“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, December 31, 2001

Remora


We admire The Economist. Hell, we've written for The Economist. And since we venerate the great media ancestors - the Smart Set Crowd, the Blackwoods writers, Ford Maddox Ford's transition, Dwight McDonald's politics -- we of course find the fullblooded Tory history of the Economist cause for awe and bending of the knees. It is in the pantheon.

But even so... in the Christmas edition's article about the Bridget Jones economy -- the political economy of affluent singlehood that is shaping urban culture -- we are bugged. Bugged by the writing.

Now, Limited Inc isn't so snobbish as to think that trendspotting articles are automatically idiotic. And this one is about a genuine trend. A NY Magazine article of recent memory, the one about single Japanese girls with beaucoup disposable income in Tokyo, also spotted this trend, which means that it is a trend -- the relationship between trend and spotting being one of those performative truths.

Well, we expect gravitas and wit in the Economist. Unfortunately, what we get in this article are the worst vices of the trend article. We get the bogus analogy. We get the uncontextualized, and thus dubious, statistics. We get the exaggeration. We get the feeling that the trend has probably secretly peaked behind the writer's back -- for writing so clueless implies a writer on whom no trend makes an impression until it is pointed out to him by an editor. And as we know, editors live in sealed glass capsules, meaning that when the editor becomes conscious of a trend, it has long passed. Here are two grafs in the middle of the article. This kind of writing is surely making the ghost of Walter Bagehot think seriously about visiting Bill Emmott, the current editor, for one of those Marley to Scrooge talks spirits so love during the holiday season:



"What explains the trend? The key seems to be the higher education of women. In most rich countries, more women than men now go to university; in particular, women make up more than half the students taking professional qualifications in subjects such as law and medicine. As new job opportunities unfold, they often earn as much as similarly qualified men. They find work is fun and it pays well, so they put off marriage. Husbands and babies can wait. �Today, people know that they are going to be married till they are 80. So 40 is the new 30,� says Marcus Matthews of Kaagan Research, a market-research firm.

[Stop the presses for a second, gentle reader. Let's think about this. Is 40 the new 30, or the new 271/2? And notice that Marcus Matthews is ignoring that pesky thing, divorce. Which means that most people don't know that they are going to be married until they are 80. Or at least they don't know if they are going to be married to the people they are marrying. This makes, hmm, a lot of difference. Then there is the "they find work is fun and it pays well..." Is this Ally McBeal, or is it real life? In real life, fun is a word which can cover things like, work 12 hours a day, stay in traffic 2 hours a day, no time for anything else a day. So that what explains the trend might be -- the compensation from all that sensual deprivation. Marcuse, not Faith Popcorn, is the reference here. And do new job opportunities "unfold?" Unfold is such a nice, organic word -- here's the tree of job opportunities, and here's the unfolding jobs, in 'fun' professions, such as law and medicine. And speaking of "fun" - there's another little statistic which has popped up more and more in the literature about medicine: the number of doctors who are dissatisfied with doctoring. The question, would you become a doctor if you had it to do over again has increasingly been answered in the negative by new doctors, who, Lacoon-like among the HMO red tape, might not be aware they are in a "fun" profession]


"Up to now, that has been a strategy that makes sense. More people marry today�at least once�than ever before. Thus fewer than 7% of Americans in their early 50s have never married. Compare that, says Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, with America in the late 19th century. Then, the marriage market was far less efficient and 20-25% of women never married. The result, he says, has been a sort of democratisation of marriage and motherhood, where almost all women marry and most have at least one child."

Can one say enough about the jargon in this graf, or shall we maintain an embarrassed silence? The democratisation of marriage? Democratisation has automatically come to mean: "more people do." If more people eat chocolate sundaes, it is the democratisation of chocolate sundaes. If do it yourself enema boxes are mass marketed in Walmarts, it means the democratisation of enemas. Democratisation, here, can't debauch itself any more. Jargon, like counterfeit money, finds its own value on the market -- under its own guise, it is equivalent to zero.

As for (shudder) "the marriage market was far less efficient..."
Well:
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
As for our lyres, we hung them up �
on the willows that grow in that land.

For there our captors asked for a song,
our tormentors called for mirth: �
'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.'
How shall we sing the Lord's song �
in a strange land?

Sunday, December 30, 2001

Dope

Limited Inc and a friend spent some time by a highway last night, looking at the moon. It was a moon well worth looking at.

"Well," our readers comment, jejeune to the point of jaundice, "a moon's a moon's a moon, right? Excuse me, but once we sent a few retread fighter pilot types up there and line drived a few golf balls, that was it with the moon thing. Like, boring, lifeless, dusty, full of craters, and there goes ten billion dollars."

Yes to all of the above. The moon is certainly a de-mystified object, it is certainly the victim of a sort of cultural pollution -- there's no awe in us anymore about it, there's a false sense that we've peed on it, that now the territory is claimed -- but Limited Inc loses all skepticism in the ghostly white shimmer of it, feels that there is definitely a werewolf pull to the moon, some obscure but distinct disturbance in the blood, some ritual passage negotiated between eros and thanatos that eludes cynical dismissal. We've seen the moon in the dark hollow of the New Mexico country night, when darkness seemed more absolute than civilization, and the moon kept spreading out, visibly becoming enormous above the mesas, fantastically hatched there in the bright glare of constellations, its interstellar closeness -- because in solar system terms, the moon isn't that far away from us -- finally comprehensible to the senses, and a bit terrible.

Of course, we've also seen, with the inattention of the urbanite, the moon as a mere shell, or the moon as a mere sign -- there it is again above the freeway, there it is again above the parking lot. Last night we pursuaded a friend to go out with us and salute it with glasses of vodka. The night got cold, the cars going by were rare, and probably a few of the drivers wondered who the hell the lunatics were, sitting there raising glasses to the moon. My friend had a few things she wanted to say to the moon, and so did Limited Inc. Finally it got cold enough that we were shivering and it was making less sense to sit there on the concrete post among the rustling brown grass. So we left. But we left with some faint lunar afterimage inside us, which I hope both assuages the terrible gods of this year, and portends something powerful for next year. And to hell with it if we didn't time it directly on New Years Eve.

Saturday, December 29, 2001

Remora
On the Optimism Front

We packed our Schopenhauer for our LA jaunt last week -- which should tell you that Limited Inc is not a member of the Optimists club, if you were wondering. However, Schopenhauer's extensive pessimism -- the sort of grief only a philosopher could manage, shedding tears over the pain and irrationality of individuation, and even more tears, acidically tinged, over the incongruous and unheard of reputation of Hegel, the contemporary Schopenhauer most despised -- is not a good guide to short range economic forecasts for first quarter GDP growth.

An optimism about such things has reigned in the columns of American newspapers for the past month. One wonders if this is a real boomlet, or if this is mere puffery. Although short term memory loss is the norm in this wonderful land of ours, still, there are those who remember the Y2K year -- the year that the Dow became unhinged, the year that lunatic predictions from George Gilder and James Glassman were seriously debated, even as the stuffing was dropping out of the structure.

Here's the WP today:

Reports Suggest Economic Recovery
Experts See Clear Signs Recession Is Fading by John Berry

"For the first time in many months, a series of economic indicators, released yesterday, all contained solidly positive news, suggesting to many analysts that the recession that hit the U.S. economy last spring may end soon.

The Labor Department reported that initial claims for unemployment benefits last week remained below the 400,000 level for the third week in a row....

Meanwhile, the Conference Board, a New York-based business research group, said its consumer confidence index jumped nearly nine points, to 93.7 this month, after being depressed in October and November following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The increase brought the confidence index back in line with the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index, which began to recover last month."

But let's look at what that index means. Here's the AP version:

"The Conference Board said consumers� assessment of the current economic climate was slightly more positive in December than November. Consumers rating current business conditions as good increased to 17 percent from 16.8 percent.

However, the board said consumers who felt business conditions were bad rose to 21.7 percent from 20.7 percent last month.

Nontheless Americans are still feeling more optimistic about the near future. The percentage of consumers who expect business conditions to improve rose to 22.2 percent from 17.7 percent in November, the report said. Those expecting conditions to sour declined from 11.6 percent from 16.9 percent."

In essence, Schopenhauerians still seem to outnumber optimists among the hoi polloi.

Limited Inc would like to be optimistic. No, that's not quite right -- Limited Inc would like to benefit from the optimism of others by placing beaucoup articles among the resurgent media. But Limited Inc would also like to be contrarian and hip and regard it all as a bubble. And the small contradiction can only be maintained if there is some wave of money coming in from the East. In the media world, though, it is hard to see that wave. More newspapers are cracking down on freelancers, shrinking book sections, getting the business editor to take over the recipe section when the old coot that used to do it died, etc. Magazines are still not seeing that advertising outreach to the highly confident consumer postulated by the Conference Board. And there's the gnawing question of debt -- as was remarked in the nineties, public debt shrank while private debt exploded. Now public debt is growing -- and there's only so much room in debt space, even with the whacky Fed jiggling us down to 0 down, O percent. I do have to say that the Fed has the best spin in the business -- articles like the WP one are routinely full of the goodies that Greenspan has given us because we were nice, not naughty -- all those car sales! all those home sales! without paying attention to the red that is accumulating because of all those car sales! and the debt load that is not shifting because of all those home sales! and the propadeutic example of Japan, liquidity trap city, which we are all politely avoiding -- a car wreck we are passing by, or at least we hope we are passing by.

