Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Giggle in Peace

Kurt Vonnegut picked a good week to say good-bye. The novelist died at the age of 84. He was best known for work that captured--with a simple elegance--the absurdities, cruelties and imponderables of human existence. But he voiced his dark view----one borne of painful experiences, such as when he witnessed as a POW the firebombing of Dresden during World War II--in a cheerful and playful manner. Life, he suggested, was a joke--a bad joke. But in his novels, which were often warped morality tales, he offered a smidgen of hope. There's an appropriate response, he noted, to this existential horror: Be kind. Yep, there's a moral imperative to be nice. Dime-store philosophy? Perhaps. But can you come up with a better ethical framework?

When the national debate of the moment is focused on three words said by radio host Don Imus, Vonnegut's plea stands as a counterpoint to the coarse culture that too often celebrates and rewards hatefulness. In his heyday, Vonnegut was a pop culture hero. His words and ideas shaped a generation. No writer today has such a hold on the culture. In fact, the way the culture works these days, no writer could have that sort of hold. Instead, many of today's influentials are loudmouths who win attention via excess not intelligence. They exploit rather than explain. They shout rather than observe. And it's rather doubtful that the Imus episode will lead to much change. There's still plenty of profit--individual and corporate--to be made. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, "So it goes."

Posted by David Corn at April 12, 2007 11:44 AM


Robert S said...

Repost, but this belongs here.

Perhaps chronosynclastic infundibulum doesn't roll off the tongue easily. But...

"If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still--if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I'm grateful that so many of those moments are nice." Kurt Vonnegut

So said, in the classic anti-war masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five, which draws heavily on the firebombing of Dresden during WWI.

Thank you for so many moments, Kurt.

Robert S said...

Thwarted Warrior: Depleted uranium and the mystery of sick and dying Gulf War vets
by Robert C. Koehler | Apr 12 2007 - 9:54am

"It's not about me," Doug Rokke said, and only reluctantly rattled off his laundry list of symptoms: fibromyalgia, broken teeth, radiation-induced cataracts, gastrointestinal pain.

And I know it's not about him, any more than it's about you or me. "It." The war, the consequences. The environmental consequences are beyond calculation, and perhaps for that reason little discussed, never "debated." What does it matter that we went into Iraq on lies, faulty intelligence, whatever? Surely the most elaborately justified of invasions would not have been worth, well . . .

We know about the VA scandal, the great betrayal, but what almost no one talks about are the numbers. According to Veterans Administration figures from last November, 205,000 GIs who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, a third of the total, have sought medical care, for such problems as malignant tumors (1,584), endocrinal and metabolic diseases (36,409), nervous system diseases (61,524), digestive system diseases (63,002), musculoskeletal diseases (87,590), and mental disorders (73,157), among many other conditions. One of the largest categories is "ill defined," a.k.a. mystery conditions (67,743). In comparison, a relatively small number (35,765) have sought VA care for injuries.



Not the first time I've posted about this issue, but the first time in a long time. Anyway, as I recall saying in the way back when,
even if our cause it is just; (not so, of course) our methods are criminal.

capt said...

New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.

~ Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

capt said...

Livermore lab says bigger blasts would send depleted uranium into air

TRACY - Bigger outdoor blasts proposed at an explosives test range southwest of Tracy could release up to 453 pounds of depleted uranium into the air a year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory officials told air pollution regulators in an application last week.

Lab officials did not disclose that information in a November request to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to more than triple the amount of explosives used in detonations at its test range, Site 300. The district initially granted the lab permission, but revoked the permit in March after learning the blasts would contain radioactive materials.

Depleted uranium is less radioactive than naturally occurring uranium, and when detonated, it would be carried by wind, said Gretchen Gallegos, of the lab's Operations and Regulatory Affairs Division. The lab has not found radiation levels above federal thresholds at its monitoring stations, she said.


*****end of clip*****

Speaking of the DU poisoning the planet . . .


capt said...

Death from Above

I find it virtually impossible to avoid analysis of the omnipresent "support the troops" concept. The latest opportunity presented itself as I walked through a parking lot in suburban Texas. On the rear window of a pick up, I saw a decal that read: "Death from Above." Translation: The truck owner (or someone the truck owner knows) is affiliated with some sort of airborne military unit. To them, "Death from Above" is a source of martial pride and patriotic passion.

