Fair Enough - Dell Is Off The Hook
Friday, March 1, 2002
Date: Fri, 1 Mar 2002 16:33:13 -0600
Dear Valued Customers and Friends:
We appreciate the opportunity to clarify the facts regarding a customer issue reported in the media and Dell's position on political or social issues that many of you care deeply about.
Regarding Handgun Rights/Handgun Control....
Dell is a publicly-traded, customer-focused company with customers, shareholders and employees on both sides of many public, social and political issues. Our place is to serve our customers rather than to endorse or support one position over another in public debates outside the scope of our industry. We do not discriminate against any business, regardless of the products or services they sell, nor do we discriminate against individual customers. We do, however, respect the right of any organization or individual to have their own point of view. We follow all laws, rules and regulations.
Regarding allegations that Dell supports Handgun Control organizations through the Dell Affiliates program...
Dell as a company remains neutral on handgun rights and handgun control. Dell customers can support causes and organizations, if they choose, through Dell's affiliates program and charitable websites such as igive.com and progressivefunds.com. These sites feature links to Dell's website. Dell's affiliates program provides a way for customers to support the cause or organization of their choice through their Dell purchases. Affiliate participants, such as igive.com and progressivefunds.com, include organizations and causes on different sides of nearly every social issue. Some of the organizations participating through Dell affiliates such as igive.com and progressivefunds.com., promote handgun rights, others promote handgun control.
Handgun Control Inc. (HCI) has been reported as one organization that participates in this program. Others including The Gun Owners Foundation and the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners Foundation, Inc. also participate through Dell affiliate igive.com.
The only organizations prohibited from participating in Dell's affiliates program are those that promote sexually explicit material; promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or promote illegal activities.
Regarding the assertion that Dell cancelled Mr. Jack Weigand's order for a notebook computer because of his firearm association...
We made a mistake. Mr. Weigand's order was improperly cancelled because we did not gather the additional information required by U.S. law to process his order. Dell flagged Mr. Weigand's order (initiated under his company name Weigand's Combat Firearms) for additional follow-up (and then we failed to do so) because of the word "combat" in his company name. This internal control is in place to ensure that a domestic purchase is not redirected to an end user for a prohibited use (such as the creation and development of weapons of mass destruction) or to a country that has been restricted from receiving U.S. technology exports (such as Libya, Syria, Iran and Iraq). This due diligence is required by U.S. law. We also review orders for words such as "nuclear," "missile," and "plutonium."
Dell's process excludes reviews for "guns" or "firearms."
The mistake was ours because we failed to follow our process. We failed to call Mr. Weigand for information that would have satisfied legal requirements and ultimately would have resulted in completion of Mr. Weigand's transaction. We have apologized for this mistake directly to Mr. Weigand. We have tried to make it right with our customer by giving him a free computer for his trouble and inconvenience.
Dell has many customers and employees who are handgun owners and enthusiasts. We know that gun owners and advocates, such as Mr. Weigand, are law abiding Americans, and as such, can understand and appreciate our efforts to comply with American export laws, while serving all customers. We have heard from many of you over the last few days, and we appreciate the opportunity to speak with you directly about these issues. Your relationships with us, and your feedback about our products and services are crucial to our success.
Tom Green Senior Vice President,
Law and Administration
Dell Computer Corporation
Maybe - Just Maybe - I Was Wrong About Dell
Friday, March 1, 2002 1
Another day has passed, and it's looking like I had the wrong take on this issue. This is not to say that Dell does not fully deserve my scorn, but it's no longer clear to me what, exactly, is going on here. In any event, I obviously mischaracterized them.
My assertion that Dell was acting like a pack of Stalinist dickheads was based on two assertions - one, that they had lied to us in their public statements, and two, that they were anti-gun, as evidenced by their financial support of HCI.
I have now come to believe that while they were clearly lying, it's not because they are anti-gun. Both Dell and HCI deny that Dell has supported the anti-gun cause, and the one website which did suggest this linkage is not, in my opinion, a credible source of information. Furthermore, I scoured the web looking for additional evidence to indicate Dell's support for the antis and found nothing.
Secondly, I have heard nothing credible about other pro-gun people getting shafted by Dell. Gun people tend to be computer people, too, and the pro-gun community is very active on the web and very well organized. I really expect that I should have heard something by now if this was anything other than an isolated incident.
