July 26, 2007

A better America in 5 easy steps

As a reply and rebuke to those who might say I have nothing positive to say, I offer this simple five part program for dramatically improving the lives of everyday Americans. Please note that almost all of these steps can be accomplished from the comfort of your own home, or in some cases from the comfort of your local polling station. None of these ideas costs a dime; on the contrary, they tend to save massive amounts of money. All can be accomplished in one year, that year being 2008. Ready? Here goes:

Step One, The 535 Plan: Replace all 535 members of Congress. Mercilessly, relentlessly, without exception, refuse to return a single current member of Congress to Washington, D.C. Where possible, elect candidates from so-called third parties, such as the Greens or Libertarians. About 468 members (all members of the House plus 1/3 of the Senate) can be replaced in 2008; in successive two year cycles, 2010 and 2012, the plan can be completed. This simple expedient will immediately sever all existing relations between corporate lobbyists and existing members, will enable campaign finance reform, and will also make possible Steps Two, Three and Four.

Step Two: The new Congress will cut the defense budget, including all of the intelligence budgets and ancillary nuclear budgets which cumulatively add up to about $1 trillion a year, to 25% of this number. Wisely spent, this will be more than enough to defend America against real threats in their modern form. Leaving money to perform Steps Three and Four.

Step Three: Provide single payer universal healthcare for all Americans.

Step Four: Build a modern, comprehensive high-speed rail network serving the entire nation and providing point-to-point travel from everywhere to everywhere else.

Step Five: Stage a consumer revolt against professional football, basketball and baseball so that these sports go out of business. Instead of watching these increasingly sad, criminal and disgusting spectacles on television, go outside and do something instead.

Wasn't so hard, was it?

July 23, 2007

Seinfeld as the natural successor to dialectical materialism

It's my blog, and sometimes the urge to bloog (TM pending) can be irresistible. Writing about Larry David yesterday reminded me that while I don't have access to White House insiders, I probably know as much about Seinfeld as any man living, even including its creators, who are hobbled by their own lack of objectivity. And with Bush's popularity at 25% (new poll today), and with the Congress recalcitrant but ineffective, nothing much new can happen in American politics unless and until (a) Bush & Co. stage a coup, following a terrorist strike (real or contrived), using one of a number of "Continuation of Government" Executive Orders which they've been issuing at a disturbing rate lately, or (b) some cataclysmic event occurs in Iraq which fundamentally alters the picture there. The latter seems unlikely, the former about 50/50.

But back to blooging. Karl Marx's reputation suffers from the cruel perversion of his social theories at the hands of Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. That's actually a shame, although if you read Sigmund Freud's last two major works (Civilization and Its Discontents and The Future of an Illusion), you will note that the Viennese wizard was under no illusions about the ultimate fate of Karl's pie-in-the-sky ideas. They were doomed to fail, because humans just are not like that. At the mass level, they don't share. They don't give up what's theirs so the unknown and unseen can prosper, or at least survive. Humans, as Orwell showed in Animal Farm, are pigs, only without the ameliorating sense of humor. So what is the antidote to the necessary barbarities of pure capitalism? An enlightened government which constrains and softens it. So that, as in 21st Century America, when government is denigrated and free capitalism is allowed to run amok, society turns harsh and oppressive. Don't Bush & Co. see this? Do they really believe all this shit about the beneficial action of the "free market?" The answer comes in two parts: (1) Yes, they see it. And (2) they don't care.

I contend that one finds one's modern social theories where they are most effectively presented, regardless of the medium, and that the precursor to American narcissism can be found in the 9 seasons of Seinfeld, the brainchild of Respondent (in David vs. David) Larry David and his co-creator, Jerry Seinfeld. There are reasons that this sitcom occupies a unique niche in the annals of television. There was never anything like it before and nothing will quite ever match it again. Don't bore me with comparisons to The Sopranos or to Friends, which was, after all, simply a derivative for dumb people. No, Seinfeld was the genuine article. It presented American society in that period which Francis Fukuyama described as The End of History (his seminal work written before he succumbed to neoconservativism and became known on liberal blogs as Fukyomama). Francis (noted social theorist at Johns-Hopkins) correctly descried in the flow of history the complete abdication of Marxism, yielding pride of place to what Marx called Das Kapital, and the negation of the idea that the class struggle through dialectical materialism was going to produce a workers' paradise as just so much woolgathering nonsense. Not a bad sentence, huh? That's blooging for you.

So America during the Nineties, during the Seinfeld era, slipped irrevocably into the postmodern, post-ethical, post-moral, post-religious, post-post era of...being about nothing. America itself became about nothing. It's why it looks the way it does now. Laugh if you will. Indeed, that's the whole idea. Jerry, George, Elaine & Kramer. No spouses, no careers to speak of, no intellectual content, no sincere emotions, no caring, no children -- the whole animating idea behind their lives was to seek amusement and diversion, using other people primarily for this purpose. Their ideational content, as expressed in dialogue, was derived solely from pop culture, mainly old television series and comic books. Deep emotions were to be avoided at all costs, as maudlin and bummer-producing. The Bushian government is simply the dark side of what such emotional attitudes look like when played out on the stage of national policy, a culture of profound, even determined, superficiality. The religious backlash is simply a reaction to this inexorable cultural movement. It will not succeed.

