Category Archives: Kurt Vonnegut

Hot Air

Caffeinated Philosophy

Overheard at Soma Coffee, one barista speaking to another:

Life is more than fish sticks.

Fish Sticks

So, so true.

Magic, Tragic Formula

As a student at the University of Chicago, Kurt Vonnegut wanted to let academe know that the plots for fictional stories can be represented as graphs. You know, the visual aids that we normally associate with economists, behavioral psychologists, and other illusionists.

Vonnegut

Vonnegut In The Army

Huh. Who’da figured the likes of Truman Capote and James Patterson are, at heart, mathematicians?

Vonnegut pitched this concept for his master’s thesis at the august institution. He was told, forthwith, to kiss off. The late Indy native once explained the dons didn’t dig his brainstorm “because it was so simple and looked like too much fun.”

Anyway, Open Culture tells us about Vonnegut’s proposal, which he went on to espouse and further explain throughout his life. Plus, his own novel plots reflected the basic assertion he wanted to make in his thesis paper.

And, since we’re larcenous hoodlums here at Pencil World HQ, we’ve copped the chart that Open Culture commissioned designer Maya Eilam to draw up, illustrating V’s idée. Here it is [broken up so you can read the text]:

1)

Eilam Infographic Detail

2)

Eilam Infographic Detail

3)

Eilam Infographic Detail

Vonnegut would have had us believe that the stories a culture tells about itself also can be plotted thusly. And in that we we can learn about said society. Cool, no?

Living Dolls

I’ve always thought the Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit edition is stupid. SI takes inhumanly glamorous dames and poses them in faraway and gorgeous locales, all the while cladding them in eensy-weensy bikinis that expose as much mam, camel-toe, and bootie as can be displayed on a Kroger magazine rack.

For the boys, right? If the giggly, sweaty lads of this holy land want porn, there’s plenty of it on the Internet. They don’t have to pretend they’re buying this particular issue of the weekly sports news pub just for the articles.

Plus, there’s the whole creation of impossible standards of beauty for young girls to fail to live up to and young boys to be sorely disappointed in their future girlfriends and wives for. All in all, the swimsuit edition is nutty.

Now it’s deranged. Guess who is adorning the pages of the 2014 one-handed reading edition?

Barbie.

The doll.

Doll

Yes, This Barbie®

A hunk of plastic that, too, has been making girls feel like crap about their bods for 50 years.

Boys, it’s time to grow up.

But even more weird than grown men turning Japanese over a sports mag are the rationalizations SI and Mattel are spewing left and right. For instance, some copywriter, who obviously downed an LSD-and-crystal-meth-laced latte before he started clacking his keyboard, authored the following words that supposedly came out of Barbie’s mouth:

I, for one, am honored to join the legendary swimsuit models. The word “model,” like the word “Barbie®,” is often dismissed as a poseable plaything with nothing to say. And yet, those featured are women who have broken barriers, established empires, built brands, branched out into careers as varied as authors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. They are all great examples of confident and competent women.

Notice I said the copywriter was a he. Because it couldn’t have been a woman, could it? Can any female human being be that unhinged?

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

Duh.

BIG NEWS

Yes, it’s true. I’ve been missing from these parts for a couple of days.

This is a business, after all, and I’ve been in intense negotiations with a fairly well-known media outfit to invest in this local treasure.

Representatives of that company met with me Thursday night at a fine Bloomington restaurant, the name of which which they’ve requested I not disclose. Suffice it to say that if a native Italian speaker passed the place by, she might reflexively respond, Siete benvenuto (you’re welcome).

The company reps didn’t want their presence in town to become known because they fear other local bloggers and website operators might pester them to invest in their less fabulous internet endeavors.

Let’s be honest. Nobody in town can touch The Electron Pencil for perspicacity, brilliance, journalistic integrity, and overall sex appeal on the part of its operator.

Sexy

No, these deep-pocket investors want to sink their dough into the best South Central Indiana has to offer, and who can blame them for choosing The Pencil?

They are, IMHO, wise and prudent investors.

This influx of money will mean huge changes around here.

First, content. The Your Daily Hot Air feature will remain, of course. It is the core of The Pencil, the reason virtually tens of thousands of folks from all four corners of the globe begin their day with a click on this icon:

Many have claimed they find it impossible now to get through the day without Big Mike’s philosophical and practical guidance.

We’ll be adding daily installments from the previously unpublished manuscripts of Kurt Vonnegut. The Vonnegut estate yesterday graciously and happily inked the deal with The Pencil. We’re looking forward to starting that feature by mid-month.\

The Late Kurt Vonnegut

Additionally, we have lured Will Shortz, puzzle editor of the New York Times and puzzle-master for NPR’s Weekend Edition away from those august positions. His crosswords and word games will appear in The Electron Pencil exclusively beginning tomorrow.

