Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Buying Surge Protection

I’ve been hearing all this stuff about a “surge” in Iraq, so I responded the way any patriotic American would- I went shopping. To be precise, I went shopping for a surge protector. I figure whatever’s good enough for keeping us safe from terrorism has got to be good enough to keep my home and my family safe. Much to my surprise, lots of people sell surge protectors for anywhere from six dollars to a thousand.

The six dollar version consists of a simple component, usually a metal oxide varistor (MOV) in the circuit path that essentially breaks the line when voltages in your power line go substantially above or below 110. It can be very interesting, btw please do this carefully, to stick a voltmeter into one of your AC sockets from time to time. In most places, it's not 110 and it's not especially steady. Line voltage spikes are pretty common in the United States.

In Iraq, where even Baghdad still doesn't have electric power of any kind for significant portions of the day, I would guess that surge protectors are even more critical for those who still have expensive appliances and electronic equipment in their homes. Big surges in the existing power lines there are an everyday event.

After shopping for a bit and fighting my el cheapo instinct to just settle for the six dollar surge protector, I started to ask the question why so many big businesses would be willing to pay thousands of a dollars for a surge protector when for six dollars you can get something that does the same thing.
The quick non-technical answer is that cheap surge protectors don't work that well. They're not fast enough for anything like a lightning strike, actually nothing's fast enough. They also degrade quickly each time they're used, so say after stopping the first couple minor surges the cheapo surge protector actually does little more than give the homeowner a false sense of security. In fact, because the cheapo surge protector works by simply shorting out the power line, it can be more dangerous than the surge itself with some appliances.

Tomorrow, the President is going to unveil his latest plan for the decider's great Middle Eastern adventure. Two months ago, the Iraq Study Group (why does that name sound like a book club that meets every third Wednesday of the month?) came up with a two-pronged recommendation. Either the United States needs to withdraw from Iraq because it can't keep the light on at the end of the tunnel or it needs to do what's necessary to stabilize the situation. The Iraq study group suggested that it would take at least a hundred thousand new troops to stabilize the "insurgency" there. Put simply, if we just had to stay in that House in the green zone the Iraq Study Group recommended that we buy the thousand dollar surge protector.

So why is the President so set on buying six dollar surge protector and staying in a house that is vulnerable to fire, electrical outages, even improvised electrical explosions?

1) He is the decider and if you remember he was very big on "Shock and Awe" back at the beginning of the war. I'm not sure how we went from Shock to Surge protection. Maybe they should have stuck with the electrical metaphor when W. announced "mission accomplished" back on May 1, 2003.

How scary is it that the guy in charge is less interested in doing the right thing than he is in not admitting that he was wrong? Think about it for a minute. He bought a house of cards (Andrew Cards?) finds that the deck is filled with jokers and still wants to play the hand out. Is it maybe because he isn't playing with his own money? How many metaphors did I mange to mix in this one paragraph? Well just think of it as my tribute to the linguistic acumen of the great decider.

2) To buy the thousand dollar surge protector, the Administration would have to look at reviving the draft. You spend your early adult years finding the perfect way to avoid the draft, would you want to cap off your career by forcing rich men's sons and daughters to join the Texas Air National Guard. of course, Iraq is now full of National Guard units doing multiple tours there. They'd have to find another out.

How do you tell America that your 500 billion dollar house in the Green Zone is now going to cost 200 billion more just to keep it from being like that house in Poltergeist that melts into the Indian graveyard at the end?

3) How about this? Maybe the Administration's not really buying a surge protector at all. Maybe they're just buying time. In the meantime, 5 more American soldiers died over the weekend and we now have military operations happening in is it Somalia?

The last headline I saw was something about finding a way to secure Baghdad. Coming into four years after Mission Accomplished, the U.S. Military is now trying to keep Baghdad under control. For the last year, the President insisted that progress in Iraq was continuing. I think you can choose one of those two statements but not both.

A generation ago, the metaphor that suggested the bankruptcy of U.S. policy was "surgical bombing". Surgery is a radical intervention to save lives. Bombing is the acto of destroying things and blowing people up. While we're at it, it's interesting how they're avoiding that other phrase from Vietnam, "Escalation", but isn't a "surge" exactly the same thing?