In reality, "Death from Above" means nothing less than mass murder from 15,000 feet. It means daisy cutters, bunker busters, cruise missiles, napalm, and white phosphorous. It means depleted uranium and cluster bombs littering the landscape for decades. It means rubble, destruction, the ruination of lives by the hundreds, by the thousands and more. It means Dresden, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. It means "shock and awe." It means 9/11. It means more than space allows me to explain, yet it's perfectly normal for an American to slap a "Death by Above" decal on his/her vehicle...right next to "support the troops" sticker.

Many of us don't like the idea of our tax dollars paying for the aerial bombing of civilians but who do you think does the actual bombing? Our (sic) troops. Yeah, the same volunteer soldiers given a free pass by folks across the political spectrum. I know I've made this point before but, since repetition seems to work well for Corporate America, here it is again:


Robert S said...

House committee asks oil firm CEOs to explain why gas might soon cost $4 per gallon

capt said...


Excellent posts all but especially:

"Call for the Paradoctors"

You made me snort!


capt said...

Crude is down so why is gas up?

Inventories are up?

$40 to fill up our car (3/4 of a tank).

Is it really too much trouble to make some noise on the gas price issue?



capt said...

During my three years in Vietnam, I certainly heard plenty of last words by dying American footsoldiers. Not one of them, however, had illusions that he had somehow accomplished something worthwhile in the process of making the Supreme Sacrifice.

Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus

capt said...

Sad statistic I heard on AAR today:

Right now - today - there are more Vietnam Vet's that are homeless than were killed in country.

I imagine it will be worse in the future.

And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - 2007 ), Slaughterhouse Five


capt said...

I am eternally grateful.. for my knack of finding in great books, some of them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no matter what else might be going on.

Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake, 1997

capt said...

I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, 'The Beatles did'.

Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake, 1997

Saladin said...

That is truly a loss. I will miss him.

Hajji said...

...and so it goes.

I feel so lucky to have met Kurt Vonnegut once. (my ONLY talent being the strange ability to meet and befriend those who ACTUALLY possess some)

My "amore du jour" was a grad student at Miami and promised me a "dinner surprise" if I'd attend "some lecture" with her beforehand.

The surprise, of course, was an evening listening to Vonnegut talk about stuff...first with 1500 people in a lecture hall, then with only 20 others at a private dinner reception.

It was about a week after smoking had been banned on all US domestic flights. (Aug/Sept of '87?) So we burned tobacco and complained about the loss of our more intrusive "freedoms", drank cheap wine first, then expensive scotch and chatted.

I wish I could remember any one thing I heard him say that stood out. It wasn't really about what he was saying, though, it was a general easy, comfortable feeling.

It was kinda like having a few beers with a old friend you'd just met for the first time, Robert.

It was like dropping by for dinner with a close neighbor a couple thousand miles away, Saladin.

It was like sharing a big laugh, a giant "HA" toward the condition the condition mankind is in. A night with a brother, uncle, cousin and fellow traveler, Kirk.

It is indescribabbel, at least by method of "idiosyncratic arrangements in horizontal lines of twenty-six phoenetic symbols, ten numbers and about eight punctuation marks"

...but that is all we have...

Thank you, Kurt and all those you've inspired to arrange their own arrangements.


Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

I read quite a bit of Vonnegut when I was going through high school and college. One thing I remember from BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS is the alien who communicated by tap dancing and farting.

If that alien were President, any one of his State Of The Union addresses would make more sense than any of the Chimperor's.

Rest in peace, Mr. V.

capt said...


"It was like sharing a big laugh, a giant "HA" toward the condition the condition mankind is in. A night with a brother, uncle, cousin and fellow traveler, Kirk."


Right back atcha!


capt said...

It is part of the moral tragedy with which we are dealing that words like "democracy," "freedom," "rights," "justice," which have so often inspired heroism and have led men to give their lives for things which make life worthwhile, can also become a trap, the means of destroying the very things men desire to uphold. Sir Norman Angell (1874 - 1967), 1956.

"As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless." : U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864 - (letter to Col. William F. Elkins) - Ref: The Lincoln Encyclopedia, Archer H. Shaw (Macmillan, 1950, NY)

They (corporations) cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed, nor excommunicated, for they have no souls: Lord Edward Coke

criminal, n. A person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation: Howard Scott


Thanks ICH Newsletter!

capt said...

New Thread!