Slavery

I’ve been thinking about slavery recently. Smokers are often described as ‘slaves’ to their ‘addiction’. And Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom could have easily been The Road to Slavery ( a slave, it seems, was owned by somebody, while a serf was tied to a location).

But also I came across a piece by the economist Paul Krugman, Slavery’s Long Shadow. which ended with the words:

Every once in a while you hear a chorus of voices declaring that race is no longer a problem in America. That’s wishful thinking; we are still haunted by our nation’s original sin.

This seemed to suggest that slavery was a sin, and that it was uniquely America’s ‘original sin’. As if Americans had invented it, just like they invented atomic bombs (presumably another original sin).

But quite obviously Americans didn’t invent slavery. Slavery had been around for thousands of years. Ancient Greece and Rome were dependent upon it.

No. If anything America was a country that woke up to the sinfulness of slavery (about the same time as Britain did). Because the ancient world had a very different attitude to it:

slavery

Slavery was ‘completely accepted’ as ‘an inevitable and unavertable condition’! And nobody could even conceive of the possibility of its abolition!

So how come Americans didn’t regard slavery as inevitable and unavertable? Or, why did the ancients regard slavery as inevitable and unavertable? Did Americans have uniquely high moral standards? Or did the ancients have almost universally low moral standards?

My proposed solution to this puzzle is to suggest that the ancients needed slaves, and 19th century Americans didn’t need them. And to explain why, I’d like to discuss horses instead of slaves.

Horses may be regarded as slave animals. They are usually owned by somebody, and they are used, among other things, as a means of transportation. Yet it seems that in the early 20th century, there was an emancipation of horses which took place without there being a accompanying moral crusade for their liberation. And this happened because horses and horse-drawn transport were largely replaced by cars and trains and buses, which were much faster and could carry more, over a period of a few decades. They were simply no longer needed. Technological innovation had rendered them redundant.

Returning to human slavery, I’d like to suggest that the same thing was happening as with horses, except that the emancipation of slaves was accompanied by a vociferous moral campaign. On one side of the argument was the newly industrialised American North, where slavery had largely been rendered redundant. And on the other side was the rural South, where slavery had yet to become redundant – because farm tractors and combine harvesters had yet to be invented. Cotton and sugar and tobacco farms were labour-intensive, and they needed the cheap labour that slavery provided.

If the emancipation of slaves had followed the same course as the emancipation of horses, slavery would have died out in the South a few decades after it had died out in the North, with no great fuss being made about it. Instead, after a bloody civil war it was forced on the South by the newly moralistic North, which could happily oppose slavery precisely because it no longer had any need of it.

And if we want to understand the ancients’ attitudes to slavery, we can find it in our attitudes to food. We kill and eat plants and animals because we have no option but to do so. But should we ever become able to manufacture proteins and carbohydrates independently of, and more cheaply than, the plants and animals that now provide them, then there will follow the emancipation of wheat and oats and cattle and sheep. And you can bet your bottom dollar that, as soon as they’ve switched over to the new artificial foodstuffs, their consumers will be wagging moralistic fingers at people who still eat traditional farm-produced plants and animals. They’ll be calling them ‘mass murderers’. In fact, you can bet they’ll force them to stop eating traditional food, quite possibly after another bloody civil war.

Returning to tobacco, and smoking bans, antismoking zealots quite often compare the introduction of smoking bans to the emancipation of slaves. And they do indeed see smokers as slaves who need to be emancipated. But where is the technological innovation which rendered smoking redundant? It can’t have been the e-cigarette, because the zealots want to ban that too.

Holier-than-thou moralists always see themselves as hastening the forward march of history, speeding what would inevitably happen. But there is no law of nature which demands steady progress in one direction. The natural world is cyclical, and demonstrates both ebb and flow. So the march of progress, in the form of technological innovation, might well first be stopped, and then reversed. It is not inconceivable that our modern technological society could go into reverse, and that we start to need to use horses and oxen to draw ploughs again.

And the reviled institution of slavery might re-appear.

And, of course, smoking as well.

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Prison Smoking Bans

H/T Rose and Harley. BBC:

Australian experts are split over whether smoking bans are a crucial advance in prison health or “a bridge too far” that can only spark unrest.

