October 12, 2009

Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us: Chapter 1 Review

Bitterly Books is undertaking a chapter-by-chapter review of Ralph Nader's work, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us. You can read past chapter synopses here. Past reviews can be read here, and Viator's columns can be read here.

For the complete coverage of
Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, click here.


This chapter is a textbook example of how not to write fiction, with Warren Buffett's cadre of the super rich introduced one at a time in the clumsiest fashion possible while they speak in massive, page-filling blocks of text without paragraph breaks or mercy.

To tell them apart, some of them have been given drinks. Paul Newman drinks his Old Fashioned Roadside Virgin Lemonade while Yoko Ono sips tea. (even though Ono already stands out as the only woman present. Diversity-wise, Bill Cosby is also present, but the other 14 members of Warren's super-rich superteam are all old white men. At least they are diverse in that not all of them are Jewish.)

A few newspaper articles have mentioned that Warren Buffett drinks Cherry Coke. Unfortunately, this has been latched on to as one of Warren's defining character attributes, so he ends up swigging it throughout the entire chapter. What was intended to be a way of helping readers identify with a more human character couldn't have ended up more unrealistic if he spent eight pages swilling Hennessy from a silver pimp chalice.

However, the drink distinctions don't go far enough. All of the characters sound identical when speaking, and the entire chapter reads like it could have been written as one person's extended monologue. You know you have strained your story’s credibility beyond belief when you need Ted motherfucking Turner to notice that "we've all got egos the size of Turner Field, but we've been agreeing with each other like Quakers at the meetinghouse. What gives?"(p.23)

Still, Warren's super seventeen drone on in mutual agreement until it literally puts one of them to sleep. That’s when Buffett decides that the best thing for them to do is sit in silence for an hour, for “thought, response, and decision.” Then they go to bed, get up the next morning, and do it again. For another day and a half.

Most of this chapter ended up going over my head, mostly because it used phrases like “one of the assets we’ll have to aggregate to decisive intensity is our credibility”(p.30-31). However, I was able to make sense of a few passages:
  • "The canny Warren had made sure that any gaps were filled in by distributing professional and personal biographies beforehand"(p.15) He’s crafty, and it's more efficient than giving them all nametags.
  • "As a species, we are learning more and more but are less and less able to keep up with what's happening to us as human beings"(p.16) This sounds like Ralph Nader is upset that he doesn’t know how to use Twitter.
  • "I have been described as the investment world's 'big bang,' and I do not want to go out with a whimper, if you'll pardon the cliché"(p.16). The thing about having the character say "pardon the cliché" is that it does not pardon the author for giving him the line in the first place.
  • "The smug foundation world"(p.16) Ralph sounds a little bitter.
  • "There are countless grassroots groups working their hearts out all over the world, but in the end they're crushed by the power of supreme global capitalism allied with subordinate government"(p.18) “Supreme global capitalism allied with subordinate government” actually sounds kind of awesome.
  • "I suggest that we assume a one-year life expectancy for all of us—that is, we need to do what we're going to do as if there were only one year left on Earth"(p.21) I am wondering if/hoping that someone will take this literally and give them all a slow-acting poison, to introduce a little “ticking clock” suspense into this story.
  • "The country needs a Justice Jolt!"(p.21, spoken by H. Ross Perot) Justice Jolt would be a good name for either a superhero or a pornstar.
  • "A longer-range goal is capital ownership for the masses to supplement their wage income. These are all approaches that can in no way be dismissed as utopian schemes"(p.22) While we cannot dismiss these approaches as utopian schemes, we can certainly dismiss them as communism.
  • "Nonconforming successfulists"(p.23) I wonder if they write “nonconforming successfulist” as their occupations on their tax returns.
  • The cultural marketplace consistently downplays imagination as it tries to confine the visceral to the gonadal”(p.28) And that’s the way I like it.
  • Sure, Paul, I’ll do some thinking about media strategies. And while I’m at it, why don’t I arrange some leveraged buyouts of TV and radio stations so we can establish our own network covering the entire country? I’ve done so many mergers and acquisitions that it’s a matter of routine in my law firm. Piece of cake” (p.28-29) Until I hit the second-to-last sentence, I thought this was intensely venomous sarcasm.
  • Just ask anyone how much money it would take to get them to agree to a permanent four-inch nose elongation or a threefold enlargement of their ears, even with no loss of function”(p.29), I’m guessing we could get six figures from furries interested in that kind of body modifica—oh, wait, we’re paying them to do it? Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.
  • Let’s run this one past some of our imaginative friends, people who would be geniuses on Madison Avenue if they could stand the place”(p.32) I think this is where a lot of delusional losers are are supposed to swell with pride while thinking, “That’s ME!”
  • Let us adjourn to an early dinner, a dazzling buffet you can eradicate at your own pace”(p.33) I drew a flower in the margin next to this passage, because it was that pretty.
  • A gigantic Hawiian dessert, the kind you rationalize eating because of its presumed fruity nutrition”(p.34) I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about, so this looks like a major failure of description. However, if it’s the kind of thing that the rich eat all the time, then I hate them, so MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, NADER.

As the chapter draws to a close, Warren’s club draws up plans for action in a fellowship that is every bit as secretive as the Bilderbergers, so “nothing could be traced back to the Maui group”(p.36). I want to know if these people are going to have to make sacrifices (i.e., die) to implement their changes, and whether they will be betrayed by one of their own. The latter is certainly possible since a prankster was running amok during their conference. He switched out Warren’s Cherry Coke with just a plain Coke on page 18, and stuffed a pile of money under Warren’s chair. “Warren, sitting on $46 Billion, found himself physically agitated”(p.26), and can you blame him?

Nader continues with his penchant for grouping things in three, so we are going to introduce the Triad Tracker, to count the number of times he does it in each chapter. The total for chapter 1 is 17, as the heroes work on ideas that must be "deliberated, applied, or revised" (p.18), while their opponents (known as “master foolers who can command large audiences in every medium”[p.29]) will attempt to block them through “predatory practices, media freeze-outs, and legislated restrictions”(p.25). There are also a few nested triads, like the one describing the evils of too-big corporations as "too bureaucratic, too autocratic, too top-heavy in making decisions, too remote from the ground, and too ubiquitous in our present state of corporate socialism or state capitalism"(p.19).

Chapter 1 also introduces Nader's BFLs, or Big Fucking Lists, where he completely abandons all pretense of ordinary dialogue. For example:
  • "We must be seen as offering ways of nurturing happiness, children, dreams, peace, fairness, honesty, and public morality"(p.19)

  • "Color, sound, light, excitement, humor, fun, joy, comfort, a sense of striving, the right metaphors from daily life, paradoxes to pique interest, success stories that people can relate to within their own frames so that these frames can then be stretched"(p.20)

  • renewable energy, nutritious food, cooperative closed-loop pollution cycling systems, alternatives to toxic materials, housing for the homeless, health co-ops, zero-polluting motor vehicles, recycling, and even television-radio-internet programming to arouse the public”(p.25)

The BFL count for this chapter was 6.

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Beth said...

I'd like to send you a gigantic Hawaiian dessert for making me laugh.

Bitterly Books said...

Thanks! That's another "mission accomlished" from Nader's dessert line, then. He's a very efficient writer.


Actually, now that I think about all the other sentences he has crammed into that book of his to serve no discernable purpose, I would have to say that on average, he's not very efficient at all.

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