Saturday, November 03, 2001


Put the current deadlock in Congress in the growing list of things that haven't changed since Everything has changed. Tom Delay, who might be the best friend the Democrats have in Congress, pretty much kicked ass on the House vote that killed federalizing screeners. The real deal here is, why pay anything for defense of the Heimat when we could all just equip our private persons with guns? That obviously is in the Sugarland rep's mind, a mind forged in Texas and exhibiting all the qualities that make Texans proverbially obnoxious.

The Times story today quotes the usual airline officials saying that spending bucks on security is a huge priority, meaning sub voce that it ranks just below finding cheaper peanut packet dealers. And all the usual wonks say they have studied every aspect of the baggage system (the very thought of studying every aspect of the baggage system makes Limited Inc reach for our coffee and gulp a big caffeine laden swallow), and that basically, we are being screwed. Screeners from McDonalds, an antiquated bag matching system, and some airlines are training their pilots to use stun guns. Is this America, united, fighting against terrorism? Or is it corporations and Repubs fighting against decency and common sense? Okay, it is the latter, I'm not asking the tough questions this morning. Back thought has to be, they've done the plane strategy, surely they'll move on to the dams or nuclear power plants or something.

Here are two grafs:
"Critics note what they regard as a pattern of slow response by the government and airlines to air disasters.

Bag matching has been debated since the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988. The new federal rules on airport screening that were scheduled to be issued in mid-September were devised after the crash of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island in July 1996. Implementation of the rules, which call for tripling classroom training for screeners, among other steps, was delayed for two-and-a-half years while the F.A.A. tried to figure out how to measure screeners' performance. The agency now says it has held off imposing the rules until Congress agrees on new security legislation."

Yes, infinite, infinite imbecility.

Brent, of the Weblog review, sent us notice that Limited inc was being reviewed there today. We'd submitted in the hope of sweetness and light and blurbs. He seems enthusiastic enough about us to rank us just below a man whose claim to immortality is posting pix of naked gals on his site. This is not exactly the kind of applause we were shilling for. We like to think the comparison is with Adorno's Minima Moralia, or Peguy's Cahier; instead, the competition is with boobs on a stick. Oh how the mighty are fallen.

Further site specific comments. I've installed a comments code thingy, and we will see if it works this time. I noticed that my archives get that awful AOL dialogue box about do you want to continue using scripts, which is a drag. But I am hopeful I'll iron out the kinks.
Hey, if you read Limited Inc regularly, you might want to pitch some pennies in our pot. This is a call to all good men and women of conscience -- the rent's overdue, the electricity is overdue, and the liquor bills are insurmountable. So send us checks, money orders, or warm women's undergarments: Make your check out to Roger Gathman, 615 Upson, #203 Austin, Texas 78703. We'd say, hey, you'll feel better, but really, who cares about you? We just want to make it to next month.

LimitedInc has made known its shameless crush on the NYT's Gretchen Morgenson. Some have compared it to the howling of a mangy, dying dog at the full moon; others, more mercifully, have compared it to an aging groupy's vain attempts to tempt teen Christian rockers into a three-way. Be that as it may, Limited Inc does not have the same hormonal surge for Floyd Norris. Sometimes his column stirs up thought, and sometimes dust. Today's is a little warning about deflation, with the reminder that hey, deflation is what happens during depressions. Although of course that isn't wholly fair - the great deflation of the 19th century, as we all know, while immiserating peasants and artisans, was a great boon to the urban proletariat and all who made their bread out of the workingman's bones.

Well, Norris takes the opportunity to advise the Fed. Here are two relevant grafs:

"Lower interest rates this year have kept the housing and auto sectors from collapsing, as they usually do early in economic downturns. But housing has started to weaken. "It now appears that a downward path of housing prices will accentuate the negative wealth effect from the stock market's decline," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

A decade ago, Japan's central bank was slow to loosen credit after its bubble burst. There is no way to prove its reticence was the cause of Japan's malaise, but it did not help. It is a precedent that Mr. Greenspan surely recalls."