Will Shortz

Because Bloomington is such a sports oriented town, The Electron pencil will partner with ESPN to present The Hoosier Sports Center, online and on TV. Keith Olbermann, recently ousted at Current TV, will return to his sports roots to host the program.

Keith Olbermann

Politics, naturally, is a constant topic in these parts. Accordingly, we will bring aboard a spectacular triad of investigative reporters. The team of Amy Goodman, Matt Taibbi, and Barbara Ehrenreich will leave no stone unturned in the coverage of local malfeasances.

The EP News Team: Goodman, Taibbi, & Ehrenreich

In keeping with our higher station in this wireless world, The Electron Pencil will now accept ads. Small 3″x3″ spots interspersed throughout our daily posts will cost $5,000 for a minimum of six appearances in in a given seven day stretch. A single day’s top banner ad will cost $16,000. For the economy-minded advertiser, we offer discreet mentions of your business within our posts for a mere $100 per placement. Those wishing to be mentioned in Kurt Vonnegut’s manuscript installments will be charged an additional $50 premium. Contact Big Mike at glabagogo@gmail.com for more information.

So, please excuse my absence these last few days. I’ve been striving to make The Electron Pencil even more of an Indiana treasure than it is.

See you tomorrow, Monday, April 2nd.

WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE?

Why, indeed.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.” — Kurt Vonnegut

THE RETURN OF THE SCIENCE CAFE

Yep, the Bloomington Science Cafe is back. The shebang petered out when its home at the time, Borders, closed down here a couple of years ago.

Now it’s got new digs: Rachael’s Cafe.

Cerebellum tinkerer Alex Straiker of the IU Psychological and Brain Sciences Department is the driving force behind the local Cafe’s resurrection.

Straiker

Science cafes, Straiker explains, exist all over the world in big cities and college towns. They bring researchers and scientists together with less cranially endowed folk. Typically, they’re at coffeehouses and bookstores.

He’d hoped to start a Science Cafe when he arrived in town some five years ago but found one already underway. Graduate School Communications Director Erika Biga Lee was the mad scientist behind that incarnation. She’d started the thing in September, 2006, and welcomed Straiker aboard.

Biga Lee

Erika Biga Lee’s baby was sponsored in part by Borders until the bookstore chain sputtered to its demise. “It sort of went down with the ship,” Straiker says.

While Science Cafe I was up and running, the general public could stop by and listen to lectures on the science of marijuana, say, or the geology of Mars. One night, peak oil was the topic.

“Typically, 30 or 40 people would come,” Straiker says, “but attendance could range from 25 to 65.”

Erika Biga Lee is too busy these days to direct the get-togethers so Straiker and his lab colleague, Jim Wager-Miller, will run the show. They’re looking to present talks on the science of coffee, addictions, and dark matter within the first few weeks.

Straiker says he comes up with the topics, based mostly on ideas that intrigue him. Then he and Wager-Miller go around the IU campus looking for experts in those fields who’d like to make presentations.

“There’s an emphasis on openness and participation,” Straiker says. “We welcome questions. It’s meant to be a bridge between scientists and people.”

Straiker is hoping the first Bloomington Science Cafe II session will be either Wednesday, March 21st or 28th, 2012. Admission is free and open to the public. Rachael’s is at 300 E. 3rd St. Phone: 812.330.1882. Science Cafe sessions will be every Wednesday from 6:30-8pm.

CERTIFIED ORGANIC POISON

Interesting little piece on NPR this morning. Dartmouth College researchers have found high levels of arsenic in rice around the world.

Killer Weed

The horror. Surely our local food faddists will be up in arms about this. Just another example of the fascist-corporate agri-business tyrants poisoning us for fun and profit, no?

No.

“It turns out that arsenic is naturally occurring in soil and water and rice plants seem to have this special ability to soak up more arsenic from the environment than other plants,” says reporter Nancy Shute.

Brown rice actually contains more arsenic than white rice because it hasn’t been stripped of its constituent substances. And, no, buying organic rice won’t make any difference because, well, arsenic is there, folks, right in the holy dirt we plant our crops in.

Mother Earth is a killer.

THE SANTORUM SCHOOL

Now we know Rick Santorum and his wife have homeschooled their seven children.

I imagine they didn’t want the young’uns to be tainted by too many things like facts and knowledge. Man, I shudder to think what, for instance, the daily math lesson must have been like in the Santorum boot camp.

