Disintegration

I was thinking last night, not for the first time, that Tobacco Control’s global scale attempt at social engineering is bound to fail because “society” doesn’t exist as a monolithic entity that can be steered in one direction or other like a car or a truck.

What’s going to happen instead is that society is going to disintegrate. Some of it will go in the direction that TC wants, but much of it won’t. Some of it will head off in completely new directions.

In fact I think that society already has disintegrated. For that has been my personal experience. Ten years or so ago, I had a wide circle of friends some of whom I’d known for almost 40 years. That’s all gone now. The principal blow came with the 2007 smoking ban which “exiled me to the outdoors” and removed the pubs that I’d used to meet up with people (I was never a home entertainer).

But the division was exacerbated when increasing numbers of former friends introduced their own home smoking bans. And when they did that, it signalled the end. They may as well have become Muslims or transgender Hare Krishna chanters.

Case in point: A family I’d known since my student days back in the 60s. The paterfamilias had been one of my lecturers, and after he left the university I got to know him and his wife and daughters. I was a regular visitor at their house. He died sometime around 2000, but I carried on visiting the family, even after they’d moved. But then one day, sometime in 2010 or so, when I arrived to visit them, having driven 50 miles or more, I was greeted with the news that now, for the first time in the entire 40+ year history of knowing them, they had banned smoking in their house. I experienced this just like a punch in the stomach, jerking forward in the seat in which I’d just sat down. Apart from that I was greeted as kindly and affectionately as I had ever been, and I was plied with tea. Fortunately, it was a warm sunny day in summer, and we could sit outside, so I sat outside with them, intermittently smoking, and talking about this and that, like we always did. But I knew that this was going to be the last time I ever saw them. I knew that I would never be coming back. For I was really no longer welcome there. Later that evening, when I finally said goodbye to them, it was not au revoir, but adieu. Our ways had finally parted.

I used to have similar experiences back in the 1970s and 80s when people I knew would announce that they’d joined some modern cult like the Orange Order or Subud. Overnight, they would become strangers, and I’d drift away from them. I have next to no time for cults of any sort. And when I met up with a very old friend who I’d not seen for 10 years, and learned that he had joined some outfit called the Emissaries of the Divine Light, I experienced a familiar sinking feeling.

And in many ways the antismokers strike me as belonging to another cult exactly like any of these. But the antismoking cult seems to have absorbed far greater numbers of people than any of these lesser cults ever managed to do. The other cults usually entailed chanting or incense or something, but the antismoking cult doesn’t seem to have any rituals or induction ceremonies. People seem to just wake up one day, and they’ve become antismokers, and obsessed with health.

Much the same seems to happen with the Anthropogenic Global Warming cult, which also seems to entail a sudden conversion experience. One day they don’t believe it; next day they do. And there’s really no rhyme or reason to it. Last week I found out that my former Ph.D. tutor, as sound as solid a man who ever lived, and who had even once become a university professor, had drunk the AGW Kool-Aid.

It’s just like Invasion of the Body-Snatchers. Or the Masque of the Red Death.

I wonder if one day I’ll wake up and find that I’ve got the bug too, and the symptomatic spots and buboes have begun to appear all over me. It doesn’t seem to have happened yet.

These new cults all seem to have some sort of Science associated with them. It all looks quite plausible. There are tables and charts and graphs. Sometimes there are even equations. But all concerned are zealots in one way or other. They all start with a conclusion (e.g. smoking kills, or CO2 warms), and then hunt around for evidence supporting the conclusion. Anyone who demurs is a denier or a denialist.

And another feature of the new cults is that they often (usually?) have government backing and government funding, like the windmill cult or the solar panel cult. And this shouldn’t be a surprise, given that politicians are as gullible as anybody else.

Anyway, my experience is not that the Tobacco Control cult is succeeding in changing society, but only in dividing it. And what we are seeing is an increasingly fractured society in which the divisions are only deepening. For the more cultish the cults become, the more entrenched I become in rejecting them. I no longer watch TV or read newspapers. I no longer want to know. Nor do I ever want to talk to cult members.