Having said that, the more I think about Dell's two public statements about this matter - one by the PR flack who was interviewed by Wired magazine, and the public statement issued by Michael Dell himself - the more convinced I am that Dell is full of shit. Here's my case, point by point:
Everyone agrees that Mr. Weigand's order was canceled by someone at Dell, because the name of his company had the words "Combat Handguns" in it. Dell insists that they actually have a process in place to screen for this sort of thing, and that if the process had been followed, his order would have been reviewed and then approved. The only reason the order was canceled was because the process failed, a regrettable but uncommon mistake.
I'm willing to accept that at face value, but how many of you expect that a large computer company would actively look to cancel "suspicious" orders? Lets have a closer look at this process...
The PR flack claims that such a process is required by current export regulations, and that these regulations apply to domestic orders as well. This is clearly false. Dell, like many other sellers of high-tech gear, is required to make a minimal effort to ask if their equipment is going to be used for the production of nuclear or biological weapons overseas, but it does not apply domestically. (See http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/28/23930.html).
Michael Dell, also quoting the export regulations, offers no explanation of why this review was applied to what was obviously a domestic order, nor does he correct the earlier statement that such review is applied to all domestic orders as a matter of course. The implication, in my opinion, is that every order goes through such review.
Think about this for a minute. Suppose Dell received an order for 30 machines from the U.S. Department of Energy, the folks who make nuclear weapons here in the US. Would the order be canceled after review? Of course not. Maybe I'm missing something here, but if you are screening for producers of nuclear and biological weapons, who in the United States could possibly fit into that category and not be eligible to buy a computer? If you are never going to deny a sale in the US, they why in god's name subject every domestic order to a cumbersome and expensive screening process? Why hire a human being to look at each suspect order and make phone calls to see that the customers are in compliance, if every domestic customer is expected to be already compliant?
Furthermore, the folks at Cryptome are all pissed off now, calling "Michael Dell's statement [...] a more grievous attack on civil liberties than the original it tries to apologize for. ".
One answer is suggested by the following principle: Never assume evil when simple incompetence will suffice. Maybe this was nothing more than a simple mistake blown out of proportion by an inept and disingenuous public response. Michael Dell can make the stink go away by assuring us that there is no screening process for domestic orders at all, and that the nature of the original mistake was either that the order was incorrectly flagged as an export, or that the guy who did it was being a bigoted dick and has been fired. Neither of these explanations have yet been offered, and until then, Dell remains on my shitlist.
Now I'm Really Pissed At Dell
Thursday, February 28, 2002 1
Dell supports Sarah Brady's Handgun Control Incorporated.
Michael Dell explains it was all a harmless mistake:
U.S. export laws restrict the sale of technology to terrorists and to people in countries that support terrorism. These laws also prohibit computer sales to people who will use the technology in developing biological or nuclear weapons.
We recently received an order from a customer whose company name included the word "combat." We cancelled the order to give us enough time follow up with the customer and be assured that the sale would be in compliance with U.S. export law. However, we failed to contact the customer, and as a result, we did not deliver the order as promised, and the customer did not know why.
So... we are to believe that "Weigand Combat Handguns, Inc" in Mountaintop, P.A., sounded too much like an overseas outfit involved in the production of nuclear and biological weapons? Or that they are required by law to scrutinize every domestic computer order, as their PR flack recently claimed? Or that they instituted this policy on their own, with a credible expectation that the next terrorist to order a computer would do it with a word like "combat" in his company's name?
Dell is lying. They got caught red-handed fucking somebody because they don't like his politics. I say we fuck 'em right back.
Dell Bites The Big One
Thursday, February 28, 2002 1
Wired magazine is now on the story, and it just keeps looking worse for Dell: http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,50723,00.html
As you recall, Dell first insisted that that they refused to sell this guy a computer because of "their post September 11th policy of screening buyers" and a "breakdown in communications".
According to Wired, Dell spokeswoman Cathie Hargett now says the "mistake" grew out of Dell's attempts to comply with U.S. export regulations:
"Export laws apply domestically. These laws apply domestically if it's for any of these stated purposes," Hargett said.
But she was not able to provide a reference to Commerce Department Bureau of Export Administration or State Department Office of Defense Trade Controls regulations that require approval of shipments to U.S. customers. Dell's export forms apply only to out-of-country shipments.
