Out Of Control

Yesterday, Edgar wrote:

“I’d rephrase that, “Smokers will have to stand outside like naughty children until they learn to obey.”” A lot of people see things this way – the ‘nanny’ state, supported by finger-wagging, busybody, fake charities. Perhaps, it is that way, and, perhaps, it is something more sinister. What is missing from this explanation is the rationale for this behaviour. Many people have claimed ‘It’s not about health, … never was.’ Then, what is it about? A problem might be more easily solved if it is properly understood. To me, there seems to be a clear division between two types of human being: one type has a psychological need to know of a faction that can be persecuted without interference from the law (even better, with the approval of the law); the other type does not have that need. The concept could be called ‘legitimised prejudice’. It provides a licence to hate an identified group (it probably doesn’t matter which group as long as there is someone you’re allowed to hate). Well, that’s my shot at an underlying explanation to this apparent nannyism.

This “two types of human being” notion has kept coming back to mind, if only because there do actually seem to be two types of human beings.

Only I had two rather different types than Edgar in mind: Controllers and Non-controllers. The world seems to be made up of people who want to bring everything under control, and those who are happy to let things just happen.

Outfits like “Tobacco Control” are quite open about their controlling ambitions. And one complaint that antismokers have about smokers is that they have “no self-control”. For such people, more or less everything is “out of control”, and badly needs to be brought “under control”. And it seems patently obvious to them that this needs to be done, and that “under control” is always better than “out of control”.

And they have a point, I think. Human life has progressed by bringing more and more stuff under human control. Like lakes, waterways, plants, animals, etc. It also extends to economics, trade, industry, science. Humans are very, very controlling. Even wars are all about taking control of other people. There’s nothing new about it.

That said, I’m not one of the Controllers. Throughout my life, I’ve never been someone who wanted to change or control anyone. I generally liked people the way they were. And liked places the way they were. I didn’t want to change everything. And on this blog, I’m not trying to change the way my readers think. I’m pretty laissez-faire (although there are limits).

These days I spend a lot of time on my computer simulation model of the solar system. I’ve been a bit puzzled at my interest in this, but recently I realised that what I liked about the solar system is that it’s completely out of control. I find it rather delightful that we’re all sitting on a damp, mossy rock spinning around a star in the little whirlpool of planets we call the Solar System, and there’s nothing we can do about it. And there never will be anything that we can do about it. We just have to live with it.

But I suspect that this is precisely the sort of vision that fills the Controllers with panic, and causes them to re-double their efforts to bring everything under control. And I think part of that panic may come from one of the most compelling images of modern times: the never-before-seen view of the planet Earth from outer space (this one from Apollo 17):


And this is the image of a little, fragile, blue droplet of water suspended alone in space. It’s probably the most iconic image of our time. It’s Gaia, the Great Mother goddess of Greek mythology. Isn’t she adorable? And isn’t she in such mortal peril in a universe filled with exploding stars, black holes, and (my favourite) huge wandering asteroids with thousands of companion rocks in tow? Isn’t this image enough to get you to join Friends of the Earth (as opposed to the Enemies of the Earth)? And can’t you see the  dire necessity of preserving that thin film of air that veils the planet, and the need for Climate Control? And don’t you think that this fragile little planet should have a UN World Government to carefully manage it? Yes, I thought you did.

The loneliness and fragility of this image is the loneliness and fragility of all terrestrial life, and it induces not only wonder, but also terror at circumstances that are beyond our control, and which need to be brought under control as soon as possible. And if our present times are characterised by the demand for top-down control of more or less everything, it is probably in no small part due the panic invoked by iconic images like this. So now, in our modern pandemonium, we see threats everywhere, and we have armies of controllers trying to control everything.

They’ll never succeed, of course. But that won’t stop them trying. The need to Take Control is a constant in human life, and never more so than now.

And the enemies of the Controllers are Non-controllers like me, who like to let things happen and see where they go, and don’t have grand plans for everything and everyone.

