“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

Friday, January 11, 2002

Dope

Since no one responded to the "replace Remora" contest, Limited Inc spent some time bent over our dictionary, then the Shakespeare, then surfing through various columnists. So far, we haven't settled on a name. So we will continue to use "Dope" and think about linguistics until inspiration strikes.

Well, the headlines are Enron inspired, as the news wakes up to the fact that Enron was in bed with the Bush Administration. This is as unexpected as hearing that some Hollywood starlet is sleeping around. The Bush administration was pretty damn proud of its bedmate until recently. But like some chastened, though still eminently corrupt financial "advisor," the Bushies are pulling back on their investment. It is hard to see this as more than a passing scandal, however. The press still doesn't understand Enron's collapse; the biz press is unanimously on the side of "de-regulation." And the public is acquiescent, even to the extent that polls have shown no resistance to de-regulation even though they have also shown a majority expects that de-regulation will entail a price hike. If the nineties were about anything, they were about the crushing of the will to resist. Although it is gratifying to see anti-WTO protesters throng the streets when the WTO is in town, it isn't enough, right now. In the backlash atmosphere of Bush year one, it is easy to foresee questions about Enron's role in directing Bush policy being labelled unpatriotic. Don't forget, this prez is on a Heros bubble gum card now.
The WP story includes this characteristic Bushy touch:

"Bush reimbursed Enron for the use of its corporate jet during his presidential campaign, and was feted by company officials at Enron Field, home of the Houston Astros, seven months before the election. The Houston Chronicle has reported that Bush conferred a series of nicknames on Enron chief executive Kenneth L. Lay, including "Kenny Boy.'"

Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Dope

As my readers can plainly see, the contest for renaming the Remora category on this site fell still-born from the press -- not that Limited Inc is greatly surprised, since falling still born from the press does seem to be the fate attaching to every post I've written on this site, from July onwards.

We are not amused; because we are, in our own humble opinion, amusing. Although can we trust our own own humble opinion? because we also firmly believe the great intellects of the past pale in relation to our merest subclause. It has been pointed out to us that we suffer from egomania.

Alas, today we suffer from a physical, rather than metaphysical, ailment. Fever racks my bones. Mysterious aches are playing the boogie woogie on my spinal column. Luckily we were visited a friend of mine, mentioned in previous posts, who plays a role in my life similar to Scheherazade -- not that I am planning on beheading her. No, the deal with this woman is that she can tell me 1001 stories in one night. I was hoping she would come by, and so when she did, I had a Proustian moment, the invalid's feverish hope realized in an entrance. She bore healthful gifts -- chicken soup, grapefruit, and water. This friend sets great store by water, so I even drank it: of course, Limited Inc is always reminded of the great W.C. Fields joke about not drinking water, because fish fuck in it. The problem with modern water is that fish don't fuck in it. Often, instead, they suffocate in it, in great Dead Zones, or are poisoned by run-off, or invaded by parasites suddenly endemic to artificially warmed currents. But that is for another day.

I've always been a hypochondriac. But my hypochondria takes the form of imagining strange and obsolete diseases, like Gout, or Dropsy, that I might have. Today I was thinking I had pellagra. Since I don't know what pellagra is, I decided to check out a helpful site, and get the scoop.

... And what a scoop. Here are the symptoms of pellagra, just in case you were thinking you had it too:

"In the United States, pellagra has often been called the disease of the four D's -- dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia, and death.'

The NIH site celebrates one of those pioneering doctors whose fictional analogues haunt the pages of Balzac and Zola -- medicine was, after all, positivism on the grass-roots level. And science, of course, required a view of the human body at odds with ten thousand years of doctrine. For ten thousand years, the human body was subject to witchcraft. It was subject to analogy. It was subject to the universal idea of eternal life -- a view of the body that is hard for today's average Joe to envision, in spite of the light sprinkling of out of body death experiences that Readers Digest eagerly purveys.

But let's cut to the chase -- the doctor, Joseph Goldberger, has quite a story.

""Bored and intellectually restless in private practice in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the young, shy physician joined the United States Marine Hospital Service, (later the U.S. Public Health Service or PHS) in 1899 at the beginning rank of Assistant Surgeon earning an annual salary of $1,600. Ironically, the immigrant from central Europe began his public health service career inspecting immigrants in the port of New York. However, it was not long before his epidemiological skills earned Goldberger the reputation of a tenacious and clever epidemic fighter.