Friday, December 28, 2001

Remora

As our readers probably expect, Limited Inc is a devotee of William Greider. We loved the Fed book, we loved that it was so thick, so textured, so bought, so little read. We loved the story of Jimmy Carter accidentally causing a crisis in the economy by getting consumers to stop using their credit cards (a mistake we will never make again -- conservative Bushies would rather have consumers max their Visas on porno than not whip those cards out at all). We loved One world, ready or not. We loved to compare it to the Olive and the Lexus Tree, a relic of the nineties that ranks up there, as an artifact of decade delusions, with Strachey's thirties book on the inevitability of communism, The Coming Struggle for Power. Which okay, we probably have readers who aren't exactly conversant with agit-prop from the thirties. So our references are esoteric. Sue me.
Anyway, given our admiration, what is it that keeps us from reading Greider's pieces in the Nation? It is, we think, a sense that we have to make a long slog with this guy. Through some very depressing stuff. Still, we recommend his latest on the relationship of China to the rest of the underpaid third world, especially the maquilladora zone of Mexico. Greider writes that the contrast between the 1.25 per hour wage in Mexico and the .25 per hour wage in China is tipping the GEs and Toshibas of the world. So Mexico is finding itself in the unique position of railing against cheap labor. Two grafs of especial note:


"Achieving more meaningful economic and social integration obviously involves huge, complex issues, from Mexican immigration and US development aid to the relationships between currencies, legal systems and environmental standards. But the most difficult issue, one that cannot be evaded, is wages. No one should pretend that US-Mexican wage tensions can be entirely reconciled--of course not--but what is required is a wage-floor trade agreement that, as labor likes to say, "brings the bottom up, instead of pulling the top down." Mexico could only accept this arrangement if it had a genuine preferential status with the United States and Canada--including both significant trade privileges and investor guarantees of long-term commitments as well as serious aid for education, health and infrastructure. Think of this "North American union" as a first step toward someday imposing an international "living wage" standard on the production of traded goods, enforced by penalty tariffs on countries and companies that decline to participate. Producers would have a choice: Pay decent wages to their workers or pay penalty tariffs on their exports, the money to be recycled into development aid.

Obviously, the world is not ready for this (neither are Mexican and American politics), but the road to global reform has to start with a few like-minded nations willing to experiment with new terms because they see mutual self-interest in the bargain. A healthier, self-sustaining Mexico would be a lot better for the United States than a cheap-labor export zone that makes a few people very rich but survives on the backs of desperate immigrants and drug smugglers. US consumers might have to pay marginally higher prices on some items, but US commerce would gain a far more promising market for its exports, and that would help to reduce US trade deficits. Mexico would regain a measure of self-determination, the ability to chart its own course free of the neoliberal straitjacket. "

I think this is a point to make over and over again - while Capital has long internationalized, labor remains the last redoubt of the antiquarian position. Labor has thereby lost its great advantage. There's no reason that the Boeing's Chinese factories and their American factories can't join at the grassroots. Along the border, it is more than time to wake up.

Thursday, December 27, 2001

Remora
Tyson Slocum in Public Citizen has written an article (malheureusement, reader, it is a PDF document) which states the case against the current form of energy deregulation. He gets off to a rousing start:

"If the purpose of electricity deregulation is really to imporve the quality of people's lives by lowering the cost of a critical commodity, it has obviously failed, as demonstrated in every state which has chosen to deregulate. Power companies, free from the oversight of state regulators, have quadrupled prices for Montana industrial consumers, doubled prices in many Northeast and Ne England states, and driven one of California's utilities to bankruptcy. Whereas consumers have been left to pay higher prices, energy corporations in dergulated markets have made record profits."

Slocum is not completely convincing, since his case depends on tacitly defending the old system. That old system was, to say the least, environmentally harmful, and as Slocum acknowledges, deregulation became attractive partly because state regulatory commissions and monopoly energy suppliers basically laid a plutonium egg with the building of vastly expensive nuclear power plants, the costs of which were distributed to the consumer. Although why the past tense? These costs are still being destributed -- Slocum explains the beautiful phrase, 'stranded costs,' which is the justification, written into many state legislative energy deregulation bills, for having the taxpayer cushion the always stressed energy companies with pleasing pillows of tax dollars -- 28 billion, to be exact, in California alone - to pay for their enthusiastic building of white elephants in the seventies and eighties.

Yet Slocum has a point about electricity and its marketing. The pressure on power companies came partly from their decreasing rate of return on investment, compared to other industrial sectors. To become attractive to investors, the power industry needed to make itself 'sexy'. There's a certain irony here: in game theoretical terms, the very force of rationality, ie the profit motive, turns the rational game player into an irrational enthusiast. Here's a quote from an executive of a Michigan energy company, GE Power, from a 1999 Forbes article written by Debby Scheinholtz and Julie Koerner about power deregulation:

"We are actively engaged in helping these companies achieve the synergy they expect from the reaggregation of resources taking place in the energy sector." In the first quarter of this year, Nardelli reports, GE closed 20 long-term service agreements that range from 8- to 15-year terms and represent $1 billion in future revenue. "That�s a business we weren�t even thinking about four years ago," says Nardelli. "By developing product and service offerings throughout this expanded, outside-in view, we can continue to grow our business and, more importantly, help make our customers more successful."

Notice the fallacy, here: that one can treat electricity much like one treats a bond, buying and selling 8 to 15 years in advance on a product that (a) can't be stored, (b) has vastly uncertain transmission costs, (c) has a fragmented customer base, and (d) is unpredictably generated. This isn't wheat we are talking about. Notice, too, the seed for what Enron apparently did -- selling and reselling energy futures, Enron booked profits to itself in real time that would only exist ten years from now, if ever.

As for the end consumer, as Slocum points out, the slight profit margin accrued from selling energy to, say, Limited Inc, gives the power companies an incentive to skew their pricing in a strange tier -- on average, big industrial consumers are charged a fourth to a half less than individual consumers. Since those larger customers have an advantage in negotiating energy futures, if for some reason energy costs go up, who is going to subsidize power company losses? You got it: the miserable private consumer. The Limited Incs of the world, god bless 'em.

The old solution to this was price caps. And Slocum makes a pretty good case that price caps work -- that is, that prices go down without supply going down. The peculiarity of the energy market is embodied in the paradox that when prices go up, supply can go down -- that is, it is possible to squeeze the end consumer for more money by limiting energy generation. This is California's claim about the power company gang bang of the year 2000. In a market in which competition is tied to less strict supply parameters -- say, bread -- the limitation of supply by a few market makers would simply encourage smaller bread companies to compete. But the only people who really compete in the energy market are the sellers of energy 'instruments' -- those, like Enron, who sold an abstract representing the power produced by some other company and transmitted, often, through a system owned by yet another company. Enron's goal was to be, in essence, asset free -- to make a cost free profit by exchanging instruments it had neither to produce nor transmit. Enron's business model has been endlessly discussed, but it seems pretty simple when you look at it: like the confidence men/tailors in Hans Christian Andersen's story about the emperor's new clothes, these guys were weaving invisible garments out of immaterial thread.
Dope

Limited Inc, with a disgruntled expression on our face, could be found staring out at the jets taxing up and down the concourse at the Phoenix airport yesterday. A considerable portion of our Christmas was lost to the greed of America West. This airline has apparently taken as it's motto the famous words of J.P. Morgan: the public be damned. Damning that small section of the public which had bought tickets on a one o'clock flight from Phoenix to Austin in the naive faith that there actually was a one o'clock flight from Phoenix to Austin, America West gave us a little lesson in corporate irresponsibility that made those of us who had some knowledge of airline deregulation long for the days of the CAB. We approached the representatives of AW, poor sods, who produced this excuse: somehow, a flight crew couldn't be assembled for this flight. Now, let's try to look beyond the implication that America West is run in much the same way as high school plays are mounted ("hey everybody, let's buy a jet or somethin', and like fly it for people and all, and like they can buy tickets and everything... let's pretend to be an airline!"), there is something odious about a company that is willing not only to cut corners -- for surely the real reason Limited Inc and his fellow Austinites were stranded for four hours was that there weren't enough tickets sold for this particular flight -- but to cut those corners while blaming its staff.

Well, we had too good a time in LA to post regularly. We know that there are issues (the fall of the Argentine government, the mole like behavior of Osama Bin Laden, the whole "will these shoes go with my new plastique bomb kit" fashion scene) with which we should manfully grapple. But today our host, blogspot, is experiencing trouble of some cyber-weird kind. We will resume tomorrow with the bons mots, don't worry.

Friday, December 21, 2001



Remora

Limited Inc, like a rattled heroine in a Joan Didion novel looking for nembutal, went riding around the highways of LA for three hours yesterday with a jazz musician from Riverside who had only recently, at the age of 30, received his license. Being the fearless passenger type, we did not flinch at the Magoo like structure we traced as we headed the wrong way on the Hollywood Freeway, going vaguely in the direction of Pasedena when we meant to be going to Venice Beach. However, as the countryside became more, rather than less mountainous, we eventually realized that we were, like so many travellers in California (the Donner party comes to mind), wandering in a labyrinth of our own illusions that had little to do with geographic reality.

This morning, we read with interest the story of the fall of De La Rua's government in Argentina. Of course, readers of this humble rag will remember our predictions on this score from months ago, when the IMF restructured the Argentine debt. As you will no doubt recall (ah, the passages from our column that are no doubt burned into your brains, my dears, like grill marks on a sizzling hamburger), at that time we pointed out that the headline money from these deals is not exactly pouring into the pockets of the Argentine people -- rather it is, by routes that show the true Yanqui ingenuity in devising shifts of wealth that reward the Lord's true husbandmen, those frisky emerging money market manager s we so know and love - cycling to the temperate zone. This fact notwithstanding, Yanqui newspapermen are pretty certain they know what's been happening down South American way: it is the laziness in the blood. Here's the LA Times editorial that revamps our old friend, the lazy Latino, in a little more sophisticated form:

"To reactive the economy, mired in a three-year-old recession, the new government must bring down unemployment, now at a staggering 20%. It must also find a way to manage a public debt of $155 billion while reducing a fiscal deficit that this year hovers around $8 billion. A recent article in an Argentine newspaper illustrates how imperative it is for the new government to overcome the political elite's devastating corruption and inefficiency. According to the story, the Argentine Congress boasts thousands of employees who are known not so affectionately as gnocchi. Gnocchi, you see, are the potato dumplings that Argentines eat on the 29th day of each month, a custom that is supposed to bring good luck. The employees got that nickname because they show up to work only once a month--always on payday. Civil service law prohibits their firing. But if forced to show up more often, they'd have nothing to do."

Notice the contrast between our own fiscal policy, which would never pump money unnecessarily into the system, with those gnocchi. The Lord has truly blessed us is the moral Limited Inc draws from this sad debacle.



Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Limited Inc. flew out to LA yesterday. We
are spending a week at a friend's house.
Last night we went to Track 16 to hear a
series of male and mostly bald Southern
Cal writers read sketches or stories on
the rather vague theme of holidays. The
one female writer, a statuesque, frizzy
haired blond, read what she called a rant
in a voice that had seeped through Mae
West and Janis Joplin to arrive in her
throat, jazzing up what was otherwise a
rather weak referencing to what all the unwashed and disgruntled, or the leather clad and the smokers, know about Christmas � what an essentially sad time it is to stage a holiday, and how bogus its cause, and how mendacious its sentiments.

Track 16 is an art gallery stuck in a warehouse district, the m.o. for galleries from San Antonio�s Blue Star to the bright and shining tax dodges of Providence, Rhode Island. Still, Limited Inc is moved by the replacement of boxes of screws, or tubs of cement, or shelves of PVC pipe, by track-lit spaces that direct one�s attention to what�s hanging on the wall. Is this the only universal left to art, that track-lit symbol of the work�s isolation? That self-standing which wavers teasingly between art and a box of U-Valves?

Still, this is too melancholy a thought to express our happiness about being at Track 16, and seeing these good hearted people turned out to applaud their friends, or perhaps turned out in curiosity, or a genuine interest in new talent. The MC was one of those youngish (say around 32) balding men who�ve gone through the hair loss process happily, and gleam with such unabashed nudity of forehead that the eyes slip, catch on the heavy eyebrows, and then on down to the nearly fattish cheeks beneath. Broadbeamed in a gray comfortable suit which was not altogether suitish � his blue sneakers defining a limit to any assumption that his gray suitcoat might lead you to make � he read his story in a voice that seemed to issue from some velvet lined cell. The story featured tits � tits, I believe his phrase was, out to Sunday � and this, it seemed, was the real theme of these stories. In all of them, tits stood in for the eternally feminine, negative but observably bouncy space.

The deal about this reading was that, unlike readings I�ve been to in NYC, these guys were stand-up. They were funny, or at least the audience, and not just that part of it composed of friends, laughed. But even so, in the original medium in which these stories and sketches existed � ink on paper � it was all subpar. Whereas NYC writers read as though it were a death march through the vocables that they were making for your sake, reader, yet one feels some basic comfort with the written as written. As if reading were not a bad habit to be denied, not something to be negated in performance. Maybe this is what we feel is so often wrong with LA writing � this urge to please or shock immediately. It is the sign of an unconscious cultural fear of being caught reading.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Remora

This is the NYT front web page article :
"US. Again Placing Focus on Ousting Hussein
By PATRICK E. TYLER
With Muslim backing, the option of taking the war against terrorism to Iraq has gained significant ground in recent weeks, according to administration officials."

Now, the eye-catching with Muslim backing makes one expect, well, some Muslim backing. The article, instead, recites the diplomatic coughing of Turkey, and this:

"In the past two weeks, at least one prominent Arab envoy in Washington has reversed his view that an American-led military operation in Iraq would be a disaster, or that it would fan the flames of Arab dissent and perhaps lead to the overthrow of some weaker rulers. (His reversal, though important, is not shared uniformly in Arab capitals.)

The diplomat, who refused to be identified, noted that most countries in the region harbor a latent desire to be rid of Mr. Hussein. He argued that the current military success in Afghanistan, the demonstration of a new model of warfare there and the undermining of Osama Bin Laden's radical message have created a new opportunity to act in Iraq.

"I now think it is doable," the diplomat said, adding that his own government might oppose such an operation in public until it became clear it was going to succeed. "This would require a lot of governments to accept big political risks, but I believe that in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, the governments are strong enough to hold the people and not have an uprising."

There you have it folks, Muslim backing in a nutshell. If this doesn't seem like a wave rolling from the Jordan to the Straits of Gibraltar to you, you aren't with the program. "At least one prominent Arab envoy" -- wow. I mean, even for newspaperdom, in their infinite bending over before the Bushy Blitzkrieg, this is pretty extraordinary stuff. Here's my suggestion: NYT should pluck some of the Style people to cover foreign affairs. At least they would know how to spot a trend, as opposed to how to desperately spin a conservative political agenda.

Monday, December 17, 2001

Remora

Limited Inc is, as our many happy readers know, ahead of the curve. Perhaps our more unhappy readers are doubtful; perhaps our happiest reader also writes this rag. A week or two back, Limited Inc was talking about death toll politics. We shopped our pitch around, actually, trying to awaken various editors to the brilliance of our idea, and the need to pay us for putting it all in a nice cohesive shape, but of course a prophet is without profit in his own country, and our pitch was pitched.

Now here's the WP, Sunday: What Counts
The Death Toll Is Far Less Than Feared. Can We Accept That? by Peter Freundlich.

This is the graf that makes his point - or rather points his question. And remember, kids, the question mark is a necessary, although not sufficient, condition for tragedy. Which is why newspapers really hate it -they prefer their tragedies to be car accidents.

"Is it that we need the higher number, to shore up our fury? Is it that the sight of those sinking skyscrapers, in which, God knows, 10 times as many people might just as well have died, opened a hole in us that simply won't close? Does it somehow seem a betrayal of the dead to reduce their number? Or is this perhaps American grandiosity -- a desire to dwarf other tragedies the way the Trade Center towers for a short time dwarfed all other buildings in the world?

As if 3,000 people weren't enough. Or as if the intent weren't clear."

Revenge feeds on numbers. Elias Canetti was not the first to notice this, but was the most thorough explorer of the dark side of crowd psychology. We wonder how all the people we know were in there got out. The escape story still needs to be told, in some bold and beautiful way.

Sunday, December 16, 2001

Remora


A heady column this morning from the LA Time's Robert Scheer. Scheer is, perhaps, exaggerating when he writes that Enron's rise and fall is the stuff of major presidential scandal; there is a whiff, a smell, a certain ripeness there. There is the always potent netting of Texas capitalism, there is what we know of how the network works from the S and L scandal and the culture that just moved on, no lessons learned. Never learn. Like remember the Alamo, it is a slogan with a certain force. If there were no war going on, Bushypoo would be on the spot right now about his friendship with Ken Lay. Enron, the beached whale that was a whale balloon, all the time. We can poke gingerly at it, but remember: whales or their simulacra make friends with all types. It wasn't Bushy's era, it was Clinton.

Scheer's column doesn't present any new content. What he does is pose the right questions. The dead and dumb Dems won't pose them, until people like Scheer makes a big enough stink in the press. Now, here's a litmus test for you: what media vehicle would dare to do that right now? Where's Hardball, where's MSNBC, where are all the aghast outlets of yesteryear, the death of outrage pumping in their seedy veins?

The so far clearest indication that Enron held undue influence with the Bushies is in a graf midway through the column:

"This emerging scandal makes Whitewater seem puny in comparison; clearly there ought to be at least as aggressive a congressional inquiry into the connection between the Bush administration and the Enron debacle. Facts must be revealed, beginning with the content of Lay's private meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney to create the administration's energy policy...

"What was Lay's role in the sudden replacement of Curtis Hebert Jr. as Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman? As the New York Times reported, Hebert "had barely settled into his new job this year when he had an unsettling telephone conversation with Kenneth L. Lay, [in which Lay] prodded him to back ... a faster pace in opening up access to the electricity transmission grid to companies like Enron." Lay admits making the call but in an unctuous defense of his influence peddling said, "The final decision on [Hebert's job] was going to be the president's, certainly not ours." Soon after, Hebert was replaced by Texan Pat Wood, who was favored by Lay."


ABC news has a different take on Hebert, but they, too, claim that Lay, in sinister convention with our odious VPotus, damned him with the black spot of non-cooperation. Hebert wasn't a team player, evidently:

"As Bush assumed the presidency, Enron had unusual access to the new administration's deliberations about energy policy and appointments to important posts. Lay served on the Bush transition team and helped interview candidates for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the gas pipelines and electricity grids that are key to Enron's business. Earlier this year, the commission's chairman, Curtis Hebert, who was being considered for reappointment by the White House, declared himself "offended" by Lay's lobbying efforts. Hebert later quit the panel.

When Vice President Dick Cheney drafted a new energy policy, he met with Lay and other Enron executives. Enron was reportedly the only company to be granted such a meeting.

Lay declined to be interviewed for this story."

John Ashcroft was quoted as saying that it must might be the case that questioning Bush's connection to Enron is helping the terrorists.

Ahh, got ya! Ashcroft hasn't said anything like that.... yet.







Saturday, December 15, 2001

Limited Inc, with our unholy talent for screwing up -- there must be an equation for this showing that Limited Inc's single life of screwing up is equal, in number of screwups, to the total of at least three other people put together (one named Larry, one named Mo, and one named Curly) -- made a mess of our income, survival chances for winter, and mental health yesterday. We've been writing on money laundering, we've been on the phone to fabulous Paris and London -- and by the way, the British phone service has gone the way of so many things in Post-Thatcher England, from convenience to nuisance -- we've talked to investigators and libertarian freaks and friends of the Somali peoples and what happens, what happens with this overload of carats? We come in with a piece that is too long and too late. We don't know yet if the newspaper that commissioned it on spec is going to throw it back at us, but we are afraid, very afraid. And the worst part is that we very much wanted to bootstrap from this article to another article about Mexico's dirty war, the secrets about which are now starting to spill.

Limited Inc's excuse for this state of affairs is so piss poor it doesn't deserve to survive in prose. But we will no doubt return to our private Tora Bora, our cave of misfortune and chaos, at another time.

In the meantime, the News! Yes, we are aware that crazy Sharon is staging a firesale of Israel statehood (everything must go!); we are aware that bin Laden might be captured any minute now; we are aware that the first collateral damage from Enron's collapse is hitting; but none of these things move us, no, enchant us like Robert Gottlieb's review, in the NY Obs, of Uplift: The Bra in America


Is this the way to begin a review or what?