Maybe Dell can still come clean about this, but it's looking less likely by the hour. At this point, it sure sounds to me like they are full of shit.
Dell took it upon themselves to refuse to do business with this guy for no other reason than that he sells and repairs guns. Now that they have been called on it, they are trying to blame it on September 11 and a nonexistent export regulation.
Imagine if they had canceled his order because they suspected he was an abortion provider, or a globalization protestor, or a gay rights advocate. Of course, they have every right to do business with whom they wish. So do we.
I really hope Dell can get out in front of this one before they bury themselves in their own bogus press releases. If not, they are going to have about 20 million computer-literate, gun-toting people pissed off at them.
Interestingly enough, Dell did offer Weigand a free computer, which he politely refused. Weigand currently has a one year backorder on his work and has little need for either the publicity this issue has generated or a free box from the people who've gone out of their way to condemn him. In his words,
I have no intention of further dealings with Dell, they don't deserve my business.
I want nothing from Dell but I would gladly accept an apology to the Firearms community in general.
I am incredibly pissed about this. I've know of Weigand by reputation for many years and I have every reason to believe he is a rock-solid, stand-up guy. I think he's handled this problem correctly, with the sort of class and principle that I'd expect from a man of his character. If some shithead at Dell can refuse to sell him a computer on the assumption that he's going to do something illegal with it - and if this bigoted idiot continues to keep his job - Dell can go fuck themselves, big-time.
Link to original story: http://www.sierratimes.com/02/02/27/arjw022702.htm
Link to Weigand's page: http://www.jackweigand.com/Dell.html
Rumsfeld Says It Best
Tuesday, February 26, 2002
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The old rules have changed. It used to be, the only countries with the power to wipe out your cities could be held at bay by the threat of retaliation, and by the natural restraint of their own humanity. For the first time in many years, we face an enemy who can, and will, hit us that hard and who will not be deterred as the others were.
Al-Quada, and organizations like them, are not deterred by the threat of our retaliation. They have access to city-killing weapons from Iraq and North Korea. They are clearly anxious to use them. If there is any doubt about any of these three points, I'd sure like to hear about it.
Dismantling the current governments of Iraq and North Korea, by one means or another, is essential to our security, is essentially to the security of the world in general, and is a gift to the people who live there and to all the people who share a boarder with them. It might be incredibly costly, but only in comparison to the cost of doing nothing. Personally, I cannot imagine a more compelling case for preemptive action.
Here are some excerpts from an excellent London Telegraph interview with Donald Rumsfeld. I've edited it heavilly because it was long and there were so many good parts, but you can read it all at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/02/25/wrums25.xml#1
SIR JOHN KEEGAN: When you were in Beirut in 1983, I was there at exactly the same time.
DONALD RUMSFELD: A lot of ordnance flying around.
SIR JOHN KEEGAN: There certainly was. You must have learned quite a lot about dealing with Arab, Islamic terrorism then. Does that give you some picture of how the war on terrorism has to be fought?
DONALD RUMSFELD: It does. It does. If you remember Beirut…
SIR JOHN KEEGAN: I remember it so vividly…
DONALD RUMSFELD: So do I. So do I. But if you think about it, there were first trucks that were filled with explosives that went into the US Embassy, and then to the Marine barracks, where 241 Marines were killed.
The next thing you saw was cement barricades being built around all the embassies around the Corniche. Yours was very near to ours. And they put the same barricades around barracks and military installations so trucks couldn't go in. And the next thing that happened, they started lobbing rocket-propelled grenades over the barricades.
So I think your building, or our building, ended up draping some sort of a wire mesh over the buildings so that it would repel rocket-repelled grenades and bounce them off. So they tried to first go in by truck, and we stopped that. Then they go in over the barricades, and they bounce them off.
And what did the terrorists do next? They went after soft targets going to and from the office, and started killing individuals and groups of individuals. The point being, the truth, and the truth is, that terrorists have an enormous advantage.
They can attack at any place, at any time, using any technique, and it's physically not possible to defend at every place and every time against every technique. If someone's willing to give up their life, they can do a heck of a lot of damage before their life is snuffed out.
SIR JOHN KEEGAN: I wondered was the lessons were that you learned from Beirut - there's no good negotiating or talking to them. The only thing they really understand is you hitting them as hard as they're trying to hit you.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Absolutely. And finding them where they are, and rooting them out. And that's what the President has understood from day one, and is about. That is what is happening, is some people are using the word "pre-emption" as though it is proactive.