On Tuesday, hundreds of prisoners lit fires, broke walls and smashed windows in a 15-hour riot at a Melbourne prison in what authorities believe may have been a reaction to a smoking ban at the remand facility.

It was one of the worst prison riots in recent memory and authorities and commentators moved quickly to either condemn or support the state-wide prison smoking ban.

Western Australian Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis says his state won’t be following the Victorian model yet.

He says the riot affirmed his decision to reject calls from prison officers for a full ban on smoking in his state’s prisons, where inmates are still permitted to smoke in designated outdoor areas.

“As a former smoker, I can tell you it’s a bloody difficult habit to kick,” he told a Perth radio station.

He says many prisoners are already going “cold turkey” on drug or alcohol addictions, are separated from their family and often suffering mental health issues.

His prison officers are “bitterly divided” on the issue and have warned him a ban could lead to prisoner riots.

“My gut instinct is that banning smoking in prisons is a bridge too far for many people,” he says.

“Prisoners are sent to prison as punishment not for punishment.”

Smoking bans are punishment for smokers,  and extra punishment for prisoners. At a second prison:

Tensions are still running high in Victoria’s prison system over the new smoking bans.

Convicted mass murderer Julian Knight has told a Melbourne court that Port Phillip prison is on the verge of a riot similar to the rampage by inmates in the Metropolitan Remand Centre in Ravenhall late on Tuesday.

“I’m currently sitting in a 1,200-bed prison which is in lockdown and on the verge of kicking off here as it did with the MRC,” he told supreme court justice Rita Zammit on Friday.

Knight was in court for a judgment in a case against Port Phillip prison manager Ian Thomas.

He said nicotine patches had not been provided to inmates even though that had been planned as part of Corrections Victoria’s phasing in of a complete smoking ban in all Victorian prisons from 1 July.

Knight said he had been telling the courts for years what would happen if a smoking ban was introduced but had been ignored.

“I think Ravenhall says it all,” he said.

Victorian prisons have been in lockdown since Tuesday’s riots, the worst in Victoria’s history, where inmates smashed doors, windows and fences, started fires and damaged staff areas over the ban.

Why smoking bans in prison are not the answer:

It’s a lesson in economics 101. In prisons where cigarettes are banned, they sell for up to $20 each, and whole packs of cigarettes can sell for up to $200. This creates a major profit opportunity for gangs, who already have networks for smuggling other things, but cigarettes take it to another level in terms of the profit potential.

And this is also a source of corruption amongst prison employees. If you think from the perspective of a prison guard, they may never be willing to smuggle heroin or cocaine, because of the moral opprobrium associated with those. But when it comes to smuggling cigarettes, you’re violating the same laws of contraband, yet you can see how a lot of guards could say, “Well, what’s so terrible about selling a cigarette? I know I’m breaking the rules, but here I can make a little money. I smoke, he smokes, what’s the big deal?”

…There’s a real paucity of any serious research examining these prohibitions. Does it increase corruption and black markets? Do tobacco bans enrich prison gangs? Are there growing levels of violence associated with this? We don’t have solid answers on any of this stuff, and I think it’s a tragedy that there isn’t any good information.

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The Absolute Mess of the Eurozone

Whatever the outcome of the Greek crisis, the image of the EU has been very badly damaged. Breitbart:

What an absolute mess the Eurozone has become. Does David Cameron really think he can mount a persuasive argument for the UK to stay in a minute longer or will he be the only rat swimming towards that sinking ship?

The Week:

Greece must be cudgeled into cringing subordination — or if it leaves the euro, it must be as brutal an experience as possible, so as to put fear into the hearts of anyone else who would question elite hegemony.

That seems to be the ultimate endpoint of European post-democracy. Eurozone elites were too stupid or insane to avoid crushing Spain and Greece (and every member of the eurozone to some extent, even Germany) with austerity and tight money. Now that the worst-hit country has tried to wriggle out of the iron maiden, it will either be forced to submit or scourged out of the euro. If Spain tries the same trick — it has seen the rise of a similar leftist party — it will surely get the same treatment. God only knows who might be next, when the next financial crisis comes.

