Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Backlash from Virginia Tech

When the media finally revealed the perpetrator in what happened at Virginia Tech, they said that he was Chinese or Korean, possibly a Foreign exchange student. I read this article this morning from the Alternet site. In any event, its not a "blame the immigrant" issue. Anyone, American, Korean, Chinese, Vulcan, could have snapped and done this. Nationality doesn't have anything to do with it. Blaming the immigrant is the easy thing to say. Its a terrible tragedy, but what that idiot in Virginia did was not something endemic in his nationality. What he did was because he was sick, twisted and had easy access to a gun. What he did was no different than when Charles Whitman went to the top of library tower at the University of Texas in 1966 and shot 15 people. No different than when George Hennard drove his car into the front of a Luby's cafeteria in 1991 and then opened fire on the crowd and killed 24 people. Both of these people were Americans. Its not a question of where someone comes from in the world. The sad fact of the matter is that often times we can never tell who is going to be a potential madman. We can't single out someone just because of where he comes from.

Eventually though, I fear a race war in this country soon. Truth be told, Caucasians are going be a minority soon in this land and we will have to start dealing with that. We can be reactionary and become like Germany in the 1930's or deal with it in a constructive fashion and become the melting pot that we promote ourselves as.

I pray for the people in Virginia. They didn't deserve what happened to them. There are going to be so many dreams unfulfilled. So many people who could change the world that are not going to be there to change the world.

From Greg Palast - The Accomplices for Virgina Tech

From Greg Palast - The Accomplices for Virgina Tech
Note to the reader: I got this in my e-mail this morning. For those of you who don't know, Greg Palast is an American who does investigative reporting for the BBC. He has written several books as well including his latest damning expose on the Bush Adminstration entitled "Armed Madhouse." Be warned that Mr. Palast has been arrested for his statements in the past. I am not so nieve to think we live in a democracey anymore. Read this with the warning that this may be material considered subversive by the federal government.

The Accomplices: Sundance George and Butch Reid and the Virginia Tech Massacre

by Greg Palast
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

He had accomplices. Don't kid yourself: 23-year-old Cho Seung-hui didn't forge his two little pistols in his smithy shop.

He had a dealer, a guns-and-bullets pusher-man who put the heat in his hand, took the kid's money and pocketed it with a grin.

"Whether you are looking for a pistol for affordable training or simply the excitement of shooting, the P22 is the pistol for you!"

That's the ad on the Walther website for the student-reaper, a Walther .22.

Not that Walther, or its fellow murder-maker, Glock, which crafted the other Weapon of Student Mass Destruction, the Glock 7mm, kept all of the killer kid's money. The gun makers religiously tithe a portion of their grim reapings to their friends in Washington.

This report isn't about gun control legislation or the right to bear arms or any of that sideways crap. This is about a group of co-conspirators who dropped two killing devices into the hands of someone who shouldn't have had access to a plastic spoon.

But before we bring in the suspects for questioning, let's pull back the camera lens for the bigger picture. Because what we saw at Virginia Tech was just a concentrated node of a larger, nationwide killing spree that goes on day after day in the USA. Eighty-thousand Americans take a bullet from a hand gun in any year. Thirty-thousand die. That's one thousand shooting deaths off-camera for each victim at Virginia Tech.

Sundance Bush is right now at the school for his photo op. The President is, "saddened and angered by these senseless acts of violence." But will our senseless and violent President do anything about it? He already has: On July 29, 2005, the US Senate passed, then Bush signed, a grant of immunity from lawsuits for Walther, Glock and other gun manufacturers.

Now, corporations that make hand-guns can't be sued for knowingly selling firearms to killers. Like that? No other industry has such wide lawsuit immunity -- not teachers, not doctors, not cops -- only gun makers.

Here's how Cho got his guns. It's a story you won't hear on CNN. It begins with something known as, The Iron Pipeline. At one end of the Pipeline are states like Alabama where gun laws are loosey-goosey. Gun makers including Glock stuff the 'Bama end of the pipe with far more guns than can ever be bought legally in that state, knowing full well that the guns will be illegally shipped up the pipeline into states where gun laws are tougher. Virginia law prevents "gun-trafficking"; in Alabama, they could care less.

In every state in America, a bar owner is liable to lawsuit if a bartender serves too many drinks and a customer dies in an auto accident. Hand a chainsaw to a child, you're in legal trouble. Until Bush signed the 2005 protect-the-gun-makers law, the same common law against negligent distribution applied to firearms.

Bush was aiming at Stephen Fox. Steven can describe feeling pieces of his brain fly from his skull after a mugger shot him. He's permanently paralyzed. A jury charged the makers of .25-caliber hand guns with negligent distribution -- and Bush went wild.

He was especially worked up because the City of New Orleans sued the gun makers for the cost of hospitalizing cops shot by armaments pooping out the end of the Iron Pipeline. The NAACP joined in the suit with the effrontery to demand the gun-pushers alter their marketing programs to keep their products out of the hands of maniacs and murderers.

Do the gun manufacturers know their .22's are being used for something other than hunting long-horned elk? Every year, the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency sends 800,000 requests to the gun companies to trace weapons found at crime scenes. As Fox's attorney told me, criminals are a much-valued, if unpublicized, market segment sought out and provisioned by these manufacturers.

But they're safe, the gun-makers, even if we aren't, because of Bush's immunity law. But Sundance Bush didn't act alone. There was Harry 'Butch' Reid, leader of the Senate Democrats, riding shotgun on the immunity bandwagon.

The Walther .22 comes from Austria. Hitler came from Austria, too. The Glock 7mm student-slayer comes from Germany. With the legal protection handed them by Bush and Reid, the two Teutonic weapons profiteers can skip free of legal judgment with that line well-practiced by their countrymen: "We were only taking orders -- for our product."


This report is adapted from, "Just Put Down that Lawsuit, Pardner, and No One Gets Hurt" in the Class War section of the new edition of Greg Palast's bestseller, "ARMED MADHOUSE: Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of A White House Gone Wild." Order it now at before its official release next week.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Irony can be so ironic.

In what has become a hideous irony, I must say something. In my previous post, I compared some aspects of the incident at Virginia Tech to a Saturday Night Live skit many years ago. In a parody of ABC's Nightline, a Ted Koppel caricature interviews Eddie Murphy's caricature of the "Our Gang" character Buckwheat. As it progresses, "Buckwheat" leaves and is assassinated by "John David Stutts" (also played by Murphy by the way) filmed in such a way as to resemble the assassination attempt by John Hinkley on President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Stutts is captured and his neighbors and co-workers are interviewed and asked if he wanted to kill Buckwheat to which they reply "Yes, that's all he ever talked about." The climax of the skit consists of Stutts being killed in a parody of the Oswald assassination.

I tell you all this to get to the ironic part. It seems that our protagonist showed all the signs. He wrote disturbing plays, prompting his English professor to advise him to seek counseling. (Unfortunately, we lack the laws in this country to forcibly commit someone for writing disturbing plays. That may change after this, but I digress). He had a loner mentality and was so disturbing to his classmates that many identified him as the perpetrator even before his name was officially released. It seems that killing and darkness were all he ever talked about and something set him off, drove him over the edge.

The media coverage on this incident seems so like this skit that the ironic parallels are just crazy. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this contradiction. Perhaps Murphy's writers at SNL struck a chord in this media savvy world of ours that pointed out this sometimes idiotic rumination whenever there is a major incident such as this. (Part of the skit consisted of playing the "Buckwheat assassination" over and over in slow motion much like the Challenger disaster and the Reagan assassination which were recent history at the time of the skit).

So, if you see me walking down the street, chuckling at the media coverage of this deplorable incident, please do not think me callous. I only laugh at the irony of the media which has become obsessed with blood and disaster, endlessly obsessing on stories to the point that they no longer have meaning or impact. Stories which in our strange media world sometimes have no meaning except to the media insects themselves.

On Virgina Tech and Violence

On Virgina Tech and Violence

All I have to say to this is that it is a symptom of the callousness of what living in the US is like. Oh, there is plenty of sympathy and sadness for these people. I am not faulting that. What happened in Blasksburg, VA is a symptom of what is wrong with this country. Its touched my life before (check out Some Undisciplined Brat Shot up my School) and I have to face the fact that each day, something like that could happen to me in my job as a security officer. It a part of living in the gun culture of America, where no one is safe on the streets and an armed citizenry is a "safe" citizenry.

