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Transfering to a self-hosted WordPress platform…

March 20, 2009

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Service Update

March 12, 2009


Over the next couple of days, I’ll be attempting to transition to a self-hosted platform, installing a new theme, and making a number of other changes.

With any luck, this process will happen smoothly and quickly without destroying the universe.

Hopefully The Occasional will resume in more glorious form by Monday.  Thanks for your patience.

-Andrew Hazlett

Gettysburg: Wrecking a Historic Landscape?

March 9, 2009
Autumn at Gettysburg

Autumn at Gettysburg

What is the Park Service doing at Gettysburg?  An interesting perspective from historian John Summers in the New Republic:

I grew up in Gettysburg, and my mother still lives in the shadow of Lutheran Theological Seminary, low in the lap of the ridge it names. Seminary Ridge is one of a string of ridges surrounding the town; General Robert E. Lee stood there on July 2 and 3, 1863. The woods atop the ridge had made it a sublime place to stroll for as long as I could remember–until that winter walk, which ended with a logging truck lumbering by.

Asking around, I learned that parts of the battlefield were in “rehabilitation.” In the hope of providing visitors with an authentic historical experience, the National Park Service (NPS) was seeking to restore some of Gettysburg’s landscapes to their condition when the Union and Confederate armies clashed on them.

Hundreds of acres of trees are being removed as the “rehabilitation” proceeds.  Is the National Park Service really performing a service in attempting to recreate the hallowed landscape at Gettysburg?  Does it make sense to try to replicate the exact appearance of the battlefield in July 1863? Can the Park Service really achieve the “accuracy” they are seeking?

One of the more than three thousand killed at Gettysburg

One of three thousand or so...

To truly experience what it was like to be at Gettysburg, we would need to lie with soldiers as they bled to death, groaning in pain; rotting corpses with missing limbs; streams running red; winds swarming with flies; air smelling of burning horseflesh. As we cannot know the precise cartography of the battlefield, or the movements of every soldier, or the location of every tree, so we should not try to leap backward into authenticity, or expect to become an eyewitness to history simply by showing up.

[Read the whole essay here]

Throughout the National Park system, there is a well-meaning drive to trap history in a static moment when “it” happened.  But that’s problematic…  The past can’t be immobilized and pinned like a butterfly.  History is fluid, complex, and multilayered.  A bucolic pasture doesn’t convey an “authentic” Civil War experience any more than Richard Neutra’s modernist visitor center.

Frankly, I think a well-done Hollywood movie like Glory is more effective at recreating the look-and-feel of Civil War combat than an open field of historic dimensions dotted with monuments and plugged-up cannons.  Will cutting down hundreds of acres of anachronistic trees really help?  Maybe the Park Service should focus more on interpretation and public engagement and less on horticultural correctness?

Destroying Books… for Kids’ Sake?

March 6, 2009

Books published before 1985 are facing destruction.  Why?

For kids’ sake!

For anyone who cares about sharing a more subtle era of literature with young people, the new regulations governing the sale and exchange of classic books has to be deeply frightening.

Stop it.  [Hopefully]

Kindle and the Future (if there is one) of Print Culture

March 4, 2009

Digital readers will save writers and publishing, even if they destroy the book business.

This prediction, and other points that are kinda-comforting for book lovers, can be found in this lengthy, but very worthwhile analysis at Slate‘s financial channel The Big Money.

In related news, here is a plea for revitalizing the endangered business of book reviewing.  I don’t think the author seriously believes a government bailout is in the offing, but doesn’t it seem as though there’s a market opportunity for reviewing books and culture as newspapers and magazines struggle?  Hmm…

Now Listening: Arvo Part

March 4, 2009
"Winter Landscape" by Caspar David Friedrich

"Winter Landscape" by Caspar David Friedrich

Today just seems like the perfect moment for ECM to release a new recording of works by the wintry Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.  Be sure to view the promotional performance video available at the record label’s website.

And here is a 1997 BBC interview with Pärt and, of all people, Björk…

Doesn’t this music fit well with Caspar David Friedrich‘s haunted, beautiful landscapes (as seen above)?

A Small Treasure in Tough Times

March 3, 2009

As word got out about a free lending library on the premises, more employees began to visit. Sometimes they’d stand there, just staring in awe at the quantity of books and magazines stacked in tall towers or shelved by interest in metal bookcases.

I’m often asked how long they can be checked out or how much I charge. When I explain that it’s free and there’s no limit to the number of books or the length of time they are borrowed, there’s a sense of incredulity. Really? Free? In this world?

A nice little tale of an office worker who decided to set up an unauthorized lending library in an empty cubicle… [read on]