Nor am I interested in trying to convert anyone. For it seems that once people have caught the bug of antismoking or global warming or whatever, they never seem to recover their senses. And they’re never going to win over me, however many antismoking messages they put on tobacco packs.

I’m afraid that it’s simply going to have to run its course, like any other plague. Just yesterday, Chris Snowdon was reporting that the Supreme Court has declared minimum pricing legal on the grounds that

free trade doesn’t matter if a policy is designed to protect ‘health and life’…

which really just means that the Supreme Court has fallen under the spell of the Health cult (of which the antismoking cult is a sub-cult).

This should be no surprise given that when the Ministry of Justice responded to my letter to my MP protesting against prison smoking bans, it made no mention whatsoever of any considerations of justice, but only considerations of health.

What happens when a society collectively loses its marbles? Well, we’re going to soon find out. It’s unlikely to be anything pleasant.

And I think there are going to be increasingly strong attempts to regain control as the collective madness acquires further momentum. There may even be a military coup. How else do you regain control of the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice and the BBC? Politics is going to become the Sane versus the Mad. It has more or less become that anyway. It’ll also likely become a struggle between radical town and conservative country. If Britain does (somehow) manage to achieve Brexit, I can well imagine some radical London mayor declaring London to be an independent state allied with the EU, with roadblocks set up around the M25 orbital motorway. Social and cultural disintegration will lead to geographical disintegration

And not just here in the UK, but everywhere else as well. It may be that in Catalonia we have just witnessed the first of many attempts by radical local governments to split off from a conservative central government.

The EU, I feel sure, is going to disintegrate. The centrifugal forces that are building up inside it, between radicals and conservatives, are only going to get stronger, and the rivalries more intense. There are going to be more Catalonias, and more Brexits. And if the UK doesn’t actually manage Brexit, there will anyway soon cease to be an EU that anyone remains a member of.

My only hope is that the mounting disorder won’t include forced collective gymnastic exercises and death camps filled with smokers. Or that I won’t live to see them.

And I also hope that I can begin to re-unite a few smokers with kindred spirits. For in a time of deepening division and disintegration it will become more and more important to hold together with those with whom one still can. This seems to matter more to me than anything else at all.

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The Deepening Crisis of Science

From a comment yesterday by Kin_free:

I have to disagree with Walt when he suggests how, ‘These totalitarians must be stopped’; “Seems to me the only way to unwind the ball of yarn is to start where it started with exploding the “irrefutable” “science” of ets.” and Vinnie; “…I suggest we start as you suggest by attacking the second hand smoke lies…”

Both make some other valid points BUT… I, and several others, STARTED attacking SHS lies over ten years ago. People like Michael McFadden started many years before that, but what difference has it all made? – diddly squat!

I once thought that all we had to do was expose the SHS ‘harm’ tactic as false and common sense would prevail but it didn’t happen and it is NOT going to happen…

No, the only way this can be beaten is by attacking and exposing the original lies and exaggerations of active smoking ‘harm’. There is plenty of evidence out there that shows it to be lies and exaggeration. We just need get beyond the conditioning that has made smokers ashamed of their habit or worried that they will be called delusional tin foil hatters. – This is a deliberate psychological tactic that has worked very well.

I entirely agree. If you’re going to take on the SHS (Second Hand Smoke) myth, you first have to address the FHS (First Hand Smoke) myth. And you have to do that because the SHS myth is built on top of the FHS myth. For it’s only once you have come to believe that FHS is terribly, terribly dangerous that you will become open to believe that SHS is just as bad,

But the fact of the matter, it seems to me, is that most people believe the FHS myth. They regard it as being Unquestionable and Established Science. And if you don’t believe it you’re probably some delusional tin foil hatter who also also believes that 9/11 was an inside job, and that the earth is flat.

In fact, I’d suggest that the principal difference between smokers and vapers is that the former don’t believe the Unquestionable and Established Science of FHS, and the latter do believe it (and that’s why they vape rather than smoke). Vapers are people who find it difficult or impossible to question any sort of science at all.