Watching the news coverage makes me sick. I don't want to sound callous, but all I can think of is the skit that appeared many years ago on Saturday Night Live where Eddie Murphy plays a parody of the Kennedy assassination in which his parody character of Buckwheat is assassinated by a "lone gunman" named "John David Stuts." (Mel Gibson's "Jerry" in "Conspiracy Theory" was right. Assassins always have three names. We will probably find out this guys middle name I am sure. But I digress).

There is the Catch-phrase title "Massacre at Virgina Tech" to give it a tag. Then they ruminate over the same thing over and over again. We see the lone gunman's life examined over and over and over again until we see anyone as a potential lone gunman and a threat. His neighbors will be interviewed, his parents will be interviewed, maybe even ostracized.

As a security worker, I also find it infuriating of all the second-guessing, 20/20 hindsight and "Monday Morning Quarterbacking" that is being done to the security people at the campus. You can't have cameras everywhere without invading people's privacy. You can't have a guard everywhere. They would outnumber the students, and they would have no money to educate the students. The people there made the best decision, based on the information they had at the time and unfortunately, they got bad information. The fog of "war" or the lack of information is something that a decision maker has to suffer with. Unfortunately, I think a lot of good people will loose their jobs because they made the best decision they could based on bad information. You make the best decision and sometimes its a bad one. The media is going to ruminate over this thing until we become numb. This is another step in our slowly becoming a police state where we are all safe, but not free.

Speaking of which, I also find it interesting that the scheduled testimony of Attorney General Gonzalas was postponed because of this. Other blogs and speculative media have noticed a pattern of incidents such as this and the fact that it diverts attention away from failures on the part of the administration. Coincidence? Maybe, but I have learned to be cynical in my old age. The President will attend the memorial service, but he is a part of this culture of Death, contradicting himself when he called for the culture of Life the other day. And unlike our fearless leaders' performance on 9/11, he is trying to appear Presidential here.

Another thing is that this is a daily situation in Iraq and other places in the world. While I don't want to denigrate what has happened in Virgina, there seems to be a double standard here. It seems that when it happens overseas, its not news, but when it happens here, its 24 hour news and we ruminate over what happens and its impact. Thirty-two people dead is nothing compared with what happens on the streets of Baghdad. Virgina Tech Massacares occour daily there and sometimes in multiple locations involving hundreds of persons. Multiple incidents of this nature permeate EVERY aspect of life in Iraq. Yet we in this country can go on and live our lives without sacrifice, while soldiers die and civilians are killed.

I hope I don't sound too cynical and heartless there. And if I have offended anyone, I apologize in advance. Right now, its fresh and numb and I just don't know what to feel.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Wit and Wisdom from Lee Iacocca

I read this in an e-mail I got today and I think it bears repeating. A lot of wisdom is here and I think Lee says it for America. There needs to be some changes made and soon, or our ship of state will start to sink. We can't use the old ways for very much longer and we must change soon, before that radical change is forced upon us by circumstance.

Excerpt from Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

From Chapter 1: Had Enough?

Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course."

Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?

I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have.

My friends tell me to calm down. They say, "Lee, you're eighty-two years old. Leave the rage to the young people." I'd love to -- as soon as I can pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention. I'm going to speak up because it's my patriotic duty. I think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation as a straight shooter. So I'll tell you how I see it, and it's not pretty, but at least it's real. I'm hoping to strike a nerve in those young folks who say they don't vote because they don't trust politicians to represent their interests. Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us.


Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them -- or at least some of us did. But I'll tell you what we didn't do. We didn't agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn't agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that's a dictatorship, not a democracy.

And don't tell me it's all the fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That's an intellectually lazy argument, and it's part of the reason we're in this stew. We're not just a nation of factions. We're a people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and fall together.

Where are the voices of leaders who can inspire us to action and make us stand taller? What happened to the strong and resolute party of Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist party of FDR and Truman? There was a time in this country when the voices of great leaders lifted us up and made us want to do better. Where have all the leaders gone?


I've never been Commander in Chief, but I've been a CEO. I understand a few things about leadership at the top. I've figured out nine points -- not ten (I don't want people accusing me of thinking I'm Moses). I call them the "Nine Cs of Leadership." They're not fancy or complicated. Just clear, obvious qualities that every true leader should have. We should look at how the current administration stacks up. Like it or not, this crew is going to be around until January 2009. Maybe we can learn something before we go to the polls in 2008. Then let's be sure we use the leadership test to screen the candidates who say they want to run the country. It's up to us to choose wisely.

So, here's my C list:

A leader has to show CURIOSITY. He has to listen to people outside of the "Yes, sir" crowd in his inner circle. He has to read voraciously, because the world is a big, complicated place. George W. Bush brags about never reading a newspaper. "I just scan the headlines," he says. Am I hearing this right? He's the President of the United States and he never reads a newspaper? Thomas Jefferson once said, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter." Bush disagrees. As long as he gets his daily hour in the gym, with Fox News piped through the sound system, he's ready to go.

If a leader never steps outside his comfort zone to hear different ideas, he grows stale. If he doesn't put his beliefs to the test, how does he know he's right? The inability to listen is a form of arrogance. It means either you think you already know it all, or you just don't care. Before the 2006 election, George Bush made a big point of saying he didn't listen to the polls. Yeah, that's what they all say when the polls stink. But maybe he should have listened, because 70 percent of the people were saying he was on the wrong track. It took a "thumping" on election day to wake him up, but even then you got the feeling he wasn't listening so much as he was calculating how to do a better job of convincing everyone he was right.

A leader has to be CREATIVE, go out on a limb, be willing to try something different. You know, think outside the box. George Bush prides himself on never changing, even as the world around him is spinning out of control. God forbid someone should accuse him of flip-flopping. There's a disturbingly messianic fervor to his certainty. Senator Joe Biden recalled a conversation he had with Bush a few months after our troops marched into Baghdad. Joe was in the Oval Office outlining his concerns to the President -- the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanded Iraqi army, the problems securing the oil fields. "The President was serene," Joe recalled. "He told me he was sure that we were on the right course and that all would be well. 'Mr. President,' I finally said, 'how can you be so sure when you don't yet know all the facts?'" Bush then reached over and put a steadying hand on Joe's shoulder. "My instincts," he said. "My instincts." Joe was flabbergasted. He told Bush, "Mr. President, your instincts aren't good enough." Joe Biden sure didn't think the matter was settled. And, as we all know now, it wasn't.

Leadership is all about managing change -- whether you're leading a company or leading a country. Things change, and you get creative. You adapt. Maybe Bush was absent the day they covered that at Harvard Business School.

A leader has to COMMUNICATE. I'm not talking about running off at the mouth or spouting sound bites. I'm talking about facing reality and telling the truth. Nobody in the current administration seems to know how to talk straight anymore. Instead, they spend most of their time trying to convince us that things are not really as bad as they seem. I don't know if it's denial or dishonesty, but it can start to drive you crazy after a while. Communication has to start with telling the truth, even when it's painful. The war in Iraq has been, among other things, a grand failure of communication. Bush is like the boy who didn't cry wolf when the wolf was at the door. After years of being told that all is well, even as the casualties and chaos mount, we've stopped listening to him.

A leader has to be a person of CHARACTER. That means knowing the difference between right and wrong and having the guts to do the right thing. Abraham Lincoln once said, "If you want to test a man's character, give him power." George Bush has a lot of power. What does it say about his character? Bush has shown a willingness to take bold action on the world stage because he has the power, but he shows little regard for the grievous consequences. He has sent our troops (not to mention hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens) to their deaths -- for what? To build our oil reserves? To avenge his daddy because Saddam Hussein once tried to have him killed? To show his daddy he's tougher? The motivations behind the war in Iraq are questionable, and the execution of the war has been a disaster. A man of character does not ask a single soldier to die for a failed policy.

A leader must have COURAGE. I'm talking about balls. (That even goes for female leaders.) Swagger isn't courage. Tough talk isn't courage. George Bush comes from a blue-blooded Connecticut family, but he likes to talk like a cowboy. You know, My gun is bigger than your gun. Courage in the twenty-first century doesn't mean posturing and bravado. Courage is a commitment to sit down at the negotiating table and talk.

If you're a politician, courage means taking a position even when you know it will cost you votes. Bush can't even make a public appearance unless the audience has been handpicked and sanitized. He did a series of so-called town hall meetings last year, in auditoriums packed with his most devoted fans. The questions were all softballs.

