Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Misc: I'd Like to Buy a Vowell, Please

I forgot about the fact the awful Maureen Dowd is on vacation (writing her sure-to-be horrible book) from the New York Times Editorial page. That is good enough in itself, except in her stead is the brilliant Sarah Vowell. Her first column was a few weeks back, and it was merely okay—dipping her toe in the water, I suppose. Today's column on the Electoral College is great. Not funny enough to elevate this to "LOL" status, but I read it with a great, big smile on my face.

I first heard of Vowell from NPR's radio truly magnificent show "This American Life." TAL can be, at times, the most singularly entertaining experience possible. Like a great book meets the best TV show you ever saw—except you can't see it. Find out when it's on where you live and listen. Or go to the website and listen to the archives. You'll be glad you did.

If only there was a way to hear her read her NYT columns aloud...

MORE: I went back to catch the Vowell columns I'd missed, and only one hadn't yet been sucked into the "pay to read" archive. I pasted "Moses Top Ten" into the comments. It's even better than today's column.

I also found a link to an inspired "open letter" she wrote to her childhood political hero after he died. Once again, brilliant. And there's this Fourth of July letter there too... I'd better get some work done now...

1 comment:

Mr Furious said...

Moses' Top Ten

Published: July 16, 2005
The Ten Commandments have a shot at being named Time magazine's man of the year. This week, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed that 63 percent of the respondents want President Bush to appoint a Supreme Court nominee who supports "allowing displays of the Ten Commandments on government property." The Conservative Caucus is even petitioning the president to appoint the former, as in fired, Alabama chief justice, Roy Moore, the legal whiz who defied a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of Montgomery's state judicial building.

The Supreme Court's ruling last month upholding the right of the Texas State Capitol to keep a Ten Commandments sculpture - sponsored by that great theologian Cecil B. DeMille to promote his Charlton Heston epic - on its grounds as an historical artifact is arguable from a legal perspective. But to the amateur historian and professional ironist, it's a delight. Because I've been to the Texas State Capitol, and that granite Moses movie ad is one of the least offensive things there.

To wit: there are two creepy monuments dedicated to the Confederacy, one of which features hand-carved testimonials from Jeff Davis and Robert E. Lee lauding rebel soldiers responsible for the Gettysburg deaths Lincoln would hope were not in vain.

Then there's the memorial festooned with a man gripping a muzzle-loader to honor the Heroes of the Alamo, the men who died trying to steal Tejas from the Mexicans, who had taken it from Spain, which had grabbed it from the Indians in the first place. If I remember correctly, not stealing is one of your Top Ten Ten Commandments. One of these Alamo heroes, Davy Crockett, is said to have advised the men there, "Pierce the heart of the enemy as you would a feller that spit in your face, knocked down your wife, burnt up your houses and called your dog a skunk!" Does it get any less "thou shalt not kill" than that?

Another statue honors the beloved Texas cowboy. I happen to be descended from one of these. My Texas cowboy great-great-grandfather, John Vowell, abandoned his newborn baby, Charles, when his Seminole wife died in childbirth. Is it O.K. if I break the commandment about honoring one's father to point out that my great-great-grandfather was a deadbeat dad fiend?

Young Charles, by the way, did not follow in his daddy's cowboy footsteps; by the age of 8, the poor kid was earning a living as a shepherd. Until the range wars, when some of those beloved cowboys symbolized by that statue gunned down all his sheep. Probably not on a Sunday, though. Heavens, no - that's the Sabbath.

I am picking on Texas and its State Capitol only because of the specifics of this Supreme Court ruling. The fact is, any state government in the U.S. is going to look a little phony tacking up Mosaic Law on its lawn next to statues of whatever Puritans or Hawaiian-queen-kidnappers are responsible for any given state's eventual statehood. Maybe phony is not the right word. Maybe the right word is sad.

The other night I was flipping channels and stopped for a minute to watch Jim Jarmusch's documentary "Year of the Horse," about Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse. The band was on a tour bus somewhere in America, and Jarmusch and Young were discussing the difference between the Old Testament and the New. Young admits that he sometimes gets the two confused. Jarmusch replies that in the Old Testament, God is angry. Young wonders if this is because man "turned out to be man."

I'm guessing that my fellow citizens who want government employees drinking out of taxpayer-supported Ten Commandments coffee cups and using Ten Commandments ballpoints to take While You Were Out messages on Ten Commandments notepads hope and believe that daily reminders of biblical edicts will stave off the supposedly newfangled moral decay brought on by crummy TV shows and nontraditional marriage. But Neil Young had a point: man turned out to be man and has been ever since.

The Israelites Moses himself led out of Egypt apparently witnessed the rather unprecedented parting of a sea by their deity to save their lives. Yet about 10 minutes go by and the ungrateful sinners start melting their earrings to make a cow they can pray to. That's what I find so reassuring about the Ten Commandments: the fact that they were necessary in the first place.