In 2007, they've turned to a word with the same root. Latin Surgere "to rise". I may be the only one who sees it this way, but all this surge talk is more sexual than electrical, but sexual in an odd way. Some have argued that the whole conservative movement has had a subtext of masculine insecurity. Its metaphors are about American assertiveness, potency, and most recently surging. I have nothing against Viagra. I'm even at an age where I've wondered from time to time where I might need it, but I don't think it's an accident that the first celebrity to endorse the drug was Bob Dole shortly after he lost the 1992 election.

In general, viagra ads and those knockoff ads for natural male enhancement like Bob of the Enzyte commercials hold out this pitiful promise- You take a pill and have an erection again for a couple hours and your entire life becomes manly again. The reality of course is that after you have your Rush Limbaugh night in the Dominican with your blue pills and partner(s) of choice (and how interesting is that color choice for the Red State types?), you're still overweight, you're losing your hair, what was once muscle is well something else, and....Those things can't be fixed with a surge of blood to the right organ. They need to be addressed and to a certain extent accepted with effort that involves real work and dedication.

How did the metaphor for American military power become an Enzyte commercial anyway?

btw, I passed on the Bushlite surge protectors but I did buy a couple surge protectors at the hardware store anyway. I looked into it though and learned that the only truly effective surge protector is to have a clean dependable source of power in the first place. The six dollar surge protector might help a little bit, but if you ignore the problem at its source an electrical disaster is inevitable. For a man whose dad once promised a thousand points of light, we're sure getting a lot of brownouts.



At 1/09/2007 05:53:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Such a great piece Chancelucky.

If this was a movie, everyone could accept it so I wonder what would happen if W. just went on tv and said I really screwed up, this is how and why and now here's my plan for moving on?

At 1/09/2007 09:34:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Dale,
I've read 2 books about W in the last 2 months, one by Maureen Dowd and the other by Kitty Kelley. Both note that he has difficult admitting that he made a mistake.
There are those who think he has a natural likeability, which would suggest that if he ever did so the public would be quick to forgive him. I, personally, don't see the likeable part but that's because I don't like him.

At 1/10/2007 01:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few hours ago I decided to call Mr. Bush The Hallucinator.

You're welcome to borrow it.

At 1/10/2007 09:27:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

"the Hallucinator", seems to fit pretty well to me. I just wish he wouldn't take us along with him on his trips out of the reality-based community.

At 1/10/2007 09:40:00 AM, Blogger None said...

The Hallucinator... I like it. I dont think Chris Berman could come up with more nicknames than El Presidente already has.

Bush seems to be buying time. Republicans seem bent on not being the ones to abandon Iraq. Let the Dems win the presidency? then images of a self-destructing country, the Republicans will be in office for 8 more years. Don't worry, even I dont buy that idea completely. Bush does seem concerned about his legacy and he is not going to leave that country.

At 1/10/2007 11:29:00 PM, Blogger inkyhack said...

Hmmmm. Bush? Legacy? I don't buy it. Someone pointed out to me several years ago that George W. Bush was never in office to create a legacy, which was a great concern. Clinton tried to create a legacy through universal health care and an Isreal-Palestinian peace. He failed, but he tried. George Bush senior tried to create one by bringing stability to the Middle East. He also failed, but he tried. Reagan brought down the wall (or so he claimed), Carter brought peace between Israel and Egypt and even Nixon opened up communist China. They all worked for those legacies. But Bush W.? It was clear from the start he wasn't interested in a legacy. He was just there to make his family and his buddies more rich. Even when history handed him a natural legacy building block - 9/11 - he didn't seize it. He could have used that event to really open up the doors to starting real dialogue with nations around the world about how to deal with terrorism. But instead, he just used it as an opportunity to invade the wrong country - an oil producing one at that. If Bush were really concerned about his legacy, he would have made a real effort to stabilize Afghanistan. Instead, we are just in this trillion-dollar catastrophe.

At 1/11/2007 09:50:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I probably have the same low opinion of the W as you, but I susppect that he did have a legacy in mind with all this.
I do honestly think that he had somehow thought his legacy was going to be the transformation of the Middle East. It was grossly miscalculated, rooted in total naivete about the culture, history, and even geopolitical realities of the region, etc., but I do think there was some fantasy there that wasn't that far off the New American Century notion. Of course, it's probably not a coincidence that it would also further enrich the companies that supported his candidacy.

In some ways, I think it's safer, fwiw, to be in the hands of someone who just wants to get rich than an ideologue. Someone who wants to get rich isn't going to destroy the world. You can't be rich if you destroy the world.

Of course, it's much better to have your government run by people who actually care about the common good, etc.


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