To be a leader you've got to have CONVICTION -- a fire in your belly. You've got to have passion. You've got to really want to get something done. How do you measure fire in the belly? Bush has set the all-time record for number of vacation days taken by a U.S. President -- four hundred and counting. He'd rather clear brush on his ranch than immerse himself in the business of governing. He even told an interviewer that the high point of his presidency so far was catching a seven-and-a-half-pound perch in his hand-stocked lake.

It's no better on Capitol Hill. Congress was in session only ninety-seven days in 2006. That's eleven days less than the record set in 1948, when President Harry Truman coined the term do-nothing Congress. Most people would expect to be fired if they worked so little and had nothing to show for it. But Congress managed to find the time to vote itself a raise. Now, that's not leadership.

A leader should have CHARISMA. I'm not talking about being flashy. Charisma is the quality that makes people want to follow you. It's the ability to inspire. People follow a leader because they trust him. That's my definition of charisma. Maybe George Bush is a great guy to hang out with at a barbecue or a ball game. But put him at a global summit where the future of our planet is at stake, and he doesn't look very presidential. Those frat-boy pranks and the kidding around he enjoys so much don't go over that well with world leaders. Just ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who received an unwelcome shoulder massage from our President at a G-8 Summit. When he came up behind her and started squeezing, I thought she was going to go right through the roof.

A leader has to be COMPETENT. That seems obvious, doesn't it? You've got to know what you're doing. More important than that, you've got to surround yourself with people who know what they're doing. Bush brags about being our first MBA President. Does that make him competent? Well, let's see. Thanks to our first MBA President, we've got the largest deficit in history, Social Security is on life support, and we've run up a half-a-trillion-dollar price tag (so far) in Iraq. And that's just for starters. A leader has to be a problem solver, and the biggest problems we face as a nation seem to be on the back burner.

You can't be a leader if you don't have COMMON SENSE. I call this Charlie Beacham's rule. When I was a young guy just starting out in the car business, one of my first jobs was as Ford's zone manager in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. My boss was a guy named Charlie Beacham, who was the East Coast regional manager. Charlie was a big Southerner, with a warm drawl, a huge smile, and a core of steel. Charlie used to tell me, "Remember, Lee, the only thing you've got going for you as a human being is your ability to reason and your common sense. If you don't know a dip of horseshit from a dip of vanilla ice cream, you'll never make it." George Bush doesn't have common sense. He just has a lot of sound bites. You know -- Mr.they'll-welcome-us-as-liberators -no-child-left-behind-heck-of-a-job -Brownie-mission-accomplished Bush.

Former President Bill Clinton once said, "I grew up in an alcoholic home. I spent half my childhood trying to get into the reality-based world -- and I like it here."

I think our current President should visit the real world once in a while.


Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is forged in times of crisis. It's easy to sit there with your feet up on the desk and talk theory. Or send someone else's kids off to war when you've never seen a battlefield yourself. It's another thing to lead when your world comes tumbling down.

On September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any other time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the ashes. Where was George Bush? He was reading a story about a pet goat to kids in Florida when he heard about the attacks. He kept sitting there for twenty minutes with a baffled look on his face. It's all on tape. You can see it for yourself. Then, instead of taking the quickest route back to Washington and immediately going on the air to reassure the panicked people of this country, he decided it wasn't safe to return to the White House. He basically went into hiding for the day -- and he told Vice President Dick Cheney to stay put in his bunker. We were all frozen in front of our TVs, scared out of our wits, waiting for our leaders to tell us that we were going to be okay, and there was nobody home. It took Bush a couple of days to get his bearings and devise the right photo op at Ground Zero.

That was George Bush's moment of truth, and he was paralyzed. And what did he do when he'd regained his composure? He led us down the road to Iraq -- a road his own father had considered disastrous when he was President. But Bush didn't listen to Daddy. He listened to a higher father. He prides himself on being faith based, not reality based. If that doesn't scare the crap out of you, I don't know what will.


So here's where we stand. We're immersed in a bloody war with no plan for winning and no plan for leaving. We're running the biggest deficit in the history of the country. We're losing the manufacturing edge to Asia, while our once-great companies are getting slaughtered by health care costs. Gas prices are skyrocketing, and nobody in power has a coherent energy policy. Our schools are in trouble. Our borders are like sieves. The middle class is being squeezed every which way. These are times that cry out for leadership.

But when you look around, you've got to ask: "Where have all the leaders gone?" Where are the curious, creative communicators? Where are the people of character, courage, conviction, competence, and common sense? I may be a sucker for alliteration, but I think you get the point.

Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo? We've spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and all we know how to do is react to things that have already happened.

Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina. Congress has yet to spend a single day evaluating the response to the hurricane, or demanding accountability for the decisions that were made in the crucial hours after the storm. Everyone's hunkering down, fingers crossed, hoping it doesn't happen again. Now, that's just crazy. Storms happen. Deal with it. Make a plan. Figure out what you're going to do the next time.

Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how we can restore our competitive edge in manufacturing. Who would have believed that there could ever be a time when "the Big Three" referred to Japanese car companies? How did this happen -- and more important, what are we going to do about it?

Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down the debt, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises that are eating away at our country and milking the middle class dry.

I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn't elect you to sit on your asses and do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of? That some bobblehead on Fox News will call them a name? Give me a break. Why don't you guys show some spine for a change?


Hey, I'm not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I'm trying to light a fire. I'm speaking out because I have hope. I believe in America. In my lifetime I've had the privilege of living through some of America's greatest moments. I've also experienced some of our worst crises -- the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the 1970s oil crisis, and the struggles of recent years culminating with 9/11. If I've learned one thing, it's this: You don't get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it's building a better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a role to play. That's the challenge I'm raising in this book. It's a call to action for people who, like me, believe in America. It's not too late, but it's getting pretty close. So let's shake off the horseshit and go to work. Let's tell 'em all we've had enough.

Copyright © 2007 by Lee Iacocca & Associates, Inc., a California Corporation

More Wisdom from Kurt Vonnegut

I really wonder what gives us the right to wreck this poor planet of ours.

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.

Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.

True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country. (Ain't that the truth!)

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.

Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand. (Now I know where Emo Phillips got his best stuff!) :-)

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies - 'God damn it, you've got to be kind.' " (My Personal favorite).

And last but not least:

I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Wit and Wisdom of Kurt Vonnegut

The wit and wisdom of Kurt Vonnegut

10:51 PM PDT, April 11, 2007

"When I think about my own death, I don't console myself with the idea that my descendants and my books and all that will live on. Anybody with any sense knows that the whole solar system will go up like a celluloid collar by-and-by. I honestly believe, though, that we are wrong to think that moments go away, never to be seen again. This moment and every moment lasts forever."— "Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons," 1974.

" ... when a society is in great danger, [writers are] likely to sound the alarms. I have the canary-bird-in-the-coal-mine theory of the arts. You know, coal miners used to take birds down into the mines with them to detect gas before men got sick. The artists certainly did that in the case of Vietnam. They chirped and keeled over. But it made no difference whatsoever. Nobody important cared. But I continue to think that artists — all artists — should be treasured as alarm systems."— Playboy interview, 1973

"You cannot be a good writer of serious fiction if you are not depressed."— Undated speech to the American Psychiatric Assn.

"I do think ... that public speaking is almost the only way a poet or a novelist or a playwright can have any political effectiveness in his creative prime. If he tries to put his politics into a work of the imagination, he will foul up his work beyond all recognition."— "Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons," 1974

"Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn't well-connected."— "Slaughterhouse-Five," 1969

"The main business of humanity is to do a good job of being human beings, not to serve as appendages to machines, institutions, and systems."— "Player Piano," 1952

"Poverty is a relatively mild disease ... but uselessness will kill strong and weak souls alike."— "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," 1965.