In a sense, someone can say that, but the reality is, the only way to defend yourself is by going after them where they are. Because otherwise, you change your whole way of life. You're no longer a free person. You're living in a cave and hiding, behind barricades, and things over your buildings, and not being able to go out in the morning.
[...] Let's take North Korea. I've got to think of what's classified and what's not classified. But let's just, for the sake of argument, say there are tens and tens and tens and tens and tens and tens of thousands of Koreans, political prisoners, in prison camps. Camps, more than a handful of camps, that are the size of cities. That are being starved.
Why are Korean people trying to get out of North Korea into China? It is a regime that is vicious. It's developing weapons of mass destruction. It is selling them all across the globe.
Now, if someone can come up with a better adjective than "evil," fine.
If one cares at all about the risks that the world faces as we examine the nexus between countries like that and weapons of mass destruction and their relationship with other nations of the world that they're willing to sell to, or other terrorist networks that they're willing to sell to.
We're at a moment where we no longer have the margin for error we, as humanity, had decades ago, where our weapons were relatively short range, and where the warheads were relatively modest. Today, we're dealing with weapons of mass destruction, with generally free and open societies where the reach of those weapons was vastly greater than it was, the lethality of those weapons is vastly greater than it was.
SIR JOHN KEEGAN: Would it help, do you think, to call North Korea "weakly evil"? I mean, because I always think one shove, and that thing would fall over.
You're not wrong. That is a weak regime. It is a terrible regime. It is not so weak that it falls after decade after decade. It remains. It is not so weak, and so starved, and so absent of hard currency that it can't develop nuclear weapons, and chemical and biological weapons.
It's not so weak and starved and pitiful that it can't sell those weapons across the globe. And for you to suggest that because it's starving, the country is starving, and because the government is unsophisticated, and a peanut compared to South Korea's vitality and energy and economic dynamism and military power, the fact is they are making those weapons, and they are selling those weapons, and if they stick a biological weapon in downtown London, you will not say, "My goodness. Aren't they weak."
Another Sad Moment
Thursday, February 21, 2002
I once described our society's persecution of gays as our single most grievous national sin. Someday we will look back upon these times with the same mixture of perplexity and disgust that we feel when looking back upon slavery.
Some weeks ago the Alabama Supreme Court ruled, 9-0, to deny custody of three children to their lesbian mother. Without knowing the details of the case I cannot offer an opinion, and I am willing to believe it may have been the right decision. These comments by Justice Roy Moore, however, were not OK:[Homosexuality is] "inherent evil, and if a person openly engages in such a practice, that fact alone would render him or her an unfit parent."
What's worse is that the good Justice was probably speaking for a substantial portion of the people within his jurisdiction.
Why We Had Goddamn Well Better Understand What A "Terrorist" Is
Wednesday, February 20, 2002
You're all as annoyed by this as I am - here we are, fighting a War On Terror, trying to decide who's a Terrorist and who isn't. Is Hamas a bunch of Terrorists? How about the Drug Cartel, the Israeli Army, the government of Burma? Who, exactly, are we fighting, and why?
The rhetoric is incredibly vague, perhaps intentionally so; "Evil-doer" is a similarly helpful term, as is "Weapon Of Mass Destruction". Every nation with the capacity to build a fertilizer bomb in a freighter has a weapon of mass destruction, for chrissake.
The word "Terrorist", by most definitions, applies to a person or group that uses "Terror Tactics", which, in turn, are generally defined as the use of an intentionally frightening form of violence against non-combatants. The idea is that the fear of the next attack, rather than the material outcome of the attack itself, is what exerts pressure on the enemy. Many of the massive air raids of WWII were classic terror tactics, as they were designed, in part, to weaken the will of the civilian population.
Terrorism, or something like it, is a tactic used by almost every underdog in every war being fought today. In almost every situation where a fighting group is facing an enemy with a superior military technology, the underdog resorts to terrorism because they simply can't beat them in conventional battle. We often frown on such tactics - it's just wrong to target civilians - but we forget that when our backs were against the wall we did exactly the same thing. We are above that sort of thing now, of course, perhaps because we are better people now, or perhaps because our military is just so powerful that we have the luxury of being cool about it.
