Curmudgeonalia
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December 27, 2009

The Wordy Shipmates

Sarah Vowell - ISBN - 9781594484001

"Part scholar, part standup comic, Vowell has enlivened such dour subjects as presidential assassinations and the mistreatment of Native Americans with a mix of wisecracks, pop-culture references, and self-deprecating anecdotes."
The Miami Herald

"Somehow simultaneously [a] patriot and rebel, cynic and dreamer, and an aching secularist in search of a higher ground."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"[Exercises] her trademark sweet, silly, arch sense of the incongruous ways we memorialize the American past."
The Chicago Tribune

"Vowell's funny, imaginative take on musty, buckled-up Pilgrim notables brings the era wickedly to life."
The Washington Post

After cover blurbs like these I couldn't wait; especially being a history buff who likes to collect peculiar observations and other "takes" on American History.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered Vowell to be little more than a smart-assed, secularist snot--only slightly better informed than Janeane Garofalo or Rachel Maddow, and no less agendized--determined to perform serial smack downs on conservatives. Silly, sweet and lighthearted she is not; Incongruous, rebellious and wicked, perhaps! Patriotic, hardly. If she's self-deprecatory I missed it, but she deprecates lots of people, so maybe that counts. As for misinformed history, she "revealed" little that I had never heard before, even as she molded it to present factoids which she imagines to be contemporary parallels of traditionalist hypocrisy.

Years ago Roger Rosenblatt (in a book titled Rules for Aging), observed that "appearance is frequently reality, despite what you were told in college." It applies, since what is advertised as a witty walk thru misrepresented history "appears" more like a series of convoluted "reality" sketches offering opportunity to savage conservatives, using John Winthrop as a cudgel.

Some 25% of the narrative is about how downright nasty these Puritans really were, another 25% about actual history as reported, using their notes and magnified by Vowell's elaborately contrived perspective, and the remaining 50% uses her twisted approach to the actualities of the era by showing how much these original, malevolent English settlers resemble contemporary conservatives like Reagan, Bush, Ron Paul and their ilk while rhapsodizing over Kennedy as she studiously avoids Carter and Clinton. One would think the Puritans ran Stalinist Gulags where they tortured colonists and killed those Indians who had somehow escaped the original holocaust of European germs.

To be sure she grudgingly allows that these were people very serious about education. They did found Harvard College, after all. As well she notes that their culture predated the European Enlightenment, then promptly judged them by today's standards. They were "America's medievals." They surveilled their fellow colonists like the NKVD--sorta like Roosevelt monitored and imprisoned the Japanese, though she overlooked that parallel. They put 'em in stocks, and cut off the ears of settlers who didn't obey the rules. They ostracized and forced colonists like Roger Williams to leave Boston, which drove him to found Rhode Island. She emphasizes, however, that Winthrop at least let him stay thru the winter rather than send him out to freeze . . . of course Reagan or Bush would have let him die!

Earlier she noted that Winthrop (whom she equates with Jay Gatsby) stated that "some must be rich, some poor" which doesn't comport with the Declaration of Independence. It declares that "all men are created equal." Typical. To a Lib, equal means equal in all parameters, whereas it actually means equality of opportunity and equality before the law, which sadly is not yet the case, but it was and is the goal.

She hammers on the Winthrop quote about founding a "city on the hill," skewering Reagan for adding "shining" to the phrase. Jeez, he changed it! What a nasty, inattentive, stupid, lying SOB. Now, that might qualify as being silly.

I was reminded of the Washington columnist who, after Nixon was elected president, was vexed by the fact that she knew no one who had voted for him. Vowell makes a similar comment, noting that Reagan swept 49 states in 1984, while his opponent won only his home state. How could that happen? Like most of the Left, she doesn't understand reality. (Ya know: how it actually is, not how you'd like it to be in Utopia?)

The lady is unfair, unbalanced and, like Don Quixote, off tilting windmills.

She claims to be happy, with a "serviceable" sense of humor, as she abides in her nice N.Y. apartment. But having decided to devote years to the study of thoughts and feelings of "the dreary religious fanatics who founded New England" she had to lie to her friends who couldn't believe she would so waste her time. After 9/11, watching buildings crash and people die, she "took comfort" in Winthrop's words on mourning and suffering together. She "finally understood what he meant," and why the words were so matter of fact to him. It took a catastrophe, being the selfish, self-centered snipe that she is. Yet she took this time to reflect upon the Reagan-Mondale election, commenting that the people of this country decided to elect the man speaking of the "shining city on the hill" rather than the blues singer reminding that we are "members of the same body." Americans not only elected and reelected him, "we became Reagan." Wow! Get it? (The connection, I mean.) Gee whiz, neither do I. And why the "we", since she and her ilk clearly aren't Reaganesque.

In contrast--contrast to what isn't clear--"Kennedy spoke of Pericles," and Athens, quoting "We do not imitate--for we are a model to others." She opines that she can't imagine a future president from Massachusetts who would be allowed to evoke Pericles in a state which now allows homosexuals to marry! Hyperbole anyone? Or abject stupidity? Reminds of What's the Matter with Kansas? (reviewed here several years ago.)

Having completed this epistle I looked her up in Wikipedia, where she's touted as an author, journalist, humorist, commentator, and "social observer," who claims to be part Cherokee, and an acrophobic atheist who considers Conan O'Brien, Stephen Colbert, Dave Letterman, Paul Begala and Norman Lear amongst her friends.

Now I understand.

(On the subject of friends, why not Al Franken? He's a stand-up comic and commentator as well. Indeed, he's is now Minnesota's representative to "the greatest deliberative body in the world!" Or at least pretended to be prior to his arrival.)

Posted by Curmudgeon at December 27, 2009 11:08 AM