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."— "Mother Night," 1962

Kurt Vonnegut - The Los Angeles Times

REMEMBERING: Kurt Vonnegut visits the place where he survived the Dresden bombing, the subject of “Slaughterhouse-Five.”
(Matthias Rietschel / AP)
Oct 7, 1998

KURT VONNEGUT: 1922-2007

His popular novels blended social criticism, dark humor

By Elaine Woo

Times Staff Writer

April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, an American cultural hero celebrated for his wry, loonily imaginative commentary on war, apocalypse, technology, materialism and other afflictions in "Slaughterhouse-Five" and other novels, has died. He was 84.
One of the last of a generation of great American novelists of World War II, Vonnegut died Wednesday night in New York City.
Vonnegut suffered brain injuries in a fall several weeks ago, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz. He had homes in Manhattan and Sagaponack, N.Y.
"There was never a kinder and, at the same time, wittier writer to be with personally," author Tom Wolfe, a friend and admirer of Vonnegut's, told The Times. "He was just a gem in that respect. And as a writer, I guess he's the closest thing we had to a Voltaire. He could be extremely funny, but there was a vein of iron always underneath it, which made him quite remarkable.
"He was never funny just to be funny," Wolfe added.
An obscure science fiction writer for two decades before earning mainstream acclaim in 1969 with "Slaughterhouse-Five," Vonnegut was an American original, often compared to Mark Twain for a vision that combined social criticism, wildly black humor and a call to basic human decency. He was, novelist Jay MacInerny once said, "a satirist with a heart, a moralist with a whoopee cushion."
Although he was disdained by some critics who thought his work was too popular and accessible, his fiction inspired volumes of scholarly comment as well as websites maintained by young fans who have helped keep all 14 of his novels in print over a 50-year career. Five of his novels have made the leap into films.
He is "together with John Hawkes and Gunter Grass … the most stubbornly imaginative" of writers, novelist John Irving once wrote of Vonnegut. "He is not anybody else, or even a version of anybody else, and he is a writer with a cause."
His novels, which include "The Sirens of Titan," "Cat's Cradle," "Mother Night" and "Breakfast of Champions," introduced a revolving cast of odd characters, from the downtrodden visionary Billy Pilgrim to Kilgore Trout, the unsuccessful writer who was Vonnegut's alter ego.
Vonnegut was also an essayist, playwright and short-story writer, whose shorter pieces were collected in such volumes as "Welcome to the Monkey House" (1968), "Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons" (1974) and "Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s" (1991).
"Slaughterhouse-Five" was a book he tried but failed to write for 25 years. An agile mix of fantasy and Vonnegut's World War II experiences, it features time traveler Pilgrim who, like Vonnegut, survived the Allied firebombing of Dresden.
Unorthodox in structure and patently antiwar, the novel resonated with a rebellious younger generation. Vonnegut became an icon of the countercultural 1970s and his book became a milestone of postmodern American literature, unequaled in force or artistry by any of his later novels.
"He writes about the most excruciatingly painful things," Michael Crichton observed in a review of "Slaughterhouse-Five" for the New Republic. "His novels have attacked our deepest fears of automation and the bomb, our deepest political guilts, our fiercest hatreds and loves. Nobody else writes books on these subjects; they are inaccessible to normal novelistic approaches."
He made no pretense of his intentions: He was a public writer — one who directly addressed some of the most vexing issues of his day.
"My motives are political," he once told Playboy magazine. "I agree with Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini that the writer should serve his society…. Mainly, I think they should be — and biologically have to be — agents of change."
On another occasion he explained that his goal in writing novels was to "catch people before they become generals and Senators and Presidents" and "poison their minds with humanity. Encourage them to make a better world."
A lonely child
A fourth-generation German American, Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis on Nov. 11, 1922.
Although he had an older brother, Bernard, and a sister, Alice, Vonnegut was often lonely as a child. His mainstay growing up was a black woman named Ida Young, the family cook. He suggested that the "intolerable sentimentality" that some critics saw in his writing was owed to Young, who spent long hours reading to him from an anthology of poems about undying love, faithful dogs and humble, happy homes.
The son and grandson of architects, he grew up in prosperity until the Depression struck and his father, Kurt Sr., went 10 years without a commission. The family finances were so abysmal that his mother, Edith, who had been born to affluence, had to sell the family china. Vonnegut would later say his parents left a legacy of pacifism and irreverence as well as "bone-deep sadness," and in much of his later fiction his characters would be afflicted by unemployment and the subsequent loss of status and purpose.
When the family money ran out, he left private school for the public Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, where his scrawny physique made him the butt of jokes. Nicknamed "Snarf" after classmates spied him sniffing his armpits absentmindedly, he described himself as "a real skinny, narrow-shouldered boy … a preposterous kind of flamingo," not unlike the oddball Billy Pilgrim in the novel that would make Vonnegut famous. He found a niche on the staff of the campus newspaper, the Echo, as a writer and editor.
When he went off to Cornell University in 1940, he followed his older brother into science as a chemistry major. Unlike his brother, however, Vonnegut was a poor student who gained attention for his practical jokes, such as showing up for final exams of large classes he was not enrolled in and shredding the exam in front of the astonished instructor.
He also became known for writing, which took up most of his time in college. He served as managing editor of the Cornell Daily Sun as well as author of a thrice-weekly humor column.
Many years later, when he was asked to identify his cultural influences, he would often name serious writers such as Twain, Jonathan Swift and James Joyce. "But the truth is that I am a barbarian, whose deepest cultural debts are to Laurel and Hardy … Buster Keaton, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Charlie Chaplin … and so on," he wrote in 1972. "They made me hilarious during the Great Depression and all the lesser depressions after that."
He was close to flunking out of Cornell in early 1943 when he joined the Army and was sent to Carnegie Institute of Technology and the University of Tennessee to study mechanical engineering. He was trained in artillery and as an advance infantry scout.
Just before Vonnegut shipped out to England, his mother committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills on Mother's Day, 1944. She had suffered bouts of depression after failing to make much money writing magazine fiction in the 1930s, an activity she took on to bolster the family income. According to her son's recollection, she also had become dependent on alcohol and "unlimited amounts of prescribed barbiturates." Her death was the first in a series of bizarre and brutal turns in Vonnegut's life that would color his later writing.
In late 1944, Vonnegut was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge and wound up in a prisoner work group in Dresden, a city so treasured for its baroque beauty that no one thought it would be targeted. If he remained there, Vonnegut thought, he would be safe until the war ended.
But on Feb. 13, 1945, Dresden was hit by successive waves of British and American bombers, which destroyed the city's extraordinary architecture and art treasures and killed at least 60,000 people and perhaps as many as 200,000 — more than in the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
Vonnegut and his group were spared because their prison was as good as a concrete-block underground bunker: "a cool meat-locker under a slaughterhouse," two floors below ground, which they shared with six guards and "ranks and ranks of dressed cadavers of cattle, pigs, horses and sheep."
When the bombing was over, he emerged to find that the Allies had "burnt the whole damn town down." He and the other prisoners were put to work as "corpse miners," recovering the dead who had suffocated in bomb shelters. Vonnegut dragged out the bodies and piled them on huge communal funeral pyres. The recovery effort eventually was halted and the Germans just torched the dead where they lay, turning the shelters into crematories.
"It was a fancy thing to see, a startling thing," Vonnegut would recall in a 1977 Paris Review interview.
Emotional event
Although he would sometimes downplay Dresden's importance, he acknowledged that the experience gave him "something to write about."
It also blackened his view of the world.
"The firebombing of Dresden was an emotional event without a trace of military importance…. " he said in an undated speech reprinted in "Fates Worse Than Death."
"I will say again what I have often said in print and in speeches, that not one Allied soldier was able to advance as much as an inch because of the firebombing of Dresden. Not one prisoner of the Nazis got out of prison a microsecond earlier. Only one person on earth clearly benefited, and I am that person," said Vonnegut, referring to his bestselling novel. "I got about five dollars for each corpse, not counting my fee tonight."
The horror and absurdity of the catastrophe would plague him for years as he tried, and finally rejected, the idea that one could write conventionally about something that so utterly defied logic. Dresden capped a period swollen with trauma for Vonnegut, who struggled in later years with his own depressions and once nearly took his own life.
Vonnegut was released from the Army in 1945 and married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Cox. He enrolled at the University of Chicago, switched his major to anthropology, and got a job reporting for the Chicago City News Bureau. The rookie reporter was assigned murders, car crashes and weather stories. In 1947, he quit school after his master's thesis, "Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tales," was rejected by his faculty committee. (In 1971, after he had become the illustrious author, the university finally accepted his novel "Cat's Cradle" as his thesis and awarded him his degree.) He also quit journalism for a higher-paying job in public relations at General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y., where his brother was an atmospheric physicist.
By day he wrote news releases that promoted GE's philosophy of progress as its "most important product," a notion he did not invent and that for Vonnegut quickly lost its charm. At night, he began to write short stories that showed the potential downsides of scientific progress, such as the perils of computers and extraplanetary radio. The notion that humankind was devising the means of its own unhappiness and destruction would emerge as a dominant theme in his later works.
Vonnegut's stories appeared in the leading magazines of the 1950s, including the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Ladies Home Journal and Cosmopolitan, as well as in more specialized publications such as Fantasy and Science Fiction. By 1950, he found he could support himself and his growing family as a writer and left GE.
The environment of GE, in which he was "completely surrounded by machines and ideas for machines," inspired his first novel. "Player Piano," published in 1952 and reissued in paperback a few years later under the title "Utopia 14," revolves around an engineer who rebels against the mechanization of society, which has made life easier but deprived people of a sense of purpose. The engineer seeks spiritual comfort as a follower of a minister trained in anthropology. According to Jerome Klinkowitz, a noted Vonnegut scholar, the novel shows readers "how progress as an end in itself is a defeating proposition."
The book was largely ignored by critics, so Vonnegut rededicated himself to the short-story market while working other jobs. He taught high school English on Cape Cod and sold Saabs.
Seven years passed before his next novel, "The Sirens of Titan" (1959), appeared. The plot concerns extraterrestrials who meddle in the course of human history to help a space traveler obtain a spare part for his spacecraft. Sold as science fiction even though it was a sophisticated satire of the genre, it was sold at bus stops and drugstores and quickly went out of print. Klinkowitz and John Somer, in their book "The Vonnegut Statement," noted that copies sold for $50 in the college underground until it was reissued by Dell in the 1960s.
"Mother Night," published in 1962, presented the character of Howard W. Campbell Jr., an American intelligence agent in Germany at the start of World War II who poses so successfully as a Nazi radio propagandist that he is kidnapped by Israeli operatives, tried for war crimes and commits suicide. Vonnegut summed up the lesson of this avowedly moralistic tale in this line: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."
A transitional novel that has few science fiction elements, it caught the attention of major reviewers, who were impressed by its masterful tone. Critic Richard Schickel, writing in Harper's, called it "a wonderful splash of bright, primary colors, an artful, zestful cartoon that lets us see despair without forcing us to surrender to it."
With his next book Vonnegut began to earn wider literary notice. The protagonist of "Cat's Cradle," published in 1963, is a writer who travels to the Caribbean where he becomes a follower of Bokonon, a religious maverick who promises salvation through a freewheeling gospel of "fomas" or harmless untruths. The writer also witnesses the deadly power of Ice-9, a substance that kills everything it touches by freezing it.
