Saturday, April 21, 2007

Don Williams

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

Mother Night on the Banks of the Big Tennessee

by Don Williams

Hi ho.

Picture Kurt Vonnegut, Jr… Dead.

For the time being at least. Not that he's likely to rise again unless the universe starts running backwards, like a run amok player piano. But time being what time is, and Vonnegut being who Vonnegut… is, yes, it could happen--at least in his novels, which bounce around time like a pogo rider on a checkered kitchen floor stretching to infinity.

Maybe his checking out on 4/11/7 at age 84 is a way of celebrating lucky deliverance from times too much like those in a favored book--1984, by George Orwell--or from a body too bothered by medicinal hocus pocus. Either way, if Vonnegut and Faulkner are right to say the past is always with us, then young Vonnegut lives.

See the unkempt hair, moustache, wry grin lending a huggable quality to the rationalist humanist even as he ponders frigid truths. See the young reporter-turned-adman stringing words to push product down the pipeline while honing novels in the 1950s. Watch him quarrel with book marketers who classify Sirens of Titan as sci-fi, limiting his exposure to a broader audience, if only for a while.

Hear the clatter of his keys as he turns crazy notions into print--like Ice-Nine, an element from Vonnegut's imagination. Careful. One vial of that doomsday weapon would crystallize all the water on the planet if emptied into, say, the Tennessee River. Something like that happens at the end of Cat's Cradle—the title's derived from an old parlor game performed with simple string--leaving our protagonist eternally giving the finger to a frozen universe.

Hi ho.

Maybe young Vonnegut dreams up such images in 1942 as he walks the banks of the Big Tennessee while attending UT. Maybe inklings of waterways' unity flow into one another like a single entity, like time itself. Maybe some dawning knowledge of the purposes our government was feverishly putting Oak Ridge to influence his dark vision. Maybe worship of Big Orange sports heroes on those same banks turn the mechanical engineering student against tribal loyalty for all time.

Such attitudes make Slaughterhouse Five his most controversial novel. It's about a man who goes space and time hopping through a universe shattered at Dresden, Germany in 1945. Vonnegut, a downed pilot, is a prisoner of war there, working in a factory making vitamins for pregnant women, when Brits carpet-bomb that city, a renowned center of culture, followed by the same from America, even after the outcome of the war is clear. Maybe the specter of total war violence him out of his mind and body and time's matrix, until Russian soldiers rescue him. He returns to Dresden years later, if only in imagination.

Perhaps he recalls how that war lends a sort of psychic immunity to Americans dropping record-breaking ordnance on Vietnam and Cambodia in the sixties and seventies. Perhaps as an old man approaching death in the 21st century, he sees how such bombings continue to immunize Americans against revulsion to Shock and Awe visited on Iraq.

Just before bouncing out of his corporeal life, maybe he hears death cries of millions in some future war on Iran. Hmm, is that a mushroom cloud exploding there, courtesy of good Christians in Los Alamos and Oak Ridge?

Did I mention Vonnegut is an atheist? That he likes Jesus quite a lot anyhow? Especially the Sermon on the Mount? That he rescues his son from insanity and self-medication in the 1970s, nurtures him to wellness with tender love and affection? That he thinks we all could use just a tad more socialism, a tad less desperate money-grubbing? And that war's a terrible idea for people on a finite world grown clever at making doomsday bombs? That he says, "We're addicted to oil" years before the Shrub discovers the value of paying lip service to reality from time to time? That he knows time is relative?

So it goes.

Vonnegut believes our greatest heroes are altruistic volunteer firefighters and not, say, warriors like Pat Tillman or Jessica Lynch, who the Bush lie machine sought to foist off on us as real action heroes. Think what a younger Vonnegut could do with such material. The economy he'd bring to showing soldiers in camouflage running out of a hospital while pretending to rescue Lynch. Imagine how the writer might pogo his readers across time's checkered kitchen floor to show Jessica riding a tire-swing at age 8, all freckles and curls, swinging round a West Virginia white oak tree, dreaming of glory. How he'd cut back to show an Iraqi surgeon picking up a phone to call Americans and say, "We've dressed the wounds of one Jessica Lynch. She's leddy to check out now."

