Shades of gray.

A friend wrote me an email tonight, raising some thoughtful and valid questions about the ethics of what I’m doing.

So to clarify: I’m not working for Halliburton, CACI, or any of the other monolithic contractors over there. Nor would I. The company I work for is relatively small, and their sole purpose in this is to provide medical services.

Am I conflicted by all of this? Of course I am. I’ve never made a secret of my opposition to the Iraqi War; quite the opposite, in fact. I spent the better part of the last decade denouncing the war in print and online. My position hasn’t changed; I think the war was a horrible mistake in almost every possible way: ethical, moral, logistical, and in terms of what it has actually accomplished. I think that it was architected by bad people for cynical reasons, and I think that any good which has come out of it was incidental to the actual purposes of the war.

However, my opposition somehow didn’t actually stop the war from happening. It has happened, is happening right now; and I find myself in a position to make things better, maybe, in a very tiny way. Maybe I can be part of a system which helps save a few lives.

That doesn’t mean that money isn’t a major motivation here. Sorry, but it’s true. In an economy that’s spiralling downward, the chance to make decent money would be hard to pass up under any circumstances. Making decent money doing something I find exciting and challenging and useful for the world is something I couldn’t pass up.

I get the feeling, even on short acquaintance, that the people I’m working with are sincere in their desire to use their skills to build technology that will benefit the people who have been victims of this war. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here. Money is good, but I still have to sleep at night, you know?

I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I think I’m making the right decision. Time will tell.

My current theory on dieting and weight loss.

If you take a statistical sampling of diet tips from a few dozen people, you will learn that every single possible foodstuff is terrible for you; water may be poisonous in small doses; and that the only “real” way to lose weight and get into shape is to make your daily caloric intake consist of the following:

1) 3 eggs;

2) A perfectly round piece of chicken that has been twice-boiled;

3) A spoonful of salmon fat;

4) A 45 single of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy”, covered in hummus and diced peanuts.

I’m beginning to think that everyone I know may actually be insane.

So my theory is this: I’m going to try to keep a 2 to 1 ratio of vegetables to meat or higher. I’m going to stop drinking sodas (which I mostly have, even diet, unless I’m in a place where it’s soda or whiskey). I’m going to pretend that chocolate is made out of hydrochloric acid and will actually burn me if it enters my body. If I need something sweet, that’s what bananas are for.

I know you’re about to tell me that bananas have sugar in them. You’re probably also going to tell me that some scientific article you read says that bananas give you rickets or the King’s Evil or something.

Fuck off. Eating an entire bunch of bananas, complete with the tarantulas that illegally immigrated amongst their leaves, is better for me than a single Chocodile, which is my sick and sad weakness when stopping in for smokes at 7-11 of an evening. So quit your weird gastrological nonsense, which you probably got out of an old copy of Maxim or Stuff you were leafing through while waiting in the doctor’s office for the results of your herp test. So you were freaked out and YOU DON’T EVEN REMEMBER WHAT THE ARTICLE REALLY SAID, BECAUSE YOU WERE TOO WORRIED ABOUT HAVING TO REGISTER ON HERPES DATING SITES TO GET YOUR SEXY TIME ON.

Also, no more mocha lattes, which is a punishment described to Dante Aligheri by Virgil as being meted out to New Media Fuckheads in the Fourth Circle of Hell.

(And yes, they had New Media Fuckheads in the Dark Ages. What do you think Johannes Gutenberg was? He sat around in the coffeehouse in Mainz all day, tapping away on his printing press in his designer horn-rims and hoping chicks would ask him what the hell it was and what he was doing with it. Which was writing a novel about a guy who invents a printing press and then moves to Bali to discover the glories of untrammeled nature, while getting coke-fueled blowjobs from Merovingian raver girls in leather jackets.

Alas, like the dreams of all New Media Fuckheads, this didn’t work out for J-Gut, so he put on a suit and got rich printing Bibles instead. But I bet you he thought about that novel ’till the day he died.)

Back to work now.

Big man with a gun.

I went to The Gun Store today with Andi and her friends from California so that I could price and check out some guns.

Let me be clear on this: I don’t actually like guns. I’m a constitutionalist, so I believe the Second Amendment is just as important to protect and enforce as the First…but I personally don’t like the idea of owning a gun.

However, it might be necessary in Iraq. Who knows? It might not. But I figured I’d go down and see what my options were, anyway.

Gun stores are also problematic for me. I love them because I’m a gadget geek, and they’re always full of awesome gadgets: holsters, batons, body armor, cool little tools for doing obscure things with guns, tasers, and knives. Lots of knives.

But a lot of the people who tend to hang out in gun stores are people with whom I don’t have a lot in common. Different cultures, different politics. I fall pretty solidly on the “liberal” side of things, and in my experience, this is not true of gun store rats.

The store was absolutely packed today, which was fairly surprising, with people of widely varying age, sex, race, and taste in clothes. They were mostly clustered around the pistol counter, looking at various automatics. I browsed a bit, inspecting the pink body armor (for girls!) and tasers until a spot came up.

The gentleman behind the counter reminded me of my great-grandfather, if my great-grandfather had been dressed in black and carrying a pistol on his belt. I told him my situation, told him I didn’t know much about guns but that I’d heard that Colt 1911s were excellent. He agreed and showed me one.

“I’ve lived in the desert a long time,” he said, “and this is not the gun I’d take to Iraq.”

“Really?” I said. He nodded.

“The 1911 is an excellent gun, but it’s not made for the kind of environment you’ll be in over there. It’s got a lot of fine parts. I’ll sell you one if it’s what you really want, but I don’t recommend it. Let me show you the one I’d recommend,” he said, putting the 1911 back in its case.

He walked down to the end of the automatic counter, where it joined the revolver counter in an L-shape, and produced a small, blocky, two-toned pistol.

“This is a Glock 12,” he told me. “It’s much better for harsh environments than the 1911. The 1911 has 124 moving parts, but this only has 34. No external safety, you see. And it uses 9-millimeter ammo rather then .45 caliber. That’s what everybody in the world uses, so you’d have much less trouble getting ammo over there.”

He put it in my hand. It felt solid. It always surprises me that the weight of a gun doesn’t surprise me or feel weird. It weighed exactly what I expected it to weigh — maybe a pound, pound and a half.

“Is it hard to clean?” I asked. He shook his head. “Easiest gun in the world to clean.” He did something with buttons on the gun and the slide popped off. I he showed me the spring and the clip and the receiver and how they were cleaned and how to put them back together again afterwards.

I don’t know if I want to buy a gun, or if I can actually carry one over there, though I’ve been told I can. If I do buy one, it’ll stay in a safety deposit box until I walk out the door to get on the plane.

But it’s useful to know what the best tool for the job would be.