Unity, prosperity, and democracy have been struck off the European monument. In its place are division, economic collapse, and an aristocracy of well-credentialed idiots.

Zero Hedge:

Europe has moved, at a very rapid clip, from a union of 28 different sovereign states, each with their own governments and political views and directions, to one where a top heavy bureaucratic structure, hand-puppeted on by a mere handful member states and systemic banks, dictate what each member state, both its politicians and its citizens, may do or not do. Or think. Electing a left wing government, for instance, equals asking for trouble.

There is no democracy left in Europe, people have no direct say anymore, there’s just a two-pronged dictatorship: there’s Merkel and Hollande, who in the Greek crisis have proven themselves to be mere tools to vested interests

And H/T Rene van Geffen (why he commented in About, I do not know) for this:

From Ukraine to Uruguay, Moldova to the Philippines, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its foreign affiliates have become the hammer for the tobacco industry, engaging in a worldwide effort to fight antismoking laws of all kinds, according to interviews with government ministers, lobbyists, lawmakers and public health groups in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States.

The U.S. Chamber’s work in support of the tobacco industry in recent years has emerged as a priority at the same time the industry has faced one of the most serious threats in its history. A global treaty, negotiated through the World Health Organization, mandates anti-smoking measures and also seeks to curb the influence of the tobacco industry in policy making. The treaty, which took effect in 2005, has been ratified by 179 countries; holdouts include Cuba, Haiti and the United States.

Facing a wave of new legislation around the world, the tobacco lobby has turned for help to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with the weight of American business behind it. While the chamber’s global tobacco lobbying has been largely hidden from public view, its influence has been widely felt.

Letters, emails and other documents from foreign governments, the chamber’s affiliates and antismoking groups, which were reviewed by The New York Times, show how the chamber has embraced the challenge, undertaking a three-pronged strategy in its global campaign to advance the interests of the tobacco industry.

In the capitals of far-flung nations, the chamber lobbies alongside its foreign affiliates to beat back antismoking laws.

The treaty mentioned is undoubtedly the FCTC, about which Chris Snowdon had this to say today:

The ‘Treaty’ has never been enshrined in law in Britain or the EU, so this is wibble from the outset. There are no ‘legal obligations’. From a legal perspective, the FCTC is nothing more than a bunch of aspirations, but even if Article 5.3 was the law, it clearly refers to health policy, not trade policy, smuggling or waste disposal.

I’d always understood that once the UK had ratified the FCTC (which it has), it was bound by it, and that’s one of the main reasons why smoking bans have been rolled out by signatory countries all around the world. This needs further investigation (see comments here).

Anyway, I didn’t know the US Chamber of Commerce had taken the side of tobacco companies. I’m so used to big organisations being fully-paid-up antismoking shills that it came as a bit of a shock to find one that wasn’t. I guess that is because it’s probably not a government agency.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions. Our members range from mom-and-pop shops and local chambers to leading industry associations and large corporations. They all share one thing–they count on the Chamber to be their voice in Washington, D.C.

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The End of Truth

I’ve been reading Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, the chapter called The End of Truth, and as I was reading it seemed to be as relevant today as it was when it was first written.

To make a totalitarian system function efficiently it is not enough that everybody should be forced to work for the same ends. It is essential that the people should come to regard them as their own ends. Although the beliefs must be chosen for the people and imposed upon them, they must become their beliefs, a generally accepted creed which makes the individuals as far as possible act spontaneously in the way the planner wants.

A propaganda-imposed belief that is now generally accepted: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer.

This is brought about by various forms of propaganda. Its technique is now so familiar that we need say little about it. The only point that needs to be stressed is that neither propaganda in itself, nor the techniques employed, are peculiar to totalitarianism, and that what so completely changes its nature and effect in a totalitarian state is that all propaganda serves the same goal, that all the instruments of propaganda are co-ordinated to influence the individual in the same direction and to produce the characteristic Gleichschaltung of all minds… If all the sources of current information are effectively under one single control, it is no longer a question of merely persuading the people of this or that. The skilful propagandist then has power to mould their minds in any direction he chooses and even the most intelligent and independent people cannot entirely escape that influence if they are long isolated from all other sources of information.

