Friday, November 24, 2006

Driving the Ball Point Home

Every one knows how thankful I am, for the wonder of our lives and our country. This is a dramatic memory reconstruction of part of my holiday, since I did not have any recorded audio.

This year, we had thanksgiving dinner at my uncle's home, which is a welcome small island of conservative values. To add spice to the Pumpkin pie, was my sister. She is very liberal. She is usually very smart.


Archimedes volume principle applies to my sister, where any wine consumed, displaces the liberal thought, which must be vented to make more room for Merlot. This year, I decided not to engage in a long and fruitless emotional exchange. Neither mind would be enlightened; I can assure you.

The story would have ended here, if she wasn't spewing the tired drum mantra of evil American corporate culture all over my two young second cousins, who seemed to be listening somewhat indifferently.

I know their mother is a fellow conservative, so it is probably ok. Thank God she didn't start with the war for oil and the pathetic overused Bush speech. After the recent election and the recent layoffs at work, that would have ignited the gathering cloud of fumes around the room. Never mind. Leave it alone, Insolublog. My uncle was watching the NFL. I was switching between the screen and the anti-corporate propaganda campaign.

My two cousins gathered at the appetizer table and pull over a couple foldout chairs. The gravy was being simmered and assembled. The fragrant, corbread stuffing was being spooned onto a platter. Young Debbie, who is also celebrating her birthday is fingered the menu on her iPod. Jamie inspected the jacket of a CD he and his band cut together.

Here is a tip. Use a prop to make the truth of your point. These days, rhetoric will never be remembered, without a good visual aide and the holiday to tie it together. Everybody remembers the holidays and the events they bring. It is such a good time to craft memories that will stick to the future.

I thumbed around my effects. The cell phone would be overkill. A cell phone is such an unappreciated supreme miracle of modern creation, it would be like explaining the difference between a billion and a trillion. What did Reagan say? The national debt is big enough to take care of itself? Heh.

There it was. A generic ball point retractable pen. That would do. I grunted forward in the arm chair, and rolled myself to a standing stretch. I pulled my sweater back down and ambled over to the table. With an arcing motion, I slapped the pen down on the table, in front of my cousins.

Debbie, what is that?

She shrugged.

Uhh... It's just a pen?

Right. Just a pen. That little device is a miracle of the evil capitalist corporate conspiracy my sister hates so much. Look closely at it. There are several formulations of modern plastic chemistry there. from the hard plunger, to the rubberized grip. There is a precision tensioned spring. There is an elegant rotating mechanism which cycles round and round, making the pen point go in and out. You can see it through the clear barrel. There is a perfect tube, loaded with ink, of just the right viscosity. The ball in the tip keeps that ink flowing uninterrupted and without the need to dry the paper afterwards. All of the different plastic formulations are negotiated for price and shipped on time. We haven't even discussed the design for visual aethetics and human ergonomics. That little wonder is on the shelf over at Target in a box of twenty-five for three dollars. That is twelve cents a piece. There is no way a human being assembed that pen. To make their money, it must be assembled in a mere fraction of a second.


I had the rapt attention of these two kids, at this point.

It took energy to melt the plastic, extrude it, and inspect the parts automatically. Try to imagine building one yourself, at home, with homemade parts. You would not succeed. When my sister lays all this guilty garbage on you, about the butcher, baker and candlestick maker being put out of business by Wal-Mart, think hard about it. Would you like to carry bottles of ink and delicate, hand trimmed quill pens in your pockets, along with fine sand to dry the ink? That is the kind of pen the corner merchant can make for you. You will also pay a hundred dollars a box for them.

No person would be willing to trade this (holding the pen up) marvel for the pollyannish sophistry of the past. We will not even discuss the variety and quality of paper, which would make an old printer like Ben Franklin drool uncontrollably. But you said it Debbie. It is just a pen. The evil corporate conspiracy is so damn good at making them so efficiently and cheaply, that you can throw them out, without a second thought.

Jamie was now looking at his cell phone,. Debbie was looking at her iPod, instead of browsing it.

I love my sister, but on this day, Thanksgiving day, her language is the language of an ingrate. She is going to climb into a car she loves, full of engineering and computers. She is going to drive down to the evil oil company and pump that gasoline into her car. That oil was pumped out of the ground, cooked, seperated, formulated, purified, tanked and delivered to her, by the evil corporate conspiracy. It flows continuously, without interruption or complaint. She is all about passing laws and using government to regulate the people that make this pen and that gasoline, and every little wonder of the industrial world, which touches us every moment of our lives.
Remember, those lawmakers do not actually produce anything for delivery. They generally bicker, criticize and use people.

Then my twenty-one year old cousin said something that made me proud.

Yeah, I know. I would pay an extra dollar a gallon for gas, if we could fire all those a-hole congressmen.