Mrs. Santorum: “Children, god created all the numbers. Let us remember that six times two equals twelve. We know this because that’s how many apostles Jesus had. Who can name all the apostles?”

Young Patrick Santorum: “Peter, James the Greater, James the Lesser, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, Thaddeus, Simon, and Judas.”

Math, Santorum-Style

Mrs. Santorum: “Very good. And which apostle betrayed our lord and savior, Jesus Christ?”

Peter Santorum: “Judas.”

Mrs. Santorum: “Now, Peter. Pronounce his name correctly.”

Peter: “Um…, uh….”

Mrs. Santorum: “Say it like this: JEW-diss.”

Peter: “JEW-diss.”

Mrs. Santorum: “Very good. How much did Judas sell out our lord and savior for?”

Sarah Maria Santorum: “Ooh, ooh, ooh!”

Mrs. Santorum: “Yes, Sarah.”

Sarah: “Thirty pieces of silver.”

Judas Loved Money, Had a Sharp Nose, And Was Sneaky — You Do The Math

Mrs. Santorum: “Very good. And did the apostles accept food stamps?”

Daniel Santorum: “No.”

Mrs. Santorum: “So should Americans accept food stamps?”

All (in unsion): “No, ma’am.”

And so on. Math.

I’m still of two minds regarding the question of homeschooling. I subscribe wholeheartedly to Mark Twain’s line, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Meaning, among other things, that making kids sit in a classroom all day is about as ridiculous a way to impart knowledge to hungry young minds as can be conjured by the most cruel sadist.

I’ve met so many homeschooled kids who speak remarkably well and can relate to adults confidently. Most of the school-schooled kids I know are pretty much rotten little bastards who I’ll be happy to spend time with only after they reach the age of 30.

“Do Me A Favor, Kids — Go Away For A Few Years, OK?”

I know of homeschooled kids who devour books on the Moomins and Tintin and then graduate to Neil Gaiman. Again, most of the school-schooled kids I meet have never once in their lives heard the sound of a vocalist that wasn’t Auto-Tuned and pitch-corrected. I mean, they actually believe Katy Perry sounds that way.

One of the things that concern me about homeschooling is the desire on the part of parents to isolate their kids from the world. Of course, when you take the aforementioned contrasts into account, isolating the kids from the world doesn’t sound like the worst thing you could do to them.

But if you’re hoping to isolate your kids from liberals, agnostics, Muslims, Hallowe’en witches, Harry Potter, “In the Night Kitchen,” and M&Ms, homeschooling seems more a sentence than a choice.

Perhaps worst of all, Rick and his wife, Karen, compelled their children to spend the vast majority of their days with, well, them. The poor kids.

But there is a bright side to all this. At least neighborhood schoolkids were isolated from Santorum-think.

TOO BUSY THINKIN’ ‘BOUT MY BABY

Marvin Gaye didn’t have time for school — he had girls on his mind.

He became one of this holy land’s most beloved recording artists. Later, he tumbled into substance addiction and then his old man pumped him full of lead, snuffing his life out at the age of 44.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Let us remind our poor men folk in deed and song:

There are two types of men in this womanly world:

Those who know they are weak,

Those who think they are strong.” — Philip Strax

SO FAR AWAY

Didja catch the sky show this weekend?

The thumbnail moon has been doing a celestial dance with the planets Venus and Jupiter. Man, it’s a fantastic tableau.

Tonight’s Arrangement

All three orbs are doh-si-doh-ing in the far western sky at sunset and for about an hour and a half thereafter.

Imagine: you can glance up at the clear sky at, say, 7:30pm any evening this week and literally see an object — Jupiter — that’s a hair less than 600 million miles away. Think of it this way, that’s 240,000 times the distance from New York to Los Angeles.

Some Walk

Or, to put it another way, it’s more than 5200 times the number of miles the average American walks in a lifetime.

Don’t miss the show, folks.

“I BEG YOUR PARDON”

Just got finished reading Kurt Vonnegut‘s “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian.” Fun book. Took me an hour. Give it a shot.

It’s a compilation of audio pieces Vonnegut did for Public Radio’s WNYC in New York. The idea being Vonnegut, working with the suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian, repeatedly gets just enough lethal injection medication to bring him to a series of near-death experiences.

Life & Death

He travels down the bright blue tunnel and meets St. Peter at the gates of heaven and is able to interview various dead folk. He speaks with such luminaries as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Shakespeare, and Clarence Darrow as well as people you wouldn’t expect to have merited entrance to paradise; Vonnegut interviews Adolf Hitler and James Earl Ray, too.