The internet is a new source of information that is not under one single control. It breaks the monopoly.

Although the planning authority will constantly have to decide issues on merits about which there exist no definite moral rules, it will have to justify its decisions to the people – or, at least, have somehow to make the people believe that they are the right decisions. Although those responsible for a decision may have been guided by no more than prejudice, some guiding principle will have to be stated publicly if the community is not merely passively to submit but actively to support the measure. The need to rationalise the likes and dislikes which, for lack of anything else, must guide the planner in many of his decisions, and the necessity of stating his reasons in a form in which they will appeal to as many people as possible, will force him to construct theories, i.e. assertions about the connections between facts, which then become an integral part of the governing doctrine. This process of creating a “myth” to justify his action may not be conscious. The totalitarian leader may be guided merely by an instinctive dislike of the state of things he has found and a desire to create a new hierarchical order which conforms better to his conception of merit… So he will readily embrace theories theories which seem to provide a rational justification for the prejudices which he shares with many of his fellows. Thus a pseudo-scientific theory becomes part of the official creed. which to a greater of lesser degree directs everybody’s action…

The totalitarian antismoker ‘instinctively dislikes’ smoking, and will readily embrace the idea that Smoking Kills or Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, and this pseudoscience becomes the official creed.

The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognised before. The people are made to transfer their allegiance from the old gods to the new under the pretence that the new gods really are what their sound instinct had always told them but what before they had only dimly seen. And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning. Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed.

e.g. ‘gay’, ‘liberal’, etc.

The worst sufferer in this respect is, of course, the word liberty. It is a word used as freely in totalitarian states as elewhere. Indeed it could almost be said – and it should serve as a warning to us to be on our guard against all the tempters who promise New Liberties for Old – that whatever liberty as we understand it has been destroyed, this has almost always been done in the name of some new freedom promised to the people.

e.g. the lost freedom to smoke in pubs has been replaced by the new ‘freedom’ of making them smoke-free.

The situation in a totalitarian state is permanently and in all fields the same as it is elsewhere in some fields in wartime. Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent must be kept from the people… There is consequently no field where the systematic control of information will not be practised and uniformity of views not enforced.

This applies even to fields apparently most remote from any political interests, and particularly to all the sciences, even the most abstract. That in disciplines… such as history, law, or economics, the disinterested search for truth cannot be allowed in a totalitarian system… is easily seen. It is not surprising that in these spheres even the pretence that they search for truth is abandoned and that the authorities decide what doctrines ought to be taught and published…. they all seem to have in common an intense dislike of of the more abstract forms of thought – a dislike characteristically also shown by many of the collectivists among our scientists.

e.g. antismoking pseudoscience with its foregone conclusions.

It is entirely in keeping with the whole spirit of totalitarianism that it condemns any activity done for its own sake and without ulterior motive. Science for science’ sake, art for art’s sake, are equally abhorrent to the Nazis, our socialist intellectuals, and the communists. Every activity must derive its justification from a conscious social purpose. There must be no spontaneous, unguided activity, because it might produce results which cannot be foreseen and for which the plan does not provide… The principle extends even to games and amusements.

e.g. sitting in pubs, drinking and smoking

The word truth itself ceases to have its old meaning… It becomes something to be laid down by authority…

or ‘experts’.

The desire to force upon the people a creed which is regarded as salutary for them is, of course, not a thing that is new or peculiar to our time. New, however, is the argument by which many of our intellectuals try to justify such attempts. There is no real freedom of thought in our society, so it is said, because the opinions and tastes of the masses are shaped by propaganda, by advertising, by the example of the upper classes, and by other environmental factors which inevitably force the thinking of the people into well-worn grooves. From this it is concluded that if the ideals and tastes of the great majority are always fashioned by circumstances which we can control, we ought to use this power deliberately to turn the thoughts of the people in what we think is a desirable direction.

The desirable direction of stopping smoking  It brings to mind something written by ASH’s totalitarian-in-chief, Deborah Arnott:

…being a smoker is not a matter of free choice; they’re gripped by an addiction fuelled by the tobacco industry and they need support to give up.

