So it goes.

Kurt Vonnegut is dead. That doesn’t have the same impact on me as Frank Zappa’s death, though they were contemporaries in my mind and in the influence they had on my life. Zappa got screwed. Vonnegut got more time. It’s all dust in the end.

I’m interested in how many different people reacted to Vonnegut’s death. My buddy, Kris. My Droogie, Fred (et al.). Margaret Montoya, whose ‘uh … uh’ drives me from the room and TJ Trout, about whom I could hardly care less. Vonnegut touched us all almost 40 years ago.

I’m resurrecting a blog entry from May 2002 (perhaps I should wait 3 days). It was my last exposure to Vonnegut. mjh

Good News, Bad News

Months ago, when I heard that Kurt Vonnegut would be speaking at UNM, I thought, “of course, I’ll be there.” I soaked up Vonnegut’s satire in high school, lo, 30 years ago. But, for no reason, I never got around to buying a ticket. Little did I realize the ironies to come when Merri said, “I have good news and bad news.”

The bad news was that Vonnegut was sold out. The good news was that I could join a couple of guys from the Daily Lobo in the Media Booth. After all, I have had a number of letters printed in the Lobo — I have written for the Lobo. When I heard “Media Room,” I envisioned a bright, high-tech space with laptop ports and phones and recording equipment. Happy with my good fortune, I jotted down “sometimes good things happen to OK people.”

To my surprise, the Media Room was more like a wide, dark closet in the far back of the auditorium. The only light came through sliding glass windows facing the hall that can only be opened so far, in an alternating arrangement of glass, opening, glass, opening. And it wasn’t just me and my Lobo colleagues — there were 3, sometimes 6, other people in the booth with us. As more people crowded into the booth, I ended up seated behind glass. Most shocking of all, there was no amplified sound, just whatever sound that could drift to the back of the hall and through the half-open windows, one of which was eventually blocked by the Lobo photographer, partly to photograph but mostly so he could lean out and actually hear something.

As Vonnegut began to speak, people in the booth shifted uncomfortably and asked each other if they could hear. One woman had very good hearing and occasionally repeated a bon mot. Now & then the photographer leaned back into the booth and repeated something, too. Several people behind us just left.

For the next hour, while 2000 people listened to one of the wittiest men alive, I strained with all my might to pick out every other word. It was like listening to a foreign language, me straining for the gist, grasping a word here and there, using the end of the sentence to infer the beginning, while the native speakers were laughing their asses off.

I did get the gist. I was particularly surprised that Vonnegut is a self-professed Luddite. A sci-fi writing Luddite? I heard enough to laugh when he said “human beings are here to fart-around.” (Me, “I love to work at nothing all day.”) I missed a couple of manipulations of the doting crowd. I followed much of the chalkboard presentation on good story lines, ending with the analysis that nothing really happens in Hamlet. (As Merri points out, Bart Simpson reached a similar conclusion).

In the end I was exhausted from all my effort, like an ungifted student of Wit as a Second Language. Much was lost in the translation. I think I endured it for much the same reason people revere the Buddha’s nail clippings — even a fragment of greatness is better than our ordinary lives.

It was, indeed, a night of irony. As I left my deaf booth, I saw & heard the TV, carrying a live broadcast just outside the Media Room door. I saw the patron with the headset for amplified assistance. Would a Luddite begrudge us this much technology? I practically slapped my forehead when Merri said, “maybe there was a switch for speakers.” I remembered Vonnegut’s last words, sharp echoes of Merri’s: “tell me, which was the good news and which was the bad.” I believe we’re here to get the irony. mjh


My book hit #56 in the top 100 computer books on Amazon today. A few weeks ago it hit #88 and then dropped from the list. Currently it is about #5000 in all books; best has been about 1800 or 1500. Cool! mjh

#56 among computer books on Amazon

Revenge or Justice?

A man is walking through his elegant backyard, which has layers of shrubs and huge stone blocks. He has just finished some chores and is on a paved path. As he nears the end of the path, there is a drop-off. He over-cautiously leans out barely over the edge to see a monorail track. I feel the same dread I would if I were leaning out over an unknown height. I wonder if a train will flash by. He turns back towards the house and his wife, who is in the kitchen. The man casually glances in the direction of the track and sees a large man with long hair under his hat and draping his heavy coat — we don’t see that man’s face. A few steps later, the first man glances again and the other man has moved just as many steps closer. I think, “these are great camera movements.” The subtly sinister music plays on. The man walks around his Jaguar towards the basement door. A different man appears at the door. The first man rushes into the basement and pulls the two sides of the French doors together with all his strength, trying to latch it. Through the gap in the door, we see the other man moving a knife to pry the latch, his angry eyes above the knife. He yanks open the doors as the first man walks backwards through the gloomy room. The angry man closes in on the first man, talking about revenge. The police burst into the room and the lights brighten. The angry man say, “this man drove into my friends and me and left us to die!” Now, we can see the blood, even a bone sticking out of the angry man’s leg.

I think, “the wife can say she never heard the car start.” The dog shakes his head, my furry alarm clock. mjh

Crime and Punishment

The Duke Lacrosse players have been exonerated, at last. Now the last great wrong in the world has been righted and these unfortunate rich, young, white preppies can try to pick up the crystal shards of their privileged lives. God bless America.