I think there’s a deeper issue here which extends far beyond smoking and vaping. I think that there is a general crisis of Science under way. It’s not just that we’re questioning some science, but that we are questioning all science.

Why is this happening? I think it’s because over the past 100 years or more we’ve moved from small-scale science to large-scale science or Big Science. In the past most “scientists” were individual people no different from anybody else, except for the fact that they were deeply interested in living things (e.g. Darwin) or physical processes (e.g. Newton) or mathematics (e.g. Euler). They wrote letters to each other, and often met up to talk to each other, and to publish papers in journals of one sort or other. They were no different from anybody else. They were just gentlemen of leisure who had the idle time in which to pursue interests in plants, animals, diseases, planets, stars, etc.

But over the past 100 years these scientists have begun to congregate in research organisations like the Max Planck Institute or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or NASA. This has happen for primarily military reasons. During WW2’s Manhattan Project, lots of scientists were brought together to build an atomic bomb. And lots of scientists were also brought together in Germany to build V1 and V2 rockets. They became a separate elite of experts who were mostly all talking to each other than the general public. In fact, much of what they were doing was secret, so they couldn’t talk to anyone else about what they were doing.

If “scientists” are coloured red, and ordinary lay people coloured green, over the past 100 years we’ve moved from them being all mixed up together to them belonging to separate societies:

And now we have a situation where the “expert” scientists in their universities and institutes are telling ordinary laymen what they should think, and not just what they should think about planets and rockets, but about pretty much everything else as well. For they’re now telling them what they should (or rather shouldn’t) smoke and drink and eat and burn in their fires and drive around in. And the experts have greater and greater contempt for the laymen whom they see as being stupid dumb animals.

The situation has become critical, as we have entered a world in which we are increasingly being directly ruled by experts who have a direct line to governments.

This is not an historically new situation. We have been here before. And the last time we were here, 500 years ago, it was because we were being ruled by a different bunch of “experts” known as priests and bishops and popes, who also spoke their own language (Latin) and lived in separate societies (monasteries) and were telling people increasingly outlandish things (like purchasing indulgences from them could save them from Hell). And what happened back then was that more and more ordinary people began to protest against the experts, and ignore what they were telling them, and make up their own minds what they would or would not believe. And these protesting people were called Protestants, and what they started was called the Reformation. In England this led to the dissolution of the monasteries, and the eviction of the monks from them.

And this is what is happening again. More and more ordinary people are getting more and more fed up with all these damn experts telling them what to believe and how to live their lives.

These days you are either a “Catholic” who believes in the authoritative teachings of the “Church” of Science, or you’re a “Protestant” who believes less and less of what the experts tell you.

And it is this revolt against the experts which is driving everything. Because Brexit, as one example, is a revolt by Britons against all the unelected experts in the EU telling us what to do, and what our laws should be. And Donald Trump in the USA has been elected by ordinary Americans in a revolt against the politically correct elites in Washington and the universities and the media. Both are revolts of ordinary people against arrogant and overbearing elites.

And they are elites which have, in many cases, completely taken leave of their senses. For what on earth is going on when the World Health Organisation conducts closed conferences to discuss a non-existent “tobacco epidemic” while plagues like Ebola and Zika and now Black Plague spread across Africa?

And what on earth is happening in our prisons when prisoners are being forced to stop smoking as a “health measure” when our prisons are already torn with strife, and this quite unnecessary measure only makes them worse?

And what on earth is going on when the experts tell us we must replace coal-fired power stations with windmills and solar farms, if we want to prevent carbon dioxide causing catastrophic Global Warming? Are they all mad?

Unfortunately, it seems that yes, indeed, they are all completely barking mad. And they probably went mad because they now all belong in closed communities disconnected from ordinary common sense: The universities have become lunatic asylums.

Such is the depth of the crisis.

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Flat Earth Versus Spherical Earth

In the Smoky Drinky Bar on Saturday night, Gráinne was arguing in favour of a Flat Earth with Brigitte and myself (conversations like these only ever happen in the Smoky Drinky Bar).