Well, not causing and not helping are a pretty vague jam to put in the gaps in the story of Japan's excellent bust. It is part of the superstition of the era that central banks operate a little switch when they tighten or loosen money - that they operate as the heart of the financial body. There the central bankers are with their waterworker caps on, turning faucets on and off, and here we are strung out along the financial circuits, getting just the right amount of juice. But Norris's quaint idea about loosening credit ignores the backstory: the Japanese housing market is differently structured than ours, and lowering credit when a real estate bubble like Tokyo's is busting might not make a whole hell of a lot of difference. I mean, to cover his ass on that point, Norris has to reference the speed of the cuts -- but when you cut as much as the Japanese did and the patient is dead, it is hard to see that the speed had too much to do with it. Capital doesn't appear magically when it can get a better rate of return elsewhere, which is why Japanese money fled to the USA. And really, when, as in the heyday of the Japanese insanity, Golf Club memberships are selling for five million bucks, you know the system has gone too screwy to be fixed by your friendly central bankers. Norris is citing the Japanese example to wave his finger in front of Greenspan's nose, as though the Fed hasn't been lowering its interest rate in the most aggressive fashion in, well, that Limited Inc remembers. The Fed's magical mystery rate depression, a hommage to obsessive compulsion, is bringing us into alien territory. When the interest rate gets this low, as Paul Krugman has observed, we definitely start unsettling the markets. The fed's low rates have been helpful in keeping the auto industry booming insofar as zero percent financing means the companies loose less on the transaction, but face it, this boom is has the sick room smell of the housing market with the S&L's in the late 70s -- one of those borrow low from us as we borrow high from other people, which eventually grabs and eats your ass.

Friday, November 02, 2001


It is a don't ask, secret service man, need to know, high security kind of time in these here States. The ever vigilant FBI, when it is not dispatching its finest to sniff out those anthrax villains (men who have schooled their avoirdupois in some of the tough, tough donut shops of Manhattan, heros who, in the past, have won such accolades as the world's longest search for the world's oldest mobster (goes to those Boston Pros for chasing the ever elusive Whitey Bulger, who if caught might, heavens, reveal little tidbits about what FBI Men were on his payroll in Beantown), well those guys are keeping a weather eye on the foreign element. As proof, we have in our prison cells an unknown cohort of foreigners arrested after the WTC and kept without legal counsel, or communication with the outside world, and given over, on ocassion, to those merry bashings prisoners and guards, in our name, have to righteously deal out to those with the telltale brown skin and the arabic name. Andrew Gumbel of the Independent has the story:

"More than seven weeks after the attacks, the Justice Department says it has taken about 1,100 people into custody but almost nothing is known about who they are, why they have been detained, what charges, if any, have been filed, and how many of them have been cleared and released. One man has died in custody, in New Jersey, and others are being held indefinitely on immigration violations."

Ah, and there's more in the bottom grafs:

"The scanty reports to have surfaced about detainees are not encouraging. Some are said to have been beaten � either by their guards or by fellow prisoners, with the guards looking on. In at least one case, a detainee appeared in court with fresh bruises clearly visible.

A Saudi Arabian student, Yazeed al-Salmi, reported that he spent 17 days in custody in San Diego, Oklahoma and New York despite being told early on that he was not a suspect. He said he was denied contact with his family, held in solitary confinement, prevented from washing or brushing his teeth and repeatedly humiliated by his guards. "They don't call you by name," he said of his time in Manhattan, "they call you 'f****** terrorist'."

You know, if this keeps up, maybe one of those intrepid D.C. liberals will grumble about it in a few years.

Thursday, November 01, 2001


Lucky Limited Inc went out with a gorgeous woman to dance the Halloween jitters away last night. The revelers in the streets looked suitably bleery, and the first club Limited Inc went into, The Metro, was busy trying to become the club it will never be -- it's your two bar, 4 dollar Shiner set-up, some ragged sofas scattered around (with their suspicious cushions where you know somebody has recently spilled something but you can't see it? Cause of the shadows?), and a concrete dance floor below a stage where the band was oddly low energy, all the signs pointing in the direction of a much cooler club in, say, the East Village. The Metro shouts, we aren't really here. As for the low energy which the band was trying to wrestle into something vaguely interesting, well, some shake and bake rhythm was coming out of the drum section, but since Limited Inc was there to dance (and his partner, very Rita Hayward-ish in a stunning vinyl outfit, was ready to rhomba), and there was no scene, we made our way out of there and up to reliable Antones. Antones has lately become Limited Inc.'s spot. It wasn't crowded, but at least the band didn't sound like they'd doused themselves with barbs and scotches before the set. In fact, they sounded damn good, and exuded some South of the border throb that did Limited Inc a huge favor --
- it put a dreamy smile on the face of the beautiful dish he was with. The rest is dance history.

