October 21, 2009

Viator's Review: OTSRCSU Chapter 2

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.

We left off at the distribution of timai, or prerogatives, among our seventeen god-moguls. Chapter 2 gives us a demonstration of their far-reaching power, as we see how each reaches into our very souls with their assigned powers. The sense of word-made-power is immediately evident in the surreal imposition of Warren Buffett's required secrecy. Warren Buffett commands that they remain secret, and they remain secret, no matter how much bull feces Ted Turner hurls.

Similarly, "Stay Tuned" is a divine intonation, a focal point for the apocalypse or "unveiling" of Nader's wisdom. The very birds of the wilderness cry out for it (and small wonder capitalism perverts this into a massive demand for tropical birds).

With that in mind, here are the major players so far with their closest mythological analogues:

Warren Buffett (Zeus): Any polytheistic world needs a head cheese, and so we see Warren. He is more of a big picture guy, assembling “the all-important brain trust that would respond with alacrity in specialized fields.” He is also an accomplished bureaucrat, “refining the operations of the Secretariat and orchestrating the weekly closed-circuit TV conferences.” (59) Surveying what his plans have wrought, he “popped open a celebratory can of Cherry Coke.”

Ted Turner (Loki): Ever the trickster, Turner teaches mankind with comedy and absurdity (a new hat tip from Nader to real life). He insists the group represent themselves with a bird, eventually the scarlet macaw “Patriotic Polly” that is used. (42) He responds to baffled reporters asking him why he is acting (more) crazed with the agreed intonation, "Stay tuned." Turner possesses an impish view of public relations, believing that “the best way to confront lies was not with the truth...lies were best confronted with marching feet or easily understood symbols.” (51) In this case, the symbol is him throwing the aforementioned manure all over television screens while reporters are “nibbling on their canap├ęs,” an effective if somewhat unappetizing attention grabber.

Ross Perot (Dionysus): Similar to Turner only fairly drunk as well, Perot spends the second chapter reprising his 1992 presidential campaign word for word, purchasing vast swathes of prime time to rave that federal budget deficits are “taxing babies” and demand “we’d better bring our boys home pronto” from Iraq. (49) Frankly if there’s any criticism I have of this chapter, it’s that we don’t get enough of Perot’s fun tantrums.

Paul Newman (Jesus): Newman is a reserved sort and isn’t in it for the glory. He holds up his end of the dual telethon (by “telethon” Nader means “Paul Newman and Bill Cosby ad lib for three hours about the Pledge of Allegiance,” something I would pay a disgusting amount of money to see), but otherwise is the picture of Christian humility. His contribution to the telethon takes the form of modern-day parables, or “his own collection of independently produced films and documentaries.” (43) Also, Newman is back from the dead to appear in the book.

Bill Cosby (Yahweh): Cosby is a fascinating character inasmuch as he represents Nader’s killjoy-ness, but in no way that of the actual Bill Cosby, a difficult feat to manage. His portion of the joint telethon he runs with Newman is dedicated to lectures about bad television, “devoted to demonstrating how the media uses public property- the airwaves- to foster complacency, serve power, sell junk, and trivialize or distort or cover up the news.” (43) (“Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD!” -Isaiah 1:4)

Barry Diller (Marduk): Diller appears in exactly one clause of one sentence for chapter two, describing the telethon as “a live three-hour event carried by all the major networks thanks to the behind-the-scenes exertions of Barry Diller.” (43) I want you to consider for a moment how immensely, terrifyingly powerful someone must be to walk into a room and convince three broadcast networks to cough up three hours of prime time for Bill Cosby and Paul Newman to show Newman’s home movies and say whatever the hell came into their heads. Yeah.

Yoko Ono (Uzume): Shinto deities are as rule a bit flaky; it’s unclear whether most of them are even self-aware. Uzume, the Great Persuader and Heavenly Alarming Female, is particularly appropriate for Ono. Just as Uzume managed improbably to restore sunlight to the world by dancing naked on an overturned bathtub, Ono captivates millions by doodling on scratch paper. She draws a "Seventh Generation Eye," a symbol so awe-inspiring Nader spares our lesser minds from an illustration. He describes it only as “a simple, elegant line drawing of an eye that seemed to be looking far into the future. Under the eye were seven human figures, each extending a hand to the next, and beside it was a name: Yoko Ono.” (41) The Eye is particularly popular with Vietnam veterans, who we learn have secretly adored Ono's pacifism for decades. She calls her proclamations “a somersault of the mind.” (44) Along with this symbolic illumination Ono restores light to the world in a physical sense. She sends out 20 million emails (“all from lists properly rented”; Nader is no spammer) (45) to offer to give out free CFL light bulbs.

Peter Lewis (Lucifer): The original incarnation of Lucifer, as best scholars can tell, was drawn from the introduction of Babylonian secret agents to catch Jewish subversives: an angel working (honestly) for Yahweh to tempt and test the faithful. So also with Lewis. His campaign to effectively end all forms of insurance for large swathes of the population is a marvelous exercise in demonic temptation, as is his giddy realization that "He had an easy time with the reporters, who knew little about the subject, and the insurance executives were afraid to debate him." (48)

George Soros (Thoth): Soros is a timeless fellow. His immense wisdom and foresight have come at the price of ennui. He is bored by the first Maui conference, as it is “difficult for him to envision what he could do post-Maui that he hadn’t done pre-Maui.” (57) Nevertheless he contributes in the purest display of wisdom possible: “He would challenge the editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal to a debate.” (58) Said debate, “besieged by every media outlet from The Onion to Vanity Fair,” is a raging success. The editor quits in shame the following month, as Soros demonstrates how [corporate triad] have crushed [democracy triad]. He also “argued convincingly that the world’s hopes and dreams, and even its continued existence, were at stake in the global collision between democracy and myopic corporatism.” (59) And asked for an encore, Soros of course replied, “Stay tuned.”