Never having had to argue against a Flat Earth, I cast around for evidence against it. What about the view from outer space? “Photoshopped,” said Gráinne. And who knows, perhaps it was? After all, I’ve never been to outer space. What about the view of the Earth from an airliner 10 km high? Didn’t the horizon have a visible curve? “An illusion,” Gráinne replied.

Eventually I fell back on my own maritime experience of seeing ships hull down below the horizon (or, same thing, the disc of the setting sun vanishing below the horizon). I even dug up a video of a ship hull down:

But afterwards it occurred to me that Gráinne could have dismissed this as well. She could have said that what we were seeing here was a submerged or sunken ship.

Since Saturday night, I’ve continued to think about ways of proving that the Earth is round. This morning I began thinking about how a little archipelago of islands might easily be visible from each other. How far was it possible to see out across the sea on a spherical Earth?

I used the Theorem of Pythagoras to work this out. If the spherical Earth has a radius R, and an island rises a height H above the surface of the Earth, how far is the distance D to the horizon, as seen from the top of the island? The answer, with a spherical Earth of radius 6371 km was that the distance to the horizon from an island of height H km above sea level is about 113√H km. So from an island 10 metres above sea level you can see 11 km, and from an island 100 metres high you can see 35 km, and from an island 1000 metres high, you can see 113 km.

Since  I was thinking about an archipelago of rocky islands, like those in Greece, I wondered if it might be possible for some Greek islands to be seen from the tops of nearby islands.

Using Google Maps, I soon found that the highest point on the island of Milos was 730 m. So, using my horizon distance formula, this meant that it was possible to see for 95 km in all directions. Plotting that circle on a map, I was astonished to find that from the Prophet Elias on Milos it was possible to see 12 or more other Greek islands. And from the top of a 1000 m high mountain (Mount Hymettus) just a little southeast of Athens, it was possible to see 113 km in all directions:

Furthermore, because the two circles overlapped, it meant that from the top of the mountain near Athens, on a clear day it was possible to see the top of the Prophet Elias on Milos.

And that meant that it was possible to communicate very quickly between Athens and Milos, using fires by night, and mirrors by day. And since in antiquity, unlike now, there were probably plenty of clear days, that would have meant that communication between all the Greek islands would have been very rapid. And this rapid communication would have extended to Crete, in the centre of which stands the 2,456 m high Mount Ida, from which Milos would also have been visible. It may have taken the Ancient Greeks many days of sailing or rowing to actually go from one island to the next, but communication between the islands would have been very fast. A short message like “Persian fleet near Karpathos” could have been flashed to every Greek island in the Aegean Sea within hours of the fleet being spotted. No wonder Greece was made up of a league of lots of tiny states.

It also struck me that, given the unique topography of the Aegean, the Greeks were ideally placed to be able to see that, while some nearby islands were visible to them, and not others, the Earth (or rather the sea) had to be curved. If the Earth and the sea was flat, all the islands should have been visible from each other. It was probably possible for them, using geometry, to work out how how far each island was distant from the others.  And they could also have used geometry to find out how high the highest point on each island stood above sea level. So, going back to my Pythagoras equation, if they knew H and D, they could also find R, the radius of the Earth.

And of course Pythagoras was Greek, and so was Aristarchus of Samos (shown with balloon near the coast of Turkey) who not only knew about the sphericity of the Earth, but also that the Earth went round the Sun, 2000 years before Copernicus. And the Greeks were probably great geometers because of where they lived.  In other countries, with the view obscured by hills and mountains, there was no such natural laboratory as the Greeks had in which to conduct geometrical investigations over long distances.

I then extended my investigations to the rest of the Mediterranean.

Here I found, again to my surprise, that it was possible, using one or two intervening islands (like Pantellaria and the Galite islands), to quickly communicate between Tunisia and Sardinia and Sicily. And also to communicate between Corsica and Italy and France. And this meant that the sea-going Carthaginians in what is now Tunisia also had fast communication channels by which they could control the western Mediterranean.

And all this spun out of a good-natured conversation with Gráinne.