The title of the novel refers to the string game in which the player loops the string to make supposedly recognizable images, such as a cat's cradle. Vonnegut exposes it as a hoax: "No damn cat. No damn cradle," one of the characters bitterly complains. It was Vonnegut's way of saying that many accepted wisdoms, including political or religious doctrines, in fact explain nothing at all.
Among several notable writers who praised the novel was Graham Greene, who said it was "one of the three best novels of the year by one of the most able living writers."
"Cat's Cradle" was followed by the harshly satirical "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls before Swine," published in 1965. This novel introduced the character of Eliot Rosewater, a millionaire philanthropist disgusted by his wealth and its power to warp ideals. He preaches love through a motto that sounds the theme of all of Vonnegut's writing: "Goddamn it, you've got to be kind."
The book also introduced Trout, the aging, under-appreciated science fiction writer. The Greene review notwithstanding, Vonnegut saw himself in the same literary rut as the fictional Trout and loudly complained about critics' underestimation of his talent.
"I have been a sore-headed occupant of a file drawer labeled 'science fiction' … and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a tall white fixture in a comfort station," he wrote in an essay printed in the New York Times Book Review in 1965.
He wrote "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" at a low point in his career, when he was barely earning enough money to support his family, which had doubled in size due to tragic occurrences in 1958. That year he adopted three of his sister's children after she and her husband died within days of each other, she of cancer and he in a train accident. In 1965, Vonnegut left the family home in Cape Cod and rolled into Iowa City in a dilapidated Volkswagen to join the faculty of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. It would turn out to be an auspicious move.
A colleague at the workshop, critic Robert Scholes, became his champion and devoted a chapter to Vonnegut's fiction in "The Fabulators," a 1967 book of criticism that began to alter the view of Vonnegut in scholarly circles.
His early novels were reissued in paperback around the same time, advancing his underground reputation. Two of his novels, "Player Piano" and "Mother Night," were reissued in hardcover and earned serious critical attention.
He also returned to journalism, writing first-person essays for the New York Times magazine, Life and Esquire on topics ranging from transcendental meditation to the Apollo 11 moon flight. One piece, a humorous dictionary review, caught the attention of Delacorte Press publisher Seymour Lawrence, who offered him a three-book contract in 1968. That year Vonnegut won a Guggenheim fellowship to travel to Dresden.
The first book to appear under the new contract was "Slaughterhouse-Five."
Vonnegut's struggle to write this novel began after his return from the war more than two decades earlier.
" … I came home in 1945, started writing about it, and wrote about it, and wrote about it, and wrote about it…. I would head myself into my memory of it, the circuit breakers would kick out; I'd head in again, I'd back off," he recalled in speech to students at Iowa City in 1969. "It's like Heinrich Boll's book 'Absent Without Leave' — stories about German soldiers with the war part missing. You see them leave and return, but there's this terrible hole in the middle. That is like my memory of Dresden…. "
The breakthrough came when he realized that instead of writing a story about the war, he could simply tell the truth. The Vietnam War was a catalyst that freed him to "finally talk about something bad that we did to the worst people imaginable, the Nazis. And what I saw, what I had to report, made war look so ugly," he wrote in an essay collected in his 2005 book "A Man Without a Country."
"Slaughterhouse" begins with an unusual apology from Vonnegut, who inserts himself as the narrator. "I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time," he complains in the first chapter. Perhaps the tumult of the late 1960s — when Norman Mailer, among other prominent writers, was also experimenting with form by injecting himself into the story — was causing this disruption in literary convention.
Vonnegut also never depicts the firebombing itself. Instead, the story loops backward and forward in time, going from Pilgrim as a young man held by the Germans in Dresden, to Pilgrim as a senile widower imprisoned by extraterrestrials, to Pilgrim in middle age at a convention of fellow optometrists. The effect is bewildering — deliberately so, because part of the author's message is that profound puzzlement is the only appropriate response to the senselessness of Dresden's destruction.
The book is "so short and jumbled and jangled … because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre," Vonnegut writes. "Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.
"And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like 'Poo-tee-weet?' "
Antiwar message
There was no mistaking the antiwar tilt of the novel, released while the U.S. was mired in Vietnam. Most of Pilgrim's fellow soldiers are poorly trained and utterly demoralized. Death and tragedy abound, punctuated by the narrator's alternately weary and flippant refrain: "So it goes."
But Vonnegut leaves little doubt as to his intent: "I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.
"I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that."
The novel reflected the preoccupations of the era, addressing not only war but overpopulation, ecology and consumerism. It was the lead review in major book sections, such as the New York Times Book Review, where Scholes raved that Vonnegut was a "true artist" and "among the best writers of his generation."
Critic Leslie Fiedler, writing in an influential 1970 essay in Esquire, said that "Slaughterhouse-Five" was "less about Dresden than about Vonnegut's failure to come to terms with it — one of those beautifully frustrating works about their own impossibility, like Fellini's '8 1/2 .' "
Other distinguished critics saw "Slaughterhouse" in less flattering terms. Alfred Kazin was turned off by what he termed Vonnegut's "impishly sentimental humor" about the absurdities of war. Vonnegut, according to Kazin, "is at his best not in 'Slaughterhouse-Five' (really a satire on the Great American novel) but in spoofs of the American scene like 'God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.' … In 'Slaughterhouse-Five' Vonnegut seems, all too understandably, subdued by his material and plays it dumb. He is funnier when he is ruthless."
Through the 1970s, the novel endured attacks by would-be censors, who opposed its abundant obscenities and graphic scenes. It was made into a well-regarded 1972 movie by director George Roy Hill. The book also was ranked 18th on the list of the top 100 English-language novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library.
Vonnegut appeared not to take his accomplishments too seriously. In the Paris Review interview he said writing was no more complicated than a good practical joke. "If you make people laugh or cry about little black marks on sheets of white paper," he said, "what is that but a practical joke? All the great story lines are great practical jokes that people fall for over and over again." He said his novels were essentially "mosaics of jokes."
A vow to quit writing
Although "Slaughterhouse" thrust him to the vanguard of American letters, he grew depressed and vowed never to write another novel. "I felt after I finished 'Slaughterhouse-Five' that I didn't have to write at all anymore if I didn't want to," he wrote in "Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons." It was a threat he would make several times over the next few decades.
He wrote a play that was produced on Broadway, "Happy Birthday, Wanda June," as well as a teleplay for public television, "Between Time and Timbuktu." He covered the Republican National Convention in 1972 for Harper's and was elected vice president of the PEN/American Center.
"Breakfast of Champions," published in 1973, marked the then-50-year-old author's return to the novel. He acknowledged that it was in some important ways a cathartic book: The pathetic Kilgore Trout, who by then had appeared in several Vonnegut novels, finally becomes a rich and famous writer.
The novel, which earned generally tepid reviews, did not mark the end of Vonnegut's depressions, however. In fact, it directly refers to the author's worries about depression and suicide in lines such as " 'You're afraid you'll kill yourself the way your mother did,' I said." In 1984 Vonnegut attempted suicide with alcohol and pills and spent a month in a mental ward. He later told the Washington Post that he wasn't crazy; he was angry. "If I do myself in sometime, and I might, it will be because of my mother's example," he said, referring to her lethal overdose decades earlier. He narrowly escaped serious injury in January 2000 after a fire at his East Side Manhattan brownstone, apparently caused by a cigarette he had left burning in his study. He was hospitalized in critical condition for smoke inhalation.
"Now I'm thinking of suing the makers of Pall Mall," the inveterate chain-smoker joked after his recovery. "On the package they promise to kill me and they still haven't done it."
Such black humor appealed to successive generations of Vonnegut fans, whose cultish ardor played a part in one of the more successful Internet hoaxes of recent years.
In 1997, an e-mail forwarded to thousands of people gave what was purported to be the text of an MIT commencement address given by Vonnegut, a popular commencement speaker. It was full of folksy witticisms, such as "Wear sunscreen" and "Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone," that many people — including his wife — believed were quintessential Vonnegut. The text was actually written by a Chicago newspaper columnist and forwarded without her byline or permission. Vonnegut had become the victim of a "foma," the word signifying a harmless untruth that he had invented three decades earlier in "Cat's Cradle."
Vonnegut had married Krementz in 1979, after his first marriage ended in divorce. His second marriage produced a daughter, Lily. He also had three children from his first marriage, Mark, Edith and Nanette; and three he adopted after his sister's death, James, Steven and Kurt Adams.
He collected many of his shorter writings into four volumes, including "Bagombo Snuff Box" (1999), which featured his previously uncollected short fiction; "God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian" (2000), a series of riffs on dead eminences such as William Shakespeare that he originally wrote for radio; and "A Man Without a Country," a collection of short essays and speeches (2005). Among his other novels were "Slapstick, or Lonesome No More" in 1976, "Jailbird" in 1979, "Dead-Eye Dick" in 1982, "Galapagos" in 1985 and "Bluebeard" in 1987. His last novel, "Timequake" in 1997, split the critics, with some expressing annoyance at its familiar tone of weary bemusement and others calling it his funniest work in years.
After "Timequake," he said he would write no more novels, but in 2000, while serving a term as State Author for New York, he admitted to having reneged on the promise. He was working on a novel about a standup comic in New York. The title suggested another irreverent rumination on modern life and its ills. He was calling it "If God Were Alive Today."
Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein contributed to this report.
** Bibliography
"Timequake" New York, G.P. Putnam's, 1997.
"Three Complete Novels." New York, Wings Books, 1995.
"Hocus Pocus; or, What's the Hurry, Son?" New York, Putnam, and London, Cape, 1990.
"Bluebeard" New York, Delacorte Press, 1987 London, Cape, 1988.
"Galápagos" New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Cape, 1985.
"Deadeye Dick" New York, Delacorte Press, 1982; London, Cape, 1983.
"Jailbird" New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Cape, 1979.
"Slapstick; or, Lonesome No More!" New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Cape, 1976.
"Breakfast of Champions; or, Goodbye, Blue Monday" New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Cape, 1973.
"Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children's Crusade" New York, Delacorte Press, 1969; London, Cape, 1970.
"God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; or, Pearls Before Swine" New York, Holt Rinehart, and London, Cape, 1965.
"Cat's Cradle" New York, Holt Rinehart, and London, Gollancz, 1963.
"Mother Night" New York, Fawcett, 1962; London, Cape, 1968.
"The Sirens of Titan" New York, Dell, 1959; London, Gollancz, 1962.
"Player Piano" New York, Scribner, 1952; London, Macmillan, 1953; as Utopia 14, New York, Bantam, 1954.
"God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" adaptation of his novel (produced New York, 1979).
"Timesteps" (produced Edinburgh, 1979).
"Fortitude," in "Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons" 1974.
"Between Time and Timbuktu; or, Prometheus-5: A Space Fantasy" (televised 1972; produced New York, 1976). New York, Delacorte Press, 1972; London, Panther, 1975.
"The Very First Christmas Morning" in Better Homes and Gardens (Des Moines), December 1962.
"Happy Birthday, Wanda June" (as "Penelope," produced Cape Cod, Mass., 1960; revised version, as "Happy Birthday, Wanda June," produced New York, 1970; London, 1977). New York, Delacorte Press, 1970; London, Cape, 1973.
"A Man Without a Country" New York, Seven Stories Press, 2005.
"God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian" New York, Seven Stories Press, 2000.
"Like Shaking Hands With God: A Conversation About Writing" (with Lee Stringer). New York, Seven Stories Press, 1999.
"Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s" New York, Putnam, 1991.
"Conversations With Kurt Vonnegut" Edited by William Rodney Allen. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1988.
"Nothing Is Lost Save Honor: Two Essays" Jackson, Miss., Nouveau Press, 1984.
"Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage" New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Cape, 1981.
"Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons: Opinions" New York, Delacorte Press, 1974; London, Cape, 1975.
* Source: Contemporary Novelists, (7th edition, St. James Press, 2001)
Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