Max Palvesky (Cthulu): I have to be honest: I’m not sure at all about Palvesky. His goals are inscrutable and his methods dubious. In the two-day social experiment Bitterly describes he lures thousands of people into an auditorium either for the purposes of either enticing people into a bizarre show with “free fruit, soft drinks and snacks,” or enticing people to eat his snacks and drink his soft drinks with the bizarre sideshow. Palvesky subsequently reports (via a full-page ad in the L.A. Times) that everyone was baffled by the first days' presentation and insulted by the second (during which an old man shouts racist nonsense with a megaphone, leading to the place clearing out in minutes). He is perplexingly satisfied by overwhelming public opinion that he is a massive dickhead. If anyone is going to betray our more noble god-titans my eye is on Palvesky to do it.

Sol Price (Epimetheus): As a god Price is pretty useless. After Maui he sleeps for a while. Then he takes out an full-page op-ed ads in [newspaper BFL]. The theme of the ads is a jarring mash of Ozymandias and the Hollow Men: “O Rich and Powerful, arise, you have nothing to lose but [triad]! Let’s go to the heights and exit not with a whimper, wallowing in [tacky rich triad], but with a bang!” (49) Price apparently didn’t get the memo that full-page newspaper ads are for proclaiming the divine deeds one has already accomplished, not an end in themselves. He isn’t even on the same page about saying “stay tuned,” opting instead to say “I’ll be back for you. Get ready,” which sounds like a weird yet toothless threat. (49)

Phil Donahue (Baldur): At least Donahue managed to write something, though this doesn’t put him too far ahead of Price. On the flight back he writes a New York Times op-ed in which he “pointed squarely to commercial interests that said no to the well-being of people.” The reaction to such a mediocre effort doesn’t even seem to impress Nader, who writes, “about 85 percent reacted as if they’d just overcome a long period of constipation.” (44) On closer scrutiny this may refer to Donahue’s litany of sexual perversions; in addition to defecation in his office we learn that “Lots of people were willing to jump out of the cake for him.” I have no idea what that means, but still hold Donahue candyass enough to be killed by a festive holiday plant.

Jeno Paulucci (Plutus): Paulucci takes up a cause near to my own heart: setting up a Chamber of Commerce that isn’t run by total dickbags. The fact that it is called the “People’s Chamber of Commerce” and its charter is something “a business ethics friend of his had written back in 1978” (46) is alarming, as is his insistence that it follow “a chaordic organizational structure...a blend of ‘chaos’ and order’.” (47) Paulucci is also a Republican, a prudent nod to bipartisanship.

Leonard Riggio (Rick Santelli): There’s no delicate way to say this: Riggio stages tea parties on Wall Street: “Contacting neighborhood groups and labor leaders he knew, he quickly put together a rally of 25,000 people of little means in front of the New York Stock Exchange. They carried placards bearing slogans like ‘The Poor Will Be Heard From- From Now On’…Leonard marshaled some great speakers whom no one had heard of…Leonard supplied sandwiches for lunch and gave out posters, placards and bumper stickers to the crowd to help spread the word. Exactly what ‘the word’ was he didn’t say.” (50) I’m not one to doubt Buffett’s background checks but that sounds like an Americans for Prosperity strategy memo.

Joe Jamail (Themis): Jamail puts his lawyering skills and $15 million of his money into filing small claims lawsuits for free. He seems to be a bit of a tightwad as well: as of 2006 there were approximately 5 million small claims torts filed in the U.S. Jamail’s legal society would be funding $3 per case to handle such a caseload. (52)

Bernard Rapoport (Osiris): Keenly sensing that the route to long-term change is the re-education of small children, Rapoport “placed ads on select cable channels saying that he would establish after-school Egalitarian Clubs to teach children civic skills and democratic values like equality of opportunity and the importance of a decent standard of living.” He also “said that the big corporations were on an omnicidal track in the world- destroying our democracy and the environment.” (45-46) We shall have to see if he actually manages to establish any of these industrious and possibly Amber Alert-worthy Clubs.

William Gates, Sr (Julius Caesar): The elder Gates is truly a patrician of the people, as he “offered to pay for the Delaware incorporation of anyone who applied over the following twenty-one days,” reasoning that since corporations have all the rights of individuals the inverse should apply for individuals themselves. He also “announced that he was forming a committee to run five corporations for federal and state elective office in the next couple of years” because “corporations were legally deemed to be ‘persons’.” (53) It is worth noting that of all of the assembled deities, so far only Gates is taking direct and proactive steps to influence the government, assuming he wins his elections.

Brovar Dortwist (Demiurge): Finally we have the first and foremost villain, a literary version of conservative firebrand and erstwhile Jack Abramoff pal Grover Norquist. Dortwist is a bad dude, for two reasons: he is “a conservative lobbyist- or rather, the conservative lobbyist,” and he is in bed with Arabs (literally, as the passage about his wife and...pastry, let's agree, indicate). He has an army of “more than a hundred of the most aggressive, no-holds-barred lobbyists and greasers” as he “bark[s] the craven missions of the week.” (63) (His evil powers include particularly terrible puns) It speaks to his dark powers that he does not seem to be bound by Buffett’s proclamation of secrecy.

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