P.S. I could have got the math wrong, of course.

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No More Doctor’s Orders

What is the optimum size for a state? That rather Socratic question came to mind this morning as I considered the Catalonian crisis, which rumbled on over the weekend with approaching one million demonstrators on the streets of Barcelona.

Eight former members of Catalonia’s dissolved Cabinet and two activists are in jail while Spanish authorities investigate their alleged roles in promoting an illegal declaration of independence last month in violation of Spain’s Constitution.

Something like another six members of the former Catalonian government have fled to Belgium, and are complaining of being treated like criminals or drug traffickers or paedophiles.

Their crime was to want Catalonian independence, Catalonian self-government. That is also the UK’s crime, in voting for Brexit. And it’s also my crime, in choosing to carry on smoking.

For the same question lies at the root of all of them. Who decides? Who rules? Is it up to the EU whether the UK is allowed to leave? Is it up to Spain whether Catalonia is allowed to secede from it? Is it up to Tobacco Control whether I am allowed to smoke? Or is it up to the UK, Catalonia, and me.

In each case, it’s some relatively small scale entity seeking independence from some larger scale entity.

Civil wars grow out of such conflicts. In fact WW1 kicked off when a Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in July 1914. It was, in effect, a European civil war. And ultimately it was all about who decides, who rules.

On the one hand there are forces which act to form large scale political institutions like the EU, or the UK, or Spain. And on the other hand there are always small scale political institutions that are trying to break away from the large scale organisations, like the UK from the EU, or Catalonia from Spain, or me from Tobacco Control. There’s a constant tension. For there are always rivalries between different places, and between different people. What I want, and what you want, are always going to be two different things.

The only odd thing about the various conflicts of interest that I’ve mentioned is that only two of the three are treated as serious political problems. For in the case of Brexit and Catalonia, both are the subject of intensive debate in government and the media. But smoking bans receive no debate at all. They are just announced. This country will ban smoking tomorrow, and that country will ban it next year. They affect millions of people very intimately, but they receive no debate.

And that is because they are not seen as political matters, but matters of Public Health or medicine. Smoking bans are “doctor’s orders” which are quite separate from orders issued by governments. And “doctor’s orders” are always unquestionable. The medical profession has become as unquestionable an authority as the Pope in Rome. Doctors have become infallible.

But if nobody else thinks that smoking bans are a political issue, I most certainly think they are. And I think that they are going to become one of the greatest political issues of all time over the next few decades, and even the next few centuries.

And that’s because they affect very large numbers of people, all over the world. And they affect them in the most intimate ways.

And they are also extremely divisive.

And they are, above all, not being recognised as a political problem. They are not being addressed. They are being allowed to fester, and so they get worse.

There is currently a global pandemic of smoking bans, spreading around the world like a plague, yet nobody in authority is doing anything about it, because nobody in authority sees it as being any sort of a problem at all. In fact they generally tend to see smoking bans as good things. And they see them as good things because they think that “doctor’s orders” are always good things. And because many of the (mad) doctors think that it is they who are fighting against a global pandemic of tobacco, against which their smoking bans are health measures no different from draining malarial swamps.

But for smokers, smoking bans are the plague that afflicts them, and from which they seek to flee, just like they would flee from the Black Death. For smoking bans cause suffering among smokers, just like any other disease. Smoking bans cause them to be reviled as lepers, “exiled to the outdoors”, fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, refused medical attention, and in some cases even murdered. And smoking bans shatter communities, fracture marriages, sunder friendships. And they bankrupt pubs, cafes, restaurants, clubs, casinos, snooker clubs, bingo halls, working men’s clubs. The only good thing that comes out of smoking bans is that all those caught up in them live longer in the wasteland they create. Except, alas, not even that is true.

