Cox Family Arguments

          To be a Cox is to love to argue. As proof of this, I would suggest that if you are a Cox (or are descended from one) and you are reading this, you have already taken exception to my use of the word “argue” and would insist that the word “discuss” would be much more appropriate. My wife, when viewing this Cox trait at various family gathering, retreats to that famous line from a Monty Python routine, “This isn’t an argument, this is abuse!” But regardless of what it is called, Coxes love to do it and the subject matter or how many times the exact same topic has been addressed in the past is largely irrelevant. I can remember at least three distinct occasions at supper in our house where a huge discussion/argument arose over the sugar content of pineapple juice, its role in a well-balanced diet, and whether it could be safely consumed by diabetics.

          But one argument/discussion has always stood out in my mind because I was particularly impressed by the skill of the two combatants and the techniques they used to advance their positions. The opponents were Robert L. Cox, Jr. (my uncle) and his first cousin, Ernest Steadman Cox. I forget the exact nature of the occasion that brought them together, but I believe it was the funeral of an elderly relative who had lived a long and full life so the gathering was more of a celebration of his or her life rather than mourning of one who had died prematurely. I believe it was in the middle 1970's, but certainly after the gasoline crisis of 1974 that prompted so many fuel conservation measures. The “discussion” between Uncle Bob and Cousin Ernie concerned the merits of the nationwide 55 mph speed limit. Cousin Ernie owned and operated a trucking company and like any good manager who was worth his salt, he defended the position his employees advocated, i.e., truck drivers who wanted to get home as quickly as possible and saw the 55 mph speed limit as an impediment to that objective.

          There was give and take between Uncle Bob and Cousin Ernie about various matters and eventually the discussion turned to some road tests conducted by the trucking industry at various speeds that tended to cast doubt on the claims of greatly increased fuel economy available at 55 mph. At this point, Uncle Bob attacked the validity of the results of these tests by referencing the well known principle that drag increases with the square of velocity and unless the trucking industry had discovered some way of repealing the laws of physics, fuel economy was bound to decrease with increasing speed.

          Cousin Ernie was just about the bite and respond to Uncle Bob on this point, when I all but saw a light bulb illuminate above his head. Cousin Ernie paused for a moment and I am certain that he was thinking, “How did this discussion get turned around so that I am debating drag coefficients with an aeronautical engineer of thirty-five years experience.” But true to his Cox heritage, Cousin Ernie paused for only a moment and then reentered the fray with renewed vigor. He quickly conceded the point that drag does indeed increase with the square of velocity and deftly shifted the focus of the discussion to the role that transmission gearing had on fuel economy with the implied assertion that it was a much more important factor than drag. With this shift accomplished, Cousin Ernie then asserted that transmissions for most trucks were set up so that on level terrain, 55 mph was in between gears so that maintaining that speed resulted in a regular shifting of gears up and down with a resulting impairment in fuel economy.

          Uncle Bob’s response to this line of attack was an inquiry as to why the trucking industry didn’t change the transmission gearing so as to make 55 mph more sustainable. But of course Uncle Bob wanted no more of an argument about transmissions with the owner of a trucking company than Cousin Ernie wanted an argument about drag coefficients with an aeronautical engineer. So from this point on, the argument veered off into an essentially unresolvable discussion of what role the government should play in remedying the collateral effects of its laws and regulations.

          I have always enjoyed the memory of this discussion and especially cherish the lesson of Cousin Ernie’s quick realization of the weakness of his position and his near instantaneous abandonment of it accompanied by the simultaneous shifting to a new position that could be defended. While I can’t claim to have executed this complex series of maneuvers as well as Cousin Ernie, it was a valuable lesson that I have put to good use with gratifying results many times in my life.