First as tragedy, then as farce

January 13, 2007

Many warbloggers and other assorted Iraq-war supporters fancy themselves to be followers of Winston Churchill.

And one of the most widely read biographies of Churchill is the two-volume hagiography by William Manchester. (As a boy, I read the first volume. For boys, it’s a good history.)

I had never thought to connect the two, though, until I read the following, from a 1989 review of Manchester’s second volume by David Cannadine, reprinted in his book History in Our Time:

[Manchester’s] concern is to retell (and to reburnish) the familiar story of Churchill’s wilderness years, which were, Manchester insists, undoubtedly the greatest and noblest of his career. For most of the 1930s, Churchill was out of office, out of power, out of favour, and out of luck. He was spurned, derided and rejected by the lesser men in government; he was regarded as an outcast by the Tory Party managers; and he was banned from speaking on the BBC. […] Truly, Churchill was a prophet without honour in his own country. But, undaunted and undismayed, he put together a vast underground intelligence network, which meant he was better informed about German rearmament and territorial ambitions than the Foreign Office. He made a succession of brilliant, unanswerable speeches, in Parliament and throughout the country, damning appeasement as cowardly folly, and struggled to alert the western democracies to the growing menace of Hitler. And so, in the eleventh hour, when all the grievous events that Churchill had so valiantly and vainly foretold had finally come to pass, the people eventually turned to him, as the rejected prophet became the national saviour and gave his country its ‘finest hour’.

While Manchester waxes thus fulsome in his eulogistic evocation of Churchill, he shows no mercy to the cynical Judases who were, he believes, the ‘betrayers of England’s greatness’. […] Without exception, Manchester insists, they were weak, shabby, irresolute, provincial mediocrities, who vainly believed that Hitler could be trusted and should be appeased. And they were supported in their ignoble endeavours by […] unimaginative and hypocritical politicians […] who believed in peace at virtually any price. Nor, Manchester insists, was this the full extent of their duplicity. For it was not just that they did not want to offend the Führer. Obsessed as they were with the fear of Communist subversion, they actually wanted to support and strengthen Nazi Germany as the most effective European counterpoise to what they saw as the much greater threat of Soviet Russia. And in order to do so, they deliberately misled the British public about the true nature and intentions of the Nazi regime.

Does any of Manchester’s mythology sound familiar? Sound, perhaps, like a mythology we have been hearing since 9/11?

If you wanted to pretend to be Manchester’s Churchill — wanted to interpret the geopolitical crisis of your own time so that you could enjoy the thrill of posturing in that particular heroic way — then would you have acted much differently than the warbloggers and their ilk have over the last five years, with their fisking and their demonizing and their unrealistic idealism and their blood-thirsty sermonizing?

A fine fantasy for boys. But isn’t it time they grew up?


Favorite songs of ‘06

December 23, 2006

Of the songs I added to iTunes in 2006, here are the ones I played most often (many of these songs were not actually released in 2006):

  1. “Are You With Me?” by Overnight
  2. “Nature Anthem” by Grandaddy
  3. “The Sun Shines Down on Me” by Guster
  4. “Kicks in the Schoolyard” by Rosebud
  5. “Three Lions” by World Cup Willies
  6. “Dreidel” by Don McLean
  7. “Reason is Treason” by Kasabian
  8. “Technologic” by Daft Punk
  9. “The Vice and Virtue Ministry” by The Happy Bullets
  10. “I Was Never Young” by Of Montreal

I heard nine of these ten songs for the first time on The Good Show.

Recent iTunes purchases

December 6, 2006
  • “If Anybody Had a Heart” by John Waite
  • “Palestine Texas” by T Bone Burnett
  • “Going Going Gone” by The Vestals
  • “You Didn’t Have to be So Nice” by The Lovin’ Spoonful
  • “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks
  • “Smoke from a Distant Fire” by Sanford & Townsend
  • “For the Love of Money” by The O’Jays
  • “Wrong Time Capsule” by Deerhoof
  • “Mad World” by Michael Andrews
  • “You Go to My Head” by Frank Sinatra
  • “Someone to Watch Over Me” [1945] by Frank Sinatra
  • “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” by Frank Sinatra
  • “Why Shouldn’t I?” by Frank Sinatra
  • “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” by The Offspring

Last trip to Tower

December 6, 2006

I flew down to the Bay Area to visit my sister this past weekend, and persuaded her to make a side trip to Tower Records on our way from Pleasant Hill BART to her house.

