Saturday, December 25, 2004


my last book for the year

Just finished CAT'S CRADLE by Kurt Vonnegut on the plane coming back home yesterday. Well, actually a rereading since I read it for the first time a very long while back...during my university days...but it still strikes me as a very darkly relevant book for today...a very funny black comedy of a grotesque family, eccentric despot ,good men doing bad things and Bokonism...a new religion based on nonsense but no worse than any great religions which are based on "harmless lies"...Someone mentioned Voltaire in the same sentence as him (Mr Vonnegut) and I could't agree more....

Here's a little snippet from the chapter "Why American are Hated"

Claire Minton's letter to the Times was published during the worst of the era of Senator McCarthy, and her husband was fired twelve hours after the letter was printed.
"What was so awful about the letter?" I asked.
"The highest form of treason," said Minton, "is to say that Americans aren't loved wherever they go, whatever they do.Claire tried to make the point that American foreign policy should recognize hate rather than imagine love."
"I guess Americans are hated a lot of places."


And this was written in 1962!!

And hey, I was wrong after all ( and I tend to err many times in my life ) about Kurt Vonnegut being dead... seems like he's still alive and well oll of his 81 yrs...still living in Indiana.... May be someday when I visit my office HQ which in Indianapolis I should pay him a visit...I hope he's still alve by then...

And how do I know he's alive??

I had a couple of hrs to kill in Singapore Airport and this great airport has free internet access located at several places and you can surf whatever (may be not porn but I did not try to confirm this) for free at 15 minutes a go. And you can log back in and have another 15 minutes....and so on... just be sure you don't have anybody waiting in line and you can go on forever...

So as I say...I did a bit of surfing and hit Mr Vonnegut and what did I get? A small article that was published in May this year...and here it is ....tell me what you think....

Published on Wednesday, May 12, 2004 by In These Times

Cold Turkey
By Kurt Vonnegut
May 10, 2004
Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.
But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 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.
When you get to my age, if you get to my age, which is 81, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, what life is all about. I have seven kids, four of them adopted.
Many of you reading this are probably the same age as my grandchildren. They, like you, are being royally shafted and lied to by our Baby Boomer corporations and government.
I put my big question about life to my biological son Mark. Mark is a pediatrician, and author of a memoir, The Eden Express. It is about his crackup, straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from which he recovered sufficiently to graduate from Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.
I have to say that’s a pretty good sound bite, almost as good as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A lot of people think Jesus said that, because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, 500 years before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.
The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one.
But back to people, like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, who’ve said how we could behave more humanely, and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of this:
Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:
As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?
How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. …
And so on.
Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
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.
But, when you stop to think about it, only a nut case would want to be a human being, if he or she had a choice. Such treacherous, untrustworthy, lying and greedy animals we are!
I was born a human being in 1922 A.D. What does “A.D.” signify? That commemorates an inmate of this lunatic asylum we call Earth who was nailed to a wooden cross by a bunch of other inmates. With him still conscious, they hammered spikes through his wrists and insteps, and into the wood. Then they set the cross upright, so he dangled up there where even the shortest person in the crowd could see him writhing this way and that.
Can you imagine people doing such a thing to a person?
No problem. That’s entertainment. Ask the devout Roman Catholic Mel Gibson, who, as an act of piety, has just made a fortune with a movie about how Jesus was tortured. Never mind what Jesus said.
During the reign of King Henry the Eighth, founder of the Church of England, he had a counterfeiter boiled alive in public. Show biz again.
Mel Gibson’s next movie should be The Counterfeiter. Box office records will again be broken.
One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.
And what did the great British historian Edward Gibbon, 1737-1794 A.D., have to say about the human record so far? He said, “History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”
The same can be said about this morning’s edition of the New York Times.
The French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, wrote, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”
So there’s another barrel of laughs from literature. Camus died in an automobile accident. His dates? 1913-1960 A.D.
Listen. All great literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being: Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, the Bible and The Charge of the Light Brigade.
But I have to say this in defense of humankind: No matter in what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got there. And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy games going on, which could make you act crazy, even if you weren’t crazy to begin with. Some of the games that were already going on when you got here were love and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf and girls’ basketball.
Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.
Actually, this same sort of thing happened to the people of England generations ago, and Sir William Gilbert, of the radical team of Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote these words for a song about it back then:
I often think it’s comicalHow nature always does contriveThat every boy and every galThat’s born into the world aliveIs either a little LiberalOr else a little Conservative.
Which one are you in this country? It’s practically a law of life that you have to be one or the other? If you aren’t one or the other, you might as well be a doughnut.
If some of you still haven’t decided, I’ll make it easy for you.
If you want to take my guns away from me, and you’re all for murdering fetuses, and love it when homosexuals marry each other, and want to give them kitchen appliances at their showers, and you’re for the poor, you’re a liberal.
If you are against those perversions and for the rich, you’re a conservative.
What could be simpler?
My government’s got a war on drugs. But get this: The two most widely abused and addictive and destructive of all substances are both perfectly legal.
One, of course, is ethyl alcohol. And President George W. Bush, no less, and by his own admission, was smashed or tiddley-poo or four sheets to the wind a good deal of the time from when he was 16 until he was 41. When he was 41, he says, Jesus appeared to him and made him knock off the sauce, stop gargling nose paint.
Other drunks have seen pink elephants.
And do you know why I think he is so pissed off at Arabs? They invented algebra. Arabs also invented the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals.
We’re spreading democracy, are we? Same way European explorers brought Christianity to the Indians, what we now call “Native Americans.”
How ungrateful they were! How ungrateful are the people of Baghdad today.
So let’s give another big tax cut to the super-rich. That’ll teach bin Laden a lesson he won’t soon forget. Hail to the Chief.
That chief and his cohorts have as little to do with Democracy as the Europeans had to do with Christianity. We the people have absolutely no say in whatever they choose to do next. In case you haven’t noticed, they’ve already cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next one with a perfectly enormous debt that you’ll be asked to repay.
Nobody let out a peep when they did that to you, because they have disconnected every burglar alarm in the Constitution: The House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the FBI, the free press (which, having been embedded, has forsaken the First Amendment) and We the People.
About my own history of foreign substance abuse. I’ve been a coward about heroin and cocaine and LSD and so on, afraid they might put me over the edge. I did smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, just to be sociable. It didn’t seem to do anything to me, one way or the other, so I never did it again. And by the grace of God, or whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of genes. I take a couple of drinks now and then, and will do it again tonight. But two is my limit. No problem.
I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.
But I’ll tell you one thing: I once had a high that not even crack cocaine could match. That was when I got my first driver’s license! Look out, world, here comes Kurt Vonnegut.
And my car back then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was powered, as are almost all means of transportation and other machinery today, and electric power plants and furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels.
When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won’t be any more of those. Cold turkey.
Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV news, is it?
Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.
And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.