Which brings me back to Edgar’s nannyism. Little Gaia obviously needs a nanny to look after her, to shepherd her and make sure she is kept safe. And anyone who disagrees is an Enemy of the Earth, and most likely a rapist of Gaia. Such people need to be silenced, excluded, reduced to second class citizenship. They need to brought under control, along with everything else. And this is the origin of the “legitimized prejudice”.

I don’t see it as growing from any need to hate people, any need to hate an identified social group. I think it grows out of the need to Take Control, in a world that’s out of control.

All my current principal matters of concern are about attempts to Take Control in one way or other: smoking bans, global warming alarmism, and the EU are all attempts at top-down control by elitist planners.

The future will see all these attempts fail. The attempt to take control of what is beyond control will only produce even greater chaos and disorder.


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The Marginalisation of Smokers

H/T Rose for this study:

Smokers don’t vote: 11,626-person study shows marginalization of tobacco users

A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research shows a new dimension to the marginalization of smokers: people who smoke are less likely to vote than their non-smoking peers.

“One on hand, the result is intuitive. We know from previous research that smokers are an increasingly marginalized population, involved in fewer organizations and activities and with less interpersonal trust than nonsmokers. But what our research suggests is that this marginalization may also extend beyond the interpersonal level to attitudes toward political systems and institutions,” says Karen Albright, PhD, assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, and the paper’s first author.

Isn’t it great? They know that smokers are being marginalised, but won’t do anything to stop it, of course. Replace the word “smoker” with “black”, “gay”, or “jew”, and they’d immediately be up in arms about it.

Anyway, it’s certainly true that this particular marginalised smoker is involved in a lot fewer organisations and activities than he used to be. There are a lot of things I no longer do. And given that yesterday’s post was about social disintegration, I think it’s true that interpersonal trust has taken a hammering too.

And it’s also true that the marginalisation is much wider, and includes political systems and institutions (a point I was also making yesterday).

But has it resulted in me stopping voting? Well, no it hasn’t. If anything, it’s made it more important to vote. It’s the only say I’ve got left.

But then, here in the UK, in UKIP smokers have got a party they can vote for. And so I’ve become a staunch UKIP voter, and will stay one while they speak up for smokers, and  while they have a charismatic smoking and drinking leader.

But if I didn’t have that choice, would I have still voted? What if there had been no UKIP on the ballot sheet, but only Labour, Conservative, and Lib Dems? I think that in that circumstance I wouldn’t have voted for any of them. None of them are offering smokers anything.

And maybe that’s the situation a lot of smokers find themselves in: there’s nobody speaking up for them, and so nobody to vote for. I don’t know much about Colorado’s politics, but I would be surprised if most of the Democrat politicians are antismoking, and that a good many of the Republican politicians are too (although I get the impression that in the USA Republicans are less antismoking than Democrats). So why vote for any of them?

But Albright points out that, like many studies that use statistics to describe the behaviors of a population, the current study creates as many questions as it answers, most notably why smokers are less likely to vote. One possibility is that smokers may view political institutions as oppressors, given widespread enactment of tobacco taxes and clean indoor air laws. Somewhat similarly, the stigma associated with smoking may create social withdrawal or feelings of depression or fatalism among smokers, which could decrease voting.

Again, if the state is oppressive, that’s all the more reason to vote the bastards out. But, as I just said, politicians have to be offering smokers something if they’re going to get their votes, and too few of them are.

Also H/T Rose for this:

The Editorial concludes: “The Bloomberg initiative helps to translate the principles of the FCTC into action, with particular focus on the 15 countries where two-thirds of the world’s smokers live (which include China, India, Indonesia, and Russia). But as the sorry delays in the UK illustrate, signing up to the FCTC was the easy bit. Implementation of all effective tobacco control policies requires sustained unwavering governmental commitment. The short-term political costs may seem substantial, but the potential health gains are huge.”

I don’t see it like that at all. I see it the other way round. I think that the potential health gains from implementation of tobacco control policies are insubstantial and most likely negative, and that the long-term political costs are going to be enormous.

