Sunday, July 15, 2007

Call It Hubris

One of my favorite authors is Mark Twain. He was truly a great American and a great American writer. And just as much as he is probably our greatest writer, he was one of our greatest social commentators and satirists. It is probably that vein of irreverence for convention, shot through everything he wrote, that makes me love his writing so much. He, like most great Americans, was very critical of the America that he saw, because in his heart, he envisioned the America that could be.

It is easy to understand why he was so critical of his world. He grew up in the age of slavery. He ran away out West to avoid fighting in the Civil War. He lived through the assassination of the President, and the awful Reconstruction period that followed. He watched the Gilded Age flourish, where a few families – like JP Morgan and the Rockefellers – amassed the greatest fortunes ever seen on the planet through the devices of sweat shop labor and overpowering financial manipulations. So, it is no small wonder that, in his later years, when he began to tour and lecture, he joked incessantly about the smallness of great men and the crookedness of their most forthright pronouncements.

He had no great love for politicians and big business. The love he had left was for humanity and for his country and for the unachieved potential that he saw for it to do more than make the rich richer.

He died poor. That is usually the way of it, though. There’s hardly ever a buck in telling the Truth, or even pointing people in the general direction of the Truth. Because the Truth is kind of like taking medicine. It’s not always pleasant. It’s not always something you’re going to want to do, or see, or hear. You see, people will build a million constructs in their mind for denying the Truth if it even looks like medicine, or if it means that they have to surrender even one of their guilty pleasures.

Like people who smoke. Those of us who don’t smoke know that they’re not only killing themselves but they’re killing us too with their second hand smoke. I can hear the collective mouse click as 21% of you – the smokers out there – close this window. Some of you – those of you who still smoke in your homes – are killing your children, too.

But they still smoke. They don’t want to swallow the medicine of Truth that says that smoking causes cancer and a boatload of other diseases for them and for the people around them.

With smokers, at least they have an excuse, They’re addicted to a drug, and so when they defend their Right To Smoke it’s not really them talking. It’s the Drug. It’s like that Crackhead begging change in traffic with the Will Work For Food sign and all those good reasons why he can’t give up The Rock today. The next time you’re stuck at the light listening to his jibberish, nodding your head and trying to roll up your window, think about the arguments your friends give you for why they still smoke.

Except for the shabby clothes and that you smelled him coming, there’s really not a lot of difference, is there? Wait a minute. Not a good comparison. I can smell cigarette smokers coming, too. That’s something else I don’t think smokers are aware of; how much they positively reek when they’ve just stubbed out a cigarette. Cigarette smokers always stink. But, man, right after they’ve put one out. Whew!

Or like people who drive V-8 powered, third and fourth row seating SUV’s. Yes. I know. Another huge mouse click just occurred. But seriously, unless you’re an unreformed Mormon (another, albeit smaller, mouse click), with three wives and 12 kids, I don’t get mega-row seating. I don’t get the need to be that environmentally unconscious just so you can take your 2.3 kids to McDonalds.

I don’t think it would bother me so much if those of you who do it would just say, “I do it because I want to and because I don’t care about the US being a nation dependent on oil from regions that are often hostile to the US, and I don’t care about the ever increasing gasoline prices, and I don’t care that all the legislation from the 1970’s that put safety bumpers on autos is for naught because every one of those cars fits UNDER my SUV come crash time and I know that I’m gypping everybody by taking the Heavy Equipment tax deduction on my luxury laden, $75,000 pimped out SUV. I just don’t care. I want my SUV”, instead of saying, “I feel safer and I think that global warming is a myth”.

Because then you’re starting to sound like the Crackhead with 35 Very Good Reasons Why I Can’t Quit Today.

And those of you who see The Truth in what I’m saying know that you can’t reason with them. Not with any of them. It doesn’t matter what proofs you show them. It doesn’t matter how much evidence you amass. It doesn’t matter how many people are saying the same thing you are.

