April 17, 2007

Remembering Kurt Vonnegut Jr. ’44

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The Sun regretably reported last week about the death of former Sun assistant managing editor and associate editor Kurt Vonnegut Jr ’44. One of the most influential American writers of the 20th century, Vonnegut spoke highly of his time at The Sun.
At The Sun’s 125th anniversary dinner in 2005, he proclaimed: “The Cornell Sun, thank goodness, showed me what to do with my life, and I did it.”
The Sun began reprinting Vonnegut’s Sun writing last week. Shown here are columns he wrote for The Sun in the 1940s.
Continue reading The Sun this week for more of Vonnegut’s work and visit www.cornellsun.com for the previously reprinted works.

How’re You Going to Keep ’Em Down on the Farm,
After They’ve Seen Lockheed?

Compared to the tillers of the soil, the rest of the world seems like a bunch of racketeers; such was our discovery while working on an Indiana farm for an inflationary 17 cents an hour this summer. No one works as hard for so little as a farmer, and now they’re beginning to smell a rat.
In fact, rat smelling was becoming so prevalent in Indiana that there were only seven of us to handle a 900 acre stock farm: three under 15 years of age, two over 45, Mr. Bloomer, who had the IQ of a small dog, and myself. What a squad — four more and we could have thumped the Green Bay Packers! So far as we know, only two of this outfit are left, making each responsible for 450 acres plus milking six cows apiece, feeding stock, cleaning barns, etc. The child labor is back in school, we quit and Mr. Bloomer is pulling down over fifty dollars a week at Allison Engines, running a machine that requires the IQ of a small dog.
Nor is the future cheerful. No matter who wins this war, the country will have to be fed, and this, we learned this summer, requires plain, hard work, for which there is no scientific substitute. Our three little companions, the ones under 15, had their lives pretty well mapped. Through gradeschool and highschool they would dedicate their lives to basketball. Upon graduation from high school, scouts from Big Ten schools would make them attractive scholarship officers (if they’re any good at all they can depend on it.) Of one thing the ambitious trio was sure — they were not going to become farmers. If the scholarship deal panned out, they would become engineers or scientists. If not, they would go into a defense industry (as have their rural elders) to make some real money (Indiana farm wage minimum, two dollars a day).
It’s like shooting fish in a barrel to give hell to Washington, they’re worried silly about farm labor. But something’s got to be done. In order to have food, several million people must work hard, out-of-doors in all kinds of weather, for long hours, and for wages on a 1903 scale.
Any volunteers from the city?
— originally published in the Sun on October 22, 1942

Adventures with Dynamite in the Land of the 20-20 Duck

A buddy of ours, who can barely see to use his glasses, has been permanently stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison, in charge of giving tests to illiterates. He reports that a special eye-chart has been prepared for those who chose an early start in the world in stead of higher education: they have a 20-20 duck, a 20-15 cow, etc. He’s picked up some pretty wonderful stories from the hills that bore Alvin York.
Down in Harlan County, Kentucky, where the sheriff leaves his house once a month to collect his salary, dynamite plays a big part in the scheme of life.
One story, which we know to be true, involves dynamite and a sick airdale. The dog was suffering from blindness and eighteen years of living. Its master, a Harlanite, decided that the most merciful thing to do would be to blow it up. He tied the mutt to an oak, and strapped two sticks of dynamite, a cap and fuse to its bald-spotted back. The dog’s tail wagged happily as its master lit the fuse — the executionor jogged away from the scene toward safety.
He glanced over his shoulder to find his wheezing best friend loping asthmatically a few yards behind, dragging a rope and two sticks of you’ll never know what hit you. Through the door of his house steamed the mercy killer — loyal to the end came the condemned, just in time to get in before the door slammed. When the winded fugitive from sudden death recovered his breath to realize that he was in the same room with the dynamite, he went crashing through the furniture for the back door which he successfully barred. A scant twenty yards from his old Kentucky home the whole damned thing blew sky high. The dog was out of its misery.
Another tale, concerning human passions and high explosives took place in a mining settlement. It’s short but dynamic. One guy passed in a crap game seven times in succession. Another, fleeced out of two week’s pay, smelt a rat. The same night he put a charge of dynamite under the dice ace’s bunk. They had to redecorate the whole place.
Any other stories should be sent to the Dynamite Editor, Cornell Daily Sun.
— originally published in The Sun on November 2, 1942