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Thursday, October 30, 2014

An EPIC Race, 80 Years On

I'm in L.A. to 1) give a lecture 2) meet the folks at Film Nation who just bought rights to my upcoming Berlin Wall Tunnels book for a film by Paul Greengrass 3) see my son, the hotshot creator of game trailers. As for the first:  I will be speaking at UC-Dominquez Hills in the main library, 5th floor, at 6 p.m. on Thursday (tonight) related to my book about Upton Sinclair's leftwing, wild and amazingly influential (and nearly successful) race for governor of California in 1934.  The lecture is tied to the donation of a massive number of books penned by Sinclair (the  collector was John Ahouse, who helped me with my book from the start).

Your Daily Vonnegut

A quote a day from Kurt Vonnegut, usually witty and/or political in nature.  My new e-book, Vonnegut and Me details (often in a fun way and just $2.99 for iPad, Kindles, etc.) my "conversations and close encounters of a weird kind" with the famed novelist, starting in 1970 and then over the years.  And see excerpt from book here, "When Vonnegut Met Kilgore Trout."

From Slaughterhouse-Five:  "What the Gospels actually said was: don't kill anyone until you are absolutely sure they aren't well connected."

Classic:  “If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?”

Vonnegut from late in his life:  "I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts us 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 lifeless bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.”

For Christmas, Kurt wrote a poem for In These Times awhile back, concluding with this:

I wish I could wave a magic wand
this Christmas,
and give every desperately lonesome
and hungry and lost American
man, woman, or child
the love and comfort and support
of an extended family.
Just two people and a babe in the manger,
given a heartless Government,
is no survival scheme. 

On one of his most famous characters, the  philanthropist Eliot Rosewater... "There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

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

For Wednesday, a character in Happy Birthday, Wanda June, named Looseleaf Harper wonders what happened while he was lost in the jungle in the 1960s for a few years:  "You know what gets me? How everybody says 'fuck' and 'shit' all the time. I used to be scared shitless if I'd say 'fuck' or 'shit' in public, by accident. Now everybody says 'fuck' and 'shit', 'fuck' and 'shit' all the time. Something very big must have happened while we were out of the country."

For Tuesday, from interview at McSweeny's, 2002:  "The telling of jokes is an art of its own, and it always rises from some emotional threat. The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful."

And for Monday:  "Our government is conducting a war against drugs, is it? Let them go after petroleum. Talk about a destructive high! You put some of this stuff in your car and you can go a hundred miles an hour, run over the neighbor's dog, and tear the atmosphere to smithereens."

For Sunday, from a 2003 interview:  "The polls demonstrate that 50 percent of Americans who get their news from TV think Saddam Hussein was behind the Twin Towers attack. Man, have they got ways for getting half-truths out right away now, thanks to TV! I think TV is a calamity in a democracy."

Friday's pick: "The two most radical ideas, inserted in the midst of conventional human thought, are E=MC2—matter and energy are the same kind of stuff—and 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.'”

From a 2003 interview

Q: "In Slaughterhouse-Five, you write about the firebombing of Dresden, and a couple of months later came Hiroshima and Nagasaki."  Vonnegut:  "The most racist, nastiest act by this country, after human slavery, was the bombing of Nagasaki. Not of Hiroshima, which might have had some military significance. But Nagasaki was purely blowing away yellow men, women, and children. I’m glad I’m not a scientist because I’d feel so guilty now."  (Note: My own take on Nagasaki. Also, I first met Vonnegut in 1970 for a chat about his first play--which featured a character, Looseleaf Harper,  haunted by his role in bombing Nagasaki.)
Q: In Slaughterhouse-Five, you write about the firebombing of Dresden, and a couple of months later came Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Vonnegut: The most racist, nastiest act by this country, after human slavery, was the bombing of Nagasaki. Not of Hiroshima, which might have had some military significance. But Nagasaki was purely blowing away yellow men, women, and children. I’m glad I’m not a scientist because I’d feel so guilty now.
- See more at:

For Wednesday, a classic from Cat's Cradle so applicable today:  "The words were a paraphrase of the suggestion of Jesus:  Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's.   Bokonon's paraphrase was this:  Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn't have the slightest idea what's really going on.”

The Tuesday Pick, from Bluebeard:   "Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?"

