awarded. When the policy is violated in this egregious manner and right before the tournament to boot, the event should have been shut down.
Peer's exclusion is sad and infuriating on many levels, and leaves me wanting to make a t-shirt out of the stamps from Israel I have in my passport. Next week, the issue will resurface when the men come to Dubai, including Israeli doubles player Andy Ram.
Man, all of this ranting has left me thirsty, good thing we've got a new refreshment coming down the pike. On Valentine's Day, The Jess and I made a beautiful fruit salad with winter strawberries, blood oranges, and navel oranges drizzled with some passionfruit juice. After inhaling the salad at brunch, there was a brilliant juice mixture floating in the bottom of the bowl.
After a few minutes of contemplation, the Fruit Salad HugYa was born...

Fruit Salad HugYa

1.5 oz Hangar One Mandarin Blossom vodka
0.5oz Noilly Prat sweet vermouth
1.5 oz fruit salad juice (I think fresh-squeezed OJ and passionfruit juice evenly mixed would probably suffice)
Add all three liquids to shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and serve up.
Whew, did you get all that? Take your time, because there will be another post tomorrow wrapping up my visit last night to the Orange County Civil War Rountable and tonight's SDCWRT meeting. Oh wait, I'm not helping, but you'll be fine, and back for more.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Civil War Multimedia: A Lost Cause Video, A Lecture, And The Blogosphere

Remember those questionnaires in junior high and high school that would help determine the "best way" you learn? I always thought those were junk, personally. A little viewing, some writing, a bit of listening, a good mixture was the key to a rich understanding of a subject. Thus I bring you the Civil War in three different media and three different themes.
First a furthering of the discussion of Civil War art that has been undertaken here and elsewhere. Cenantua's Blog and Civil War Memory brought me to this post at Vast Public Indifference, a blog I've followed for sometime, but had gotten a bit behind on. The video clip at the bottom is a fabulous juxtaposition and illustrates the fusion of Civil War art and the Lost Cause mythology.
I refer you to our previous discussions of Generals Lee and Jackson, and thus armed, you will see some striking imagery with a frankly bizarre, almost delusional grasp of the past in the song lyrics.
The overwritten commentary is like a breath of fresh air in a room that had the doors and windows closed for nearly 200 years (not a bad simile, if I do say so). This is a nice mix of reading, listening, and watching, so everyone is sure to get something out of it. Also, the unforgiving perspective she gives on the paintings and song lyrics is just right on the money.
But wait, you say you want to read more? Well then I provide you with a selection of new Civil War oriented blogs to choose from, and you can peruse to your heart's delight.
Draw The Sword: This is a fabulous blog maintained by Jenny Goellnitz focusing on Gettysburg monuments. What sets this blog apart is the "Find A Unit" function she has set up. See it for yourself. Fantastic!
This Mighty Scourge: A study of small units from brigade-level on down, also provides frequent posts "this day during the war" posts.
South From the North Woods: A blog by an Antietam park ranger and colleague of Mannie Gentile
Renegade South: A study of Southern Unionist sentiment by Victoria Bynum. An outstanding and diverse exploration of a challenging subject.
If you're sick of reading, and want to get back to a more auditory experience, well then just come out to Huntington Beach, CA tomorrow night and catch me delivering my lecture on the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry to the Orange County Civil War Roundtable. Same material as last August, but totally different audience, should be good fun.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Review: "Looking For Lincoln"

