Priceless Graphite

with a pencil you are totally free

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It’s a tool. As is the plough, as are sextants and swords, as is the shovel, as are sickles and hammers, as is the hypodermic syringe (that may carry a lifesaving elixir, an opioid escape or a life saving or a life ending chemical cocktail). Yet, in distinction to those tools, this one, the tool that I talk of now, is by far the more influential. It articulates, crafts, drafts and sketches. It is one that we have all had in our hands at one point in time or more. We use it to colour in shapes etc. as kids at Kindergarten, to spell out words teachers teach us at School. We use it to write shopping lists for trips to Sweihan’s Abu Siraj Supermarket; we use it to organise thoughts and explore our emotions in private diaries. I think it lets is demonstrate we are human kind. It is, as I know you now know, the pencil [take your pick, your etching stick, 9H through HB to 9xxB].

The computer dictates how you do something, whereas with a pencil you are totally free.
— James Dyson, Inventor (1947– )

Put down your pistols, pick up your pencils. Holding them can be therapeutic it can also be fantastically lucrative. As one advertising campaign proclaims, pencils are where it ‘all’ begins – i.e., the ‘it’ is creativity, e.g., the ‘it’ can be influential literature, impressive architecture, iconic furniture (poetic licence permits me to include here other writing instruments such as the quill of the 18th and 19th centuries and the ink pen of the 20th century and the digital stylus/iPencil of the 21st). The pencil, in olden days, was so expensive. Nowadays, it is cheap and everyone can have one. They now come in every shade of the rainbow but for me, I will stick to graphite grey.
The magic ingredient is indeed graphite (a non-metal mineral), but we often call this lead. As do most good things, the word graphite comes from the ancient Greeks ‘graphein’ – in other words it means to write. Pencil is derived from the Latin ‘pencillus’, meaning little tail, to describe the small ink brushes used for writing in the Middle Ages (imagine for a magic moment these writing sticks in the hands of Chaucer, Dante, Machiavelli, Marlowe and last but not least, Shakespeare). According to J. D. Barrow, the modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jaques Conte, a scientist working in the Army of Napoleon Bonaparte. I understand from “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that great inventions are results of war. So my humble black and yellow Germany made Staedtler pencil (Norris HB[2] Art. Nr. 122-HB EAN 40 07817 106365) is a child of long past war. My wood wrapped writing stick is born with blood and death on its hands?

Ideas are elusive things so keep a pad of paper and a pencil at your bedside, by so doing, you can stab them during the night before they get away.
— Earl Nightingale, Commentator (1921–1989)

The strange thing about graphite is that it is a form of pure carbon that is one of the softest solids known to scientists (is a soft solid, an oxymoron?). Yet if the graphite’s atomic structure is changed just a little bit it becomes a diamond; the hardest solid known to us. Carbon Dioxide is CO2 and as every Emirati high school graduate knows, this is a Global Warming Greenhouse gas. Indeed, we learn from Google/Wikipedia that Carbon makes up 18 per cent of me and, my dear reader, you. Pencils can be square, polygonal or round, depending on its intended use. It is know that vocational people do not much love round pencils because they roll off of tables etc. During the nineteenth century a major pencil manufacturing industry developed in Great Britain where Barrow informs us, “the purest graphite can be found.” The first pencil factory says Barrow was opened in England in the 1830s. I’d like to move to the Derwent brand (I’d love to visit the Derwent Pencil Museum, which a BBC website review say is one of the most peculiar days out in the UK; one that will fulfil the hopes and dreams of pencil fanatics everywhere), but I cannot leave my black and yellow stripped German made digging tool.

Without a pencil in my hand I am not me. If I am not me then I’m blunt and need to be sharper, before my ink runs dry I am now going to ‘pencil’ some sagely advice. According to Alison Nastasi, writers like John Steinbeck and Vladimir Nabokov were pencil fanatics. Nabokov (a user of Faber-Castell Blackwing 602s) outlined his novels and used one to write, “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.” Steinbeck loved the Mongol 480 (Faber-Castell again) as it was topped with a rubber. Nastasi says that Steinbeck used 300 pencils to write East of Eden (who, I wonder, counted them). My sagely advice, I hear you ask. Well dear reader, it is this, read these words—written in/by pencil—by Steinbeck: “The free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable element in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.”


Inspirations and/or Recommended Readings

Barrow, J. D. (2010). 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know. London: Random House.

Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton & Company, Inc.

Nastasi, A (2013, August 17). The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors. Flavorwire.