For Monday, on his political philosophy: "It’s perfectly ordinary to be a socialist. It’s perfectly normal to be in favor of fire departments. There was a time when I could vote for economic justice, and I can’t anymore. I cast my first vote for a socialist candidate—Norman Thomas, a Christian minister. I used to have three socialist parties to choose from—the Socialist Labor Party, Socialist Workers Party, and I forgot what the other one was."

For Saturday, from Slaughterhouse-Five: "You'll pretend you were men instead of babies,  she said, and you'll be portrayed in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.

"So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn't want her babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies."

Can't believe I'm just getting around to posting this, from the same 2003 interview (see below), which I use in my book Atomic Cover-up "The most racist, nastiest act by this country, after human slavery, was the bombing of Nagasaki. Not of Hiroshima, which might have had some military significance. But Nagasaki was purely blowing away yellow men, women, and children. I’m glad I’m not a scientist because I’d feel so guilty now."

Thursday's selection, from 2003 interview with The Progressive "It’s incumbent on the President to entertain. Clinton did a better job of it—and was forgiven for the scandals, incidentally. Bush is entertaining us with what I call the Republican Super Bowl, which is played by the lower classes using live ammunition."

For Wednesday, from his late Man Without a Country "Albert Einstein and Mark Twain gave up on the human race at the end of their lives, even though Twain hadn't even seen the First World War. War is now a form of TV entertainment, and what made the First World War so particularly entertaining were two American inventions, barbed wire and the machine gun.  Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don't you wish you could have something named after you?"

Tuesday's pick is one of his most famous lines from Cat's Cradle (he could be talking about, say, cable news today):  "People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order, so they'll have good voice boxes in case there's ever anything really meaningful to say."

For Monday:  "Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead."

Sunday's pick, from The Sirens of Titan:  "The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart."

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

Friday's pick, from Hocus Pocus:  "Beer, of course, is actually a depressant. But poor people will never stop hoping otherwise."

For Thursday, one of his favorite subjects,  from Cold Turkey:  "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."  (Note: He would not get his wish.)

For Wednesday, the macho hunter from his play Happy Birthday, Wanda June (which I write about in my book), speaks:  "Don't lecture me on race relations. I don't have a molecule of prejudice. I've been in battle with every kind of man there is. I've been in bed with every kind of woman there is -- from a Laplander to a Tierra del Fuegian. If I'd even been to the South Pole, there'd be a hell of a lot of penguins who looked like me."

For Tuesday, after another U.S. gun massacre, from Slaughter-house Five:   "My father died many years ago now — of natural causes. So it goes. He was a sweet man. He was a gun nut, too. He left me his guns. They rust.”

For Monday,  from Vonnegut's Blues:  "If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

For Sunday, we get Kurt on evolution from his 2005 appearance on The Daily Show:   "I do feel that evolution is being controlled by some sort of divine engineer. I can't help thinking that. And this engineer knows exactly what he or she is doing and why, and where evolution is headed. That’s why we’ve got giraffes and hippopotami--and the clap."

For Saturday, on guns (from Timequake):  "That there are such devices as firearms, as easy to operate as cigarette lighters and as cheap as toasters, capable at anybody's whim of killing father or Fats [Waller] or Abraham Lincoln or John Lennon or Martin Luther King, Jr., or a woman pushing a baby carriage, should be proof enough for anybody that, to quote the old science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, 'being alive is a crock of shit.'"

For Friday, from Slapstick:  "I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool."

For Thursday, short and sweet and one of his most famous, from Cat's Cradle:  "Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are 'It might have been.'"

For Wednesday, from  Cold Turkey: "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!"

For Tuesday, a character from Mother Night responds to question, does he hate America?  He replies: "That would be as silly as loving it.  It's impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn't interest me. It's no doubt a great flaw in my personality, but I can't think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can't believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to the human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will."

Today: "A great swindle of our time is the assumption that science has made religion obsolete. All science has damaged is the story of Adam and Eve and the story of Jonah and the Whale. Everything else holds up pretty well, particularly lessons about fairness and gentleness. People who find those lessons irrelevant in the twentieth century are simply using science as an excuse for greed and harshness. Science has nothing to do with it, friends."

For Friday, from Cold Turkey:  "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."

For Thursday, as war threatens, Kurt on the arts vs. the military science, from Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons:  "The arts put man at the center of the universe, whether he belongs there or not. Military science, on the other hand, treats man as garbage— and his children, and his cities, too. Military science is probably right about the contemptability of man in the vastness of the universe. Still— I deny that contemptability, and I beg you to deny it, through the creation of appreciation of art."