Perhaps the authors are supposing that the health benefits would be huge if smokers just quietly quit smoking. But that’s not happening. Instead, as we’ve just learned from the Colorado study, smokers have become marginalised. And that marginalisation is going to carry its own health costs. Being made to stand outside in all weathers certainly isn’t good for anyone’s health. Also, being refused medical treatment doesn’t improve anyone’s health either. And anyway, the health gains from quitting smoking are largely (and perhaps even entirely) illusory.

But the social disintegration created by smoking bans looks to me to be set to make for an increasingly divided society, with smokers and antismokers replacing blacks and whites, in a country where the laws are written by the whites in favour of the whites. That’s a recipe for big trouble. That’s a recipe for civil war.

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Global Social Disintegration

Lots of thought-provoking comments today. Nika set me thinking:

I recently 100% reverse-ostracized all of my friends and family (including my only daughter and grandson) when the last one went Smoke Nazi….

This was the most intelligent and sane thing I have ever done. The rush and relief that I feel from finally coming loudly out of the closet have been incredible.

I completely understand this. I myself haven’t done anything quite so radical. For the most part the social disintegration I’ve experienced has been as result of the pub smoking ban removing the one place where I could happily meet with my former (mostly non-smoking) friends, many of whom had banned smoking in their homes. For the most part, I simply no longer saw them again.

In some cases it was different. Shortly after the UK ban came into effect, one friend turned out to have been working in Tobacco Control for most of the time I’d known her, and I realised we’d never be able to get on together again, It was a bit like finding out that one of your friends was an SS obersturmbannführer or something. I sent her a long email that ended, “Let me know when you’ve stopped persecuting smokers.” More recently, I rebuffed another old friend by writing, “As a smoker, I’m not welcome in your house. And as an antismoker, you’re not welcome in mine.” But it had taken me about 10 years to reach that point.

Margo wrote:

I have very few friends these days, because I can’t be friends with anyone who fusses when I light a cigarette.

I’m not sure that I have any friends at all now. My former circle of friends seem to have all become casualties of the smoking ban. And that includes quite a few of those apathetic smokers who like to pretend that nothing has happened.

Certainly I wouldn’t want to meet any antismokers: It’s that awful stench of sanctimoniousness.

But add it all up, what’s happening to Nika and Margo and me, and plenty of other commenters here, and you see a picture of global social disintegration. All over the world, people who used to get along perfectly well with each other are parting company. Hundreds of millions of people are losing hundreds of millions of friends. Society is being torn apart.

I also find, like Nika, my attitude steadily hardening. There are things that happened 10 years ago, which if they happened now, would get a very strong response from me (I’m thinking of a dinner party I’d been invited to, where the hostess announced that she was banning smoking… once we’d all arrived and sat down.) Walt wrote yesterday that if anyone asks you to step outside to smoke, you should step outside and hail a cab. Quite so.

Where does it all end? That brings me on to John Watson’s comment:

A withdrawal from society that leads to a smoking counter-society?

I think that’s where it’s going. I think smokers will tend to congregate together, much like black people or jews. What else ever happens when discrimination takes place? Smokers are being thrown together, by their shared experiences. And I’m sure that, like mine, their attitudes are gradually hardening.

I’d add that along with the social disintegration, in my experience there comes a wider alienation from almost everything. From the wider antismoking culture, from politicians, from doctors (and dentists), “experts” of all types, the mass media, and much more. I lived through the social upheaval of the 1960s, but this is much deeper. If nothing else, the 60s wasn’t something that was planned. What’s happening to smokers all over the world is something that has been planned.

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The Path of Least Resistance

Nobody much seemed interested in hunting down Margo’s dentist. Jax probably had it about right:

Like a lot of people (although not you ballsy lot on here, who are much braver!), I take the line of least resistance when dealing with medicos of all kinds, including dentists.

I’m not going to criticise this mentality. Idle Theory is a least action account of human conduct. People do what’s easiest. It’s what should be expected of them. Jltrader added:

Dentists are actually required to give smoking cessation advice so complaining to the NHS, GDC or MPs brainwashed enough to vote for display bans and plain packaging won’t get you anywhere.