A new advertising campaign currently being aired on TV illustrates the truth – that smokers are literally “hooked” on tobacco. The sickening images of smokers being dragged along by giant fish hooks illustrates the strength of nicotineaddiction which can be as difficult to break as heroin or crack cocaine. These advertisements and others telling you about the many poisonous substances in cigarettes, such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde or how fags make you impotent, smell bad and look old are all designed to shock people into giving up.

The evidence is that these advertisements work. Research in Britain, the US and Australia all showed that young people in particular responded most to advertisements with graphic, visceral, negative or strong testimonial elements.

Anyway, what Hayek wrote is all as true today as it was when he wrote it back in 1944. It only needed some of the current uses of propaganda to be added.

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Asteroid Day

Two Nobel prize-winning economists on Greece. Joseph Stiglitz:

It is hard to advise Greeks how to vote on 5 July. Neither alternative – approval or rejection of the troika’s terms – will be easy, and both carry huge risks. A yes vote would mean depression almost without end. Perhaps a depleted country – one that has sold off all of its assets, and whose bright young people have emigrated – might finally get debt forgiveness; perhaps, having shrivelled into a middle-income economy, Greece might finally be able to get assistance from the World Bank. All of this might happen in the next decade, or perhaps in the decade after that.

By contrast, a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present.

I know how I would vote.

Paul Krugman:

I would vote no, for two reasons. First, much as the prospect of euro exit frightens everyone — me included — the troika is now effectively demanding that the policy regime of the past five years be continued indefinitely. Where is the hope in that? Maybe, just maybe, the willingness to leave will inspire a rethink, although probably not. But even so, devaluation couldn’t create that much more chaos than already exists, and would pave the way for eventual recovery, just as it has in many other times and places. Greece is not that different.

Second, the political implications of a yes vote would be deeply troubling. The troika clearly did a reverse Corleone — they made Tsipras an offer he can’t accept, and presumably did this knowingly. So the ultimatum was, in effect, a move to replace the Greek government. And even if you don’t like Syriza, that has to be disturbing for anyone who believes in European ideals.

And June 30 is Asteroid Day, and about a real threat rather than an imaginary one.

The End. Finis. Kaput. We grapple with peril, but the threats that frighten us – terrorism, epidemics, earthquakes – are not existential; none are capable of killing everyone, everywhere. An asteroid impact, on the other hand, could render us extinct.

Sixty-six million years ago, the Chicxulub asteroid killed off the dinosaurs. The Tunguska asteroid, which struck Siberia in 1908, destroyed 800 square miles. Estimates suggest that a Tunguska-sized asteroid will strike every 500 years; a one-kilometre object, capable of global catastrophe, every 700,000 years.

The possibility of avoiding cataclysm has inspired the people behind Asteroid Day, supported by an array of scientists, astronauts and media personalities, including the astrophysicist and Queen guitarist Brian May, the Astronomer Royal Lord Rees and Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

They are campaigning for a rapid hundred-fold increase in the tracking of Near Earth Objects (NEOs). “The more we learn about asteroid impacts,” argues May, “the clearer it becomes that the human race has been living on borrowed time. We are currently aware of less than one per cent of objects comparable to Tunguska, and nobody knows when the next big one will hit. It takes just ONE.”

P.S. It’s perhaps highly appropriate to post an asteroid impact story on the day that Greece defaults, and sends shock waves through the EU.

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The Whole System Has Failed

It looks set to be a very hot week in the EU, as Greece finally defaults and maybe exits the eurozone and the EU.

Twenty years ago, opposition to the EU (then EEC) seemed to be almost non-existent. Now it seems there’s hardly a country within the EU in which there aren’t loud calls for escape from its clutches. In Austria:

Austrians have launched a petition to quit the EU, arguing that the nation will be better off economically if it leaves the union. To force the national parliament to consider the initiative activists need to have gathered 100,000 signatures by July 1…

“We are not any longer a sovereign state in the European Union. Over 80 percent of all essential legislation is being imposed by Brussels, not by elected commissioners. In our view, Europe is not a democracy. The European Parliament does not even have legislative powers,” Rauscher told Sputnik Radio…

Recent polls show that only about one third of Austrians would be in favor of leaving the EU,…

Quite aside from Greece, the signs of disintegration are multiplying. How long can it go on like this?