© 2004 In These Times

Saturday, December 04, 2004


my early reads

To me reading is a very tiring way of enjoying oneself .... so these days I try to be a bit discerning in choosing what books to read....if I want easy and instant pleasure I choose watching DVDs ...though of course many really good films are also emotionally taxing....
Coming back to books... I'm a bit careful now on what I choose to read... and I don't mean we should be snobbish or elitist in our choice of books...but what I'm trying to get at is that books should kind of stick in your mind and may even change or color your life in a new ways...after you've read them... the after effect should linger in one way or another...and I only want to read books that I also want to proudly keep in my no more pulp and airport fictions for me...or those authors that I consider only trying to make money out of writing rather than writing to say something....
When I was young I used to read those abridged classsics... you know people like Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Black Arrow", Dracula (Bram Stoker), Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain), Don Quixote (Cervantes ) etc....later in the university I revisited some of these books in complete and unabridged versions.... and I just rediscovered Mark Twain last year.
I'm surprised that he also wrote really marvellous travel books and I found "Innocent Abroad" his book on travel to Jerusalem was really hilarious....may be I'm wrong but I think gonzo style of writing by people like Hunter S Thompson and the manic writings of P J O'Rourke may be influenced by Twain...
....Then I discovered those old European writers...Zola, Balzac, Gogol (Russia), Dostoevsky (Russia) Fontane , Kafka etc....Dostoevsky's "Crime and punishment" is one of the books that influenced my moral fact my hotmail email address is taken after the protagonist....raskolnikov....
These days I don't read much old classics anymore ...I'm trying to listen to the current voice by reading LIVING good new writers like Zadie Smith ('White Teeth' was a good tragicomic story about these young muslims in Britian who gradually became "extremists"...) and not so young British and non British and established authors like Ian McEwan, J M Coetzee etc... these guys are still very much alive unlike those old Dostoevsky, Zola and the rest of old masters who are of course long dead now...


writers who handle words like lovers

If you love words you'll be well rewarded by reading those writers who make it their business to play with words like they handle lovers... writers like Salman Rushdie, Vladimir Nabokov Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Gunther Grass are some of the really good writers that I found very playful with words... some of their writings are hard going for some but if you really want to read "real books" these are the guys I suggest you try.. some others I found very good are Elias Canetti ( eg Auto da Fe), and Allan Hollinghurst (this year's booker prize winner)...Grass, Marquez & Canneti are of course nobel prize winners ....I found nobel prize wiinners very2 boring in general but these few I mentioned are by no mean so...another extremely good nobel prize winner is of course Isaac Bisheevis singer... This gentle fellow was of course a Jew and if you want to know about old Jewish culture (especially yiddish) he's the guy....I once saw his interview on BBC and he was really a nice fellow... someone that I like to be my grandfather..he's dead now of course....

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