That time I was attacked by Churchill…

I pulled the first volume of Churchill’s Marlborough off the shelf last night. It’s been on the “want to read” list for a long time. I picked up this copy for $1 at a thrift shop eighteen months or two years ago. It was missing its dust jacket, but looked otherwise in fine shape. It came from a massive haul of books they’d cleaned out from an estate, all of them sans dust jackets. Some collectors are like that… for reasons I will never grasp.

I couldn’t help but notice as I plucked the book from the shelf that the binding of this particular volume was slightly… fuzzy. There were spots of white “fuzz” happily growing on the cloth cover. Like a peach. Except not at all, because it was awful.

It’s the undeniable presence of mold. Mold. In my stacks. Attacking at least one of my books. Bloody Norah. If I sound only mildly outraged, believe me that it’s simply because this method of communication is not fully expressing the depth of my agitation.

The book is perfectly dry. It’s not got any signs of water damage. It doesn’t even have the telltale stench of molding books. But it must have been stored in the damp somewhere, somehow long before it arrived home with me.

It could probably be saved, but it’s a later printing and not particularly worth the effort or potential danger of it further spreading the mold of the cleaning is less than perfect. It had to be culled and turned out to where it can do no more damage.

Good copies of Churchill’s books, particularly the early editions, race upwards into four and five digit territory very quickly, even for copies that have been battered a bit. This isn’t one of those, so it’s not much of a sacrifice. Maybe casting it out will give me the chance to scout out a rough survivor from the 1930s at something approaching a “reasonable” price.

With that said, if anyone wants to start a GoFundMe, I do know where there’s a very pretty four volume set of first edition Marlborough’s for just $5,500. If you’d like to spend $2,000 more, we could have the set inscribed by WSC to his godson. Alternatively, should anyone feel particularly generous, during this, my time time of need, we can shoot for the 49 volume, uniformly bound first edition collection of his major works currently on offer for $54,000 and change. I’d even be willing to pick up the $19.61 shipping to bring them over from London.

It’s a happy dream… but in reality I’ll be spending a good portion of this weekend pulling things off the shelves to make sure nothing else has been infected or stopping it before it spreads any further. To think that some people say I don’t know how to have a good time.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Second Monday. Look, I’m 100% thankful for the unscheduled Federal holiday on Wednesday. The unintended consequence of this Executive Branch largess, though, was that this week had what is effectively a “second Monday.” Going back the the work after a bureaucracy-free and relaxing weekend is a regular, recurring minor trauma that fills Sunday evenings with angst and dread. Once the week gets going though, the follow-on weekdays are each slightly less traumatic than the day before. Plopping an unexpected day off down in the middle of the week created an unnatural imbalance in the normal flow – and in doing so made Second Monday feel even worse than regular Monday. It’s hard to believe that such a thing is possible, but there it is.

2. Cubicle Hell. For all of the wonderful management literature written extolling the virtues of “open concept” workplaces, none of them bother to take into account how the average employee may actually require some time to analyze, read, or complete a work product that requires some level of concentration. I only bring it up because of the increased frequency of people holding entire goddamned meetings with groups of 4-5 others spilling out into walkways or shouted over the top of adjacent walls. Multiply that by as many as 5 of these impromptu “meetings” fired up all at the same time, well, you might as well sit back and start counting ceiling tiles because even pretending to look productive under the circumstances is a lost cause.

3. The human tailbone. I’m not a fancy big city doctor, so I don’t know exactly what a tailbone is supposed to do for a person. I reckon it’s mostly like an appendix – except that when something goes wrong with it it doesn’t burst and kill you so much as it stays right where it is and hurts like a sonofabitch whenever you sit down. In any case, it seems to me that there should be some kind of corrective option beyond, well, just don’t sit so much. That’s fine advice, I suppose, when your day isn’t spent tethered to a desk and reading  volumes of fine print for the minutia that someone is trying to bury in the fine print. And yes, before someone points it out, I know that Churchill worked at a standing desk. He also worked in the bathtub and I am, clearly, no Winston Churchill. 

There will be no rending of garments here…

Winston-Churchill-1-640x480

The Washington Post ran an editorial recently that went to great pains to denounce Sir Winston Churchill as a genocidal despot in the same vein as Stalin and Hitler. I’m not going to link to it as a matter of principle. It’s bad enough that I gave them the benefit of my click. I don’t want to be directly responsible for any others. Im satisfied enough calling it an agenda driven hatchet job along the same lines as those penned by scads of contemporary revisionists who want everyone to trip over themselves apologizing for history.

There will be no apologies here. I will not gnash my teeth nor rend my garments. I’m simply unwilling to suspend disbelief and malign the clarion voice that stood alone and rallied the world to the defense of Western democracy in it’s most endangered moment.

Was he a man of his time, a voice for empire in the imperial age? Yes, of course. Did he advocate actions that, from our oh so enlightened vantage point deep into the 21st century, strike a sour note? Yes. Was he a man full of human faults and failings? Undoubtedly.

Still, taken all in all, if I were pushed deep into a corner and could have only one man rise to my defense, I would take the lionhearted Churchill over the poisoned pen editorialist any day of the week and twice on St. George’s Day.

God Save the Queen.