Kurt Vonnegut - The New York Times

Kurt Vonnegut, Writer of Classics of the American Counterculture, Dies at 84

By Dinitia Smith
The New York Times
Wednesday 11 April 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Cat's Cradle" and "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in Manhattan. He was 84 and had homes in Manhattan and in Sagaponack on Long Island.

His death was reported by Morgan Entrekin, a longtime family friend, who said Mr. Vonnegut suffered brain injuries as a result of a fall several weeks ago.

Mr. Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But it was his novels that became classics of the American counterculture, making him a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and '70s. Dog-eared paperback copies of his books could be found in the back pockets of blue jeans and in dorm rooms on campuses throughout the United States.

Like Mark Twain, Mr. Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well?

He also shared with Twain a profound pessimism. "Mark Twain," Mr. Vonnegut wrote in his 1991 book, "Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage," "finally stopped laughing at his own agony and that of those around him. He denounced life on this planet as a crock. He died."

Not all Mr. Vonnegut's themes were metaphysical. With a blend of vernacular writing, science fiction, jokes and philosophy, he also wrote about the banalities of consumer culture, for example, or the destruction of the environment.

His novels - 14 in all - were alternate universes, filled with topsy-turvy images and populated by races of his own creation, like the Tralfamadorians and the Mercurian Harmoniums. He invented phenomena like chrono-synclastic infundibula (places in the universe where all truths fit neatly together) as well as religions, like the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent and Bokononism (based on the books of a black British Episcopalian from Tobago "filled with bittersweet lies," a narrator says).

The defining moment of Mr. Vonnegut's life was the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied forces in 1945, an event he witnessed firsthand as a young prisoner of war. Thousands of civilians were killed in the raids, many of them burned to death or asphyxiated. "The firebombing of Dresden," Mr. Vonnegut wrote, "was a work of art." It was, he added, "a tower of smoke and flame to commemorate the rage and heartbreak of so many who had had their lives warped or ruined by the indescribable greed and vanity and cruelty of Germany."

His experience in Dresden was the basis of "Slaughterhouse-Five," which was published in 1969 against the backdrop of war in Vietnam, racial unrest and cultural and social upheaval. The novel, wrote the critic Jerome Klinkowitz, "so perfectly caught America's transformative mood that its story and structure became best-selling metaphors for the new age."