Today Vaclav Klaus, economist and former Czech president, today posted a long article about the Greek crisis and the EU. On the EU (my added emphases):

…The economic stagnation Europe is facing is not a historical inevitability, it is a man-made problem. It is an outcome of a deliberately chosen, and for years and decades gradually developed, European economic and social system on the one hand and of the more and more centralistic and undemocratic European Union institutional arrangements on the other. They both, and especially they together, form an unsurmountable obstacle to any positive development in the future. Let me briefly indicate some steps towards a perspective solution.

1. The European overregulated economy, additionally constrained by a heavy load of social and environmental requirements, operating in a paternalistic welfare state atmosphere, cannot grow. This burden is too heavy. If Europe wants to start growing again, it has to undertake a far-reaching transformation of its economic and social system.

2. The excessive and unnatural centralization, bureaucratization, harmonization, standardization and unification of the European continent have led to a deep democratic defect there. Getting rid of it requires changing the whole concept of the European integration, eliminating its post-Maastricht developments. We have to rehabilitate the concept of the nation-state which has proved to be an irreplaceable institution – for nothing less important than democracy. To continue repeating the erroneous view that nation-state inevitably leads to wars must be stopped.

3. The euro evidently did not help practically anyone. It weakened the self-discipline of individual countries. It created a “fuzzy” state of affairs, without clear delimitation of competencies and responsibilities. It produced an exchange rate which is too soft for the countries of the European North and too hard for the European South. It opened the doors to unproductive and involuntary redistribution (this is not an authentic personal solidarity but government-organized fiscal transfers.)

The belief that the very heterogeneous European economy could be – in a relatively short period of time – made homogenous by means of monetary unification belongs to the category of wishful thinking. Europe can be made more homogenous only by evolution, not by revolution, not by means of a political project.

4. Some directly uninvolved observers and critics (mostly from America) keep telling us – as if we didn’t know – that it was a mistake to establish a monetary union whose members enjoy fiscal sovereignty. They are recommending us to accompany it with a genuine, full-fledged fiscal union and don’t want to hear that the people of Europe want to retain fiscal sovereignty of their nations.

5. Europe faces a big immigration problem. We have to reintroduce some sort of borders, to get rid of overgenerous welfare state policies, and to forget the destructive ideology of multiculturalism. The economists should explain to politicians that the massive immigration is not a necessary precondition for restarting economic growth in Europe. European economic stagnation has not been caused by labour shortage.

6. The much needed change must start by acknowledging that the whole system has failed and that the system must be changed. Partial measures are not significant because they cannot change its substance. We need a fundamental transformation of our thinking and of our behaviour. We do need a “Paradigma Wechsel” [paradigm shift].

We should return to free-market principles, to a fundamental deregulation, liberalization and desubsidization of the European economy. We shouldn´t count on more regulation. We already have too much of it. Those of us who experienced communism have to say that we did not expect that government interventionism, to the extent we see now, could emerge again. It seemed to us that the masterminding of the economy from above was so discredited by the communist experience that it could never return. We were wrong.

We also wrongly assumed that everyone took for granted that government failure is inevitably much bigger than any imaginable market failure, that the visible hand of the government is always much more dangerous than the invisible hand of the market, that vertical relations in society are less productive (and less democratic) than horizontal relations.  We were also proved wrong…

I wouldn’t disagree with a word of that. But when is the EU political class going to realise that the EU ‘project’ has failed?

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Know Anybody in Lynchburg, Virginia?

I got the following email last night. So did Michael McFadden.

Frank and Michael –

I feel like you are the only people in the world who don’t bash me because I smoke.

So I’m writing this email to both of you.

This has been a most horrible day, smoking-wise.

Because I’m disabled, I have an aide/companion who comes in for two hours a day four times a week. She does light cleaning, takes me on errands and is just generally really wonderful company. I’ve been getting her services for a year.

Recently she’s been diagnosed with high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis. Both run in her family. She’s 54 years old, about 100 pounds overweight, and her diet is junk-food-heavy. (Her breakfast consists of potato chips and a candy bar).

