Saturday, December 08, 2001


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."


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


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.

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.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

"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


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.

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.

Sunday, December 02, 2001


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.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...