Ten plus six…

Before writing tonight’s post I went back and read over the the ones I wrote before. Some of them are pretty good. Some of them are angry. Some are sad. Most are a little bit of both. Honestly I always get a little choked up looking at these posts about an all important date that with each turning of the calendar recedes just a little further in our national collective memory. At best, September 11th is always a date I find filled with melancholy.

Ten years ago, I happened to be in DC in a work trip. I was busy and not really paying attention to the calendar when the day started. By the end of it, though, I’d spent the day dwelling on heroes who fought against and subdued the worst impulses of their own generation.

While thinking of Sir Winston, I wrote:

I went to see Lincoln tonight. It just seemed fitting somehow. But the words that stuck in my head weren’t those written to bind up our nation’s wounds. They’re still too fresh for that. All along my long walk tonight, I was recalling Churchill’s words from the frosted depths of the Cold War… “We have surmounted all the perils and endured all the agonies of the past. We shall provide against and thus prevail over the dangers and problems of the future, withhold no sacrifice, grudge no toil, seek no sordid gain, fear no foe. All will be well. We have, I believe, within us the life-strength and guiding light by which the tormented world around us may find the harbour of safety, after a storm-beaten voyage.”

Winston would have understood the 21st Century. Sure, we have different clothes and different music, but it’s the same old world. He’d tell us to never give in and to stay the course. He knew that the only way to defeat evil was to pummel it into unquestioned submission. Winston would have understood.

Churchill, of course, is best known for his leadership during World War II, but the charming thing about him is that he seems to have a quote for all purposes. Some are inspirational. Others are dry with humor. The very best are usually both at the same time. The ones I find myself thinking about most often, though, are the ones that call us to persevere in the face of adversity, against the longest of odds.

It’s September 11th again. So much has changed and so much is still exactly the same. I still think Winston would understand our modern world, perhaps even better than do those of us who are living in it. Sometimes I get the distinct impression that we don’t understand a damned thing.

You can read the full post from September 11, 2007 here: https://jeffreytharp.com/2007/09/11/requiem/

Truth to power…

I’m use to getting form letters from my elected representatives. Writing them directly might not count for much in today’s world, but the right to petition our government for redress of grievances is one of the hallmarks of the American democracy. Even as one voice among 300 million it’s not a right that I’m willing to let quietly die or to forgo simply because it doesn’t feel effective.

Like others of a certain age, I also use Facebook and Twitter to make my opinion known. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, these messages to power go unremarked and barely noticed… Which is why I was surprised today to get a reply to my last post on Representative Andy Harris’ Facebook page. It might have had a bit of the form letter flavor, but it at least meant that a staffer had to take the time to note my opinion and provide the appropriate response. That was unexpected.

The government writ large understands two basic things: money and popular opinion. Until I hit that elusive Powerball jackpot, I won’t be hiring my own lobbyist, but the one thing I can do, loud and long, is let my opinion be known at every opportunity. I know there are plenty of people out there who thing I should shut my pie hole and be glad I have a job (even if it is part time for the next 9 weeks), or think that the typical bureaucrat is overpaid, or think the whole damned machine needs to be torn down. That’s fine. We all know that opinions are like a certain anatomical orifice.

I expect and encourage others to have their own opinions, but know now that despite any thoughts to the contrary I will continue to make mine heard through every avenue available to me. To borrow a quote from one of my favorites, I strive to “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Sometimes I’m going to fall well short of that goal, but I’ll be here as long as I can hold out, raising hell and telling truth, as I see it, to power.

Requiem…

I wandered out the front doors of the hotel this morning and looked across Pennsylvania Ave at the flags flying in front of the Wilson Building. It was early, I was nursing my first cup of coffee and cigarette for the day (damn Marriott anyway) and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the flags were flying at half staff. It didn’t occur to me until 15 minutes later, over a bagel, that today was actually September 11th. Yeah, I actually had to do that math on that one… It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been six years.

It’s only on reflection that I realized the real weight of the day – What it’s come to mean in our history; The blood and treasure that we’ve poured out on the days from then until now; the schism that it has left on our politics in our collective effort to decide what September 11th really means. More painful, perhaps, is the indifference that most now feel towards those who waged unholy war on us on a clear morning that seems both cavernously distant and painfully close. We were not the aggressor, but the victim of a ruthless attack carried out by cowardly men on an innocent population. We’re quick to forget those minutes and hours that seemed to stretch out forever.

I went to see Lincoln tonight. It just seemed fitting somehow. But the words that stuck in my head weren’t those written to bind up our nation’s wounds. They’re still too fresh for that. All along my long walk tonight, I was recalling Churchill’s words from the frosted depths of the Cold War… “We have surmounted all the perils and endured all the agonies of the past. We shall provide against and thus prevail over the dangers and problems of the future, withhold no sacrifice, grudge no toil, seek no sordid gain, fear no foe. All will be well. We have, I believe, within us the life-strength and guiding light by which the tormented world around us may find the harbour of safety, after a storm-beaten voyage.”

Winston would have understood the 21st Century. Sure, we have different clothes and different music, but it’s the same old world. He’d tell us to never give in and to stay the course. He knew that the only way to defeat evil was to pummel it into unquestioned submission. Winston would have understood.