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Limited Inc remembers with fondness Halloweens of yore - the costuming, the secret hurling of rotten eggs at the neighbor's prize Oldsmobile, the decorative touch with dog turds flambee and the ringing of the doorbell, giggles in the dark as we ran to the bushes -- such, such were the joys. But this Halloween we want to give our readers a special fright, some horror they can treasure up for the golden years. That is why we recommend this article by Kenichi Ohmae in New Perspectives Quarterly. The undead, monsters reassembled out of corpse parts, mad knifethrowers, phantoms of the opera, they might give one the ephemeral tingle, but there's nothing like sober economic statistics to bring on a dead faint and heart palpitations. The article is a scathing survey of the financial sleight of hand by which the Clinton administration contained infection from the Japanese slump. Old Doctor Bush, our cornpone POTUS, has poo-pooed the old Clintonomics, and, according to the article, he's about to get a big surprise. His advice amounts to the standard boilerplate about letting the marketplace sort out the dead from the living, the bankrupt from the solvent. The gov, in this view, should stand back and let unemployment do what it will, in order to have a healthier tomorrow. Well, Ohmae points out, lets say the Japanese government actually pays more than lip service to this insane advice. The zombies among Japanese banks and corporations might not just roll over, but but Doc! they might actually struggle to survive. Eek! Then Daddy Warbucks might have to put on his thinkin' cap. You can't smoke capital out of the holes, unlike terrorists, and since he has a complete moron for a Treasury secretary (did Limited Inc say that? Apologies all around. Not a COMPLETE moron. Really, what were we thinking?), we shouldn't expect common sense from that quarter. Well, in that potential struggle, these moribund investors will need resources, which means pulling massive amounts of capital out of investment positions here in the States. Here are two grafs with some striking claims:

"I believe that the Dow will decrease by one-third from its peak. When the Dow was 12,000, it would have been 8,000 without the influx of foreign capital.

Who will suffer the most?

The capital flight back into Japan will be close to $550 billion, of which $320 billion is in Treasury bonds. The Japanese hold approximately 10 percent of all outstanding US government securities-more than any other single country."

It is a little noted facet of economic theory that sometimes, it pays to be crooked. In the early 90s, American regulators and the Fed knew that technically big banks, like Citicorp, had suffered enough of a loss in the bursting of both the stock and real estate bubbles in the Heimat and the double whammy of the real estate bubble in Tokyo and its collateral effect in emerging markets that they were in default of the rules regulating banks. That is, they had to start monetizing assets in order to maintain balances against debt. But the Fed looked the other way, and eventually the situation solved itself. James Grant has written a nice and disgusted book on this, but it isn't that disgusting. Here we are facing another situation in which the better part of financial valor is to cook the books. We'll see what happens.

Do the numbers, and have a happy and safe Halloween, y'all.

Another magazine is roadkill - not exactly eyecatching news as the Stock market finds the center cannot hold, and the ceremony of innocence is lost among postal workers nationwide. This magazine, too, it isn't exactly Lingua Franca. It's Famous Monsters of Filmland. Apparently the articles in this magazine exerted a formative influence on a lot of very bad directors in Hollywood, among them John Landis. So why don't these bad directors, who can eat off silver plate, could fill their swimming pools with 20 dollar bills, have spent tons, no doubt, to promote trade with Colombia (heh heh), why don't they shunt some ready in the direction of their childhood formative influence? Not a question that Caitlin Liu asks in her acticle:
Auction Could Kill 'Monsters'

Here are two grafs that plug into a very California feud:

"Last year, after a trial during which Landis and author Ray Bradbury testified for Ackerman [former editor/publisher of the magazine], a Van Nuys jury found Ferry [current publisher/editor of the magazine] liable for breach of contract, libel and trademark infringement. Ackerman won a judgment of about $500,000 and rights to the pen name "Dr. Acula." Ferry has appealed.

Shortly after the verdict, Ferry transferred his assets to his housemate, declared himself broke and filed for bankruptcy protection, court documents show. The judge found the asset transfers to be fraudulent because Ferry was trying to keep them out of the hands of creditors such as Ackerman, Avery said."

Why can't Limited Inc use these telltale bits to make a fortune, you know, in the screenplay trade? We confess, the color by number scenario could be put together by the merest hypnotized piker and surely sold to some narcissistic someone out there in Beverly Hills. Of course, in the process, avoiding use of the term "Dr. Acula," which would be wrong, just wrong.