Which is probably perfectly true.

But it also seems true that if Tobacco Control doesn’t meet any resistance, it will be encouraged to press on with further measures. And that’s exactly what it does. After getting their public smoking ban they’ve successfully campaigned for tobacco display bans, car smoking bans and plain packaging. And they’re after a complete outdoor smoking ban, of course. They never stop.

As long as smokers simply retreat before them, they’ll carry on advancing.

What happens when retreat ceases to be an option? Nannying Tyrants closed down his blog a year or two back, and announced he had made The Great Escape. He’d left England. He didn’t say where he’d gone.

I think that’s another example of retreat. In fact, it’s headlong retreat. He’d taken the path of least action.

But what happens when his new country of abode adopts the same strict antismoking laws as the UK? I remember reading that when the UK smoking ban came into force in 2007, the musician Mike Oldfield (of Tubular Bells fame) did the same thing – and moved to Spain. But Spain brought in its own equally draconian smoking ban in 2011. Has he moved somewhere else again since?

What happens when there’s nowhere to go? What happens when they’ve finally got you cornered, and there’s no way out?

Maybe that’s the point where the path of least action is no longer to flee (which has become impossible), but instead to fight. A hunted animal will flee from its pursuers until it’s finally cornered, when it’ll very often turn round and fight.

I can see a time coming for smokers when retreat will simply no longer be an option, and they’ll have to turn and fight.

We can’t expect politicians to do it for us. Politicians are only going to be as determined to do something as their voters are. And if their smoking voters just retreat before every new antismoking edict, why should they not retreat also? As long as nobody is complaining loudly about it, they’ll carry on nodding through every single new atrocity that Tobacco Control proposes.

Cherie wrote:

As far as Drs. go I tell them from the start I want no lectures, at my age I am entitled to be left alone and I have no wish or intention to stop smoking, so far they accept that. Of course whatever kills me it will be ‘smoking related’ unless the insanity passes.

I think everybody is hoping that the insanity will soon pass, like a thunderstorm or something. But what if it doesn’t? In my reply, I wrote:

This is one of the reasons I’ve turned against the NHS. I’ve realised that, once they no longer have to keep their customers happy, they become little tyrants. In fact, that may well be exactly where the insanity starts, and why it’s not going to end any time soon.

I phoned my local NHS dentist today. It was closed yesterday: they don’t work on Mondays (Nice work if you can get it!). And today I was told that treatment could only be done on Thursday, on a first-come first-serve basis in response to phone calls received first thing that morning. Why they couldn’t book people in before Thursday wasn’t explained. So everyone has to phone at 9 a.m. on Thursdays. The phone’s probably engaged all morning. Or maybe just not answered at all. Who needs customers?

So it looks like my local NHS dentist only works on Thursdays. And much the same must go for the rest of the staff, who’re hardly likely to show up if no dental treatment is being provided.. And they’re all most likely on full time wages.

It’s the same with my local library. It used to open every day. Now it only opens twice a week. Who needs readers?

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Bloody Dentists

Teeth on my mind today. First off, Margo has been having an unhappy experience with a dentist:

Just what I needed today, Frank – have had the most depressing and angry-making visit to the dentist, who waits till I’m trapped with my mouth full of his gear and then gives me the spiel about how I’m going to lose all my teeth and, when that’s happened, my gums will not heal – and it’s all my own fault because I smoke. And implants will not be an option because no dentist that he knows will put these into a smoker’s mouth. And, anyway, years of smoking have done too much damage. (The same damage most of my family have suffered, both the smokers and the non-smokers – but anything I say falls on deaf ears.) What is one to do?