For today, Kurt on where his ideas came from, with a comparison to my man Ludwig:  "Where do I get my ideas from? You might as well have asked that of Beethoven. He was goofing around in Germany like everybody else, and all of a sudden this stuff came gushing out of him. It was music. I was goofing around like everybody else in Indiana, and all of a sudden stuff came gushing out. It was disgust with civilization.”

For Tuesday, from Mother Night: "There are plenty of good reasons for fighting," I said, "but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too. Where's evil? It's that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side."

A quote for Monday:  "Plato says that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what if the examined life turns out to be a clunker as well?"

Today's offering:  "Dear future generations: Please accept our apologies. We were rolling drunk on petroleum."

Friday, from an interview:  "What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."

A famous quote by Bokonon from  Cat's Cradle for today: "Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why, why?'   Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand."

Our Wednesday quote, from Slaughterhouse-Five:  "The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low. But the Gospels actually taught this:  Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn't well connected. So it goes."

Our Tuesday quote, from Cat's Cradle, as the U.S. promises another missile attack:  "Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns."

Our Monday quote, from his early Sirens of Titan:  "There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia."

Our Sunday quote: "The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people don't acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead."

Another quote comes from one of his late in life columns for In These Times, in 2004:  “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.”

From my 1974 interview with him, re: why he had grown so popular. "Well, I'm screamingly funny.  I really am in the books. And I talk about stuff Billy Graham won't talk about, for instance, you know, is it wrong to kill?”

One of his most famous, relating to his character Howard W. Campbell, the American double-agent who too gleefully helped Hitler:  "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."

From my 1974 interview with him:  "When you get to be my age, you all of a sudden realize that you are being ruled by people you went to high school with.  You all of a sudden catch on that life is nothing but high school -- class officers, cheerleaders, and all.”

My new e-book, Vonnegut and Me.

My Photo Blog

Haven't posted link for awhile, so here you go. Check back for daily additions.

Hipster Hops

New Yorker's cover by the great Steve Brodner this week, which goes with story on beer in Brooklyn.

Kubrick's First Film

A 15-minute short on boxer...Shot, directed, edited. 


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rocket to Space Station Explodes This Evening

Launched from Virginia.  Below that another view, from press area, as reaction--and fleeing--begins.

Jett Power

Joan introduces her "Bad Reputation" in new Get Out the Vote PSA stressing women's rights....

Hammering Hank

Episode 2 of Harry Shearer's new series based on Nixon's tapes, this one titled "Henry" in honor of Dr. Kissinger, I presume.

If Only

New Ebola-related (sort of) cartoon from the great Clay Bennett.

Velvet Love

John Cale with new song/video to mark old buddy/antagonist Lou Reed's passing one year ago.

Monday, October 27, 2014

When Brown Was the New Black

50 years ago this month, the fabled T.A.M.I. show produced conflict when James Brown objected to the Stones closing the show.  Mick has been interviewed this month around his new James Brown doc--airing tonite on HBO--that he's co-produced and he claims he smoothed things over with King James before the show.  Hut! Good God! Here's Brown's set and then the Stones (including of the greatest rock n roll songs ever, Bobby Womack's "It's All Over Now").  The recent Brown bio-pic from Hollywood had him coming off stage and saying to the Stones, "Welcome to America, boys." Mick denies he said that. And he claims that the Stones didn't follow James for hours--and with a different audience!

Sexy John Oliver Costume

John took on Halloween last night on HBO.

Now We Take Berlin

Update Monday:  And now another wild week, since we did things backwards--my book proposal sold to the movies first and only now comes the book deal.   If you're an editor and want to junp in, you might contact me at: and I will pass along to my agent. 

Friday: Big news today for yours truly, as my proposal for my next book The Tunnels was purchased by great upstart company FilmNation for a major film directed by one of my film heroes, Paul Greengrass.  Just up at Variety

Quite flattered by interest over past 10 days from several leading studios and A-list directors but very happy to be with Greengrass--I was one of early boosters of his Bloody Sunday back in 2002, and since--and producer Mark Gordon (who did Saving Private Ryan and so many others).  Amazing story of  young folks in the West who at unfathomable risk dug tunnels under the Berlin Wall in 1962 to bring out family and lovers and others--and now a wonderful chance to tell it on the page and on the screen.  The Variety description includes the key angle of CBS and NBC financing two key tunnels--but omits what happened then:  JFK at the White House trying to suppress the two network specials as nuclear tensions rose.