As for Don Imus, he’s an old goat who has been spewing crap for years. But, in a ‘profession’ that includes pill-popper Lush Dimbulb and the execrable Howard Stern, Imus is a pissant. And his offense — truly sexist and racist and so-last-century — seems almost charming compared to 30 seconds of any hip-hop video. Is Snoop-Dawg a champion of women’s rights or the dignity of any people? It’s like comparing your senile uncle’s farting to the stench of a pig farm. This is a coarse age in which awful people demand our attention and we happily give it, sinking to their level every time. It’s hard to believe Imus’ well-deserved public flogging represents the turning point and the line in the sand. I don’t doubt we’ll get uglier. mjh

The Lanoliers

A group of men and women is gathered in and around the open bed of a truck. They are not military but of that type. I think of them as “adventurers.” A woman comforts someone hunched over in the truck. Someone approaches with an armful of weapons. These appear to be short swords of an Asian style. The hilts and scabbards are glossy black enamel with hints of embossing or inlay. I think they might be slippery in a bloody battle and wonder if that is the reason for the slight twist in each handle. One of the men takes a sword and unsheathes it to reveal two parallel blades a couple of inches apart. Others are of a similar style until he unsheathes the last one. This one has one blade like all the others but the left blade ends in a gathering of spikes, like the stainless-steel offspring of a pangolin and a porcupine. “What the hell is the point of that?,” he wonders aloud. Another man jumps from the truck and brandishes the weapon, saying, “I’ll tell you the point. When you see a big, hairy arm swinging that at your head, your first thought is to run like hell.”

I awake thinking the words, “The Lanoliers.” I don’t know if that is the name of the weapons, their wielders or this group of adventurers. The collective unconscious of the Web answers with this:

“Members of the Lanoliers must undergo training in both army and naval tactics and given with the [ Kingdom of Ewecadmia’s] recent emergence from isolation, they will be trained in air force specialties….

“Lanolier members who have taken extra classes in Kingdom and World protocol and etiquette, and volunteer may become part of the Royal Rams, that is the King’s Royal Guard. The Rams are responsible for patrolling the grounds of the Royal castle and escorting members of the Royal Family when traveling at home or abroad.” —

I have no recollection of ever encountering this info before. However, the longer I think about this, I start to ‘recall’ (imagine?) I’ve read a poem by Robert Burns called The Lanoliers. I wonder if they use short swords. mjh

PS: I have a recollection of “pangolin” in the context of dinosaurs. I see something rather turtle-like with a spiked tail ala stegosaurus. Here, the Web lets me down (or sets me straight, perhaps) by only showing modern pangolins (pangolina?). Two words (pangolin and lanolier) come out of my head, one with rich context and one with none (except for the dream). One verified, one not.

Remembering Mr. Jefferson

TJ Center » Blog Archive » Censuring the Censors

For the sixteenth straight year, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression is celebrating the April birth date of its namesake by calling attention to some of the more egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression that occurred in the preceding year.

The Short List:

1. The Bush Administration
2. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
3. Representative Pete King (R-NY)
4. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
5. The US Department of Defense
6. The Ohio General Assembly

Full list with complete explanations:

TJ Center » 2007 Muzzle Awards

And You Thought I Was Intemperate

Dan Froomkin – Cheney Sticks to His Delusions

It’s not a coincidence that Cheney was talking to Limbaugh yesterday. The show has been one of Cheney’s favorite venues.

As I wrote in my January 29 column, The Unraveling of Dick Cheney, Cheney is increasingly out of touch with reality. He seems to think that by asserting things that are simply untrue, he can make others believe they are so.

In Limbaughland, he’s right.

In Limbaughland, not only were Saddam and Al Qaeda linked but — more significantly — liberals hate America. In Limbaughland, Cheney can say a lot simply by failing to disagree with his host’s assertions.

Consider a few of yesterday’s exchanges.

Limbaugh was complaining to Cheney about how the Democrats seem to be primarily motivated by a desire “to make sure we come home defeated.” [mjh: asshole.]

Limbaugh: “Can you share with us whether or not you understand [Democrat’s] devotion, or their seeming allegiance to the concept of U.S. defeat?

Cheney: “I can’t.” …

Limbaugh called [Sam “Swift Boat”] Fox “a great American” and praised the White House for making an end-run around Democratic opposition.

Limbaugh: “This is the kind of move that garners a lot of support from the people in the country. This shows the administration willing to engage these people and not allow them to get away with this kind of — well, my term — you don’t have to accept it — Stalinist behavior from these people on that committee.”

Cheney: “Well, you’re dead on, Rush.”

The two also chuckled about the White House move.

Limbaugh: “You go on vacation, this is what happens to you.”

Cheney: “If you’re a Democrat.” They both laughed. …
– –

So why is the White House so angry [about Pelosi in Syria]?

[Joe Conason writes in Salon]: “The neoconservatives, both within and outside the White House, resent Pelosi for publicly dissenting from their ideology of war and their rejection of diplomacy. [Neo-con’s] own vision has collapsed in ruins; they have gravely harmed the American military and discredited the ideals of democracy, and they have run out of ideas.” …
– – –

Matt Spetalnick writes for Reuters: “With George W. Bush struggling to stay relevant in his final 22 months in the White House, his administration is looking more and more like the incredible shrinking presidency….”
– – –

Joe Klein writes in his opinion column for Time about what he calls “the epic collapse of the Bush Administration”: “[T]he three defining sins of the Bush Administration–arrogance, incompetence, cynicism–are congenital: they’re part of his personality. They’re not likely to change. And it is increasingly difficult to imagine yet another two years of slow bleed with a leader so clearly unfit to lead.”