These cultural attitudes explain why Hurricane Katrina's chief characteristic was simply its news value. In general, no one really cared what was happening. Certainly not Bush's government. For most Americans, 9-11 is a series of images, of the World Trade Center collapsing under its own weight. The main anxiety was, and is: what effect will an attack like this have on the stock market? Are people going to overreact?

Were it not for these macro-nugatories, the Seinfeld lifestyle would have much to commend it. Life can indeed be joyous when the lightness is almost unbearable. Unfortunately, humans have never been very good at noting that point when something becomes too much of a good thing. They're apt to carry it right over the brink, as I think we'll discover in the next decade or so.

July 22, 2007

Creator of modern American ethos becomes Respondent in David vs. David

I confess I burst out laughing when I heard Laurie David had filed for divorce from Larry David. It was kind of an autonomic response. While I don't really know what Larry David is like on a day-to-day basis (and probably don't want to know), he has provided so many clues, through his alter ego George Costanza, about his attitudes toward commitment in general and women in particular, that his marriage and family life presented a quandary. Either the self he has presented seriatim in two sitcoms is phony, or this attempt to play-act his way through marriage was hopeless. I couldn't see any other possibilities. Fortunately, life has confirmed the veracity of art. The anti-social curmudgeon and existential hero of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm is the real deal. Laurie David is beautiful, passionate about the great environmental cause of our day (global warming), and has even done something the talented Larry will never do, won an Oscar. And yet Larry reports that the divorce is "completely amicable" (reminiscent of George's acceptance of his fiancee's death after licking cheap envelopes which George picked to save money). He is not so much ready as anxious to move on. I suspect, in fact, that he's been ready to leave that marriage for about 9 years.

One positive effect is that the life of Curb Your Enthusiasm has probably been extended. The sitcom Larry David can now suffer through one season of marital discord with Cheryl, his sitcom wife, and that guarantees one season beyond that of Larry as a single guy and nebbishy swinger. It's all new material, and material is what Larry David's life is really about. Not a home, and children, and a warm glow. Material, which gives him something to think about, which gives him something to write about and create, which relieves him from the real demon of his existence, boredom. Curb was in its last throes, because Larry's life had become stale and predictable. Much as Lyle Lovett married Julia Roberts so he could generate some new emotions for his best album ever (Road to Ensenada), Larry needed out of the marriage to Laurie so he could experience life as a rich, single, divorced Meursault of the West L.A. set.

They were together 14 years, which serves everyone's purposes, including the two girls, ages 11 and 13. Laurie was in what California calls a "long term" marriage, longer than 10 years (that's an eternity in California, in fact) so the court will reserve jurisdiction on the question of alimony, meaning: it could go on for a long time. Laurie is entitled to support sufficient to maintain the life to which she had grown accustomed, which looked pretty sweet. All of this is subject to the
possibility of some overriding prenup, of course, but I'm thinking: Laurie probably didn't leave too much on the table. Think about it. She married Larry in 1993, about halfway through Seinfeld's run. They had the first daughter within a year. Larry was well-off and successful, no doubt, but he was not yet the Croesus he would become when Seinfeld entered syndication. Then, so the common estimate has it, he and Jerry Seinfeld both walked away with $200 million. That was money Larry earned during the marriage, that is, community property. Laurie's timing was perfect. Larry, who drove cabs and bounced around New York earning a half-assed living as a "comedian's comedian" until he was past 40, probably wondered, somewhere around 1998, just exactly what he had gotten himself into. He was like George, again, who was stuck in a situation where his pilot deal with NBC depended on his staying in the relationship with Susan, the NBC exec. So that, for the first time in his life, George Costanza had a cachet and marketable line with women - but he couldn't use it; and Larry David, in 1998, suddenly could graduate from his handicapped position as a bald and inept Romeo, with the help of the greatest aphrodisiac of all, the one that works with practically any woman on Earth -- LOTS and LOTS of MONEY. And he couldn't use it either, because he was (clearing throat) happily married to (swallowing hard) Laurie, with, um (dropping voice), two lovely children.

Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in. To Larry's lasting credit, as proof that certain moral values within his core (which indeed are often on display in Curb) are vibrant and enduring, he hung in there another 9 years. That, I'm sure, was a very good thing to do for the girls. Then, as he turned the corner on 60, and Laurie hit a cognate point for women, 49, it was time to act. Waiting much longer to become the nebbishy, fabulously rich swinger would become, well, unseemly. As it is, he's got a few good years left. Laurie's got it made in the shade. All of it very much in line with the narcissistic ethos of our time, as adumbrated (and lived) by one of the great creative minds of our generation.