To Mr. Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness. The title character in his 1965 novel, "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," summed up his philosophy:

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies - 'God damn it, you've got to be kind.' "

Mr. Vonnegut eschewed traditional structure and punctuation. His books were a mixture of fiction and autobiography, prone to one-sentence paragraphs, exclamation points and italics. Graham Greene called him "one of the most able of living American writers." Some critics said he had invented a new literary type, infusing the science-fiction form with humor and moral relevance and elevating it to serious literature.

He was also accused of repeating himself, of recycling themes and characters. Some readers found his work incoherent. His harshest critics called him no more than a comic book philosopher, a purveyor of empty aphorisms.

With his curly hair askew, deep pouches under his eyes and rumpled clothes, he often looked like an out-of-work philosophy professor, typically chain smoking, his conversation punctuated with coughs and wheezes. But he also maintained a certain celebrity, as a regular on panels and at literary parties in Manhattan and on the East End of Long Island, where he lived near his friend and fellow war veteran Joseph Heller, another darkly comic literary hero of the age.

Mr. Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922, a fourth-generation German-American and the youngest of three children. His father, Kurt Sr., was an architect. His mother, Edith, came from a wealthy brewery family. Mr. Vonnegut's brother, Bernard, who died in 1997, was a physicist and an expert on thunderstorms.

During the Depression, the elder Vonnegut went for long stretches without work, and Mrs. Vonnegut suffered from episodes of mental illness. "When my mother went off her rocker late at night, the hatred and contempt she sprayed on my father, as gentle and innocent a man as ever lived, was without limit and pure, untainted by ideas or information," Mr. Vonnegut wrote. She committed suicide, an act that haunted her son for the rest of his life.

He had, he said, a lifelong difficulty with women. He remembered an aunt once telling him, " 'All Vonnegut men are scared to death of women.' "

"My theory is that all women have hydrofluoric acid bottled up inside," he wrote.

Mr. Vonnegut went east to attend Cornell University, but he enlisted in the Army before he could get a degree. The Army initially sent him to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon) in Pittsburgh and the University of Tennessee to study mechanical engineering.

In 1944 he was shipped to Europe with the 106th Infantry Division and shortly saw combat in the Battle of the Bulge. With his unit nearly destroyed, he wandered behind enemy lines for several days until he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp near Dresden, the architectural jewel of Germany.

Assigned by his captors to make vitamin supplements, he was working with other prisoners in an underground meat locker when British and American war planes started carpet bombing the city, creating a firestorm above him. The work detail saved his life.

Afterward, he and his fellow prisoners were assigned to remove the dead.

"The corpses, most of them in ordinary cellars, were so numerous and represented such a health hazard that they were cremated on huge funeral pyres, or by flamethrowers whose nozzles were thrust into the cellars, without being counted or identified," he wrote in "Fates Worse Than Death." When the war ended, Mr. Vonnegut returned to the United States and married his high school sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox. They settled in Chicago in 1945. The couple had three children: Mark, Edith and Nanette. In 1958, Mr. Vonnegut's sister, Alice, and her husband died within a day of each other, she of cancer and he in a train crash. The Vonneguts adopted their children, Tiger, Jim and Steven.

In Chicago, Mr. Vonnegut worked as a police reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau. He also studied for a master's degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago, writing a thesis on "The Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tales." It was rejected unanimously by the faculty. (The university finally awarded him a degree almost a quarter of a century later, allowing him to use his novel "Cat's Cradle" as his thesis.)

In 1947, he moved to Schenectady, N.Y., and took a job in public relations for the General Electric Company. Three years later he sold his first short story, "Report on the Barnhouse Effect," to Collier's magazine and decided to move his family to Cape Cod, Mass., where he wrote fiction for magazines like Argosy and The Saturday Evening Post. To bolster his income, he taught emotionally disturbed children, worked at an advertising agency and at one point started an auto dealership.

His first novel was "Player Piano," published in 1952. A satire on corporate life - the meetings, the pep talks, the cultivation of bosses - it also carries echoes of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World." It concerns an engineer, Paul Proteus, who is employed by the Ilium Works, a company similar to General Electric. Proteus becomes the leader of a band of revolutionaries who destroy machines that they think are taking over the world.

"Player Piano" was followed in 1959 by "The Sirens of Titan," a science fiction novel featuring the Church of God of the Utterly Indifferent. In 1961 he published "Mother Night," involving an American writer awaiting trial in Israel on charges of war crimes in Nazi Germany. Like Mr. Vonnegut's other early novels, they were published as paperback originals. And like "Slaughterhouse-Five," in 1972, and a number of other Vonnegut novels, "Mother Night" was adapted for film, in 1996, starring Nick Nolte.

In 1963, Mr. Vonnegut published "Cat's Cradle." Though it initially sold only about 500 copies, it is widely read today in high school English classes. The novel, which takes its title from an Eskimo game in which children try to snare the sun with string, is an autobiographical work about a family named Hoenikker. The narrator, an adherent of the religion Bokononism, is writing a book about the bombing of Hiroshima and comes to witness the destruction of the world by something called Ice-Nine, which, on contact, causes all water to freeze at room temperature.

Mr. Vonnegut shed the label of science fiction writer with "Slaughterhouse-Five." It tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, an infantry scout (as Mr. Vonnegut was), who discovers the horror of war. "You know - we've had to imagine the war here, and we have imagined that it was being fought by aging men like ourselves," an English colonel says in the book. "We had forgotten that wars were fought by babies. When I saw those freshly shaved faces, it was a shock. My God, my God - I said to myself, 'It's the Children's Crusade.' "

As Mr. Vonnegut was, Billy is captured and assigned to manufacture vitamin supplements in an underground meat locker, where the prisoners take refuge from Allied bombing.

In "Slaughterhouse-Five," Mr. Vonnegut introduced the recurring character of Kilgore Trout, his fictional alter ego. The novel also featured a signature Vonnegut phrase.

"Robert Kennedy, whose summer home is eight miles from the home I live in all year round," Mr. Vonnegut wrote at the end of the book, "was shot two nights ago. He died last night. So it goes.

"Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. He died, too. So it goes. And every day my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military science in Vietnam. So it goes."

One of many Zen-like words and phrases that run through Mr. Vonnegut's books, "so it goes" became a catchphrase for opponents of the Vietnam war.

"Slaughterhouse-Five" reached No.1 on best-seller lists, making Mr. Vonnegut a cult hero. Some schools and libraries have banned it because of its sexual content, rough language and scenes of violence.

After the book was published, Mr. Vonnegut went into severe depression and vowed never to write another novel. Suicide was always a temptation, he wrote. In 1984, he tried to take his life with sleeping pills and alcohol.

"The child of a suicide will naturally think of death, the big one, as a logical solution to any problem," he wrote. His son Mark also suffered a breakdown, in the 1970s, from which he recovered, writing about it in a book, "Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity."

Forsaking novels, Mr. Vonnegut decided to become a playwright. His first effort, "Happy Birthday, Wanda June," opened Off Broadway in 1970 to mixed reviews. Around this time he separated from his wife, Jane, and moved to New York. (She remarried and died in 1986.)
In 1979 Mr. Vonnegut married the photographer Jill Krementz. They have a daughter, Lily. They survive him, as do all his other children.

Mr. Vonnegut returned to novels with "Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday" (1973), calling it a "tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast." This time his alter ego is Philboyd Sludge, who is writing a book about Dwayne Hoover, a wealthy auto dealer. Hoover has a breakdown after reading a novel written by Kilgore Trout, who reappears in this book, and begins to believe that everyone around him is a robot.

In 1997, Mr. Vonnegut published "Timequake," a tale of the millennium in which a wrinkle in space-time compels the world to relive the 1990s. The book, based on an earlier failed novel of his, was, in his own words, "a stew" of plot summaries and autobiographical writings. Once again, Kilgore Trout is a character. "If I'd wasted my time creating characters," Mr. Vonnegut said in defense of his "recycling," "I would never have gotten around to calling attention to things that really matter."

Though it was a bestseller, it also met with mixed reviews. "Having a novelist's free hand to write what you will does not mean you are entitled to a free ride," R. Z. Sheppard wrote in Time. But the novelist Valerie Sayers, in The New York Times Book Review, wrote: "The real pleasure lies in Vonnegut's transforming his continuing interest in the highly suspicious relationship between fact and fiction into the neatest trick yet played on a publishing world consumed with the furor over novel versus memoir."