"You may have worn a brassiere, you may have helped a friend or two take off a brassiere, but have you ever really thought about the brassiere? It�s not too late. �Brassieres must do more than fit a multitude of bodies �. They must accommodate the same body as it changes through the monthly cycle and through the life cycle. They must provide for movement of the torso and arms in many directions without chafing or binding and without slipping out of position. As if that were not enough, brassieres must also retain their own structure through multiple wearings and launderings; must not abrade in contact with clothing; must remain, as a rule, inconspicuous beneath the outer clothing while harmonizing with the desired silhouette; and must be priced to sell to many customers. No wonder hundreds of attempts have been made to design the ideal breast supporter over the past 140 years.�

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Remora


Definitely check out ALEX KUCZYNSKI's article, in the NYT, on how the elite go to prison. Ah, the rich are imprisoned different from you and me - they employ prison consultants, of course, to get the best penal deal. Post-conviction consultants, excuse me, is what they call themselves. Does Limited Inc find it ironic that the sharpest criticism of capitalism you are gonna find in the NYT comes in the Style section? What do you think, honey? Although let's be fair: the style section of almost any newspaper from a fair sized metropole is going to have news of more stunning import, re the class war, than a year's subscription of the Progressive. It is the nature of the beast to be beastly, and where else is it going to show itself in full stretch, all the odors, the fur, the claws, the stinking maw, and the rest of it on parade? Conspicuous consumption includes conspicuous odiousness -- there's an analogy between the status one accrues by wasting magnificently and the status one accrues by wasting the moral codes magnificently.

This is one of those articles that suffers, bleeds, from being parceled out for your pleasure. But here, just a taste, as they say in the cocaine trade:

"Does the client play tennis? There's a federal prison camp for him in California. Will she volunteer for community service, or has the client given generously to charitable organizations? It might be grounds for a reduced sentence from a federal judge, who can choose to make an influential recommendation to the Bureau of Prisons. Will the client admit to a drinking problem? Then he can be admitted to an alcohol rehabilitation program in prison, which also serves as a way to reduce total sentence time."

and a few grafs down:

"Like a crazy riff off a Suzanne Somers infomercial, Mr. Sickler's literature [Mr. Sickler is the Dickensian name that runs the penal search consulting firm] showcases bright testimonials from happy customers. One client, Charles Ravenel, is a former South Carolina gubernatorial candidate who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in October 1995 for his role in the failure of the Citadel Federal Savings Banks, which prosecutors described as one of the biggest bank frauds in the state's history."

And... but you can get Ravenel's story yourself. Limited Inc has written a little review of a book about the Rikers Island prison in the New York Observer (July 22), and with our beady collagist's eye, we see the irresistability of the juxtaposition of ourselves and the style article. Bad habit, you say, to start quoting yourself? Admit it, we don't do this much. Now:

"Imagine this scenario: The young Al Gore�who, we know from his own mouth, possessed and used illegal drugs on "rare and infrequent" occasions during the 70�s�is living in the South Bronx in the 1990�s. Strip him of his family and money and paint him another color; let him then be captured in a drug sweep by the police and accused of selling an ounce of marijuana�a prison offense. Alternative Al has the typical characteristics of a Rikers Island newbie: 92 percent of the Rikers population is black or Hispanic; one quarter can�t afford, or can�t find somebody else to put up, bail of $500 or less. The predominance of blacks and Hispanics in the system doesn�t mean that whites never encounter the criminal-justice system�on the contrary. The large majority (71 percent) of under-18�s arrested by the police are white, but even in that age group, the selection bias is tilted against minorities: apply the alchemy of the justice system, and two-thirds of the under-18�s who actually end up in jail turn out to be black or Hispanic.

After Al exchanges the clothes he was arrested in for the Rikers greens worn by his 20,000 or so fellow inmates, he�ll discover that he has an official commissary account with a $150 charge against it. He has to come up with that sum before he can purchase such luxuries as deodorant or cigarettes. If he leaves the island without paying it back, he can be arrested for it. However, he can discharge the debt with 10 weeks of menial labor. Mind you, at this point he hasn�t been convicted of a crime�he�s merely being detained for trial, like three-fourths of the Rikers population."

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Remora

"But what Franzen and like-minded critics seem to have forgotten is that the novel's very form has resolutely middlebrow origins; the early novels of the eighteenth century were the Sopranos and ER of their day. Moreover, middlebrow culture�as opposed to truly lowbrow culture, like teen movies or trash TV�has always been the route by which the educated middle-class (and sometimes, this being America, the uneducated underclass) travels to high culture. I read Stephen King before I read Shakespeare..." Yes, and it shows, darling, it shows.

Thus Scott Strossel in the Atlantic.

The idea that Franzen has 'forgotten' that "the novel's very form has resolutely middlebrown origins" is unlikely -- every pornographer, screenwriter, and extra on Gilligan's Island has at one time or another told us that Dickens and Shakespeare were bestsellers. They always say it, too, with this appealing brightness, as if here's a plum of a fact that nobody has gnawed on before. Dickens! As if they were all sitting around reading Little Dorrit in Oprah's green room.

The idea that the Sopranos and Jane Austen are just all part of the same rich stew, ain't they --- shows no appreciation for either Jane Austen or the Sopranos. And very little sense of the historic context -- because, frankly, middlebrow culture wouldn't recognize itself in the early nineteenth century. Then, the culture was still heavily clerical -- middlebrow Volk were prone to read sermons much more than either Jane Austen or Dickens. They were also fond of Latin tag ends. And as for knowledge, any knowledge, of the science/tech complex -- knowledge that allows your average burger in Pittsburgh to sound off about genes at the dinner table, smugly replete with misinformation from Time Magazine -- that didn't have any authority. To pretend that there was an equivalent is to misunderstand how large a part the discourse of science has in establishing who is and who is not educated, and how small a part, say, Calvinist theology now plays in the status system. One could go on and on, but the point, for such as Strossel, is that Franzen's comments on Oprah don't really lead us to some epiphany about where the culture is today.

Furthermore, the idea that Oprah is a populist rests on the very shaky premise that out there, out there in the grassroots, nobody is playing the game of distinction. Since The Corrections is about just those games, played at all levels, I can see why Strossel would diss it. Although he isn't dumb enough to diss it all the way -- otherwise, that early taste for Stephen King would start to stick out a little more.

Strossel's envoi is as, well, obtuse as the rest of the essay, which bears the marks of squeezing out the last juice from the Franzen controversy:

"...it is one thing to be elitist in your aesthetic taste, and another to want to exclude the uninitiated from reading your work�from breaching the high-culture barricades, as it were. Yet this is the message Franzen is sending with his anti-Oprah comments."

Strossel should go out into the real world and have a beer with a middle brow marketer. Or maybe watch the ads on TV, as well as that ER. He'd notice that no company advertises middle browness. Why? Because advertisers aren't as dumb as literary critics for the Atlantic. They know a clueless strategy when they smell one. People want the Lexus, the blond, the less than egalitarian benefits of wealth: crimes you get away with like O.J. druguse like an Interscope record exec, sex with J-Lo, and the waste, and the life of potlach, and the volupte, etc., etc. Fantasy, Strossel, fantasy. Win the lottery, you don't go to Walmart anymore. You think that's limited to Franzen & Co.?

Mr. Strossel, get out of the office and take a good whiff of the hoi polloi before you tell us how Jonathan Franzen has wounded their tender hearts.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Remora

Sierra should be a better magazine than it is. It goes for the faux John Muir touch when it should go for the jugular. Granta has better nature writing, Mother Jones, of course, better investigative writing. Take this article, by Dean Rebuffoni, about the Mississippi As far as it goes, it is unobjectionable. It tells us a bit about the Army Corps of Engineers dastardly, eighty year project to channelize the most unchannelizable of rivers. It goes on a bit, at first, about Mark Twain. It mentions the inevitable result of Mississippi River pollution (propulsed by the afore-mentioned Army Corps of E., who have the idea that the river is a big pipe that can shoot water into the Gulf of Mexico without consequences). Here's a nice graf about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico:

"By the time the Mississippi reaches Louisiana, it carries the collected municipal, industrial, and agricultural wastes of the nation's largest river basin--and keeps on going. Beyond the Mississippi delta, the pollutants and nutrients borne by the river have created the infamous Dead Zone, an oxygen-deprived region in the Gulf of Mexico in which fish, crabs, and other aquatic creatures cannot survive. This summer, it grew to the size of Massachusetts."

Still, there's no mention of one of the great public policy puzzles we are eventually going to have to face about the Miss: keeping it in its present channel, instead of letting it naturally divert via the Atchafalaya, is starting to exert a terrific environmental cost. On the other hand, letting it divert means killing New Orleans and the strip of industry all the way to Baton Rouge. In other words, it means letting Louisiana hang out to dry like a tired work shirt. Do you want to tell those people, sorry, had to let the river do its thing? Nobody wants to talk about this, because the ideology, for one thing, doesn't give you clues. Is it left wing or right wing to say no to the Corps? Meanwhile the mudbanks underlying the coastline of Louisiana are slipping, slipping, slipping, and the Gulf is rising. I suspect that the world's greatest diversion project and this mud-tectonic event are connected. But you won't find a nice account of that in Sierra. You'll find it in Ocean's End -- and here's an enthusiastic review of that book. Why can't Sierra get off its duff and do some real magazine work on an article about the Miss? Because that would scare contributors. They want to row gently, gently gently down the stream, so Sierra obliges. It is sooo sad.

Remora

Peter Beinert has always passed the litmus test for editing the New Republic, as far as Limited Inc was concerned. That is, he's oafish, smug, and prone to Democratic center thinking. The liberalism of the fundraiser, in short, with a foreign policy right of Bushypoo's. But his column about the Right's embrace of civil liberties is, we must admit, pretty on target. Here's a graf and a half:

"... since September 11, George W. Bush and John Ashcroft (who quickly forgot his record in the Senate) have proposed stunning infringements of basic American liberties. An administration that vowed to oppose racial profiling is interrogating thousands of Arab-Americans solely because they are of a certain gender, age, country of origin, and came to this country at a certain time. Thousands of others have been detained indefinitely--their names kept secret--mostly for minor immigration offenses that have nothing to do with terrorism. The administration claims that its proposed military tribunals will be fair because military courts already fairly try American soldiers--willfully ignoring the fact that those courts contain safeguards that the proposed tribunals almost certainly will not.

Liberals have been screaming about this for weeks now, and they should keep on screaming. But they don't matter to this administration. The people who do are on the right."