The Jess and I spent some time recently watching "Looking for Lincoln", which aired on PBS Wednesday night. I usually reserve my reviews for books, but will begin expanding my portfolio with this TV show.
Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates takes the viewer on a 2 hour meditation of Abraham Lincoln and the many facets of his historiography. In producing this work, Dr. Gates adds a valued addition to what I will now refer to as "courageous history". This concept started with my review of "This Republic of Suffering" and introduced the idea of history-writing as a gutsy endeavor where the writer presents a topic in completion, allowing both themselves and the reader/viewer to have their ideas and understanding challenged.
Make no mistake, this is a very difficult and scary thing to do. We find solace in our interpretations of historical events, and will have a visceral reaction when that safety is challenged. Abraham Lincoln is a perfect representation of this concept; the scope of his life and presidency, the complexity and acuity of the issues he faced, and the fact that he was assassinated allow everyone from schoolkids to PhDs to form rock-hard opinions and defensible theories. To support this point, I remind you that 14,000+ books have been written about this one man, and countless other have addressed him.
Like the rest of us, Dr. Gates has his own ideas about Lincoln as "The Great Emancipator", and his journey is on display for all of us to see. In an investigation that is remarkably broad in its scope, "Looking for Lincoln" is strikingly honest in what he finds.
I want to stay faithful to my book-reviewing style wherein I stay away from a blow-by blow description of content, you don't need me for that. This television review shall be approached in the same vein. The program walks through Lincoln's early years, his feelings on race, slavery, and emancipation, the Civil War itself, and the memory of Lincoln today as seen through the eyes of scholars, reenactors, Lincoln Memorial visitors, and members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Before the journey begins, Gates spells out his preconceptions of Lincoln that he's had since childhood, and as he moves through each iteration of his quest, he is very open about how his feelings are challenged, supported, and sometimes changed. He is also exceedingly candid about facts that change his mind and alter his perceptions of President Lincoln.
That, my friends, is gutsy.
Think of what it would take for you to challenge your own conceptions about, well, anything, do it of your own volition, and make it public. Not only that, but to solicit input from those at the top of the field, the general public, and those who's opinions are your polar opposite.
Again, gutsy. That's what it takes to truly learn from the past and apply it to our world. That's what courageous history is all about.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Birthday Of A Great Man

Today we mark with pride, respect, and appreciation the 200th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln. In a life and career as massive and awe-inspiring as his was, there is much to debate over, reflect on, and learn from. These words, from his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865, capture these concepts and are as true and important today as when he first spoke them.

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Delocate The Best Books And Coffee Houses

Of course we're all conscious of the ongoing economic crisis, and of course we want to spend our money in a responsible and productive manner. I've written before about the importance of supporting local bookstores (just made a run to one of San Diego's best, Wahrenbrock's, over the weekend and found a volume of Whitman's Civil War poetry, Ambrose Bierce short stories, and Arthur Fremantle's memoir of travelling through the Confederacy in 1862-63) as well as the brilliance of local coffeeshops like Caffe Calabria. Putting your money into these locally-owned venues will not only get you a premier product, but you'll be keeping your money in your community, instead of having it vanish into the corporate ether.
A major obstacle to doing this was knowing where these places are. Rarely does an independent bookstore or coffeehouse have a substantial marketing budget, and certainly they lack name recognition, thus its difficult to compete against ubiquitous juggernauts like Borders or Starbucks when you want a quick coffee or something to read.
Now there is a solution to this problem:
This website allows you to plug in your zipcode and immediately get a list of locally-owned coffeeshops, bookstores (and movie theatres, for that matter) straight to your computer or hand-held device. You'll be given the address, phone number, all the vital statistics you need. It's incredibly easy to use and will allow both you and your local businesses to reap immediate benefit.
Give it a try and tell me about the great finds you come up with. I'll be hitting up Elixir Espresso Bar to see what they do with the beans they get from Caffe Calabria.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Doc Roasted

So I've been roasting coffee beans like crazy, and the holidays were especially prolific. I cranked out so many bags of freshly roasted heaven for friends and family and got so many compliments, I decided that my little hobby needs a name. I'm going with "Doc-Roasted" because, you know, dark roasted, my job, haha.
Anyway, we're about due for another coffee cupping and a new stash has arrived from Sweet Marias. I'll be slapping this new moniker on the ziploc bags that hold the beans I roast, so be on the lookout.
To ensure that the quality continues to rise, I'm hoping to take my hobby to the next level. I've been using a fixed setting on my trusty iRoast-2, and am quite sure that I'm not getting to the true essence of the beans I'm roasting. I found this article about getting the most out of my roaster, as well as these suggestions from Imbibe Magazine, and have thus been newly inspired.
I've got 2.5 lbs of Rwanga Ngonkoru Nyarusiza, which is a premier bean, just below an Ethiopian yergacheffe, and I'm determined to solve this puzzle. I've just finished roasting in the standard way I've been doing it; using a fixed setting for about 6-7 minutes. Tasting notes will follow, and next time, I'll vary the roasting times and temps a bit, and seek out the differences.
It's pretty amazing how good these home-roasted beans turn out, and I fully realize I'm a buffoon when it comes to actually doing this right. A little more dedication to the craft, and hopefully the next level won't be too far off.
Oh yeah, coffee art for your viewing pleasure here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Multimedia Celebration Of Abraham Lincoln's 200th Birthday