Because you’re screwing with their Comfort Zone. Once someone’s adopted a toy or a gadget and likes the way it looks, feels, smells, tastes, works, etc., you might as well hang up having a rational conversation with them about The Side Effects.

Like with SUV’s. One side effect is we may have to send some of our children, as they’re just leaving their teen years and before we invest any real money or effort in educating or training them, to fight and possibly die in some far away country that just happens to be strategically located over one of the world’s largest remaining oil reserves. You may not like the way that sounds, but it’s a pretty fair summation of how our society fights it’s wars, and, generally speaking, who fights them, and why they’re fought. You can jump down my throat with all kinds of arguments about the security of our nation and defending freedom and democracy and such, but before you know it, you’re sounding a lot like our friends who smoke cigarettes.

Getting back to cigarettes for a minute. We’ve all seen the movies with Russell Crow and Al Pacino and that new one with Aaron Eckhert, Thank You For Smoking. We all know now that the tobacco companies lied about the link from cigarette smoking to cancer for about 40 or 50 years. We just laughed our asses off at a comedy movie portraying that very fact. According to the World Health Organization, “worldwide, some 5 million persons die from tobacco related illnesses every year”. We all know that corporate America lied to us and as a result, millions and millions of people have died.

And I know that some of you out there who read this blog regularly are thinking, “Oh, God, the Pool Guy’s really flipped. He’s going to compare salt systems to the Cigarette Death Merchants.”

Not at all. But I want to point out that when it comes to your best interest, there’s no one that’s going to legislate your toys. Nobody’s watching. The government isn’t in the business of protecting you. If they were, the CEO’s of the major cigarette manufacturers would have been prosecuted as accomplices in the deaths of all of those people for all of the years that the cigarette companies sat on that data.

But nothing happened. All of their stocks are still a Good Investment. My Country Tis of Thee, huh?

So, empirically and historically, there’s more evidence to support my argument that salt systems are bad for your pool and that they’re lying to you when they say that I’m a crackpot than there is that corporate America is fully disclosing everything they know about the long term damage that salt and the electrolysis process will do to your pool.

Call me crazy. Go ahead.

It is the craziest thing to me that we venerate the Truth Tellers many years later after we can no longer deny that they were, in fact, Telling the Truth.

Like Mark Twain. In his day, lots of people thought Mark Twain was a smart-aleck who was bad for business. It turns out he was a smart-aleck who was bad for business and he was Right. Being Right, and funny, is why we admire him now.

Here’s a real polarizing example that’ll get a lot of mouses clicking:

Michael Moore. So many people hate him. But just a few years ago he made a little movie that said that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and that our soldiers, returning from honorable duty in a dishonorable war, were being treated even more dishonorably at Walter Reed Hospital. He even showed video footage of the horrible conditions at Walter Reed.

And everybody looked at that video footage, evidence of our wounded soldiers suffering in obscure silence, and said he was a crackpot…

Three years later, everybody knows that intelligence about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq was falsified, and now after three years, there’s finally been a Congressional Investigation into the horrible conditions our wounded troops have had to endure at Walter Reed Hospital.

So, everybody will keep hating him, and then, as more and more of what he documents proves to be true – re: Roger and Me, Fahrenheit 9/11, etc. – then he’ll be viewed more and more like Twain.

But history shows us that while the Truth Tellers are Telling the Truth, we listen to the Fast Buck Artists instead. We listen to the same Corporate America that’s screwed us more times than we can count, and we listen to the government that does as little as possible to regulate them.

And I think a lot of it is because they’re really just telling us what we want to hear. Corporate America sells us a Cool Gadget and tells us there’s no Down Side, and we want to believe they’re telling the truth because we just love this Gadget. The government doesn’t really have a dog in the fight as long as the consumer appears to be happy taking their screwing, and even when the evidence starts to mount up, the Glacier’s Pace of government proceedings ensures that the Corporate Guys will be able to keep the consumer bent over out behind the barn for quite a while longer. Throw in some off-election year apathy, some on-election year campaign contributions and you’ve got a near endless cycle of never quite getting around to dealing with the problem. Usually, people just stop using the Cool Gadget because it turns out to suck so much that it gets classified as Totally Uncool, and by then, Corporate America has moved on to the next indispensable Cool Gadget.