Watch Vonnegut bounce her next to boot camp, then across time to Pentagon PR flacks as they tailor the Jessica Lynch legend. Watch how they position cameras to record Americans rushing the hospital, guns drawn. Vonnegut might sum up the darkly humorous hero scam as he sums up so much of the world's crap in Cat's Cradle, with five little words:

"No cat. No cat's cradle."

No Vonnegut? Time forbid. Earlier in the 21st century I miss an opportunity to meet him when he speaks at UT. A friend tells me of his charm and wit, how he'd recently survived a house fire. Does his admiration of firefighters foreshadow this event, somehow, by fifty years, or is the reverse true?

Bouncing around my own life's hologram it's hard to imagine it without Vonnegut. See me in the back of Miss Pearsall's chemistry class reading God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, looking into my own bigotry and closed-mindedness thanks to Vonnegut's clarifying x-ray vision. I'm 15. I'll devour four more Vonnegut books before I'm 16, and through all the years I'll see how Vonnegut got so much right. I'll thank him for the warnings and foreshadows of heartbreak and wisdom to come. I thank him tomorrow. I thank him yesterday. I thank him now.

God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut.

With love and loss and sad admiration.

So he goes.

Copyright © 2007 by Don Williams, All Rights Reserved

Don Williams is a widely published columnist, free-lance writer, and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of literary writings. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Michigan Journalism Fellowship, a Golden Presscard Award and the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize. As a reporter for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, he was five times writer of the month in the Scripps Howard newspaper chain and twice runner-up for Writer of the Year. He is finishing a novel set in his native Tennessee and Iraq. His book of selected journalism, “Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes, the Best Writings About People” by Don Williams has sold out. For more information, email him at Or visit the NMW website at

Note to Don, e-mail me if posting this is a problem, Den.


DEN said...

WOW! the bit did not transfer well I'm afraid, tried to fix it but Google would not co-operate so I'll let 'er go as-is, I need HTML learning.

Swear this guy has me jinxed.

Micki, don't worry about the fine particulars on the Mac, I was wondering if they had gone more mainstream because before nothing Windows would work, Apple had separate software.

Alan, thanks for the link, I predict she will be taking off like a rocket soon.
I predicted Coldplays rise to stardom too.
Can tell good tuneage when I hear it.

micki said...

Go, NYT! Poor Al Fredo...he must really be whining about this!

The New York Times
April 20, 2007
Gonzales v. Gonzales

If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had gone to the Senate yesterday to convince the world that he ought to be fired, it’s hard to imagine how he could have done a better job, short of simply admitting the obvious: that the firing of eight United States attorneys was a partisan purge.

Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch.

He had no trouble remembering complaints from his bosses and Republican lawmakers about federal prosecutors who were not playing ball with the Republican Party’s efforts to drum up election fraud charges against Democratic politicians and Democratic voters. But he had no idea whether any of the 93 United States attorneys working for him — let alone the ones he fired — were doing a good job prosecuting real crimes.

He delegated responsibility for purging their ranks to an inexperienced and incompetent assistant who, if that’s possible, was even more of a plodding apparatchik. Mr. Gonzales failed to create the most rudimentary standards for judging the prosecutors’ work, except for political fealty. And when it came time to explain his inept decision making to the public, he gave a false account that was instantly and repeatedly contradicted by sworn testimony.

Even the most loyal Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee found it impossible to throw Mr. Gonzales a lifeline. The best Orrin Hatch of Utah could do was to mutter that “I think that you’ll agree that this was poorly handled” and to suggest that Mr. Gonzales should just be forgiven. Senator Sam Brownback led Mr. Gonzales through the names of the fired attorneys, evidently hoping he would offer cogent reasons for their dismissal.

Some of his answers were merely laughable. Mr. Gonzales said one prosecutor deserved to be fired because he wrote a letter that annoyed the deputy attorney general. Another prosecutor had the gall to ask Mr. Gonzales to reconsider a decision to seek the death penalty. (Mr. Gonzales, of course, is famous for never reconsidering a death penalty case, no matter how powerful the arguments are.)

Mr. Gonzales criticized other fired prosecutors for “poor management,” for losing the confidence of career prosecutors and for “not having total control of the office.” With those criticisms, Mr. Gonzales was really describing his own record: he has been a poor manager who has had no control over his department and has lost the confidence of his professional staff and all Americans.