Lust and Lambast

A hand left poignantly unshaken; a republican party, quite unstirred.

hand-shake

hand-up

Writing concisely is not my style yet, as column inches for anything other than celebrity gossip, consumer reviews and self-help are now such a precious commodity, I must be succinct. Even if I were allowed to go wild with the word count, it would probably demonstrate only the validity of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Nowadays smartphone shortened attention spans need to be taken into account. In order to gain wide readership on matters of current affairs, being parsimonious with prose is a necessity. Gone are the days when waxing lyrical in verbose flowery language on issues of international political economy was considered a mark of distinction.

Partisanship must also be accounted for more before. Both liberals and conservatives now read mostly within their own communal and gated echo chambers. Each is served with bespoke newsfeeds that are informed (and manipulated) by ‘big data’ analytics and, essentially only serve to reinforce extant prejudices.

Adding further weight to the Editor’s demand that this article be no more than 900 words, is the fact that its contemporary flag—the courageous testimony of Dr Christine Ford—is yesterday’s news; it is all but academic now.

Nevertheless, the selection of Judge Brett “the gyrating groper” Kavanaugh to the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States, once more, the mother of all misnomers: the ‘Pro-Life’ constituent. It also makes clear the extent to which a female’s right to decide upon her own reproductive decisions is now under threat. This event, this very partisan confirmation, places the march of progress toward gender equality (‘and’ autonomy from man) that’s been taking place since at least 1913—when Emily Davison was trampled and killed by a racing horse—is now, once more, in serious jeopardy.

This isn’t really news, I hear you say. I concede, women have indeed been controlled and told what to do since the day that the mythical Eve took a—no doubt ‘dainty’—bite of the apple. I agree with you, I’ve recently read Eric Berkowitz’s, Sex and Punishment. From the savage impalement of Mesopotamian women several millennia ago to the Yazidi sex slaves of modern day Babylonia, the female form has long been lusted by men and lambasted by men.

There are mitigating circumstances, I hear you say. I concede here too. These are uncertain times, infotech and biotech are disrupting everything. It is evident that the discontents resulting from the maturing of globalisation have rekindled Huntington-style ‘us’ versus ‘them’ populism. But what is only know becoming apparent is just how gendered the undertones of this regression are. President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, dreams aloud of raping Miss Universe. The macho misogynist Brazilian President, Jair “Trump of the Tropics” Bolsonaro, makes clear he’d only rape attractive women. And of course, (the once progressive) ‘Free World’ has Donald “Pussy Grabber” Trump. President Trump is categorically and publicly sexist. Recently, for instance, he described Stephanie Clifford as being “horse faced.”

Just because we can point out causal factors, does not mean we should demurely accept their consequences. We should not allow ourselves to become one of the ‘them’s for such men of power to rile against. This then brings us to one area, one appellation worth agitating against: a constituent of American voters know as ‘Pro-Lifers.’

On the face of it they sound rather caring and progressive. However, they are far from harmless. Indeed, they are both anti-life and very much against gender equality. It is this group who sought a Supreme Judge of Kavanaugh’s ilk. Pro-lifers are pro guns. Correct me if I am wrong, but guns are designed to extinguish life. Whilst delusionally obsessed with unborn foetuses (grounded, you see, on biblical myth) they are vociferously pro capital punishment and are totally okay with tucking into meat feast pizzas and Surf ‘n’ Turf slaughter house offerings.

Moreover, Pro-lifers are church going folk, ipso facto, they believe the battle of Armageddon to be sacrosanct. To be clear, they pray for a Third World War, it is prophesised so it must be true. There is little that is endearing about pro-lifers. Their morality (e.g., not coveting each other’s wives) is based only on their fear of the lord’s damnation to an eternally burning hell. They are not morally decent because it is morally decent to be morally decent. They are, according to their own narrative and logic, morally decent because god commands it.

As a result of their ‘morality’, when Dr Ford—who, unlike Judge Kavanaugh, took a polygraph test and passed—raised her hand and spoke the truth, many pro-lifers petitioned their Republican representatives to turn a blind (uncaring) eye and allow her words to fall upon deaf (unprogressive) ears. Kavanaugh’s being anti-abortion and pro gun trumped his sexual abuse of nonconsenting women. Trump, I imagine, isn’t that concerned about the issue of abortion; neither really are Fox & Friends (the latter are essentially friends of the mega-rich who care only about Trump’s tax cuts). Yet, by facilitating the overturning of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade (i.e., the decriminalisation of abortion) Trump will, by way of the Court’s newest appointee, deliver unto himself the pro-life vote in 2020 and thus, for ‘us’, another four years of megalomania.