Compare this with simplistic Christopher Hitchens, who is carrying his Diogenes of the Left act to a comic extreme (he scatters his lamp light looking for uncrazy lefties, or critics of Clinton, or whatever stance he has decided is the most daringly heterodox since Mencken came out for Darwin, and he finds himself, to his great satisfaction, alone, surrounded only by decent right-wingers and members of the staff of Reason Magazine). Here's CH in the Nation:


"Near the bar I ran into Grover Norquist, one of the chief whips of the Reagan revolution. He's also the man who arranged to take the President to the Washington mosque, and he has been very active in opposing Attorney General Ashcroft's megalomaniacal plan to turn the United States into a national-security garrison. Norquist's question to me was, in effect, What happened to the liberals? In meetings in the House, the supposed "USA PATRIOT Act" had been somewhat declawed by conservatives like Bob Barr of Georgia, Darrell Issa (an Arab-American Republican from California) and Chris Cannon of Utah, ably assisted by Bobby Scott, a black Democrat from Virginia. Some of the most extreme proposals of the bill were either diluted or struck out or subjected to a four-year time limit related to the course of the war. But then the White House tried to resell the original bill to the Senate. "That's the Democrats, right?" said Norquist. "But we were assured there would be a fight up there. Instead all the liberals just rolled over."

An assessment with which CH agrees, in spite of the fact that the rest of the press was touting the odd Bob Barr-Barney Frank partnership. But Frank is getting in Hitchens' territory by palling around with a right-winger -- only a daring guy like our contemporary Orwell would even dare...

What isn't being said, and Limited Inc is trying to find a place that would pay to have it said, is that there's a multiplier effect going on: those "gun nuts" who have fastened to the Second Amendment like leeches are starting to appreciate the context of that particular amendment -- the bill of rights. Since we are rather gun nuttish here at Limited Inc ourselves, we view this as yet another reason to keep the american people armed and considered dangerous.

Sunday, December 09, 2001

A O Scott, we've been told, is a seriously endearing guy. But Limited Inc has really not been endeared. Reader, we have tried. We read the dissing of David Foster Wallace last year in the NYRB, and lame came to mind -- teenspeak always seems appropriate for the NYRB approach to American fiction, which is bloodless unto death, and twitters with the ghost of Gore Vidal, whose essays in the seventies about fiction for the magazine had the cranky brilliance usually associated with some man proving that Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford -- missing the point was never so strewn with epigrams. Scott, of course, doesn't bring Vidal's career with him to the essay, which is why he can't quite convince us that his dismissal of Infinite Jest is even ... important. Then we come upon bits like today's, in the NYT Magazine: Beauty is back. Although we know the titles of articles are chosen by editors hurrying to get to the bar before happy hour ends, there is something appropriate about the silliness of that title. It is at once anti-fashionable and an appeal to fashion. A headline congealing in its own resentment, in other words, like an old issue of the New Criterion. Then shift through the entrails of this piece (since it is all entrails, it isn't hard to find em there, slimy and wet) trying to imagine the cultural mandarin A.O. will be in ten years, and the signs are bad. Watch out for death by drowning in your own intellectual drool is the vibe we get from our fave entrail shifter, Madame Sosostris. Here, for instance, is a two-fer graf that a cultural mandarin of the caliber of Dwight MacDonald would stare at in disbelief:

"Artists from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst, with their grisly subject matter; filmmakers from Godard to the Dogma 95 school, with their assaults on the audience�s expectation of pleasure; musicians from Sch�nberg to Johnny Rotten, with their dissonant squalls: the recent art that has received the most attention has been that which challenges traditional canons of beauty � and which, at times, challenges its audience�s ability not to flinch.

This kind of confrontation may now have reached the end of the line. In ��Venus in Exile,�� a provocative book published last summer, Wendy Steiner discerns something of a return to beauty, citing the reassessment of previously unfashionable artists like Bonnard and Rockwell ..."

Yes, that is Bonnard and Rockwell in the same sentence, being "reassessed" by critics. Like the guys in gas stations who align the tires on your car , these critics are standing by for reassessment, just bring in your favorite class noun (beauty, truth, justice) and we will oblige. I don't know how to express the ghastliness of the 'and' that connects Bonnard with an illustrator of the Saturday Evening Post, but if ever there were a conjunction to sound the death knell for beauty, this is it. Beauty, here, is not the thing it was for the ancients, or for the Renaissance, or even for the Moderns (A.O. assures us in a previous graf that the moderns turned against beauty in Paris in the 1850s -- which, of course, they didn't. There were two lines in modernism, one which resented the ugliness of modernity, and did its best to bring into relief that ugliness in art as a criticism of the lack of beauty in modern society (Flaubert); one of which sought a beauty particular to modernity (Baudelaire). Now you, my reader, who passed eighth grade, know this, and I presume Mr. Scott knows it, but why dicker with details? Here's a great critic who would have known his Bonnard from his Rockwell:

"Qu'�tait-ce que cette grande tradition, si ce n'est l'idealisation ordinaire et accoutum�e de la vie ancienne; vie robuste et guerri�re, �tat de d�fensive de chaque individu qui lui donnait l'habitude des mouvements s�rieux, des attitudes majestueuses ou violentes. Ajoutez � cela la pompe publique qui se r�fl�chissait dans la vie priv�e. La vie ancienne repr�sentait beaucoup; elle �tait faite surtout pour le plaisir des yeux, et ce paganisme journalier a merveilleusement servi les arts.

Avant de rechercher quel peut �tre le c�t� �pique de la vie moderne, et de prouver par des exemples que notre �poque n'est pas moins f�conde que les anciennes en motifs sublimes, on peut affirmer que puisque tous les si�cles et tous les peuples ont eu leur beaut�, nous avons in�vitablement la n�tre. Cela est dans l'ordre.

Toutes les beaut�s contiennent, comme tous les ph�nom�nes possibles, quelque chose d'�ternel et quelque chose de transitoire, - d'absolu et de particulier. La beaut� absolue et �ternelle n'existe pas, ou plut�t elle n'est qu'une abstraction �cr�m�e � la surface g�n�rale des beaut�s diverses. L'�l�ment particulier de chaque beaut� vient des passions, et comme nous avons nos passions particuli�res, nous avons notre beaut�."

I won't translate this tonight -- I'm too tired. But the particular beauty of this epoch seems to escape Mr. Scott. I must quote him in fine flourish one more time:

"As didactic texts of postmodernism give way to less dogmatic textures � to cloth and ceramic, lush pixel painting and digital collage � the pleasures of medium are beginning to displace the duties of message."

Wow. The lush pixel painting is excellent, since lush, there, must mean something else to Mr. Scott than it does to the common run of humanity, but I love, just love, the closing phrase. You can't end better than on a generalization in search of a truth. Of course, there isn't a truth to be found in this micro-essay. Shall we propose banning, for a while, the "As... give way to" structure in cultural journalism? What it means is, I'd like to definitely say, x is a trend, but I'm a little afraid that I'll be held responsible if x doesn't turn out to be a trend. In fact, it is only a trend because last night I saw a lot of things that reminded me of x. So I will instead describe x as if I'm scientifically confining myself to a process. Oh yes, a transition, better. And if the pixel painting scene (what pixel paintings do you suppose Mr. Scott is referring to, by the way?) implodes, I never said it wouldn't. I just said it had these less dogmatic textures, see.
Hmm, I wonder about these dogmatic textures - are ribbed condoms more dogmatic than the other kind? Or less?

Saturday, December 08, 2001

Remora

Limited Inc is far better at pointing at the defects of the press corps and their depressingly banal minds then in extracting the sty in our own eye. So our readers might have noticed that, in the early stages of the Afghanistan war, our attitude was that this would be a long slog, one in which we, like the Russians of yore, might see a lot of good young men disappear. Not to mention the disposable Afghanistani demographic - you know, kids, men, women, etc that tend to get combusted in a bombing war. The betail de guerre.

Well, the war was won swiftly, decisively, and by the same application of TAC -- tactical air command -- that had previously collapsed the Serbian opposition in Kosovo.

We don't do mea culpas around here, though, so forget it. We adapt. We take the machete, wipe it off, and wait for tomorrow. We talk tough, smoke cigs, and drink vodka out of dirty glasses. Apology is for the pussywhipped, we say to each other.


Patrick Cockburn in Counterpunch has a nice report on this 'Strange War." His idea, and I think this must be correct, is that the Taliban couldn't represent themselves as defenders of Afghanistan, as the mujahedeen had done against the Soviets, because they had exhausted their cred. He doesn't mention it, but surely part of the devil's deal with bin Laden is that the Taliban imported into the country a mercenary force. Bin Laden's terroristique theater starred Egyptians, Saudis, Algerians - Arabs, in short. A country in which ethnicity is negotiated at the point of a gun is not going to be too happy about this.

Here are two grafs from P.C.'s article:

"A problem of covering the war was that it was difficult to meet members of the Taliban. This was their own fault, since they had banned the media at the start of the crisis. After the fall of Kabul, I did meet Mullah Khaksar, who had been the deputy interior minister. He said: "They did not know what all the world knows, that the people hated them." Yet when the Taliban had first taken Kabul in 1996, he had "liked them because they provided security", he said � and he had not been alone.

The savage civil war between the different parties of the Northern Alliance has reduced most of Kabul to ruins. But the brutality of the Taliban and their obsession with controlling people's private lives meant that they had long outlived their welcome. The diminishing number of people who went to Kabul sports stadium to see alleged thieves have their hands amputated discovered that their bicycles were stolen while they watched. Even those fond of innocent pleasures such as kite-flying were rewarded with a beating or even prison."


Friday, December 07, 2001

Remora

A depressing interview (Saudi Arabia: Papering over the cracks
By Syed Saleem Shahzad) with a pseudonymous Saudi in the Asian Times contains a trenchant description of the Saudi theocracy functioning like a poisoned mind in a vat -- that intro to philosophy trope which has taken the place of Descartes much more elegant malin genie. In Descartes nightmare, the darkness of subjectivity has the black magic of making anything it contacts unreal. In the same way, the Saudi royal house has created a politics out of a geriatric delusion, while its opposition simply clings to another form of the delusion, even more purified of real content. The victory over secularism, which was subvented by the US to get rid of Nasser way back in the fifties, has succeeded, and man, the landscape is blasted. God, of course, is at the head of the table, and treats are handed out via the Royal family. Limited Inc was unaware that the Q'ran, by the Basic Law of 1992, was adopted as the Constitution of the State. For those who wonder how that works, here's a quote from the interviewee:

"The Saudi government has a board comprising Islamic scholars. Every issue is sent to them. These scholars evaluate the issues in the light of Islamic teaching and then forward their findings to the government. I believe this is the right way of doing things. The way Islamic scholars issue religious rulings in Pakistan is not right. [Without higher supervision] this will take the country towards anarchy. These religious rulings can only be issued by the state or by Islamic scholars nominated by the state. Now, under this discipline nobody can issue his own brand of ruling, and if he does it would be considered as an anti-state activity."