He had heard every word, and he went on to share quite a few of his own; to my surprise and delight. These two kids filled me with hope for the youngest among us. In spite of their youth, they knew they were being spun and knew how to deal with it. They just wanted to listen to my story.

That revelation just made Thanksgiving a holiday to be thankful for.

14 comments:

RT said...

Man, I wish I had one tenth of your brain power. Wow! What an excellent argument.

You have smart cousins. :) Maybe someday your sister will change her mind...you never know.

Morris said...

"Maybe someday your sister will change her mind...you never know."

One can always hope, but I wouldn't bank on it. Many liberals don't think, they just emote from the garbage they've uncritically taken into their heads without checking the facts for themselves. In many cases they have an emotional investment in believing what they believe.

Great post Insol. As usual, you get your point across in picturesque fashion - even when you're working with words... *grin*

Dr. Phat Tony said...

Thanksgiving must be a real think tank at your house. All we did was eat too much.

Insolublog said...

RT,
The example was inpired by a lecture by McCalester College economics professor Tim Taylor. He used a pencil in his argument. Of course, the example is powerful enough to pull any number of items out of my pocket or off a nearby table and dissect them the same way. A foil pack of gum. An LED flashlight. Even a credit card. So many usefull examples to be thankful for.

I am also afraid Morris is right; on all points. It is rare to change the intractable mind of someone who has spent many years forming an opinion and surrounding it with a framework of false rationality. But you can often prevent new minds from favoring conspiracy thinking over simple truths. So many fall into conspiracy thinking because it is fun and adventurous, in a way, to formulate outrageous and obtuse hypothesis. It is a mental exercise that is intoxicates the theorist, as they gather 'evidence' to support their position. Then they claim the hypothesis to be a fact, based in science. Pure bunk. It is based in emotional gratification. That is why the simplest truths make the best short circuits for that garbage.

DPT, There's nothing wrong with quietly enjoying the holiday. That's actually how it started. But to be frank, it never seems to end that way.

HydroplaningCulture said...

But isn't that only part of the solution?

At 21 they are too old to be playing with this: http://www-education.rec.ri.cmu.edu/content/products/feature_previews/products/investigator/si_fp.htm#

They should already be like this guy: http://www.kevinparkin.org/index.asp

who just graduated from Caltech with a thesis on launching spaceships with ground-based microwave transmitters as power sources.

Or look at this site: http://www.webcom.com/sknkwrks/club.htm

These kids are far down the road of being productive humans.

HydroplaningCulture said...

I mean,
"the kids that participate in the activities I mentioned are much farther down the road of being productive humans" (than I am).

Insolublog said...

I see a lot of this in the youngest generation, Hydro. I see the use of computers to do things I never dreamed of. Just when you think they will falter in their human duty to stand on the shoulders of the giants before them, they surprise you by adding an extension ladder to boot.

Some of these kids are using our new information age to race past all of those academic dinosaurs that still think they are the only relevant and capable ship setting sail to the innovation of the future.

New nanopolymers and nanomachines.

Micromachined sensors with built in digital signal processing.

Machines with neural properties

Living tissue with machine properties.

Biochemical miracles of gene analysis, viral vector therapy, synthetic hormones to stabilize metabolic disorders.

Cloning organs for replacement. All of these achieved with advanced database correlation and analysis.

Human beings will soon be extending more than limbs with advanced prosthetics. They will be replacing senses and adding meta-faculties like artificial memory and cognitive capabilities.

Our generation may see fusion power, if the terrorists don't succeed in plunging humanity into the dark ages.

New technologists are now overlapping every specialty and science boundary with a growing body of knowledge, summoned at a keypress.

Soon, they probably will not even need to press keys.

Insolublog said...

Of course, every generation has its Einsteins and its village idiots. Hopefully, the side of the bell curve, populated by the idiots, does not take control of the asylum.

Ssssteve said...

I agree with RT!! Just a partial of your brain power would be great! Your insight is amazing! What a great lesson!! I may get to use it if you don't mind when I visit my in-laws at Christmas!

fmragtops said...

Great stuff, Insol. One of my favorite simple truths to give out when I hear that whole "Evil Oil Company" mantra is:

Though it is more dangerous and difficult to locate, refine, ship, and dispense, a gallon of gasoline is still cheaper than a gallon of milk.

RT said...

Citgo=evil oil company :)

Insolublog said...

Ssssteve - As I said, the credit for the example goes to Taylor. We should all use it at every opportunity.

fm - That milk would be pretty cheap too, if the government and the USDA were not fooling with the market price.

RT - Citgo was around before Hugo. It just might be around when he is taken out, by whatever method is necessary.

RT said...

I'm just irked by the Joe Kennedy ads...Chavez is in charge for now. (Hopefully he'll lose the election.)

The Conservative UAW Guy said...

Classic Insol.
Ya can't beat it.

Well done, as always, sir.