Between 1902 and 1906, Goldberger heroically battled epidemic diseases. He fought yellow fever in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Mississippi, and Louisiana, contracting the disease himself His efforts earned him a promotion to the rank of Passed Assistant Surgeon in 1904 and later, an introduction to Mary Farrar, grandniece of Varina Davis, the widow of Confederate President, Jefferson Davis. In 1906, the immigrant Jewish physician from New York's Lower East Side married the daughter of a wealthy and socially prominent Episcopalian attorney from New Orleans over the religious objections of both families."

Wow, Jeff Davis' grandniece. The bones of that old racist must have been rattling in his grave.

Once in the South, Goldberger decided to track down the Pellagra germ. But he soon grew convinced that the germ theory, which was to that time what the genetic theory of disease is to ours, was wrong in this case. He got the governor of Mississippi to give him twelve healthy prisoners. Hey, they were promised freedom, if they only ate a very restricted diet. They soon came down with pellagra. So Goldberger triumphed, right? Oh no, he was attacked as a fraud for years. And in the twenties, his predictions about an epidemic of pellagra in the poor South were greeted as a slander on Southern manhood.
The South, as we know, has a higher percentage of meatheads in it than other parts of the country. And before the peanut gallerys starts lofting shells at me, remember: Limited Inc is from Georgia.

Ironically, Goldberger never isolated the vitamin that was deficient in pellagra cases. It was niacin, Vitamin B.
So I don't think I have pellagra -- I ate my cornflakes this morning.
A question hangs here, though -- what about those prisoners? Did the good guv'nah of Mississippi give them their freedom, as the guys in O brother where art thou, or did he renege. Or did they even survive that last D -- it's a killer.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

Remora

Readers should note Le Monde's beautiful, and somewhat fallacious, essay by Albert Manguel about the end of Argentina. All countries, he claim, rest on the shared fiction that they exist. A philosopher might call them intensional objects, meaning those entities which presuppose the agreement of subjects that they are as long as the subjects agree they are. This is a little different than what we mean by saying that mountains, or rivers, or trees are. Intensional things are as long as there are subjects for whom they are. These things are like dreams are. So nations, as fictions, extrude themselves crudely in anthems and slogans, in ads and editorials, in law courts and prisons. The nation is the Song of itself, the supreme act of subjectivity; it negotiates the distance between Descartes cogito ergo sum and Louis XIV's l'etat, c'est moi -- the state thinks itself into being in the heads of its citizens.

The question is, can this daydream of reason exist after the daydreamers have committed every vicious act in its name? We know that in one sense it can, and in one sense it can't. Germany survived Hitler -- but only because the Germans convinced themselves, at first, that Hitler never existed. That is, he existed in spite of the Germans. Generations have passed, and this fiction has been discarded, but only because it can be, in the same way that Hollywood can now show Indians as the noble warriors from whom a continent was wrested. Hollywood isn't crazy -- nobody is planning on giving the continent back. That nation, in those heads, ceased. From this point of view, history is a game of deniability. Those who are ostensibly proudest of the actions of our forefathers have no intention of indemnifying the sons and daughters of the slaves of our forefathers -- this is to take the daydream a little too far.

Here's what Manguel says about Argentina:

Il existe une tournure d'esprit que nous avons (� tort) qualifi�e de machiav�lique, celle qui porte � croire que l'on peut tout se permettre dans le but de s'agrandir, y compris d'enfreindre la loi. Les tyrans grecs, les c�sars romains, les papes et empereurs la poss�daient ; elle a d�clench� des guerres, justifi� des atrocit�s, caus� des souffrances indicibles ; en fin de compte, elle a toujours provoqu� l'effondrement des soci�t�s dans lesquelles elle s'�tait enracin�e. En Argentine, elle s'est manifest�e d�s l'aube de la R�publique, avec le meurtre du jeune r�volutionnaire Mariano Moreno. Elle est devenue officielle au XIXe si�cle sous la tyrannie de Juan Manuel de Rosas, acceptable au temps des oligarques et des propri�taires terriens au d�but du XXe, populaire sous Per�n. Enfin, sous la dictature militaire, elle a min� la soci�t� sous tous ses angles, ignor� toute l�galit�, fait de la torture et du meurtre les instruments quotidiens du gouvernement, infect� le langage et la pens�e.