Ah, this is enough to send us reeling back to Marx, K. The only thing worse than the God that failed is the God that succeeded.

Thursday, December 06, 2001

Remora

Fox Butterfield has long been the NYT's point man in their war against gun ownership. His article in today's paper has that over the top, blind feeling of an idea metastasized - a cognitive tumor, if you will. That is, if you have that lingering nostalgia for the bill of rights that effuses Limited Inc now and then.

Here's the beginning graf:

"The Justice Department has refused to let the F.B.I. check its records to determine whether any of the 1,200 people detained after the Sept. 11 attacks had bought guns, F.B.I. and Justice Department officials say."

You can see Mr. Butterworth's indignation and astonishment that the illegal detention of a village full of innocent people was not thorough enough to cover their arms purchases. Such coddling! Such mindless respect for that last teensy human right! These are, after all, foreigners, or at least they have foreign names. In the long tradition of liberals being more ultra than the Pope, here's the NYT's ace reporter wondering why the Gov willfully impedes the total enjoyment of its victims -- Imagine, if you will, the great FDR being stopped by such tawdry constitutional considerations when it came to impounding Japanese Americans. Precedent, you know, weighs heavily. And all that.

Of course Dem legislators are cited who gravely shake their fists at the mamby pamby Bush regime. It makes us feel, here at Limited Inc., like, well, going down to the gun store.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

Remora

Inflation is a terrible underminer of value. We mentioned, a post back, that visionary is one of those bizolect terms which has an uncertain meaning, although the tribe seems to go into a happy frenzy whenever it is thrown around. Enron's meltdown has happened so fast that it has caused collateral spin damage. Usually a magazine likes to put some distance between its pumping up of some creature as the Lord's elect and its downgrading same creature as an obvious loser. But compare these two articles from the usually cool Economist -- on November 15, the word about Dynergy's 'visionary" (of course) chief exec, Chuck Watson, was that he was swallowing Enron with all the aplomb of a veteran fakir downing a piddling length of sword; on December 5, it turns out that Dynergy was being treated like Wall Street's beard, second choice for the prom and he betta appreciate it. Poor Chuck Watson, lauded a month ago for being some shrewd hick playin his cards close to his vest (although perhaps there was a hint in the Nov. 15th article, which starts out with an incoherent comparison to Jimmy Carter -- not, darling, a president visionaries like to be compared to) is barely through with the waxing phase of the spin cycle when he's rudely hustled out to the parking lot and hosed off:

"Wall Street thought that it had devised a way to stop the run on Enron, by arranging for it to be bought by Dynegy, which is backed by Chevron, a huge oil firm; and by arranging equity stakes, each worth $250m, for J.P. Morgan Chase and Citigroup. But this merger, as one of the bankers involved puts it, never created the �halo effect� that everybody wanted. Dynegy never gave the impression of being terribly keen on the deal, despite the bullying by bankers."

So it turns out that visionary Chuck is an oil tycoon Charlie Brown. How the mighty are fallen! My God, it makes one wonder whether the mags will start turning on our fearless leader, Bushypoo, and strip off the majesty with which he is now routinely crowned (somewhere, somebody has surely called him a visionary. Perhaps Limited Inc should start a contest? First sight of the Bushy-as-visionary quote?) if things start stinking next quarter. And I think things will, alas, start stinking next quarter.
"Ich sitze am Tage mit dem Skalpell und die Nacht mit den B�chern." -- G. Buchner.

Limited Inc's sentiments exactly, except that we mix our books with glasses of vodka, and our scalpel is, alas, all metaphor. Really, all day it is our dullard fingers tapping one gray day after another on the keyboard of this computer.
Nicholas Powell's review in the Financial Times, today, of Robert Wilson's direction of Woyzek, which is currently playing in Paris (it has been kicking about Europe for some time, apparently) reminded us of Buchner, and incidentally, the inestimable Bob Wilson, maybe the last of a breed that began in the good old Black Mountain days and is reaching its end in Wilson and the decaying Rauschenberg. Here's the central grafs in the review

"Woyzeck has proved perfect raw material, on the other hand, for American director Robert Wilson, whose version of this soldier's tale, with music and songs by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, is playing at the Theatre de l'Odeon. First produced inCopenhagen with Danish actors, the work is acted in a mixture of English and Danish, using both pre-recorded music and a live, five-piece band.

With its impeccable, meticulous direction and brilliant visual effects - colour-drenched backdrops, startling costumes, quirky props and sophisticated lighting tricks - this Woyzeck is typically Wilsonian and utterly riveting. Visually, Wilson's world sits, without the slightest con-cession to realism, somewhere in a nightmare - that of Woyzeck himself - half way between cabaret and circus. Not only the characters' costumes but also their freakish hairstyles and their features resemble those of sinister clowns or dolls. The exception is Woyzeck himself (Jens Jorn Spottag), a thicker built, unfunny version of Stan Laurel, exuding anxiety and childish incomprehension amid so much apparent evil."

Like everything Buchner ever wrote, (a small select group) Woyzeck exudes a certain lunar shine -- because surely it wasn't written by a man in the 1830s. Nor by a man some twenty years younger than me. Buchner was the man who fell to earth. Most sensibilities are tediously accountable to their times. Limited Inc is all too aware that the unzeitgemassige is lacking in our soul. We tick tick tick with common clocks, alas. But Buchner is an extreme case of a man out of time. You can't read Dantons Tod, or Lenz, or his letters, without astonishment. The man got to the end of the twentieth century while living in a semi-feudal pocket of the 19th.

Here's a fragment of dialogue in Woyzeck that is typical of Buchner. This is the captain growing philosophical while being shaved by Woyzeck, the good dumb soldier:

Es wird mir ganz angst um die Welt, wenn ich an die Ewigkeit denke. Besch�ftigung, Woyzeck, Besch�ftigung! Ewig: das ist ewig, das ist ewig - das siehst du ein; nur ist es aber wieder nicht ewig, und das ist ein Augenblick, ja ein Augenblick - Woyzeck, es schaudert mich, wenn ich denke, da� sich die Welt in einem Tag herumdreht. Was 'n Zeitverschwendung! Wo soll das hinaus? Woyzeck, ich kann kein M�hlrad mehr sehen, oder ich werd melancholisch.

"I get anxious about the world when I think about eternity. Activity, Woyzeck, pure activity! Eternal: that is eternal, that is eternal -- you can see that easily enough. Only there is something that isn't eternal, and that is a second, yes. A second -- Woyzeck, I get the willies when I think that the world turns around in one day. What kind of waste of time is that? What's the good of it? Woyzeck, I can't see a mill wheel anymore without getting melancholic."

That's the kind of dialogue I can imagine in a Coen brother's film -- come to think of it, the last Coen brother's film, The Man who Wasn't There, was a sort of noir Woyzeck. Given the unexpected literary references you come across in Coen films, this is probably not coincidental.

Monday, December 03, 2001

Remora

The vexed state of Israel. Limited Inc has not commented on Israel -- or if we have, we've forgotten it. The suicide bomber attacks yesterday have elicted a pro-Israeli response in the press that was as predictible as Pavlov's pups salivating to Pavlov's bell. Here's the WP's Howard Kurz:

"By the president�s logic, we should be going after the fanatics tolerated by Yasser Arafat too.

After all, what they have been doing in Israel -- prompting the dramatic retaliation this morning by Ariel Sharon�s government, which fired helicopter missiles near Arafat�s headquarters -- is little different from what Osama�s henchmen did in New York and Washington."

Actually, by the President's logic we should be going after the fanatics who cross from Pakistan to India to blow up things, but the press is much too polite to point this out.

The intractible, never ending story here is that Israel is not like the US. Here's an item that Kurz did not find worthy of comment that happened during the holidays:

"IDF forces laid the bomb that accidentally killed five Palestinian schoolboys in Khan Yunis on Thursday, the army announced last night.

The IDF had remained silent over the cause of Thursday's deadly explosion except to say no tank had fired a shell in that sector. OC Gaza Strip Brig.-Gen. Yisrael Ziv is participating in the inquiry, but he himself may have been behind the decision to lay the bomb."

The easy condemnation of the suicide bombers, which quickly becomes condemnation of Yasser Arafat, simply ignores Palestinian death tolls that aren't in the hundreds.However, Palestinians can't ignore them. Escalation is a strategy embraced by such as Yisrael Ziv, and Sharon himself, who owes the presidency to it.

Well, the reader might say, isn't this merely the tit for tat death toll politics Limited Inc has already condemned? Is this really the best Limited Inc can do about the meatchurning deaths of 25 innocents in the cafes and shops of Jerusalem and Haifi?
Well -- no. We can't rise to this ocassion. We can't neatly fold the moral horror -- the human horror -- into the politics. The Kurzes of the world have the advantage of selective indignation and the tv images to back it up. We do think that the pressure on Arafat is pointless if there is no pressure on the IDF. And we think that pressure is not going to come unless the Palestinians challenge the system -- not by strapping bombs to cars, but by taking those five Palestinian murders seriously. Arafat's failure is not that he tolerates Hamas, but that he doesn't seem to know how to respond to the IDF. And the breakdown which begins with the collapse of an independent judiciary able to curb the military in Israel soon spreads to the Israeli method of retaliating -- sending missiles blindly into Gaza, to the applause of American pundits. They are applauding madness. Limited Inc fails to get on the team, this morning. Sorry guys. We refuse to credit madness with reason.

Sunday, December 02, 2001

Remora

Enron, oh the burden of my song. As our readers have come to expect, Limited Inc possesses a Grudge-holder's hollow heart and it fills with bile and glee when our enemies (who generally, and puzzlingly, don't know who we are) tumble.

What is impressive, however, about the fall of Enron is how few mea culpas are floating around in the biz press. The excellent thing about doing journalism in America is that you can rely on your readership for 100% amnesia. If you announce the second coming of Christ is incarnate in the CEO of Behemoth Inc, and Behemoth turns out to have encouraged its accounting department to sleep with the seven mortal sins, well, nobody is going to hold you to your original turbo-charged prose. It's all spin.