Mr. Vonnegut said in the prologue to "Timequake" that it would be his last novel. And so it was.
His last book, in 2005, was a collection of biographical essays, "A Man Without a Country." It, too, was a best seller.

In concludes with a poem written by Mr. Vonnegut called "Requiem," which has these closing lines:

When the last living thing

has died on account of us,

how poetical it would be

if Earth could say,

in a voice floating up


from the floor

of the Grand Canyon,

"It is done."

People did not like it here.

A Sad Day

Governor's Arts Award winning author Kurt Vonnegut glances down at his daughter Lilly,7, in this file photo from June 29, 1990, during the New York State Governor's Arts Awards ceremony at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kurt Vonnegut's wife, Jill Krementz says the satirical novelist of works such as 'Slaughterhouse-Five' and 'Cat's Cradle' has died Wednesday Aprill 11, 2007 at age 84 in Manhattan.(AP Photo/David Kantor-File)
Novelist Kurt Vonnegut dies at age 84
By CRISTIAN SALAZAR, Associated Press Writer

Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical novelist who captured the absurdity of war and questioned the advances of science in darkly humorous works such as "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," died Wednesday. He was 84.

Vonnegut, who often marveled that he had lived so long despite his lifelong smoking habit, had suffered brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home weeks ago, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

The author of at least 19 novels, many of them best-sellers, as well as dozens of short stories, essays and plays, Vonnegut relished the role of a social critic. He lectured regularly, exhorting audiences to think for themselves and delighting in barbed commentary against the institutions he felt were dehumanizing people.

"I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations," Vonnegut, whose watery, heavy-lidded eyes and unruly hair made him seem to be in existential pain, once told a gathering of psychiatrists.

A self-described religious skeptic and freethinking humanist, Vonnegut used protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim and Eliot Rosewater as transparent vehicles for his points of view. He also filled his novels with satirical commentary and even drawings that were only loosely connected to the plot. In "Slaughterhouse-Five," he drew a headstone with the epitaph: "Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."

But much in his life was traumatic, and left him in pain.

Despite his commercial success, Vonnegut battled depression throughout his life, and in 1984, he attempted suicide with pills and alcohol, joking later about how he botched the job.

"I think he was a man who combined a wicked sense of humor and sort of steady moral compass, who was always sort of looking at the big picture of the things that were most important," said Joel Bleifuss, editor of In These Times, a liberal magazine based in Chicago that featured Vonnegut articles.

He always said he was a humanist and a socialist. That's how he described himself."

His mother had succeeded in killing herself just before he left for Germany during World War II, where he was quickly taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. He was being held in Dresden when Allied bombs created a firestorm that killed an estimated tens of thousands of people in the city.

"The firebombing of Dresden explains absolutely nothing about why I write what I write and am what I am," Vonnegut wrote in "Fates Worse Than Death," his 1991 autobiography of sorts.
But he spent 23 years struggling to write about the ordeal, which he survived by huddling with other POW's inside an underground meat locker labeled slaughterhouse-five.

The novel, in which Pvt. Pilgrim is transported from Dresden by time-traveling aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, was published at the height of the Vietnam War, and solidified his reputation as an iconoclast.

"He was sort of like nobody else," said Gore Vidal, who noted that he, Vonnegut and Norman Mailer were among the last writers around who served in World War II.

"He was imaginative; our generation of writers didn't go in for imagination very much. Literary realism was the general style. Those of us who came out of the war in the 1940s made it sort of the official American prose, and it was often a bit on the dull side. Kurt was never dull."

Vonnegut was born on Nov. 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, a "fourth-generation German-American religious skeptic Freethinker," and studied chemistry at Cornell University before joining the Army.

When he returned, he reported for Chicago's City News Bureau, then did public relations for General Electric, a job he loathed. He wrote his first novel, "Player Piano," in 1951, followed by "The Sirens of Titan," "Canary in a Cat House" and "Mother Night," making ends meet by selling Saabs on Cape Cod.

Critics ignored him at first, then denigrated his deliberately bizarre stories and disjointed plots as haphazardly written science fiction. But his novels became cult classics, especially "Cat's Cradle" in 1963, in which scientists create "ice-nine," a crystal that turns water solid and destroys the earth.

Many of his novels were best-sellers. Some also were banned and burned for suspected obscenity. Vonnegut took on censorship as an active member of the PEN writers' aid group and the American Civil Liberties Union. The American Humanist Association, which promotes individual freedom, rational thought and scientific skepticism, made him its honorary president.
His characters tended to be miserable anti-heros with little control over their fate. Vonnegut said the villains in his books were never individuals, but culture, society and history, which he said were making a mess of the planet.

"We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard ... and too damn cheap," he once suggested carving into a wall on the Grand Canyon, as a message for flying-saucer creatures.

He retired from novel writing in his later years, but continued to publish short articles. He had a best-seller in 2005 with "A Man Without a Country," a collection of his nonfiction, including jabs at the Bush administration ("upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography") and the uncertain future of the planet.

He called the book's success "a nice glass of champagne at the end of a life."

In recent years, Vonnegut worked as a senior editor and columnist at In These Times. Bleifuss said he had been trying recently to get Vonnegut to write something more for the magazine, but was unsuccessful.

"He would just say he's too old and that he had nothing more to say. He realized, I think, he was at the end of his life," Bleifuss said.

Vonnegut, who had homes in Manhattan and the Hamptons in New York, adopted his sister's three young children after she died. He also had three children of his own with his first wife, Ann Cox, and later adopted a daughter, Lily, with his second wife, the noted photographer Jill Krementz.

Vonnegut once said that of all the ways to die, he'd prefer to go out in an airplane crash on the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. He often joked about the difficulties of old age.

"When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life; old age is more like a semicolon," Vonnegut told The Associated Press in 2005.

"My father, like Hemingway, was a gun nut and was very unhappy late in life. But he was proud of not committing suicide. And I'll do the same, so as not to set a bad example for my children."

Associated Press writers Michael Warren, Hillel Italie and Chelsea Carter contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

This is what going mad feels like....

OH God...... Please bring the Thorazne.... NOW!

The way laws are passed in this country now.

Remember the good old days? When you actually had a Congress in this country that worked for a living and listened to the people? A Congress that actually passed laws that weren't written by corporate lobbists? When this was the way laws were passed?

Ah, the good old days. Now the process is more like this:

Let's hope that we have a good election next time and purge the whole bunch of the bastards. I can dream can't I?

Gotta admit I am a Browncoat

I love this show. I loved the music and this song by Michelle Dockery says it all.

Mal's Song

When the stars shine bright through the engine's trail

And the dust of another world drops behind

When my ship is free of the open sky

That's a damn good day to my way of mind

There's a barren planet you never can leave

There's a rocky valley where we lost a war

There's a cross once hung round a soldier's neck

There's a man's faith died on Serenity's floor

But I stood my ground and I'll fly once more

It's the last oath that I ever swore

Chorus: So, take my love, take my land

Take me where I cannot stand

I don't care, I'm still free

You can't take the sky from me

Take me out into the black

Tell 'em I ain't comin' back

Burn the land and boil the sea

You can't take the sky from me

You can't take the sky from me

When you see a man and he's standin' alone

Well you might just take him for an easy mark

And there's many a man has tried his hand

And there's worse than wolves in the borderland dark

From the savage men to the government hounds

Try to take what's yours and tear you through

Ah, but them that run with me's got my back

It's a fool don't know that his family's his crew

Don't you tell me what I cannot do

Don't you think I've got to run from you


When you've walked my road and you've seen what I've seen

Well you won't go talkin' 'bout righteous men

You'll know damn well why I want to keep to my sky

Never cry 'neath nobody's heel again

I've seen torment raked 'cross innocent souls

Seen sane men mad and good men die

I've been hounded, hated, married and tricked

I've been tortured, cheated, shot, and tied

You won't see no tears when I say goodbye

I've still got my family and my Firefly


And now an interlude......

Gotta love Battlestar Galactica for telling it like it is.

This starts the Blogger Blog

Ok, I'll have to keep track of two blogs now. I still like Yahoo360 and probably will continure to us it, but this one is nice too. Anyway, hope you all enjoy the ramblings I post here.

About Me

My photo
I am interested in CNG vehicles because they are good for the environment and aren't powered by dead Marines. I still have a little hope for the world. Read the musings and enjoy.