Mr. Gonzales was even unable to say who compiled the list of federal attorneys slated for firing. The man he appointed to conduct the purge, Kyle Sampson, said he had not created the list. The former head of the office that supervises the federal prosecutors, Michael Battle, said he didn’t do it, as did William Mercer, the acting associate attorney general.

Mr. Gonzales said he did not know why the eight had been on the list when it was given to him, that it had not been accompanied by any written analysis and that he had just assumed it reflected a consensus of the senior leaders of his department. At one point, Mr. Gonzales even claimed that he could not remember how the Justice Department had come to submit an amendment to the Patriot Act that allowed him to fire United States attorneys and replace them without Senate confirmation. The Senate voted to revoke that power after the current scandal broke.

At the end of the day, we were left wondering why the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer would paint himself as a bumbling fool. Perhaps it’s because the alternative is that he is not telling the truth. There is strong evidence that this purge was directed from the White House, and that Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s top political adviser, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, were deeply involved.

Yesterday, Mr. Gonzales admitted that he had not been surprised by five of the names on the list because he had heard complaints about them — from Republican senators and Mr. Rove.

In another telling moment, Mr. Gonzales was asked when he had lost confidence in David Iglesias, who was fired as federal prosecutor in New Mexico. His answer was an inadvertent slip of truth.

“Mr. Iglesias lost the confidence of Senator Domenici, as I recall, in the fall of 2005,” Mr. Gonzales said. It was Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, of course, who made a wildly inappropriate phone call to Mr. Iglesias in 2006, not 2005, to ask whether charges would be filed before the election in a corruption inquiry focused on Democrats. When Mr. Iglesias said he did not think so, Mr. Domenici hung up and complained to the White House. Shortly after, Mr. Iglesias’s name was added to the firing list.

We don’t yet know whether Mr. Gonzales is merely so incompetent that he should be fired immediately, or whether he is covering something up.

But if we believe the testimony that neither he nor any other senior Justice Department official was calling the shots on the purge, then the public needs to know who was. That is why the Judiciary Committee must stick to its insistence that Mr. Rove, Ms. Miers and other White House officials testify in public and under oath and that all documents be turned over to Congress, including e-mail messages by Mr. Rove that the Republican Party has yet to produce.

Alan said...

Can tell good tuneage when I hear it.

I would tend to agree. hehe Speaking of Feist, I bet you'd like Lily Allen. Check this out...


Gerald said...

The Ninth Doctrine


The Nazis believe like Nazi America, Nazi England, and Nazi Israel that a New World Order will come from chaos. These Nazi countries create chaos because they believe that through chaos will come order. With chaos people will focus on survival and the powerbrokers like Nazi America, Nazi England, and Nazi Israel will control countries and their people so that order can be established through this chaos. When people focus on survival, they will do what their masters demand. Survival will be more important than improving the people’s quality of life.

My ninth doctrine centers on chaos and the controlling of people through fear, manipulation of information, and symbols, like the number 13. Do not be fooled by the number 13 and symbolism! Do not be fooled by Nazi governments with their fear factors toward the human population, chaos to control the masses, and such symbolism that the Nazis are good, holy, and saintly people or the MSM is controlled by liberals. The conservatives will never tell you that they control 64% of the MSM.

The number 13 is a complicated number. The number 13 brings out fear in the people. But, Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to the children of Fatima on six consecutive 13’s of the month (May, June, July, August, September, and October). The number 13 is supposed to revere the devil and the New World Order wants to abolish governments and God. Yet, the number 13 for true believers in God means hope for the world through the Rosary that Mary says can save the world from damnation. When Mary appeared to the children of Fatima on those six consecutive 13’s of the month, she stressed the importance of the Rosary for the salvation of the world.

There is a battle, a continuous battle, between good and evil and between people who worship God and the people who worship the devil.



From the previous thread Limbo is hard to understand for people who believe in a loving and a merciful God. I have had a difficult time accepting the concept of Limbo for many years.

John Paul II has written on hell and he has said that hell is not a physical place. It could be a state of mind or a condition.

Hell is a place for people who hate. People who hate will not feel comfortable in heaven. In fact hateful people will look upon hell as their heaven.

DEN said...

Alan, she is good but did not strike me quite the same, more mainstreamish.

Feist struck me as more avant guard.

Dare to be different!

DEN said...

Abu was covering his azz big time!

He knew very well what was happening but decided to use the "I can't recall" ploy to avoid those nasty little incriminating answers.