Sunday, October 28, 2001


Sadness. Yesterday Limited Inc went to the rally gainst the death penalty. We saw a poster advertising it, and made a note to go. Limited Inc is not an inveterate rally-goer, but these days, these grim days, needed some poetic counter-thrust. And what better protest than to protest against the cruel, extensive intention to murder, taken by the state and its officers?

All rallies in Austin are as obsessed with the capital building as Moslem pilgrims are with Mecca, although for opposite reasons: instead of worshipping, we come to metaphorically destroy. Routine for this rally, like the anti-WTO rally, was: forces gather in that park on 5th street across from the post office, forces get pumped by a few speeches, forces shuffle down the sidewalk out third street, past the groovers who wave at us from the coffee shop and past Fado's and then left turn up Congress and after various and sundry chants have been tried out and the cops have motorcycled past so we know that they have motorcycles (I suppose this impresses upon us that if we suddenly get the urge to hurl bricks through windows, we WILL be run down by flashing blue lights), we all pool around the Capital steps and listen to more feisty oratory.

When we got to the park, there was a desultory group with some tables set up, and we mistakenly thought for a second that the march had already occured, because the scene looked so evidently like backwash. B-b-but no, the backwash was the group -- a pitiful collection of middle aged freaks like us, with a few tatted youths, and (best part of the whole thing) at least twenty African Americans-- usually the rallies we've been to are as pale as the chalky shores of Albion, and that always bugs us no end. There couldn't have been more than two hundred there. Instead of expressing a strong minority opinion, our march seemed to express an arcane eccentricity. It was pathetic. And when we got to the Capital, the feisty oratory was off-key. There was an address from a woman whose daughter had been murdered that was painful to listen to, partly because we felt she was being exploited, somehow.

Here's the rub: to my mind, it is alright to be for the death penalty if a member of your family has been murdered. We would be for it, then, like a shot. We're a revengeful little prick, all in all, but even if we weren't, we'd still feel we owed it to the victim to want to kill the killer.

I talked about this with my friend MB last night. Opposition to the death penalty, for both of us, doesn't depend on an act of forgiveness, but is rooted in a separate conviction, that the state shouldn't add another murder to one (or more, oftentimes) that has already been committed.

In that conversation, I learned that MB and Limited Inc have different notions of what forgiveness is. Forgiveness takes up remarkably little space in ethical theory. When Jesus, dying on the cross said, forgive them, they know not what they do, what was he talking about? Could they not be forgiven if they knew what they were doing? For MB, Jesus didn't rise to the occassion, which would have required that they knew what they were doing in order for the act of forgiveness to be perfect. As you can tell, MB has high standards. So is forgiveness an insight into some intellectual lapse? Well, that doesn't seem to fit the way I think of forgiveness. There's an article in the New Republic this week (but not online) that reviews Andre Comte-Sponville's "A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues," and the reviewer does a little conceptual analysis of forgiveness.

But to get back to my original topic. Perhaps we should have lobbed some bricks through windows. Or simply not marched. I know, of course, that the death penalty is as popular in Texas as football. I know the death penalty is wrong. I know that fact must, sooner or later, yield to conviction, if conviction is tireless enough. But this is a dreadful time to come out against death. So many people are eager to see it.

Which brings me to the odd article by Phillip Weiss in the NY Observer. Weiss puzzles me -- second graf of the article will tell you why.

Vietnam ended marriages. The husband was for the war and the wife was quietly against it. Maybe they were Republicans, and the wife turned slowly Democratic. She didn�t talk about it openly. The husband�s change of view came years later, and was reluctant.

That was before feminism, but it seems as if the same divide is occurring over the war against terrorism. I left the country in mid-October, but before going I was at several gatherings where the women ran down the jingoistic rhetoric of the Bush administration, and then the men drifted off and discussed the war in somewhat gonzo terms. "What do you think we should do?" I said to one friend. "Go over there and ice �em," he said. We shook hands. At a birthday party, a biker told me about off-the-books assassination squads that roam free in mountains in the Far East. We both grunted with approval. A third friend and I drank red wine before his stone fireplace and talked about how some action was required. An artist, but he seemed to be saying "Love it or leave it," and I found myself agreeing."

Is Weiss serious? The article goes on to quote dissenting e-mails from his wife, who must wonder at that lede. And what to make of that "shaking hands" scene. Is the frat boy in Weiss coming out, or what?

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...