The Books of 2016, #13: The Gates of Europe, by Serhii Plokhy

Hooooo boy... nothing says "light summer reading" like a history of Ukraine. 

"The Gates of Europe" is a fairly traditional telling of the land and people that have, at some times, but not at others, been referred to as Ukraine and Ukrainians. I say "fairly traditional" as, while it's mostly a chronological narrative of events that occur over time in a reasonably specific patch of geography, Ukraine has not been an independent, sovereign state for much, nay, most of that time, and the people we today identify as Ukrainians often weren't in the past. 

It's a bit of a muddle.

Due to Ukraine's anomalous status throughout most of history, its story is of necessity thickly intertwined with those of the other nations of which Ukraine has been part over the centuries. To his credit, Plokhy keeps a pretty tight focus on the Ukrainians and only brings in the Poles, Austrians, Russians, etc., as much as is needed to put the Ukrainian narrative into proper context. More importantly, he spends a good amount of time covering what each period itself thought it meant to "be Ukrainian", going into detail on contemporary academic and literary trends and arguments that were completely unknown to the vast majority of peasants whose identity was being argued over. This detail spent on the arguments of tiny elites isn't, I'm sure, by choice; as ever with history, nobody cared to write down much about what the vast majority of people felt about these things at the time. So Plokhy is just working with what he has here.

The book covers well the various bases on which a putative Ukrainian "nationhood" has been claimed over time; religion, language, Cossack-ness, the ancient Kievan kingdom of Rus... part of the difficulty in writing a book such as this is that there is not, even today, any agreement that characteristics X, Y and Z being present in person A makes them a Ukrainian as opposed to a Russian or a Belarusian.  There are diehard Ukrainian nationalists today who can only speak Russian, for example. Likewise, there are Uniate Church-adhering Ukrainian speakers who consider themselves fully Russian, and who would like their chunk of the nation-state of Ukraine to revert to the Rodina as soon as possible.

Plokhy does not place value judgments either way, an admirable locking down of whatever bias he may actually feel on the issue; it's a pretty dry, straight-forward narrative that does not push a belief that Ukraine is a unique, distinct culture/nation/person-type separate from Russia in any overbearing fashion. That he wrote a book about Ukrainian history in the first place makes his point of view clear; overselling the point would probably just turn the rather intense partisans on either side of the divide off from the get-go (a point which online reviews of this book make sadly clear). 

I enjoyed the book, though I found Plokhy's studious devotion to detachment to have rendered it rather dry at times. There aren't many English-language histories that cover the whole of the Ukrainian story in one volume without including a lot of non-Ukrainian narrative, so I'm glad "The Gates of Europe" exists. If you just want to try and wrap your head around Ukraine's deal, you'd easily do worse than to pick this one off of the shelf. 

 

Hell Is Other People: Elevators

I think it's a fairly common fantasy that people indulge in to wonder what they would do if there was like a day where all laws were suspended and one could just unleash hell on whoever we choose. I _think_ this is the premise of those horrible-looking The Purge movies, but there's no fucking way I'm watching that dumb garbage to confirm it.

That said, I did however indulge in a brief fantasy about this idea this morning when I boarded the elevator at work. I think, if granted a Purge Day where I could murder without consequence, I would murder everybody who gets on the elevator AFTER me but presses a button for a floor BEFORE mine. 

I realize this is completely irrational, not at all their fault, and possibly sociopathic. 

I also don't care.

In an era where a presidential candidate literally holds no beliefs and cannot recognize factual truth, and whose supporters actually see this as a good thing, does a light fantasy about stabbing a completely innocent person because they inconvenienced me even move the needle? I don't think it does.

So, beware, co-habitants of my office space. If society collapses, I'm not going after cops or the Mayor or even people who've specifically done me personal harm. It is you, lady who gets on at the 1st Floor and gets off on the 5th Floor, who will die by my hand first.

iTunes: FUCK Your Albums, Son

Lord have mercy, am I ever tired of this malevolent piece of shit software... (and spare me any thoughts about replacing it with a hand-crafted lossless FLAC archive or fucking Spotify or whatever floats YOUR particular boat; I've been ripping my own music into and buying music through iTunes since it came out 16 fucking years ago, I'm not spending the time and money that would be necessary to recreate my library anywhere else right now. iTunes is my goddamned wife, and we're married in a country that doesn't recognize divorce. So be it).