So today she (I’ll call her Jane) came in wearing a mask. Why? Because yesterday her doctor asked her if she smoked. No, she doesn’t smoke. So her doctor asked if she’s around smoke a lot. Jane said, well, one of her clients smokes. Jane told me the doctor got really stern and said that my cigarette smoke is what’s causing her rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups AND her high blood pressure, and that she MUST wear a mask every time she enters my apartment.

I was like, Jane, that is NOT true! She of course didn’t believe me, because Doctor Knows All. And Jane told me she talked to her aunt later, and Aunty (a fervant anti-smoker who won’t visit anyone who smokes) said, yup, it’s the cigarette smoke that’s causing all your health problems.

Jane is one of the sweetest people in the world, but has a limited education and believes everything “authority figures” tell her. I just dropped the subject, and she wore her mask while she was here.

Okay – then the building manager called me in – about my smoking. In my apartment. Which we’re allowed to do.

A little bit of background –

Last weekend, a bunch of residents were sitting right by my door, in the hallway, making a big racket. They had dragged a bunch of chairs together and were having their own party. Now, this apartment building, which is for low-income seniors, has on the first floor a large, beautiful living room with many chairs and couches, two large back porches, one screened in, with lounge chairs, a spacious community room with a full kitchen, chairs, tables and a large-screen television, and there are comfortable, well-appointed common rooms on each of the other two floors. Apartment rules are that people are not to have gatherings in the hallways but are supposed to use the above-mentioned rooms. Which sounds perfectly sensible to me.

But for some reason, a particular group of people often choose to gather in the hallway by my door. For hours and hours and hours. And the hallways echo.

So I was trying to read, and the noise (whooping, hollering, cussing, etc.) was driving me nuts. So I went out to them and VERY POLITELY said, “Excuse me, but could you please keep it down? The halls echo, and I can hear you as though you’re sitting in my apartment. Thank you so very much.”

They glared at me, and as I walked away, one woman said, “THE NERVE OF HER!”

So today, the building manager calls me in. She warned me that there was a petition being made by a group of people on my wing to get me out of my apartment, because they hate my smoking. I happen to know that one of the people is the woman who said, “THE NERVE OF HER!”

Then the building manager told me that once again my smoking is stinking up the hall. Which IT IS NOT. The damn halls smell like damn PERFUME from the industrial strength air freshener thingies all over the walls. If my smoking was stinking up the hall, my aide would let me know as soon as she walked in the door.

I also found out that this group of people literally hates me because I smoke, and it doesn’t help that I’m the only Jewish resident.

I’ve never said anything to them but a pleasant “Good morning,” or “Good night.” I’ve never been rude to them. All I did was ask them to “Please keep it down – thank you.”

I don’t know if it’s a racial thing that’s motivating them or what, but I am SO upset tonight that I’m shaking. I smoke. SO WHAT? Does that deserve a hate mob in the place that I live?

Of course both MJM and I replied.

I said people needed to see this, and asked if I could publish the email,  and received permission.

My instant reaction to the story was profound anger at the medical profession. It’s another example of vile, unethical doctors setting people against each other, and using lies to do so.

This disabled  (old?) lady in Virginia needs help and support. If I lived near her, I’d want to go and see her. I think maybe the best thing I can do, on this side of the Atlantic, is to publicise her predicament as best I can. If anyone reading this feels there’s some way that they can help, I’ll ask if email addresses can be exchanged. Maybe also someone might have some Jewish connections they could call on.

I guess the main thought I had was that I wished there was the smokers’ army I was talking about (again) a few days ago. In the town nearest where she lives, there are probably 10,000 smokers or more. And I bet that some of them would be more than happy to help, to go visit her, talk to her building manager, and see that doctor. But how do you reach them?

Well, maybe that’s where a blog like mine might be helpful. I don’t know anyone in Lynchburg (although oddly enough, I used to have an English friend who lived there), but maybe somebody knows someone who knows someone who lives in Lynchburg. It needn’t be a smoker. It could be someone in Lynchburg who knows one or two smokers. And once you’ve got to one or two smokers, you’d probably find a lot more.

Hence my question in the banner.

Maybe another route would be through smoke shops. Likelihood is that people selling tobacco are also smoking it.

Any suggestions?

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