So to put the current chaos in Houston in perspective, we provide this link to IndustryWeek.This 1998 profile of the company and its leader is shot through with that strange vocabulary of biz uplift. In particular, the idea that CEO's are visionaries is one uninvestigated by anthropologists, but seriously in need of study. Boss, gotta say, visionary is a strange vocation. It makes you wonder what would happen if a CEO literally started seeing visions -- in other words, went down the whacky path. Would anyone notice? Having a vision used to be the privilege of poets and prophets. The Rothschilds, the Carnegies, the Vanderbilts did not consider themselves visionaries, and would have been rather offended at being compared to a bunch of scrawny madmen seeing wheels of fire in Jerusalem, or feeling compelled by the Jehovah to sleep with trollops. It would be a fine subject for some socio-linguistics student to trace the root of the visionary metaphor into the Yankee biz-olect. Although is it a metaphor? Certainly in this Ken Lay profile, we are to believe that Enron, like the Mormon church, was built upon a literal blooming of vision in the New World:

"Kenneth L. Lay, the hard-driving chairman and CEO of Enron Corp. He keeps setting visions for the Houston-based energy conglomerate that are appropriately both long-term and tough. But then to everyone's surprise, including Wall Street's, he overruns them in astonishingly short periods of time.

At Enron, the long-term has merged seamlessly into the short-term. Right now, Lay is leading Enron through its third vision in only 10 years, having quickly surpassed two previous ones. The current version, adopted in 1995, calls for Enron to become no less than "the leading energy company in the world."

It's third vision in only 10 years? Perhaps companies that proceed by vision instead of the more humble business plan should be suspect anyway.

Saturday, December 01, 2001

Dope

Limited Inc quoted Milton a few days ago, and we were thinking, okay, our audience is probably begging, begging for a nicely polished post on the ever vexed question, is the Prince of Darkness the real hero of Paradise Lost, as Blake maintained? Even Blake, as far as I know, didn't think his was a proposition Milton consciously maintained. He shrank from it. Thus the lesser poetry of Paradise Regained. Consciousness is a coward; or to put it in more Blakean terms, one law for the Ox and the Lion is tyranny.

But Blake's idea reminded us of one of Leon Bloy's ideas, upon which Borges has written a lovely essay. Bloy's theology grows out of Paul's phrase in 1 Corinthians 13, after the hymn to caritas:

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood."

Borges teases out from Bloy's disparate writings (and if you have ever read Bloy, darling, you know just how scattered the man's thoughts were -- reading him is like watching a child slip the inner band out of a necklace and scatter its stones. A painful spectacle of brilliant waste) the radical consequences of Paul's metaphor. For indeed, what are we if we are fully understood elsewhere - it rather puts the whole effort to know oneself in the category of inveterate and sad illusion, doesn't it? If that isn't nightmarish enough, consider this quote of Bloy's:

'I recall one of my oldest ideas. The Czar is the leader and spiritual father of a hundred and fifty million men. An atrocious responsibility that is only apparent. Perhaps he is not responsible to God, but rather to a few human beings. If the poor of his empire are oppressed during his reign, if immense catastrophies result from that reign, who knows if the servant charged with shining his boots is not the real and sole person guilty? In the mysterious dispositions of the Profundity, who is really Czar, and who can boast of being a mere servant?'

Darkly foreshadowed, in this caprice, is the very form of the most inventive of the 20th century century's many modes of political oppression - the establishment of counterfeit hierarchies. That in Stalin's Russia a minister could be arrested by his chauffeur diffused suspicion universally through the society, for if positions meant nothing, then the police really were, virtually, all powerful. In this nightmare, a paler version of which is being promoted by John Ashcroft as a sovereign remedy against terrorists (back to the days of campus spies and agents provacateurs! who says conservatives didn't like the sixties!) one hierarchy fades into another. Theater and reality can't be told apart. Slowly the legitimacy of any authority is undermined; but this is not the anarchist vision of the realm of freedom, but its opposite, the realm of necessity grinding a stone in your face. One can only call upon the leader, then -- for in this playworld, hierarchy is cut off from its top, which has turned against it. This is the demonic form of charismatic rule.

Friday, November 30, 2001

Remora
Michael Thomas' column in the NYO, which is a jackdaw's nest of various bright and shiny objects (not that Limited Inc, in the nest of our own iridescent preening, objects) includes a little attack on Homi Bhabha. It flows from reporting that the Harvard football team beat the Yale football team (sports news of trifling importance) to this graf:

"That very same morning, The New York Times practically gasped with orgasmic excitement in reporting at length on another Harvard triumph: the appointment to a tenured professorship of one Homi K. Bhabha, a well-known spouter of multiculturist twaddle, bunkum and flapdoodle, formerly of the (it figures!) University of Chicago. This is an appointment that henceforth obliges us to capitalize the "cant" in "Cantabrigian." I have had my eye on this Bhabha for some time now, since I encountered him by chance on that invaluable Web site, Arts & Letters Daily (www.aldaily.com), and his stuff has to be read to be believed. He makes Derrida and Foucault sound like Orwell. Do you remember the ridiculous diction affected by the late Alec Guinness in the role of Professor Godbole in A Passage to India? Mr. Bhabha to the life! And now Godbole�s back, and Harvard�s got him!"

Now, Limited Inc has no love of jargon. But the idea that Foucault and Derrida are fonts of jargon, which seems set in stone among a newspaper commentariat whose contact with de la Grammatologie or Surveiller et Punir was limited to that sophmore class with the skinny Marxist prof, seems comic to us. The fact is, these guys only know the Frenchies by way of the jargony that were quoted about 1981 in New Criterion and have been recycled ever since. But this doesn�t mean we think Bhabha is on that level. No, reading this man, one is reminded less of Derrida and more of Faith Popcorn, or Tom Peters � basically, he aims at telling the tales of the tribe in the approved manner of the tribe. The tribe, of course, of lefty academics who are, at heart, simple souls, but are as ashamed of that simplicity as Adam and Eve were of their nudity when God made the housecall. So Bhabha�s usual course is to intro in ineffable Timespeak (an idiolect parodied to a t by Robert Coover in The Public Burning) and proceed in a confusing, affectless theory-speak, in which there�s no outside world, no test for whether an idea is good or bad, but only a high sensitivity to whether it is politically right or left. Here's a fragment from Bhabha's snoozer, Nation and Narration:

�Nations, like narratives, lose their origins in the myths of time and only fully realize their horizons in the mind's eye. Such an image of the nation - or narration - might seem impossibly romantic and excessively metaphorical, but it is from those traditions of political thought and literary language that the nation emerges as a powerful historical idea in the west. An idea whose cultural compulsion lies in the impossible unity of the nation as a symbolic force. This is not to deny the attempt by nationalist discourses persistently to produce the idea of the nation as a continuous narrative of national progress, the narcissism of self-generation, the primeval present of the Volk. Nor have such political ideas been definitively superseded by those new realities of internationalism, multi-nationalism, or even 'late capitalism', once we acknowledge that the rhetoric of these global terms is most often underwritten in that grim prose of power that each nation can wield within its own sphere of influence. What I want to emphasize in that large and liminal. image of the nation with which I began is a particular ambivalence that haunts the idea of the nation, the language of those who write of it and the lives of those who live it. It is an ambivalence that emerges from a growing awareness that, despite the certainty with which historians speak of the 'origins' of nation as a sign of the 'modernity' of society, the cultural temporality of the nation inscribes a much more transitional social reality.�
And so on. The nations like unspecified narratives (narratives, in this world, don�t really exist, they are simply all ineffably one, all immersed in the cosmic cum of just being that magical word, narrative) losing their origins in the myths of time is so close to National Geographic, circa 1959, having them lose their origins in the mists of time, that I wonder if there isn�t some homophonic thing goin down, here � if Dr. Freud is in the house, please call. But after we lift ourselves out of these myths of time (hmm, I wonder if he is talking about the castration of Chronos, here? Otherwise, I have no clue as to what myths of time these are, or why they are myths, or how myths aren�t narratives tout court, or whether the narrative of national progress is the same as that myth of national regress by which, for instance, 19th century German nationalists sought to unify the Reich as a competitor to France and Britain (but here, of course, I�m indulging in the myth and the mist of history -- aberrant factism is banned, as we know, from the Island of Laputa)), we make the long climb through narcissism and liminality to the vecu � the lives, ah yes, of those who are living �it� � the it of course being language, or ambivalence, or the liminal image, or something. But we are with those living Volk ourselves, we are united with them, in Homi Bhabha�s world.
In the room the women come and go/talking of Michaelangelo, after all.

Thursday, November 29, 2001

Remora

"...headlong themselves they threw
Down from the verge of Heaven: eternal wrauth 865
Burnt after them to the bottomless pit.
�Hell heard the unsufferable noise; Hell saw
Heaven ruining from Heaven, and would have fled
Affrighted; but strict Fate had cast too deep
Her dark foundations, and too fast had bound. 870
Nine days they fell; confounded Chaos roared,
And felt tenfold confusion in their fall
Through his wild Anarchy; so huge a rout
Incumbered him with ruin. Hell at last,
Yawning, received them whole, and on them closed� 875
Hell, their fit habitation, fraught with fire
Unquenchable, the house of woe and pain.
Disburdened Heaven rejoiced, and soon repaired
Her mural breach, returning whence it rowled."


Which is how John Milton described the fall of Enron. Less cosmically, the NYT describes the tenfold confusion in Houston in this way:

"Enron's swift collapse left the prospects of 21,000 employees in doubt and wiped out what was left of the holdings of stock investors, including some big mutual funds, as shares that sold for $90 in August 2000 crashed to close yesterday at 61 cents. It roiled the Treasury market and tarnished the standing of the big New York banks that both advised on the deal and poured their own cash into the company. And it left in tatters the reputation of Enron's chief executive, Kenneth L. Lay, a confidant and campaign backer of President George W. Bush.

The Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said they had monitored Enron's impact on the financial and energy markets yesterday; officials who would comment said they saw no dangerous ripple effect."