The inventory was heavily depleted because the store has been going out of business for the last several weeks and everything is 50% off, but I still found a few things:

  • “Songs of Love and Hate” by Leonard Cohen
  • “Going Somewhere” by Colin Hay
  • “Employment” by Kaiser Chiefs
  • “Missing Songs” by Maxïmo Park

Also, for the fifth and final time I bought the latest Duran Duran album (“Astronaut”) at Tower. I don’t think I would have bought it if not for nostalgia, but maybe when I listen to it I’ll like it.

Biggest disappointment: They were out of the yellow-and-red Tower Records bags. I wanted one…

Sports joy

December 5, 2006

It’s been a great year for me as a college football fan. Ohio State is 12-0, Big Ten champions, and will play in the national championship game. California is 9-3 and Pac-Ten co-champions. San Jose State is 8-4 and will play in a bowl game for the first time since 1990.

Even better: Ohio State beat Michigan, Cal beat Stanford, and San Jose State beat Fresno State. The last time all three teams won their rivalry games in the same year: 1979.

You can’t work with someone who won’t work with you

December 4, 2006

An interesting post-midterm wrapup by Rolling Stone contained this questionable assertion by David Gergen:

Voters don’t want a whole series of confrontations over the next two years. […] Democrats have got to be willing to work with the administration […] That’s going to be very hard for them to do.

I believe that the next two years will see “a whole series of confrontations” because that will be what the Bush administration will want. I see no indication that it has any intention of working with a Democratic Congress.

100 most influential Americans?

November 28, 2006

The Atlantic Monthly has posted a list of the 100 Americans who a panel of historians consider to be the most influential in American history.

I suggested adding five people to the list:

I also noted five people I thought could be removed:

  • Stephen Foster
  • Herman Melville
  • Samuel Goldwyn
  • Alexander Graham Bell (someone else was about to invent the telephone)
  • The Wright Brothers (someone else would have invented the airplane)

Farewell to Tower

November 27, 2006

I’m numb at the news that Tower Records is going out of business.

When I was in high school, the first thing I would do with each weekly paycheck was spend part of it at Tower Records in Concord. I still have 12-inch singles with 1986 Tower price tags on them.

Later, while taking a year off from college, I worked for seven months at Tower Books, the sister store of that Tower Records.

The bookstore in Concord closed years ago. Now the music store will be gone soon as well. That whole vibrant culture I loved — the myriad bins of albums and singles; the excitement of finding almost any piece of music I knew to look for; the smart, cynical staff; the colored foamcore band promos; the yellow-and-red bags — all gone.

I wonder where Liane is now…


November 22, 2006

I have been out of town visiting parents for 12 of the last 14 days, first on the Big Island and then on Lake Chelan.

In rough order, here is how I spent my time: Sleeping, reading, chatting, watching television, walking/sightseeing, putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

My only regret? Not starting earlier on the jigsaw puzzle.

As I see them, vacations are for relaxing. If you are so busy on your vacation that you are worn out when you get back, then what good did the vacation do you?

The last all-nighter?

November 8, 2006

I was at KBOO all afternoon and evening working on the election night coverage, and I have to go to the airport at dawn, so I decided to stay up all night. (One advantage to being decaffeinated: Coffee is highly effective when I do drink it.)

And I wonder now whether this night will be my last all-nighter. I used to do them frequently, but I have little reason to anymore. Besides, I’m 36, and the physical toll of an all-nighter affects me more now than it once did. And I have become (of all things!) a morning person.

Still, though, it is strange to think back to when I was in graduate school and did three or four all-nighters a week (fueled by my daily three-liter bottle of Diet Coke); then come forward to the present day, and realize that I am still the same person I was — I answer to the same name and inhabit the same body — yet I am no longer that person in so many ways, and could never be him again, even if I wanted to be.