Terrorism can also happen when things simply spiral out of control. Many of the wars being fought in Africa now are rife with an utterly senseless cruelty which serves no discernable purpose, but which continues unabated for years. The Killing Fields of Cambodia and Stalin's Purges were, in my opinion, similar examples of this sort of madness.
Unfortunately, this definition of the word "terrorist" does not help us much in defining our current enemies. Should we assume that Al-Queda's attack on the Pentagon was not a terrorist act because it targeted a military installation? How about the attacks on the USS Cole, the Khobar Towers, or the Marine barracks in Lebanon?
If we are not fighting terrorists, who are we really fighting? The whole Islamic world? Islamic fundamentalists? Revolutionaries of any stripe? Where's the line being drawn?
I would argue that our leaders have made a terrible mistake in not making this clear, but for a different reason than might think. The primary danger we face for not clearly defining our enemy is not that we might cause unnecessary harm to an unimportant target, but that we might hesitate to take the costly and decisive action which is necessary. Too many of our own people simply don't understand what's going on.
We are not at war with "terrorists". We are at war with non-national entities which severely threaten our interests, and with the nations who support them over our objections.
A war with a non-national entity is something new to our experience, at least in modern times. (When the nation was very young we did fight against the Barbary Pirates, who, interestingly enough, were also an Islamic terrorist group targeting Western interests in the Mediterranean). The idea that a dispersed group of a couple thousand people can project enough power to be a real threat to a superpower like ourselves takes some getting used to, but they are here, they are real, and we are really at war with them now.
Their primary weakness is that they are essentially parasitic; they cannot stand on their own and they require a host, or a series of hosts, in order to survive. Unfortunately, this dovetails nicely with the needs of another group of people, the Nations Who Hate Us And Want To Fight Us By Proxy. Everybody knows that if the Iraqi airforce bombed Manhattan, Baghdad would be reduced to ashes overnight. But if Iraq makes some quiet deals with some likeminded people and Manhattan gets bombed by a "terrorist", then they do not face the consequences of fighting a conventional war against us.
Remember what I said about the underdogs almost always resorting to terrorism?
Of course, lots of nations - perhaps most of them - are in this situation. Even the superpowers will support the enemies of their enemies to advance their interests through proxy violence. If we were to declare war against every nation that ever did this against us we'd be fighting half the world. That's why I added the over our objections part to my definition above.
I honestly believe that we have taken the following approach to these host nations: "We know what you've been up to, but now you have to stop. It's just not acceptable anymore, because it's become too goddamn dangerous for us". If the host nations decide to back it down and limit the threat they present to us, they are no longer the enemy. If they persist, we have a serious obligation to make them regret it, lest we lose our ability to peacefully influence all the others.
This explains a lot. We expressed out objections very publicly in the Axis Of Evil speech - "Cut it out, guys, or you're toast. That means you, and you, and you". If they don't clean up their act we will make them regret it, by some combination of military, economic, or political pressure, but with a strong bias towards immediate results and serious regret. This makes sense to me, and I would not want to have the job of trying to come up with a better solution.
This also puts an unfortunate emphasis on "Weapons Of Mass Destruction", meaning "Weapons That Can Really Hurt Us". If we are going to fight, soon, against nations with this capability, then this capability is our biggest concern. If this capability is growing, then our urgency grows with it. Bush was correct about not waiting to get hit before we act. We already know we have to act. Getting hit is just stupid, if you can avoid it.
You see where I am going with this. War against Iraq is probably both necessary and urgent, despite the very terrible costs we might inflict upon the innocent. War with Iran and North Korea may not be necessary if we demonstrate power and resolution, but will become more likely the more we waffle and hedge.
We are on the verge of a very serious fight here. This is not about jetliners and suicide bombers anymore, this is not about casualty counts measured in the single-digit thousands. There is a very real risk that many tens of thousands of us will be killed by these people in the near future. I know that most people do not believe that, but I really think it's true, and I can demonstrate it in straightforward way:In your opinion, if Al Queda had access, right now, to a weapon that would kill half the people in an American city, would they hesitate to use it?
Unless you can answer "no" to that question with reasonable confidence, you will begin to understand what's happening right now. Years ago we worried about nuclear war, but we could say that the use of such weapons was unlikely because our enemies simply wouldn't do such a thing, as they had too much to lose and they probably didn't hate us that much anyway. But this is no longer the case! The political and social constraints that kept the Soviets from killing the lot of us do not apply to our current opponents. They are not held in check by the consequences of their actions and they honestly do want to inflict terrible casualties against us.