What indeed is one to do? Sympathy poured in from all quarters, and Margo went on to write:

Oh thank you, it does, it does cheer me up. I knew there was something about nicotine helping healing – and tobacco has been used for this over centuries. My dentist was just spewing out the ‘Dentists Bible’, I knew that. I did have a go at him afterwards, as far as I could – and I know I have to go back for more treatment a few times. I said, ‘Can we take it as read, now, and you don’t do this lecture every time I come?’ And he said, ‘No – I will be doing it every time’. Unbelievable. I came home fuming with rage. But I should just laugh, really, I think.
Thanks for your experiences, HR. It’s a bummer, isn’t it. I put my problem down to: age (over 70), family inheritance, bad or non-existent dentistry all my childhood, poor nutrition over several years, ignorance for a long time about how to look after my teeth, stress, a certain amount of wild living, all in the past now. Smoking? I don’t fucking believe it, and Frank is right – the dentist is a liar. Thanks to everyone. You’ve really helped,

Sounds like a really poisonous little shit. She continued:

jltrader, yes, “every illness known to man is ’caused’ by smoking”, but only if you smoke. A few years ago, I was moving huge breeze-blocks in the garden, wearing sandals (yes, I know) and managed to drop one, flat on my big toe. I hobbled to the doc (really, just to see if I should get an X-ray or something) and he said, ‘It’s definitely broken.’
Next thing I knew, a few days later an appointment came for me to visit the Low Bone Density Clinic. I phoned up to ask why, and the doc said, ‘Well, since you smoke, you’ve probably got low bone density, which is why your toe broke.’
“Oh, did you?” he said. He hadn’t taken that bit in – he’d just focused on the word Smoker, which unfortunately is on my records. If you’re a smoker, there are no other causes whatsoever for any malady you might suffer.

Margo is over 70, and really these people have no business lecturing someone of her age. What’s the point, other than sheer vindictiveness?

It set me wondering if there might be other ways people might help Margo other than offering sympathy. If, for example, we knew who this dentist was and where he worked, we’d probably be able to find out his email address, and write to him to complain about his conduct. Equally, we might write and complain about him to his superiors in the NHS. Or the local MP. And so on.

I’m not actually suggesting that we do this. I’m just airing the possibility. But a blog like mine is being read by a whole bunch of like-minded people, and they might want to help Margo. And maybe it’s possible for them to help in all sorts of ways. People may have their own suggestions.

Anyway, the other reason teeth are on my mind is that one of my teeth broke yesterday. It was a 30-year-old crown, and it broke while I was eating a cheese roll. I’ve already got one NHS plastic front tooth, and it looks like its going to gain a companion. Because I’ve got an NHS dentist too, and a couple of years back I also got given an antismoking lecture by a hygienist. I answered back, of course. And I just laughed at her when the stupid woman said that smoking was “naughty”. As a result I have an idea that I may be on a Do Not Treat list, because treatment has been a bit perfunctory ever since. Anyway, I shall soon be finding out where I stand.

And now Lauren Bacall is dead. It’s surprising that it was nearly 60 years ago that Humphrey Bogart died. Seems like only yesterday they were on screen together (and married).

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All Light Up

The Scientific Scandal of Antismoking” by  J.R. Johnstone (PhD Monash) and P.D. Finch (Prof. Emeritus of mathematical statistics, Monash) has long been one of the must-read articles on the web. It’s always worth a re-read.

Today, via Facebook, I came across a video on sott.net which is based on it. Let’s all light up: What you don’t know about tobacco. Here’s the rather polished 8-minute video:

It opens with the eminent statistician Sir Ronald Fisher finding in the Doll and Hill 1950 London Hospitals study conclusive evidence that inhaling tobacco smoke had a protective effect against lung cancer.

I once went through Fisher’s article about it – Inhaling – in order to reproduce his results. I thought it was a very neat statistical skewering of the study.

The findings of the study were that 99% of lung cancer patients were smokers. And this was alarming enough to start people quitting smoking. But it should have been no surprise at all that 99% of lung cancer patients were smokers, given that the sample population that the study used was 99% made up of smokers (or to be exact, 98%). Given such a sample, whatever disease was considered, it would have been found that on average 99% of patients suffering from it were smokers. And, assuming that London hospitals were 99% full of Londoners, it would have also been found that 99% of them were Londoners as well.

I now think that the London hospitals study was designed to produce the newspaper headline: “99% of lung cancer patients are smokers.” And in this it was extremely successful.