The political problem of smoking bans really grows out of the political unaccountability of the medical profession that issues the “doctor’s orders”. Tobacco Control and the WHO are not democratic organisations. They are accountable to no-one. They are their own closed communities with their own closed cultures. This was demonstrated a few years ago when a WHO Tobacco Control conference evicted members of the public and the media, and held their conference in a close session. People complain the EU is an undemocratic institution, but in comparison to the WHO the EU is a shining beacon of accountability. After all, there actually is a EU parliament. It may only act as a rubber stamp for decisions taken in the EU Commission, but it is nevertheless democratically elected. The WHO, by contrast, is as unaccountable as the Vatican. Its edicts are as unquestionable as any papal bull.

One day the political issue of smoking bans is going to explode all around the world. This will happen because they affect so many people, so intimately and personally. And it will explode because nothing is being done to address it, and the problem has been allowed to fester for so long.

And when it does finally explode, one result will be the destruction of the medical profession in its present undemocratic form. Doctors will be made accountable to the people they are supposed to work for, just like elected governments are accountable to their constituents. And a great many antismoking doctors are going to be expelled from the profession. It will be an event a bit like the dissolution of the monasteries in Britain in the 16th century, when thousands of monks were evicted from their monasteries. And after that there will be no more “doctor’s orders.”

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A Surprise Reverse for Tobacco Control

Hat-tip Tony:

“Good news from Austria. ‘In health negotiations, the FPÖ insists on a repeal of smoking bans. “

and

Strache einigt sich mit Kurz
Koalitions-Deal: Aus für Rauchverbot
In den Gesundheitsverhandlungen beharrt FPÖ auf Rücknahme des Rauchverbots.

Some background:

Austria’s far-right looks set to be part of the country’s next government, with polls showing it on course to hold the balance of power ahead of elections this weekend.

The last time the Freedom Party (FPÖ) entered government in the year 2000 the EU’s other member states imposed diplomatic sanctions on Austria in the hope of forcing the extremists out of power.

Now, polling in second place at around 25 per cent of the vote, the party is confident of returning to power as a kingmaker, and may be on the brink of matching its strongest showing ever.

The leader of the Austrian Freedom Party is Heinz-Christian Strache:

Heinz-Christian Strache (born 12 June 1969) is an Austrian right-wing politician, a member of parliament and former member of the Vienna city council, who has been Chairman of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) since 2005. He is described as “the most experienced figure in frontline Austrian politics” and is credited with softening his party’s image and professionalising it.

Heinz-Christian Strache?

It seems that Strache did a deal with the current Austrian President, Alexander Van der Bellen. Die Tag Presse (Google translated):

Observers expected lengthy coalition negotiations, but now a surprising turn is emerging. Alexander van der Bellen may have started the new government early next week. This was leaked by the FPÖ and ÖVP after a meeting with the head of state.

After both parties recently agreed to lift the smoking ban in the restaurant again, invited the Federal President Sebastian Kurz and Heinz-Christian Strache to an urgent smoking break in the Hofburg.

There he expressed the desire to complete the government program as far as possible “over the weekend”. That could not be so difficult, so Van der Bellen, because the attitude to the smoking ban is anyway the only difference in the party programs…

The first critical reactions to Van der Bellens Schwenk were not long in coming. The opposition parties felt that the Federal President was trampling on non-smoker protection. The union pointed to the serious health consequences of tobacco use.

Alexander Van der Bellen:

Alexander Van der Bellen; born 18 January 1944) is an Austrian politician and economist who is the 12th and current President of Austria since 26 January 2017.

A member of the noble Russian Van der Bellen family of Dutch ancestry, he was born in Austria to aristocratic Russian and Estonian parents who were refugees from Stalinism, and became a naturalised Austrian citizen together with his parents in 1958. He was a professor of economics at the University of Vienna before he entered national politics. He served as a member of the Austrian National Council representing the Austrian Green Party from 1994 to 2012 and was both leader of the parliamentary faction and leader of his party from 1997 to 2008. He ran as a nominally independent candidate supported by the Green Party in the 2016 presidential election, and finished second out of six in the first round before winning the second round against Norbert Hofer, a member of the Freedom Party of Austria.

Sebastian Kurz:

Sebastian Kurz (born 27 August 1986) is an Austrian politician and chairman of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). Since 2014 he is Austria’s minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs.

