He May be Dead (but He Sure Isn’t Wrong)


Here below the thoughts of the late great sci-fi satirist Kurt Vonnegut writing about how one man among several such men in 19th century America grew rich and saw to it that they STAYED rich. This from his 1965 novel God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.  Food for thought as we enter primary season!

“When the United States of America, which was meant to be a Utopia for all, was less than a century old, Noah Rosewater and a few men like him demonstrated the folly of the Founding Fathers in one respect: those sadly recent ancestors had not made it the law of the Utopia that the wealth of each nation should be limited.

“This oversight was engendered by weak-kneed sympathy for those who loved expensive things, and by the feeling that the continent was so vast and valuable, and the population so thin and enterprising, that no thief, no matter how fast he stole, could more than mildly inconvenience anyone.

“Noah and a few like him perceived that the continent was in fact finite, and that venal officeholders, legislators in particular, could be persuaded to toss up great hunks of it for grabs, and to toss them in such a way as to have them land with Noah and his kind we’re standing.

“Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created. Honest, industrious, peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed. Thus the American dream went belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of Cupidity Unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.”

He had a great smile – here he as Writer in Residence at Smith College – but don’t be fooled: he spoke in dead earnest. Truth to power, that was Vonnegut. 


The Set-Up, the Punch, The Set-Up, the Punch

The other day at the breakfast table I asked our second-grade grandson if he ever liked to have a coupla smokes before breakfast and he ‘got’ right away that I was joking. A four-year-old might not have gotten it but you wouldn’t try this with a four-year-old.

What’s funny is practically a science when you get thinking about it.

People laugh when they’re getting tickled, yes, but younger siblings the world over know that being tickled led does not, in anyone’s universe, mean that you’re having fun. Tickling can be aggressive, even mean. In my book any tickle that last longer than two or three seconds is just one person trying to show dominance.

So what’s funny, would YOU say?

Some people think puns are funny. I am not one of them but that’s fine, that’s cool.

Some find animal photos funny when the animals are seen doing human things, like when a dog looks to be driving……

It’s funny when the mighty are brought low; Aristotle saw this long ago, and I believe the Three Stooges would agree. (Just think of all those stuffy gents and dowagers they were always upending.) The big laughs in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night come when the pompous head steward shows up in Act Four festooned like the decorations at a pre-schooler’s birthday party, all because some happy lowlifes have forged a letter leading him to think Milady wished to see him thus dressed.

Kurt Vonnegut writes that all comic writing consists of the set up and the punch, the set up and the punch. An example: on the lecture circuit once, he said, “Those who believe in Telekinetics, raise my hand.” Ha! A good one!

What I find funny are unexpected images. If I tell a story that makes a reader smile. it’s because he or she can visualize the scene.

the unexpected is often funny, as I was saying on that Halloween post. It’s funny when the twinkly grandmother casually asks a seven-year-old about his smoking preferences. Incongruity is funny. In fact I know what, let’s cut to the chase: here’s Will Ferrell in the much-emailed clip from Funny Or Die where he plays a tenant late on his rent when the nasty landlord shows up. The best moment of all comes the second he opens the door, check it out.


My writing hero Brenda Ueland says writing is not a performance,  but a generosity. And so is the making of music, which you realize anytime you go to hear just  about any bunch of musicians. To me they’re like saints the way they don’t seem to mind that at any given time only a third of the crowd is listening to them.  The rest are doing the usual crazy human things, inspecting their nails, gossiping, daydreaming, etc, while up there behind their mikes the musicians are pouring out their souls. (In one of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut true-life tales he describes himself seated at a performance of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra  when  a couple of  older ladies surprise everyone as the very loud music suddenly stops  and in the pin-drop silence one is heard  bellowing to the other, ““I FRY MINE IN BUTTER!)

I took some video Saturday night of the band called Six, motto ‘Classic Rock That Never Gets Old (Even if We Do’)  and I would estimate that three-quarters of the time the majority of the audience wasn’t listening at all, good as they are. Here’s some 100 seconds of them  singing “The Weight” by the Band, better known to many of us as  the Take a Load Off song . I’d have been charmed by their performance even if I hadn’t been the cameramen  but you’ll see what happens even to me some 80 seconds in. People are so  infinitely distractible; how on DID those Medieval monks ever just sit there in one place and copy hundreds of years’ worth of classical manuscripts?