This point seems is so obvious to me, but it appears to be lost on so many other people. Every time I hear people talk about how the "War On Terror" is just an excuse for something crass, or how it is somehow an overreaction to an isolated event, I want to vomit. This is as real as it gets, folks, and it's not going to go away.
So... Should We Wage War On Iraq?
Tuesday, February 19, 2002
I've been struggling with this one for weeks. Suppose push comes to shove and the only way to effect a substantive change in Iraq is to go to war with them? Is this really a good idea?
The answer to that question depends upon a lot of things. Here are some of them:
1) Can we "effect a substantive change" with a minimum of death and destruction?
2) ...with a minimum of risk to the region as a whole?
3) ...with a strong probability that the Iraq we end up with is really better than the Iraq we have now?
4) And, perhaps most importantly, just because we'd like to see that government change, is it really the right thing to do?
The first question speaks to the military situation, the second to the regional politics, the third to nation-building and the fourth to our national values. Since I am utterly unqualified to offer any real insights into any of these topics, I'll just dive in and offer my half-assed opinions instead.
Can we "effect a substantive change" with a minimum of death and destruction?
I don't think so. I'd expect a lot of people to die if we tried to remove the present government by force. Although it's true that we worked a miracle on these folks the last time around, and that we just worked an even more impressive miracle in Afghanistan, I think it'd be a terrible mistake to take this issue lightly. Here are three reasons why:
1) Iraq wins every time civilians die; this is probably the most effective means by which they can limit the application of American military power. The problem here is that it's easy to make civilians die, if you are willing to fight that way. After gassing their own people and hiding their general staff in civilian bunkers during the air war, it's hard to imagine that they would even hesitate to stage the fight in heavily populated civilian areas.
2) Once his back was against the wall, what, exactly, would inhibit Iraq's leader from the tactical use of chemical or biological weapons?
3) Considering the way they torched Kuwait on the way out - a horribly destructive yet militarily pointless action, seemingly motivated by little more than spite - what's to stop them from torching their own cities and blaming us for the result? Does anyone really think that Saddam would allow his country to be taken intact if he has the power to destroy it himself?
Can we minimize risk to the region as a whole?
Maybe. If we are strong and committed, and we have the rest of the world at least nominally behind us, I don't think any of the other nations there would invite our wrath in defense of Iraq. However, if we are weak and the other Arab nations enjoy outside support, this becomes a significant hazard.
Will the Iraq we end up with really be better than the Iraq we have now?
That depends. The current Iraqi government has nothing in the way of unified political opposition, and the country as a whole has little history of democratic tradition. Iraq is also bordered by Iran and Syria, two powerful, asshole nations that will do their best to fuck everything up.
However, if we slice Iraq into pieces, giving the northern part to Turkey and leaving the southern part to govern itself (with substantial Western military support) we might get away with it. But it's not going to be clean and it will probably become an albatross that we will have to carry for many years to come.
So... just because we'd like to see that government change, is it really the right thing to do?
Today's Iraq is bad for the Iraqis, it's bad for us, and it's bad for the world as a whole; furthermore, that's capital-B bad, not just ordinary-bad.
The current Iraqi government gassed thousands of its own people, murdered virtually all political opposition, and has imposed a stifling poverty on its people despite its billions in oil revenues. They are clearly on the verge of nuclear capability, and differ from every other nuclear-capable nation on earth by their willingness to actually deploy NBC weapons in support of terrorist actions worldwide.
As time passes, the risk to our interests only increases. It's likely not a matter of if we will eventually confront Iraqi force, but when. We can do it at a time and a place of our choosing, or we can do it at theirs. We can wait until they have a nuclear bomb or we can do it now.
There are options, of course. We can discourage them from coming up with something really nasty like a nuke or a bio/chem weapon and using it on anything we care about, or giving it to somebody else to use. We might do this with economic sanctions, UN inspections, political pressure, even humanitarian aid to help reduce the anti-western hatred. In short, we can replay the last ten years and hope that it has a different effect this time.
Am I missing something here, or have we pretty much exhausted all our non-military options with little to show for it?