Anyway, I thought the little video did a pretty good job of highlighting some of the points made in The Scientific Scandal of Antismoking, and bringing it to the YouTube era.

The title reminded me of the Pretty Things’ All Light Up:

And if you liked that, you’d probably like Don’t Bring Me Down.

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Death By Over-Complexity


Vinton Cerf, often called “the father of the Internet,” is giving a dire warning to everyone who uses the internet, print ALL of you pictures and data, or lose them forever. Cerf warned that images and documents we store on computers may disappear from history as the ongoing digital revolution makes older hardware and software obsolete.Cerf is the chief Internet evangelist at Google, and he spoke this week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Rather than a world where longevity is a given, Cerf fears a “digital dark age” in which the rapid evolution of technology quickly makes storage formats obsolete thanks to a phenomenon he calls “bit rot.”

“In our zeal to get excited about digitizing, we digitize photographs thinking it’s going to make them last longer, and we might turn out to be wrong,” he said.

Since so much data is now kept in digital format, another problem will be with future generations that struggle to understand our society. Technology is advancing so quickly that old files will be inaccessible.

“If we don’t find a solution our 21st Century will be an information black hole”, Cerf explained. “Future generations will wonder about us but they will have very great difficulty knowing about us.

I can see what he means. Do you remember floppy disks? There must be all sorts of stuff on floppy disks which no-one can access, because nobody has floppy disk drives any more. Or hardly anybody.

These days I use memory sticks. But I have no idea how long they last. I wouldn’t be surprised if they gradually degrade, and after 10 years they’re just full of mush.

I store quite a lot of stuff on the web, like here on WordPress. But what happens if someone buys up WordPress – and deletes everything. It could happen…

I learned to program computers in the early 1970s. And I’ve been programming ever since. And over the past 40 years, it’s seemed to me that computers have just got more and more complicated, while becoming smaller and smaller. And while they’re still called “computers” computing – writing programs – is about the last thing anyone seems to do with them. Everyone’s using applications of one sort or other, like web browsers or text editors or synthesizers or whatever.

Back in the 1970s, the first microcomputers were very much computing oriented. When they fired up, there’d be a prompt on the screen (which was black back then with white or green letters), and if you typed “7*8″ on it, it would come back and write “56”. And you could instantly write a little Basic program with numbered lines. Those microcomputers encouraged you to program.

Not any more. I haven’t seen Basic for years. On IBM PCs it was gradually moved into the background, and you had to start Basic.com. Now I think that maybe you can’t even do that.

These days I program in Java using NetBeans. NetBeans is an application which allows you to write Java programs. It’s a whole development environment. And it’s got so many features that I have no idea what most of them are. The same is true of Java. Back in the 1970s, a Basic language manual would be a slim volume you could read in an afternoon. But Java now comes with manuals as thick as telephone books (Do you remember telephone books?). And I have no idea of its true capacity. I just work with a limited instruction set that I know how to use.

It’s not just that computers have become more complicated. So has everything else. Take telephones. They used to to automatically switch on when you lifted the handset. The one I’ve got now has got about 20 buttons on the front. And it’s anybody’s guess what they all do.

Or wristwatches. My first wrist watch had two hands on it that went round in circles. My current digital watch has got an alarm, a stopwatch, and maybe even a calculator. And I’ve long since lost the manual.

Even my electric oven is programmable. But I never try. The manual got lost a long time ago.

I can imagine a day when I step into a shower one morning, and am confronted with a 20-button control panel. And I’ll step back out, and perform my ablutions over a wash basin instead (assuming the wash basin hasn’t got a control panel too), rather than try to figure out how to use the shower controller.

I think we aren’t dying of “bit rot”, so much as over-complication. Everything will just become too complicated to use. It will be impossible to wash, shower, cook, tell the time, make phone calls, watch TV, drive a car, or use any computer of any sort. Because they will have all become unfathomably complex.

And I will live with a hunting knife off tins of corned beef washed down with rainwater, and take a bath in the nearest river every 6 months or so.

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