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A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
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Oct 16, 2009

really liked it

Picked this up from work after reading KV's quote on book burning and the importance of librarians (refer to my profile for the full quote). Had myself many chuckles, like in response to: "The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon." and other satirical comments.

However, the most impacting story was "I have been called a Luddite". The issue of technology (such as computers and automated services) is something that I regularly stress over. After reading it I wanted to quit my job, drop out of my online Library school program, and move to the Andes.

the full text is below, or via:

I have been called a Luddite.

I have been called a Luddite. I welcome it.

Do you know what a Luddite is? A person who hates newfangled contraptions. Ned Ludd was a textile worker in England at around the start of the nineteenth century who busted up a lot of new contraptions — mechanical looms that were going to put him out of work, that were going to make it impossible for him with his particular skills to feed, clothe, and shelter his family. In 1813 the British government executed by hanging seventeen men for “machine breaking,” as it was called, a capital crime.

Today we have contraptions like nuclear submarines armed with Poseidon missiles that have H-bombs in their warheads. And we have contraptions like computers that cheat you out of becoming. Bill Gates says, “Wait till you can see what your computer can become.” But it’s you who should be doing the becoming, not the damn fool computer. What you can become is the miracle you were born to be through the work that you do.

Progress has beat the heck out of me. It took away from me what a loom must have been to Ned Ludd two hundred years ago. I mean a typewriter. There is no longer such a thing anywhere. Huckleberry Finn, incidentally, was the first novel ever to be typewritten.

In the old days, not long ago, I used to type. And, after I had about twenty pages, I would mark them up with a pencil, making corrections. Then I would call Carol Atkins, who was a typist. Can you imagine? She lived out in Woodstock. New York, which you know was where the famous sex and drugs event in the ’60s got its name from (it actually took place in the nearby town of Bethel and anybody who says they remember being there wasn’t there.) So, I would call up Carol and say, “Hey Carol. How are you doing? How is your back? Got any bluebirds?” We would chit-chat back and forth — I love to talk to people.

She and her husband had been trying to attract bluebirds, and as you know, if you have tried to attract bluebirds, you put the bluebird house only three feet off the ground, usually on a fence along a property line. Why there are any bluebirds left I don’t know. They didn’t have any luck, and neither did I, out at my place in the country. Anyway, we chat away, and finally I say, “Hey, you know I got some pages. Are you still typing?” And she sure is. And I know it will be so neat, it will look like it was done by a computer. And I say, “I hope it doesn’t get lost in the mail.” And she says, “Nothing ever gets lost in the mail.” And that in fact has been my experience. I never have lost anything. And so, she is Ned Ludd now. Her typing is worthless.

Anyway, I take my pages and I have this thing made out of steel, it’s called a paper clip, and I put my pages together, being careful to number them, too, of course. So I go downstairs, to take off, and I pass my wife, the photo journalist Jill Krementz, who was bloody high tech then, and is higher tech now. She calls out, “Where are you going?” Her favorite reading when she was a girl was Nancy Drew mysteries, you know, the girl detective. So she can’t help but ask, “Where are you going?” And I say, “I am going out to get an envelope.” And she says, “Well, you’re not a poor man. Why don’t you buy a thousand envelopes? They’ll deliver them, and you can put them in a closet.” And I say, “Hush.”

So I go down the steps, and this is on 48th Street in New York City between Second Avenue and Third, and I go out to this newsstand across the street where they sell magazines and lottery tickets and stationery. And I know their stock very well, and so I get an envelope, a manila envelope. It is as though whoever made that envelope knew what size of paper I’m using. I get in line because there are people buying lottery tickets, candy, and that sort of thing, and I chat with them. I say, “Do you know anybody who ever won anything in the lottery?” And, “What happened to your foot?”

Finally I get up to the head of the line. The people who own this store are Hindus. The woman behind the counter has a jewel between her eyes. Now isn’t that worth the trip? I ask her, “Have there been any big lottery winners lately?” Then I pay for the envelope. I take my manuscript and I put it inside. The envelope has two little metal prongs for going through a hole in the flap. For those of you who have never seen one, there are two ways of closing a manila envelope. I use both of them. First I lick the mucilage — it’s kind of sexy. I put the little thin metal diddle through the hole — I never did know what they call them. Then I glue the flap down.

I go next to the postal convenience center down the block at the corner of 47th Street and Second Avenue. This is very close to the United Nations, so there are all these funny-looking people there from all over the world. I go in there and we are lined up again. I’m secretly in love with the woman behind the counter. She doesn’t know it. My wife knows it. I am not about to do anything about it. She is so nice. All I have ever seen of her is from the waist up because she is always behind the counter. But every day she will do something with herself above her waist to cheer us up. Sometimes her hair will be all frizzy. Sometimes she will have ironed it flat. One day she was wearing black lipstick. This is all so exciting and so generous of her, just to cheer us all up, people from all over the world.

So I wait in line, and I say, “Hey what was that language you were talking? Was it Urdu?” I have nice chats. Sometimes not. There is also, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back to your little tinhorn dictatorship where you came from?” One time I had my pocket picked in there and got to meet a cop and tell him about it. Anyway, finally I get up to the head of the line. I don’t reveal to her that I love her. I keep poker-faced. She might as well be looking at a cantaloupe, there is so little information in my face, but my heart is beating. And I give her the envelope, and she weighs it, because I want to put the right number of stamps on it, and have her okay it. If she says that’s the right number of stamps and cancels it, that’s it. They can’t send it back to me. I get the right stamps and I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock.

Then I go outside and there is a mailbox. And I feed the pages to the giant blue bullfrog. And it says, “Ribbit.”

And I go home. And I had one hell of a good time.

Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.

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Quotes pa'tí Liked

Kurt Vonnegut
“And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

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