The biggest risk we face is irresolution. It's always a mistake to start a war without strong public support, and even now such support (both internally and from our allies) is weak. Every dead baby, every burning hospital and every day of mounting allied casualties can be counted on to erode this support even further.
I think that most people believe that Iraq is not really a threat to us. They believe that Iraq, like the many other nations that have nuclear weapons, will be bellicose and annoying but not suicidal; that they will be fierce political opponents, but not a deadly enemy.
This is exactly what I believed on September 10th, and until then I had good reason to believe it, too. But now I know that there really are people who would really use a weapon like that against us, and I can't imagine that we should bet the security of our nation on the hope that Saddam wouldn't someday give them the chance.
My call? Once we have public and allied support in place, we go in with a willingness to accept all the death and destruction that I outlined above. However, until we have this support, we should not do it.
We may have to lose a city before we have that support.
Such is the price you pay for living in a free country. Freedom and democracy mean the freedom to screw things up, to make mistakes, to wait too long and to pay the price for it. We cannot act without popular support, and we simply do not have it, so that's just the way it has to be.
I honestly believe we will live to regret this, but I don't see any better options.
That Smug Happy Feeling
Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Way back in '99, we upgraded our household heating system from an old, nasty, obsolete coal stove to a new, modern, state-of-the-art coal stove. The modern one offered several advantages, not the least of which was an intrinsically safe design - I no longer had to worry about making a teeny tiny little mistake and burning the house down.
All this new-fangled convenience, however, came at a cost. The new stove, for all it's cast-iron reliability, won't work unless it's plugged in. Lose power and you are SOL.
Now, most of you are in this same situation, of course - when the power fails, whatever you use to heat your house probably stops working. This is OK if you house has at least minimal insulation and the power comes back within a day or so. My house, being made of twigs and glass, reaches ambient temperature about 30 seconds after you turn off the power.
Considering that Y2K was right around the corner, we really had little choice. $500 later a brand-new 20kw Honda generator with a ten gallon auxiliary tank arrives at my door. And I start thinking...
1) This thing had goddamn well better work on the first try when I need it, even years from now.
2) I do not want that big gas tank near my house when the engine is running and big gobs of electricity are flying around.
3) It needs to run cool in the summer but still be protected from the worst winter weather.
4) I want it to be easy to move and to maintain. After all, it's going to be me, moving and maintaining it.
So... about $300 after that I build myself a lovely big spar-varnished wooden box, on legs, about a hundred feet from the house. The box opens in a clever way so you have easy access to the machine, you can shelter it while running, and you can pull each component right out without disconnecting anything first. There is a dedicated power line running to the house with three outlets, a way to drain the oil right through a hole in the floor and an emergency engine stop on a long string that you can activate with your foot. Best of all, I have it set up so that a 5 watt bulb is always running in there to help keep the moisture away. Two five-gallon cans of gasoline are stored in the shed and now I'm ready for anything.
Years pass. About every month or so I fire it up and let it run for an hour just to keep it in good shape. Twice a year I change the gas in the storage cans, and four times a year I change the oil. It's quiet. Almost too quiet.
I buy 20 gallons of water to keep on hand because even with the generator we can't run the water pump. I have a propane stove to cook on, a half-dozen oil lanterns and two gallons of liquid paraffin for light, even paper plates and plastic forks so we don't need to waste water doing dishes. I have five flashlight in the house and every single one of them works. Nothing.
Suddenly, at 9:14 last night it happens - there we are, watching the Olympics and wondering when the goddamn hockey game is going to be over when *poof!* the world goes instantly dark and it's the 17th century, just like that. The cats switch on their night vision and the dogs look to us for guidance. It's about ten degrees out and we hear thunder.
"Yep" I say, barely containing my excitement, "I better go start the generator".
I pick up my flashlight. It works. I light the two oil lanterns we keep handy. They work. I go outside and get the gas tank - it's full of fresh gas - and I fill up the generator give the start cord a pull. Comes right up, first try.
I come back inside and plug in the stove, and plug in a lamp for good measure. It's 2002 again.
About an hour later the wife is reading and I'm just sitting there. "Why don't you go find a book?" she asks. "Or are you just going to sit there all night feeling smug?"
It felt good to sit there. You get so used to things getting fucked up, it's really nice when everything comes together, and it's really not so often that it does. You ought to enjoy it when you catch a break.
About an hour after that, NYSEG got the power working again. Fuckers.