If you believe him, there is a bridge in Brooklyn for sale cheap, I can let you have it for song.

•c•arol said...

Please tell me today's post is NOT huge because of the problems at my end from yesterday!

DEN said...

Was going to Tahoe for the weekend until a couple of semis tangled up and closed I 80, dang!

I like to check up on the rich and infamous every now and then, the once pristine lake has been taken over by developers, Hummers and Rovers everywhere and yachts all in the water.

Foot of snow expected there tonite, should cover the Yuppie blight.

DEN said...

Carol, It is HUGE, something in the HTML got tangled around, Laura sez Kurt would have wanted it that way.
Not your computer this time.
Was bigger but I whittled it down a bit, OH well.

Been a frustrating day so far, might have to drown my miseries, HA HA!

After chores that is.

David B. Benson said...

On AlterNet today, Dr. James Hansen explains why we cannot wait regarding global warming...

micki said...

Interactive. Global Warming

Explanation that anyone can understand.

More on climate change -- much more

Carey said...

Al Fredo,

You are legally responsible for heinous Texas executions, you write a torture memo that circumvents the Geneva Convention and are thus liable for mass human misery and suffering. You have brought unpardonable shame upon yourself. No Repups support you.

Nah, nah, nah, nah,, nah.

Carey said...

I've now seen several of the Planet Earth series on the Discovery Channel.

Tomorrow, Earth Day, of course, the Discovery channel will run all the shows back to back twice over.

Everyone. Do not miss this opportunity. Either tape, Tivo or DVR it. Or rent the DVDs. Superlatives do not do the series justice.

Believe me. You'll all want to see this. Brandon and I have watched the series and have both reached that place that we all know. It's almost a feeling of nirvana, of being at one with the universe and connected to all living things.

That feeling. You know the one. It's almost indescribable. A total spiritual experience.

Carey said...

Remember that Gary Trudeau is now pushing impeachment in his strip. John Nichols writes that impeachment is becoming more popular.

Impeachment Fever Rises

Carey said...


From yesterday's thread: It wasn't so much that your line about hell was funny within the context of your paragraph. It was the line itself. I had just had this hugely heavy conversation about life, death and the whole shibang with my sister and we came away saying just that, that the only hell is here on earth.

Again, I didn't make that clear. I do that, don't I?

David B. Benson said...

Carey --- Repups?

They aren't grown up enough to be repugs?


Carey said...

Dr. B,

Oy! That's a horrible typo.

I know Jeanne's probably going to be making a visit here sometime this weekend. I always miss her. I just want to give a shout out.

HI! See my stuff about Planet Earth on the Discovery Channel tomorrow.

David B. Benson said...

Actually, its funny. Pups and repups and rerepups and puprepups and...

micki said...

I'm pissed off and I'm not going to take it anymore. So I'm posting this here, too.

Crime Down Under -- The Real Facts, Not Fiction Like Saladin Peddles

Crime and criminal justice statistics, From the Australian Government, Criminology Institute

Saladin, it is okay to have your own opinion, but it is not okay to have your own set of facts.

Figures don't lie, but liars figure out how to manipulate and slant statistics to support their own POV. Disgusting!

Also, for the gun homicides that do occur in Australia, 71% of the deaths are intimates, family, friends/acquaintances. Sounds like a pretty damned good reason not to have a gun lying around when someone gets pissed off at an intimate, family member, friend or acquaintance.

You should find better talking points -- fact-based talking points would be a good start.

ยบ¿carol said...

Micki, Those were good links! Now you have to find some comparison charts for Australia,U.S.A.

DEN said...

OK girls check these numbers from the FBI.

DEN said...

Guns are the convenient killing tool of choice in the good old USA which also contains the worlds largest collection of total idiots.

Not a good combination.


DEN said...

Present company excluded of course.


micki said...

Murders per capita with firearms

Carol, the Aussies -- as far as murders with firearms -- are not on a "par" with the U.S.

micki said...

...but at the end of the day, the biggest crime of all that is being committed, day in and day out, is we are killing the Earth.

We are all murderers in that sense.

©A®OL said...

Why does it have to be so complicated? What the heck does 0.0313745 per 1,000 people or United States: 0.0279271? I hate numbers, especially the ones that start with a dot. Or a zero & a dot.

Now if I showed that to Bob he'd get it right away and explain it to me. Math has always been his thing. That's why I keep him around.