We're on the cusp of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, and to celebrate that auspicious anniversary February 12th, there is no shortage of Lincoln articles, programs, plays, you name it.
Some of the choice items I have linked below, so please peruse...
I'm most looking forward to "Looking For Lincoln", airing on PBS February 11th at 8PM. You can also watch the bulk of the show for free online. I'm waiting for the big screen experience.
American Experience on PBS on Monday night is all about Lincoln's assassination.
Here's a new play focusing on Lincoln and the re-opening of Ford's Theatre.
Speaking of Ford's Theatre, the NY Times has a wonderful review of its reopening here. Don't miss the slide show that goes along with it!
The Huntington Museum and Gardens in Pasadena, CA just opened a new exhibition called "The Last Full Measure of Devotion: Collecting Abraham Lincoln".
Along with the photos, TV shows, lectures, and exhibits about Lincoln, there has also been a slew of new books. A great review and compendium of these titles is here.
The Abraham Lincoln Bookstore is also getting in the act with a host of live webchats with various Lincoln authors.
The blogosphere brings us (among hundreds of others) 21st Century Abe. A unique take, no question.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Book Review: "This Republic Of Suffering"

I've waited months to read Drew Gilpin Faust's "This Republic of Suffering", and now that I'm done, wish I'd read it immediately. This book has been nominated for a few major awards and the accolades were well-deserved. I want to add my two cents to the legion of reviews that followed this book's release last year.
Writing history takes courage. The act of recording events and providing analysis may sometimes require a researcher to cover material they find sad, abhorrent, embarrassing, inexcusable. The true scholar has the fortitude to minimize their personal concerns and emotions and provide a clear and unabashed view of the subject in question.
Most of those who first studied and analyzed the American Civil War unfortunately did not have this intrinsic strength and insight. People like Early, Gordon, Pendleton et al instead let their own interests, grievances, and shame influence their writing, with the inevitable result being the mythology of the Lost Cause.
The next wave of historians who wrote books that would carry into generations of students that followed, men like Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote, and Douglas Southall Freeman, lacked the skill and vision to present the war in its full, gruesome reality. Instead, leaders were glorified and charges were immortalized, intentions were obscured and fables were propagated. The illustration of an entire nation's suffering was a secondary priority.
Now, there is a new tide in the historical analysis of the Civil War and historians of recent years are finally showing the acumen and stoutheartedness that considering such a destructive and horrible thing as war requires. Dr. Faust and "This Republic of Suffering" are at the forefront of this effort. Her truly unique analysis of death in the Civil War helps fan away the obfuscating haze of romanticism and mythology that still surrounds our understanding of the Civil Warand shows just how horrible, painful, and all-encompassing the slaughter was.
There is no nobility here, no heroic charges praised in painting and re-enactment. This is a comprehensive look at how those who lost a loved one, those who faced death, and those who dealt it handled these enormous burdens. This is the first time this subject has been treated so comprehensively (only took 140-something years) and for that fact alone, this book is important.
In addition to its unique subject matter, this is just damn good historiography. From sourcing to writing, this book is how it is done.
More than anything else, "This Republic of Suffering" is just tremendously sad. Sad for the men who didn't want to die, sad for the families who could never find their son's body, sad for those who had to kill. Sad for those who would craft an entire mythology around the war so they could better cope with what they had wrought.
It is exactly this book's emotional slap in the face that makes it such an important work. This story is our story, how we killed each other, suffered, and grieved during a terrible time in our nation's history. Here, finally, is a book that focuses solely on just how painful this war was for our society.
Nothing is sugarcoated and there is no glamour. There is no brawling over who was a better leader, who was more religious, who was or wasn't inept, any of the goofiness that so many post-war writers and subsequent historians brewed up to help us escape from the fact that fully 6% of our nation's population was dead. It is because those who first sat down to write the war's story, and the Freemans, Footes, and Cattons who followed them with thick tomes of bloviating and myth didn't have the onions to include this gritty subject matter. By abdicating this responsibility, these "historians" have left our society to deal with a tremendous amount of misunderstanding.
It is because there are historians like Faust with the courage to write the war's hard reality and folks who buy, read, and discuss "This Republic of Suffering" that we will continue to find a truer understanding and memory of the Civil War, and, hopefully, a better conception of who we are as an undivided society.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What A Sports Day!

Quite a sports day, just finished watching the Super Bowl and am too tired to write about Rafael Nadal's incredible 5 set victory over Roger Federer in the men's Australian Open final. These two warriors added another chapter to their lexicon of classic matchups and, once again, Rafa came out on top.
Rafa has put a firm hold on the number one ranking with his first Grand Slam on hardcourts and seems to be adding to his own legend every day. For Federer, the implications of this loss were clearly evident as he struggled to get through the trophy presentation.
More on this titanic clash in the next few days.