Special thanks to Brian Siberell and Michelle Weiner at CAA and my literary agent Gary Morris at the David Black Agency.  Yowza.  And great chance to work with my daughter, who lives in Berlin about a mile from the former path of the Wall.   My photo above of some of those who died trying to get over or under or around the Wall, at the Memorial on Bernauer Strausse (remnant of the Wall behind them).

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Alex Gibney's James Brown doc finally on HBO Monday night.  NYT likes.  A look:

Beethoven and the Walking Dead

My son, genius maker of game trailers in L.A., with latest today--Zombie selfies set to "Moonlight Sonata."

Up Against the Wall

UPDATE, October 25:  And now, a few months on:  Deal just announced for Paul Greengrass film based on my upcoming book related to this subject.  

Earlier, May 2: Back home after six full days in Berlin, visiting daughter, husband, grandson...much to report and reflect on...but for now....Experienced much Cold War history, though not nostalgia, as we were staying in Eastern Berlin and, in fact, nearly every place we visited had been in the old East (well, there was also the soccer match at Hitler's 1936 Olympics Stadium in the West).  We toured the DDR Museum, which includes a Stasi interrogation room and prison cell, and so on, but Tuesday was the highlight:  a visit to the main Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauer Strasse.

 It extends for several blocks and includes not only rare lengthy sections of the original and the renovated Walls, and "death strips," but also tributes to the more than 135 shot or otherwise killed trying to escape;  a small visitors center with photos and films; and much, much more, and very tastefully done.  There's even a sculpture that has also been placed in... Hiroshima.  All in all, one of the most impressive public memorials I've ever seen and at the very spot of so much drama and tragedy, not re-created in a perhaps more central, Disney-fied area.  You can really visualize and feel the history.  Apartment buildings bordered the sidewalk and street which were in West Berlin--and they could, and did, leap from windows, some to their deaths, before the East Germans bricked up the windows...Of course, the fall of the Wall plays a key role in current acclaimed film on Beethoven's Ninth that I co-produced.

A few photos.  First, perhaps the most moving spot, which displays the faces of some of those who died, on semi-transparent material through which you can see the remnant of Wall itself.

A large church once stood right up against the Wall and there are fascinating stories about people trying to escape via front door before Wall built higher.  But behind it, in East Berlin, was a cemetery which got partly dug up, and partly closed off with an inner wall, which still remains, viewed here from a memorial on the old church grounds where they hold daily services for the dead.   Folks tried to sneak through cemetery to freedom but even this inner Wall had signal devices to warn guards.  You had to get over this wall and then crawl across death strip to reach outer wall. Guards had shoot-to-kill orders.

Some of the former church people, after the fall of the Wall, gathered up some of the semi-smashed pieces and erected their own monument to protest what had happened decades earlier.

Meanwhile, on the West side of the Wall...

Underground at the site are remains of some of the tunnels people dug to reach the other side.  In one famous 1962 episode, 57 crawled through to freedom on a single night before someone finked and the tunnel blocked.  Still, others kept digging....And one more victim who died in escape attempt:

All Right All Right

He was due for take down and here's Jim Carrey on SNL last night with parody of those Lincoln car commercials.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Bruce, One of Best Bassists, Dies at 71

Best known as one-third of Cream, he went on to do so much more, often with a jazzy bent. (We will overlook West, Bruce & Laing.)  Co-wrote "Sunshine of Your Love," which certainly will live on.   "White Room" live from Cream reunion.  And below that:  from 1967 from album I bought then.

Go For It

I've long advocated NFL teams going for it on 4th down instead of always dropping into punt mode, but who am I?  Well, the NYT has had some fun with this for awhile, even posting on Twitter when its computers show that a team should have gone for it.   Today they go this far:  to save his job, Rex Ryan of the Jets ought to fully embrace this strategy.   The Times claims that teams go for it (in the first three quarters) only one in five times when they should.   And so on. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Another School Shooting

This time in Marysville, near Seattle.  The usual confusion and conflicting accounts.  Latest seems to be:  shooter dead and one other student and anywhere from four to seven injured, although still "active" search.  But seems clear gunman is dead.  And that he turned gun on himself after walking up to table in cafeteria and firing.  Three of injured are critical.  I'll update but this is it for now.

UPDATELengthy account here.  Shooter ID.  Said to be good kid, from local Native American tribe, broke up with girlfriend this week.  She may have been targeted.