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Where Have You Gone, Kurt Vonnegut?


Published May 6, 2008 at 10:21 a.m.

I was happy to read this weekend in the Times Book Review that a collection of previously unpublished writings by Kurt Vonnegut has just come out. I can’t get enough Vonnegut — he’s got an inimitable way of satirizing the absurdity of real life by creating his own absurd world of fiction. He and Orwell are the ones I think of when I listen to the news in the morning and get struck by truth-is-stranger-than-fiction quality of some of the stories.I jotted down a few such stories that I heard on Morning Edition last week, all in the same day:

1. “Adventure capitalists” have secured a 50-year lease of one of Baghdad’s public parks, and plan to construct a Disney-like theme park, replete with a water park wherein cartoon images are displayed in the mist created by the fountains. This is in a city that has less than 6 hours of electricity per day, and where car bombs and random violence have become as commonplace as jaywalkers in New York City. To their credit, the plucky financiers pull no punches about their motives: they readily admit that they only care about building up the community infrastructure to the extent that it makes them richer.

2. Army hospitals are struggling to stop overdoses by injured veterans of the Iraq war. Reportedly, vets are being drugged into a near-comatose state for much of their day, with a cocktail of up to 11 different medications. This is happening in what the Army calls “Warrior Transition Units.” One poor warrior at Fort Knox was left in his room for two days or more — unconscious — and was found dead when someone finally decided to check on him.

3. Endurance specialist David Blaine broke a world record by holding his breath underwater for more than 17 minutes on the Oprah Winfrey Show. “When he broke the record, with a half minute to spare, he said he accomplished a life-long dream.”

4. Many Americans are finding themselves “upside down” in car debt, i.e., their car is worth less than the amount they owe on their auto loan. They have no choice but to continue making the payments, or pay thousands of dollars to just get out from underneath the onerous obligation.