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Catching up 

George W. has left the ranch, his approval ratings sliding as the mishandling of the Iraqi occupation becomes more apparent and the economy continues to sputter. The administration's so-called solutions: Bring in the United Nations (to Iraq, not the U.S.) but put them under U.S. control (as if the Security Council's going to go for that), and hire a top bureaucrat to nurture manufacturing jobs. Well, that would create one position, leaving about 9.1 million more unemployed people to help out. Meanwhile, reports are that the Republican Party is using call centers in India to make fund-raising phone calls back to the U.S.

And there are other recent news items worth noting:

  • The proverbial stand in the courthouse door by Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore to keep his two-ton monument of the Ten Commandments from being wheeled out of the rotunda was great spectacle. But there's one angle that hasn't made it to the Triangle: The story of where many, if not most, of the Ten Commandments in public places around the country came from.

    The best version was an interview by Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Warren Wolfe with 101-year-old retired Judge E.J. Ruegemer. Seems that back in the late 1940s, Ruegemer handled the case of a juvenile delinquent who didn't know what the Ten Commandments were. So he went to work with the Fraternal Order of Eagles to place copies around the country.

    And who picked up the fight (and much of the tab) in 1956? Cecil B. DeMille, who was looking to publicize his latest movie, you got it, The Ten Commandments. Ruegemer's commandments, until then, had been paper. But DeMille said he wanted something more permanent, and the judge suggested Minnesota granite. The rest is ACLU history.

    "Around the country," Wolfe wrote, "local Eagles donated more than 4,000 granite monuments, and DeMille dispatched Ten Commandments stars Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Martha Scott for many of the dedications." Remember that when someone tells you about their symbolic importance.

  • And then there was Amy Gardner's hilarious story last week in The News & Observer about State Treasurer Richard H. Moore, who says he didn't know it was illegal to park on the street with his car facing in the wrong direction. This is the same Richard H. Moore who was formerly the state's Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety.

    I'm not sure which is more incredible--that Moore got Mayor Charles Meeker to pay some of his tickets for him, or that they got Police Chief Jane Perlov to say that wrong-way parking is allowed on city streets as long as they don't have a solid yellow line. If only Raleigh were that lenient about outdoor parties and music.

    ***

    This week marks the return of columnist Melinda Ruley to The Independent. Calling her "award-winning" barely does Melinda justice. Yes, she's won a slew of them, including the Livingston Award, given to the nation's best young writers. But there are lots of awards, and only a few reporters as eloquent as Melinda.

    She started writing for the Indy in 1987, just after finishing her master's degree in literature at UNC-Chapel Hill and on the verge of starting work on a Ph.D. "It was so much fun, and I liked it so much, I called Carolina and said I'm not coming after all," she recalls. She'd never taken a journalism course, was quickly weaned from academic writing, and developed a voice for description and storytelling that is uniquely hers. She went from freelancer to reporter in a couple of years, and finally to columnist. "I just loved the writing," she says. "There was just such incredible freedom at The Independent."

    She returns after a yearlong leave of absence working on another project, and says she's grateful to be back in the more finite world of real-world writing. We readers are grateful, too.

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