Remember polybutylene plumbing?

Remember that spray-in foam insulator that was all the rage for older, uninsulated homes back in the seventies that later turned out to gas off CFC’s and formaldehyde fumes into your home, making it pretty much uninhabitable instead of just cold?

Remember the Radium Girls? Hundreds of women who painted the luminescence on the numbers at the US Radium Corporation clock factory in Orange, New Jersey? This wasn’t some third world barrio that could be easily ignored. This is Tony Soprano Land were talking about.

The glow-in-the-dark luminescence these women painted on the clock faces was called Undark. “They were required to paint delicate lines with fine-tipped brushes, applying the Undark to the tiny numbers and indicator hands of wristwatches. After a few strokes a brush tended to lose its shape, so the women's managers encouraged them to use their lips and tongues to keep the tips of the camel hair brushes sharp and clean. The glowing paint was completely flavorless, and the supervisors assured them that rosy cheeks would be the only physical side effect to swallowing the radium-laced pigment.”

They all died. Their children, and children’s children all had related health issues. The first woman who suspected that her problems might have been from radium exposure sought professional help. A “specialist from Columbia University named Frederick Flynn asked to examine her. Flynn declared her to be in fine health. It would be some time before anyone discovered that Flynn was not a doctor, nor was he licensed to practice medicine, rather he was a toxicologist on the US Radium payroll. A ‘colleague’ who had been present during the examination– and who had confirmed the healthy diagnosis– turned out to be one of the vice-presidents of US Radium.”

Remember when Sears – the name you trust – got busted by the state of California for systematically and routinely performing unnecessary auto repairs? The California report stated that there was every indication that the fraud extended beyond the borders of their state and was endemic in the Sears auto repair system.

Remember Enron? They were billed at the Smartest Guys In The Room wherever they went. And they were. All but a few of them kept most of the money they stole.

You don’t really need a link for Enron, do you? I mean, there’s no one who wants to dispute that those Enron cowboys should have been shot and then hanged, is there?

But we’re not talking about a major plumbing manufacturer, or the radium company that still does business with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission today after changing names and owners enough times to throw off the legal responsibility for the two toxic Superfund sites it’s created over the years. Go to BACKGROUND and read the 3rd and 4th paragraphs down.

And we’re not talking about a household name like Sears, or a major Energy Company like Enron, one who routinely advised the Executive Branch of our government on our National Energy Policy.

No. We’re talking about Salt Reps selling Salt Boxes in the Swimming Pool Business.

Don’t you feel better now? Of course nothing’s wrong with your salt system. People Making Money in the Pool Biz Have Never Been Wrong Before…

I mean, come on. You’re paying as much as $2,000 for technology that you can get for $145 from Cabela’s.

And you don’t think there’s something up? You don’t think you’re being screwed like a stump-tied goat?

Okay fine…

So, my advice to all you folks who already own one of those two thousand dollar salt system and are bothered by what I say; stop reading my blog. Why aggravate yourself? If you like the way the water feels and you think your salt rep is just a swell guy, then drink up. Enjoy the Kool Aid. If it doesn’t work out and you start to notice that things are beginning to fall apart, then you can come back and read through the archives. Whatever problem you’re having I’ve probably talked about it, or will talk about as salt problems continue to present themselves.

And to all you Salties out there, all you folks whose job it is to try to keep your foot on the throat of guys like me; I admit to the failing of hubris in thinking that I could come onto your turf and talk sense in a place that allows the posting of nonsense in response, or that I could find a level playing field in a place that touts a discount on salt systems as a “member benefit”. I realized I was in the wrong place when I found myself
stooping to answer the question; if salt systems are destroying swimming pools, then as a pool serviceman, why am I not happy with that?

Because I don’t work at Sears. That’s why.

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