Limited Inc.'s translation: "There exists a humor that we have (falsely) qualified as machievellian, which tends to assure us that we can permit ourselves anything in the process of growing great, including violating the law. The greek tyrants, the roman cesaers, the popes and emperors possessed this turn of mind; it started wars, justified atrocities, caused unspeakable suffering; and in the end, it has always provoked the collapse of those societies in which it has rooted. In Argentina, at the very dawn of the Republic it manifested itself in the murder of the young revolutionary, Mariano Moreno. It became official in the 19th century, under the tyranny of Juan Manuel de Rosas, acceptable in the time of the oligarchs and the landholders of the beginning of the 20th centruy, popular under Peron. In the end, under the military dictatorship, it totally undermined society, ignoring all equality, making of torutre and murder the quotidien instruments of government, infecting the language and the thought."

Well, Limited Inc is inevitably reminded of our own condemn�s. We received a letter from one of our far flung correspondants today. She enclosed a Salon article about a scholar at a Florida University in Tampa who has been fired for having spoken out against Israel on the Bill O'Reilly show. Fla.'s guv, the ludicrous Bush brother, Jeb, applauded. The man in question, Sami Al-Arian, turns out to hav had the rich, rancid experience of Uncle Sam's hot breath on his neck before: the FBI arrested his brother-in-law,
"a soft-spoken scholar named Mazen Al-Najjar, for unspecified terrorist associations. Al-Najjar -- the brother of Al-Arian's wife, Nahla -- had arrived at Tampa in 1981 and earned a doctorate at USF. Al-Najjar was arrested under then new antiterrorism laws allowing suspects to be held on the basis of secret evidence, without the precise charge being revealed in court. For the next three and a half years, Al-Najjar would remain in Bradenton prison without anyone -- not his lawyers, not even the judge --
ever seeing the purported evidence against him."

Can such things be? Limited Inc understands that mix of fear and smugness that reduces the canned suburban masses to silence, or to short term self-interest, or to right-wing myth. Still, Limited Inc would urge some effort, some strength of will here. The military in Argentina took hold in conditions of similar black magic. You think it can't happen here? Wake up, honey. It's all happening..

Monday, January 07, 2002

Dope

Limited Inc is thinking of changing the name for the Remora category. And let's be interactive about it, shall we? A little contest, my many many eager readers? Or at least my one or two. We need a label that is as au courant as an Enron exec's Swiss bank account , but as ironic as one of David Foster Wallace's footnotes. Please, use the little comment machinery thingy.

On another note, we should keep you up to date on our impoverishment -- always a big theme here at Limited Inc. Yes, December has passed, and our workload has seemingly gone down the old toilet -- we query, we query, and we receive the rare word back that this year, media is re-engineering, renewing its faith in the automatic 20% per year profit margin by getting rid of its deadwood -- the book sections, the freelancers, etc. That means, no eatin' in February for us! It is, of course, hard to get through a month without eating, but Limited Inc is stocking up on the vodka now, in order to weather the storm. An old trick from the de-kulakization days.

Now, down to serious business. And for that, what better place than the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal? Having an asset they have no intention of distributing for free, the WSJ isn't linkable. But we read Mark Falcoff's op-ed piece, Argentina has a choice: Peronism or Modernity, and we couldn't think of a better example of the iron logic of globalisation in its Post-Keynsian guise.

Key graf for us is near the end:
" ... let no one assume that Argentina can solve its problems by moving backwards. In recent weeks there has been much talk about the "good old days" of classic Peronism, with boom and psen populism delivering effortless wealth to every Argentine family. Presumably, experiments with a new, floating currency,a default on foreign debts, or subsidies for unproductive (and uncompetitive) industries could put people back to work, but not for long. In the past, such policies could only be financed through heavy foreign borrowing. With the country in virtual default on $132 billion dollars in obligations, that expedient is simply not a prospect."

Ah, the wonders of globalisation. Nations, like kine being lead down the corridor to the slaugher chamber, are continually being told they can't "move backwards." Why? Because the butchers aren't going to let them. Butchers usually tranquilize the ungulates to make them more pliable. Falcoff spots the butcher's drug in his last sentence, but because he is wearing ideological blinders, he doesn't ponder its essential wonder. If he were more, let us say, Marxist, he might be curious about the historical provenance of that debt. He might even do a little research, and that research would tell him that the majority of the first 60 billion dollars was accumulated under the military junta, with the strong support, until that unfortunate Falklands business, of the US government. He might even wonder why else they would be lending to Argentina at that time -- was Citycorp so tenderhearted under Walter 'Santa Claus' Wriston that they lent to make sure the Argentine family had a guaranteed, inefficient job? And Falcoff might even, in this Marxist moment, ask about the accumulation of the other 60 billion dollars worth of debt. Guess what? It was taken on under Menem and Cavallo's shock treatment regime, when the enterprises were freed, the peso was matched to the dollar, and according to the WSJ, Argentina was proving that Reaganism on the international level was the only way to go (a self fulfilling prophecy -- you can't go backwards when you've sold off your assets to the most corrupt bidder. You especially can't go home again when you torched it and don't even have enough in your budget to pay the firemen).