CNN commentator Mike Sivy has already drawn the Lessons of Enron -- although a year ago the teaching and the prophets and the very constellations in the sky were differently disposed. Here's Sivy's sense of the fall:

"First, let's just take a moment of silence to register the sheer scale of the Enron disaster. $85 to 65 cents in less than a year. That's like something from a television sitcom. Even more incredible, there were a fair number of analysts recommending the stock even after it was down 95 percent. One poor fellow actually downgraded the stock from "strong buy" to "hold" on Wednesday. And top mutual fund companies, such as Janus, were major shareholders as recently as the end of the third quarter."

Well, at Limited Inc we are mere peasants, but we still wonder how, given that we are seeing the largest bankruptcy in history -- one that is being aggravated by the inability of Satan, or in this case Ken Lay, to bend his knee to that great divinity, arithmatic - we wonder how that disaster concords with the Treasury department, the Federal Reserve, and the FERC conclusion that the market will soon repair her mural breach, and we'll all be able to turn our lonely eyes to Saddam Hussein or similar villains while driving our SUVs to the mall for Christmas. Hmm. Something seems out of focus in this picture. Are these the same guys who're investigating the anthrax letters?

We are reminded of the doings of 1901. A hundred years ago, James Hill discovered that his company, the Northern Pacific Railroad, was being bought out from under him by his deadly rival, Edward Harriman. Hill's ally, J.P. Morgan, directed a counter-strategy, but the share of stock available, by the time battle was joined, was not great. Now, the battle attracted a lot of short sellers, who pledged, as short sellers do, to sell stock they didn't yet possess. They were betting, of course, that Northern Pacific Stock would go down, do that they could make a handy profit on the spread between the price they sold for and the price they bought for. But here's what happened. The price, on May 9, went up. It opened at 320, then it went up to 700, then 1000. Shorts were ruined, of course, and having to liquidate their other assets, other stocks fell sharply. At the end of the day, Northern Pacific fell 675 from its high when the brokers basically stopped the battle between Harriman and Hill and put some stock on the block. The panic in the markets, caused by, basically, a shark fight, stimulated public revulsion of a kind that made regulation of the market politically possible.

As for what will happen now that Enron lies in ruins, and commentators near and far assure us that there was nothing wrong with the model ("energy de-regulation now, energy de-regulation forever" is the motto of these stalwarts), well it depends on whether anybody is paying attention as our gov picks gingerly through the bones.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Remora

Clash of civilizations -- the continuing saga.
An article about an exorcism turned bad in New Zealand gives us a little Weegee snap of the sometimes dark alleys of the Christian faith. In this instance, a Korean pastor bounced on one of the members of his congregation while she was held down by other members of his congregation. He grabbed her neck, he roughhoused her, she cried out. He went after that devil inside her body with his faith's customary singlemindedness, but he ended up killing the poor woman. At first the minister though that her spirit had merely gone to heaven for a brief respite, a strictly R & R stay. When her body turned black, he explained that this was just God's way of renewing her. But God's ways aren't man's, and the pastor was duly reported to the police, who took him in on a murder charge.

A sad story all the way around, but enlivened a bit by expert testimony from another exorcist (the intersection of the courtroom and expertise produces, the most enchanting monsters of reason):

"Longtime evangelist Wilfred Subritsky, who has written books on casting out demons and who has done thousands of deliverances, told the jury that it was only necessary to lightly place hands on a possessed person for him or her to be touched by the Holy Spirit.

Under no circumstances would he try to physically force a demon from a person."

Such are the disputes between the high doctors of the church.

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

nothing
Remora

Limited Inc is no fan of either John Rawls or Ronald Dworkin. Philosophers who produce casuistry which reads like memos from Kafka's Castle, are, in our eyes, under grave suspicion of boring without a licence. Unless they are doing something completely original -- you know, like exploring the ontology of holes. But in the conservative City Journal there is an attack on the dull duo that is below par even by the debased standards of the Manhattan Institute (the foundation, darling, that puts out the journal). In an article by John Kekes, we are forced, at a certain point, to feel some lukewarm solidarity with the pair. Dull they may be, but they don't deserved to be sniped at by a moron. Not that Kekes is a moron, of course -- for all we know he might put on his pants one leg at a time like anybody else. But judging by the quality of this article, he probably tries to put them on three legs at a time, and trips into the dresser in the process.

Here's how Kekes makes his overall point in 1 and one half astonishing grafs:

"After all, a just government ought to treat everyone with equal consideration, and, they assert, doing so requires legislation aimed at the equalization of property. This economic egalitarianism goes far beyond the uncontroversial claim that people should have equal political and legal rights. Economic egalitarianism requires depriving the 86 percent of citizens who live above the poverty level of a substantial portion of their legally owned property in order to give it to the 14 percent who live below it.

The impassioned egalitarian rhetoric that asserts this supposed obligation cows many people into acquiescence. But no such obligation exists, and the appeal to it is absurd, because it requires the equalization of the property of rapists and their victims, welfare cheats and taxpayers, spendthrifts and savers. No reasonable person can believe that we are obliged to treat the moral and immoral, the prudent and imprudent, the law-abiding and the criminal with equal consideration. While we may have an obligation to help those who are poor through no fault of their own, it is absurd to suppose that if, as a result of bad choices, people find themselves below the poverty level, then it becomes the obligation of the government to help them by confiscating a considerable portion of the property of everyone else."

Now, anybody who has read Rawls justification of welfare, which is about minimum standards of bien-etre, knows that Kekes is not just caricaturing Rawls, but living on another planet. Only such a lunar habitation would explain finding "impassioned egalitarian rhetoric' in A theory of Justice. It is as impassioned as an accountant's christmas card -- ask any poor philosophy student. Even his percentages seem screwy. Why would 86 percent of citizens above the poverty level have to be deprived of a "substantial portion of their property" in order to equalize the amount held by the 14 percent below it -- that would only be true if the 14 percent below it were enormously below it, and if the 86 percent, who were equidistant from the 14 percent, held an amount of wealth that was, coincidentally, both substantially part of their collected wealth, and equal to the sum which the 14 percent would have to possess in order to be equal to the 86 percent. Of course, that is absurd to begin with. We could repair Kekes argument slightly if we were given corollary figures to decide this issue (as in some sum for the total wealth in the system, some sums for how that wealth is really divided up, etc) but what is the point? Since Kekes ignores the fact that the 86 percent and the 14 percent cover, inter alia, enormous internal differences in wealth, what we have, here, is a veritable aria of nonsense. Limited Inc only hopes that Kekes limits the intellectual damage he does to the confines of academia, and doesn't seek a job in the world of, say, business; although if he must, we'd recommend the accounts received department at Enron -- he'd be a perfect Enron man, where the motto is: math illiteracy no bar to advancement! Of course, this is besides the main point, which is that there is nothing in Rawls or Dworkin that envisions that kind of transfer of wealth. It is one thing to make a case for a reductio ad absurdam - that, in other words, the logic Rawls or Dworkin is using would lead us down the old slippery slope to Kekes conclusion; it is another thing to start with ad absurdam and freefall like a mad parachutist. Kekes, though, is only compounding an unfortunately common error among the "impassioned" rhetoricians of the right. We are reminded of Plato's early dialogue, Euthydemus, in which Socrates engages with two brothers, Euthydemos and Dionysodorus, who've just learned "philosophy" - that is, they've learned how to play with the connotations and denotations of words. Actually, in the almost Beckettian comedy of this dialogue, we find Kekes' spiritual lumpen ancestors -- people who simply can't think. An unfortunate handicap for a thinker. When Euthydemus proves that not only is he not Dionysodorus' brother, but that Socrates has no father, we come upon an uncannily familiar logic, one applied everyday by the George Wills, the John Kekes, and the Weekly Standards of this world:

What, replied Dionysodorus in a moment; am I the brother of
Euthydemus?
Thereupon I said, Please not to interrupt, my good friend, or
prevent Euthydemus from proving to me that I know the good to be
unjust; such a lesson you might at least allow me to learn.
You are running away, Socrates, said Dionysodorus, and refusing to
answer.
No wonder, I said, for I am not a match for one of you, and a
fortiori I must run away from two. I am no Heracles; and even Heracles
could not fight against the Hydra, who was a she-Sophist, and had
the wit to shoot up many new heads when one of them was cut off;
especially when he saw a second monster of a sea-crab, who was also
a Sophist, and appeared to have newly arrived from a sea-voyage,
bearing down upon him from the left, opening his mouth and biting.
When the monster was growing troublesome he called Iolaus, his nephew,
to his help, who ably succoured him; but if my Iolaus, who is my
brother Patrocles [the statuary], were to come, he would only make a
bad business worse.
And now that you have delivered yourself of this strain, said
Dionysodorus, will you inform me whether Iolaus was the nephew of
Heracles any more than he is yours?
I suppose that I had best answer you, Dionysodorus, I said, for
you will insist on asking that I pretty well know-out of envy, in
order to prevent me from learning the wisdom of Euthydemus.
Then answer me, he said.
Well then, I said, I can only reply that Iolaus was not my nephew at
all, but the nephew of Heracles; and his father was not my brother
Patrocles, but Iphicles, who has a name rather like his, and was the
brother of Heracles.
And is Patrocles, he said, your brother?
Yes, I said, he is my half-brother, the son of my mother, but not of
my father.
Then he is and is not your brother.
Not by the same father, my good man, I said, for Chaeredemus was his
father, and mine was Sophroniscus.
And was Sophroniscus a father, and Chaeredemus also?
Yes, I said; the former was my father, and the latter his.
Then, he said, Chaeredemus is not a father.
He is not my father, I said.
But can a father be other than a father? or are you the same as a
stone?
I certainly do not think that I am a stone, I said, though I am
afraid that you may prove me to be one.
Are you not other than a stone?
I am.
And being other than a stone, you are not a stone; and being other
than gold, you are not gold?
Very true.
And so Chaeredemus, he said, being other than a father, is not a
father?
I suppose that he is not a father, I replied.
For if, said Euthydemus, taking up the argument, Chaeredemus is a
father, then Sophroniscus, being other than a father, is not a father;
and you, Socrates, are without a father."

Ah, I can only imagine the young Kekes nodding vigorously to this, and noting in the margin: Socrat. has no father! Interesting!!!! Must note - perhaps a virgin b.?