There is no hell in Vonnegut’s conceit, so everybody who dies gets to go to heaven. Hitler, for his part, tells him the world should erect a stone monument to his memory, perhaps at the site of the United Nations in New York. The monument should be inscribed, “Entschuldigen Sie” — I beg your pardon.

Anyway, the quote at the top of this post comes from one of the people Vonnegut meets in heaven. Dr. Philip Strax was the guy who convinced American women and their doctors that mammograms were essential in detecting early, treatable, forms of breast cancer. He and a couple of associates, Sam Shapiro and Dr. Louis Venet, published their ground-breaking study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1966.

No telling how many women’s lives have been saved by the Strax et al paper. Strax’s own wife died of breast cancer at the age of 39 and he devoted the rest of his life to fighting the disease.

One Way To Look At Things

Check out any magazine and you’ll naturally come to the conclusion that Americans have breasts on their minds from morning until night. Men, in case you didn’t know, even dream about them. At least Phil Strax turned a preoccupation with mammaries into a service to humankind.

C’MON, LET’S PLAY!

Friday, I put the challenge out there: Let’s play a game wherein we try to guess how outlandish the Republican Party will become by the 2016 presidential race.

After all, things have become so psychotic around POG world headquarters that smart-asses like me can hardly even make jokes about them anymore. The Republican candidates are the joke.

Comedy Competition

It can only get worse. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone thinks that the Republican attack strategy which has worked so well for more than 30 years has become so pervasive that this year’s nominees have turned on each other. The Republicans, Taibbi implies, have become cannibals.

So, I put out the call for Pencillistas get all creative and try to imagine how psychotic the GOP (oh, right, I forgot — the POG) will become in four years.

The game, which I dubbed the Electron Cool Test, is easily played. Just come up with some nightmarish slogan, a weird candidate, or a bizarre scenario that the Republicans will foist upon us the next time we stage a presidential beauty contest after 2012.

I started things off by suggesting Chuck Norris, Marco Rubio, and Ivanka Trump will be the frontrunners when primary season 2016 commences. They will face none other than Chelsea Clinton in my fever dream.

Commander-in-Chief

Pencillista Nona Schultz foresees the Republicans gobbling themselves to near-death this year, making them bit players in the political arena for years to come. “This is my delusion and I’m sticking to it,” she writes.

Bloomington City Council member Susan Sandberg pulled a comfy chair up to the keyboard and clacked out a dystopian novella. Running mates Mitch Daniels and Chris Christy will character-assassinate poor young Chelsea (who’ll indeed be 35 by 2016) and squeak past her in the election.

A Heartbeat Away

Daniels will preside over an economic depression forcing many Americans into bread lines. America under the former Indiana governor will be a “sexless, artless, colorless, intellectually starved country,” Sandberg writes.

Sheez, Susan, way to bum us all out.

It’s on you now, Pencillistas. What do the Republicans have in store for us in four years? Simply type your entry in the Leave A Comment section.

And remember, the winner will get a free specialty drink from Soma Coffee on a Saturday morning of my choosing.

FORGET THE ELEPHANT

The elephant has been the mascot of the Republican Party for some 140 years.

That’s a shame because elephants are among my fave critters on Earth. Republicans, not so much.

So I suggest a switch. Follow me, now.

The Party needs an animal mascot that’s native to the United States — the elephant, of course, is not.

The animal must be the largest of its kind. Republicans, like Texans, like things big.

It can’t be a vegetarian, like the pachyderm. No, it must eat meat (or at least living, moving, noise-making creatures.)

It must have a certain burly quality, perhaps an upper body that’s heavily muscled. Republicans like their idols to be he-men.

Finally, the animal must have a mean disposition and weapons to back it up. After all, what’s a Republican without weapons?

Therefore, I hereby propose that the animal known by the zoological term Conepatus leoconotus be named the new animal mascot for the Party of God.

Conepati live in such definitively American spots as Texas, Arizona, and Colorado. If that doesn’t scream out GOP, I don’t know what does.

They have strong front legs and shoulders, like Chuck Norris. They have long, thick claws which, in the animal world, are the equivalent of firearms. The NRA should love these guys.

Speaking Of Symbolism

Finally, Conepati, when annoyed or frightened, spray a foul-smelling substance from a gland located near their anus. What could be more Republican than that?

Conepatus leuconotus is more commonly known as the hog-nosed skunk.

Perfect.

Grand Old Party

These critters are the whitest among the many varieties of skunks. Republican, right? Oh, and they have a dark underside.

Hey, Newt Gingrich might already be a hog-nosed skunk.

There. I’ve solved the mascot problem for the GOP. Now I’ll get cracking on the Dems — although it’ll be hard to top the jackass as a symbol for that gang.

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