And say Falcoff decided to throw caution to the wind and even become Leninist. Then he might ask about the motives international lenders have for loaning 130 billion dollars to a country that now "makes up around 20 per cent of JP Morgan's Emerging Market Bond Index Global," according to the Financial Times. Emerging Market hucksters have said, aw shucks, the ratio between debt and GDP will be just fine if Argentina grows at 4.3%. That it has experience negative growth for the last three years, a pretty spectacular correction of -3.5% in 99, doesn't bother the Emerging Marketeer for good reason -- they are in the unique situation of having their risks cared for by such international organizations as the IMF and the World Bank. If Argentina defaults, and Limited Inc sees reason to think it will, the Emerging Marketeers will finally have to face up to the real world -- if you give excessive credit to an excessive debtor because the interest rate and the options on the interest rate are way cool, and you get your kneecaps blown off -- well, a version of caveat emptor, as the crack dealers say, kicks in.


Sunday, January 06, 2002

Remora

What did you do in the Great Recession, Daddy?

Well, as analysts on Wall Street bubble with bull opportunities afforded by the rest of this year -- that good old V bounce to the recession -- reality out there isn't so happy. With the Federal Reserve becoming, basically, the Office of Moral Hazard, always willing to cut rates in order to keep equities from finding traditional p/e levels that would bring the Dow Jones Average crashing 2000 some points, the market in housing and autos was banner last year. But banner at what cost? Enron shows what happens when a company is taken apart by the whitewater currents of the futures market -- small bets can become big losses, as was the experience of Barings, of Long Term Capital Management, of the Orange County Teachers retirement fund, of... well, the list goes on.

In order to prevent sales from slumping, Detroit used the Fed's party-time philosophy to finance an incredible issue of credit. This is a balancing act that is reminiscent of the situation the S&Ls faced in 1979 -- in that year, they had to balance the sharp, short term spike on interest with long term housing loans that were pegged to yesteryear's lesser interest rate. Inflationary discounted inflow did not make up for inflationary magnified outflow. Result: changes in the usury and loaning laws that eventually wrecked the industry. Here, we have the inverse situation, with short term interest unnaturally low. If the Fed ratchets up the rate this year, as any good and prudent monetarist would advice, it is going to squeeze Detroit like a sucked lemon. The game plan seems to have been, avoid a sales downturn by any means necessary. But if you hold the firesale, you better have had a fire. Well, this year the story is going to be about a fire foretold. This means legislation will soon be trucking through congress to give the Big Three some special and stupid breaks. We won't hear from any congressmen about how stupidly these companies have used their credit -- unlike the preaching we heard from the high and mighty Senate when they were crafting bankruptcy laws to penalize the poor individual debtor.

If that doesn't happen -- well, take away Limited Inc's prophecy licence and throw our body to the street, where the dogs can lick up our blood. What was good enough for Jezebel is good enough for us.


Here's the NYT:

"In 2001, total auto sales stayed at a near- record level, especially after Sept. 11, largely because G.M. and Ford leaned heavily on their financing businesses to pump up sales. But that burst of interest-free financing deals was just the latest in a string of deal making that led to swelled portfolios of leases and car loans taken on by Ford Motor Credit and the General Motors Acceptance Corporation (news/quote), known as G.M.A.C., in the last five years.

Unlike their foreign rivals, which have developed stables of models that buyers actually will pay more for, Ford and G.M. have relied more on incentives like low- interest loans and cheap leases to attract customers. The automakers have ponied up billions of dollars to their financing units to make up the difference on the below-market financing."

Fun facts to know and tell:

Ford Motor Credit financed more than half of the vehicles Ford Motor sold last year. G.M.A.C. financed more than 40 percent of G.M. sales. At G.M.A.C., 85 percent of loans made in 2000 had some subsidy.

This is a huge shift in loaning practice, to corporate subsidiaries who have every interest in making unsafe loans. If there's a large fall out in those loans, watch the Federal Gov come up with some cozy loan insurance plan.