I was checking the iTunes Store this week for a rare track by Clutch (pronounced: FUCKING. CLUTCH.) that I saw on YouTube and that I wished, if it were available, to purchase for my own library. It wasn't, but I saw that there was a Deluxe Edition of their last studio album, which I already own, that features three bonus tracks, which I do not.

So I bought just those three tracks, to complete the whole album.

iTunes, in its infinite retardation, loaded them up into the library as so:

Yes. These are totally two completely different albums. For sure.

Yes. These are totally two completely different albums. For sure.

Okay, fine. One set of tracks is called THING and the other is THING (Deluxe). And maybe there's some colossal sperglord out there who would want these two things kept separate. I, however, being a normal goddamned human being, do not. I mean, fuck's sake, it even knows that the track #s on the latter three tracks proceed directly from the first twelve. THIS IS ALL ONE GODDAMNED ALBUM, ITUNES. So, in any other music managing app in the world, to correct this one would simply:

  • select all tracks
  • edit their info
  • force one album title onto all fifteen tracks, which:
  • will make any non-mongoloid music app understand that "oh hey, duder wants these to all be considered one album. Done"

iTunes, being a special snowflake, considered my request to lump these into one album and gave me this:

lol wut

lol wut

How in the actual fuck it decided that tracks 9-15 are an album by a band called Clutch named Psychic Warfare that is completely different and separate from the album by a band called Clutch named Psychic Warfare that contains tracks 1-8 is a mystery that I will never solved short of kidnapping the entire iTunes development team from the last 20 years and locking them into a torture-filled Skinner Box of my own devising until they spit out the truth.

Now, I've been wrestling in the mud with iTunes for a looooong fucking time at this point. Even after the Great Purge of 2006 (am I mildly ashamed at the number of live U2 bootlegs and Cleopatra Records "re-recordings" of 80's cock rock greats by the middle-aged current versions of same that I had? Yes), or the Lesser Purge of 2012 (when I, and millions of other people, quietly deleted that Gotye album that, aside from that one tune, really, really sucked), I'm still sitting at about 17,000 songs and 140GB of music. So, I've learned a few tricks along the way to make it behave. Sometimes.

One thing you can do is right-click and GET INFO and change not just the album name, but go into the SORTING OPTIONS and try applying the album name to the SORT AS field, which is usually blank. I did that here and...

Jesus wept.

Jesus wept.

This has NEVER been reproducible or reliable, so sometimes you just have to do it a few times and see if it ever gets it right. Which is fucking infuriating, but what are you gonna do? You're going to try it again, that's what you're going to do. And, eventually, maybe, if the moon is aligned correctly and a cat is having its period within a 2 mile radius, maybe, just maybe, it'll work:

oh my fuckin' god was that SO HARD?!?!?

oh my fuckin' god was that SO HARD?!?!?

As an aside, I do use Google Music just as a last-ditch backup dump for all of my music. I use their Music Manager to automatically upload anything new that shows up in my iTunes to Google Music. On a whim, I decided to see how it treated this same scenario:

Not again...

Not again...

So, Google Music, too, thinks these are two separate albums. Great. Let's try fixing that. Click the little ... icon and change the album name from "Psychic Warfare (Deluxe)" to just "Psychic Warfare" and click enter...

Oh hey that worked just fine. DIDN'T IT, APPLE?!?!?!?

Oh hey that worked just fine. DIDN'T IT, APPLE?!?!?!?

THAT WAS FUCKING EASY. SURE WISH APPLE COULD FIGURE OUT WHAT THEIR PRIMARY COMPETITOR HAS. Not that Google Music doesn't have a ton of other problems (playlists capped at 1000 songs is the biggie for me), but this kind of simple shit should automatically work in any app that purports to be a music library manager or player. Maybe just switching to the new-ish Apple Music would be easiHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAican'tevenfinishthatsentenceAppleMusicisadumpsterfire.