Austria doesn’t have much in the way of a smoking ban as yet, and a much tighter one was due to come into force in 2018:

Austria’s governing parties have agreed that a general ban on smoking in cafes and restaurants will not be imposed until May 2018.

The SPÖ and ÖVP announced at a press conference that a draft law will be sent for expert review on Friday.

The law proposes a bonus for cafes and restaurants which voluntarily ban smoking before the May 2018 deadline – the value of which will be related to previous costs in setting up smoking and non-smoking areas.

Previously, Economics Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner (ÖVP) said the ban would come into force in summer 2015, but after much haggling the parties seem to have reached a compromise which gives businesses more time to adjust.

“The new smoking ban will be a historic contribution to improving people’s health,” Health Minister Sabine Oberhauser said on Friday.

“We have at last joined Europe in terms of protecting non-smokers,” she added.

According to a report in the Wiener Zeitung newspaper the general smoking ban will include e-cigarettes, which at present do not fall under the tobacco law and will therefore require a special paragraph.

From my readings this morning, it actually seems like several parties have done already done a deal to repeal the smoking ban that was due to come into force in 2018.

If so, it will be something of a first: the first time any political party anywhere has made the repeal of smoking bans a pivotal part of its platform. In the UK, under Nigel Farage, UKIP’s manifesto included a relaxation of the smoking ban to allow smoking rooms, but this was promptly dropped when he stepped down as leader.

Also, this looks like it will be an unexpected reversal of the fortunes of all-conquering Tobacco Control, and perhaps a straw in the wind for other political parties to court the smoker vote.

I brought all this to the attention of Brigitte in the Smoky Drinky Bar last night, and she was delighted at the development, and said she’d see if she could listen to an Austrian TV debate that is being held, and report on what was said.

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Prison

Spiked! had an article about prison smoking bans earlier this year.

Of course, if prisoners were able to enjoy every freedom they enjoyed in the outside world, then incarceration would make a poor deterrent against criminal behaviour. But forcing prisoners to give up smoking is nonetheless paternalistic and unfair. It’s an unnecessary, and cruel, punishment. It treats inmates like children to be supervised rather than adults who have committed crimes. The ban strips prisoners of one of the few activities they can legally participate in to relieve stress and pass the time. It also creates a new prohibition for already overstretched prison staff to monitor.

I was glad to see someone using the exact same words I did in my letter to my MP: Prisoners are being forced to give up smoking.

In my letter I didn’t make either the point that this was additional punishment, or that it treated prisoners like children. I perhaps didn’t do so because I think that Tobacco Control wants to punish smokers, and wants to treat people like children. So if I had pointed it out, they would have said, “Wonderful! That’s exactly what we want!”

The same response might have been made by them to the point that if prisoners enjoyed the same freedoms as they would outside the prison, prison would not act as a deterrent against crime? “Wonderful! That’s exactly what we intend.”

But what is the point of prison? As I’ve seen it, a prison primarily simply removes criminals from the world outside, and thereby reduces the amount of crime taking place there. You collect all the bad apples, and you keep them all together in one barrel.

But this approach isn’t one of deterrence. If you wish to deter people from going to prison, surely you should make prisons as horrible places as possible? Shouldn’t you maybe keep prisoners chained up the whole time in cold, damp cells, with a meagre diet of stale bread and water? Wouldn’t that make prison into a much more powerful deterrent against crime?

In my approach, the prisoners are simply removed from the wider society. They are well-treated. My prison would hardly be any deterrent at all. But I think that the idea behind deterrence is that criminals make rational calculations balancing the potential gain from some crime (e.g. robbing a bank) against the possible loss (e.g. spending several years in prison). But do criminals make such rational calculations? Are they just like businessmen weighing up the likely gains and losses from one business enterprise or other?

Perhaps many of them are, and they are more or less indistinguishable from other law-abiding businessmen. Perhaps they wear well-cut suits, and have offices with secretaries and computers and files. Bernie Madoff floats into mind.

But aren’t a great many criminal acts crimes of passion or opportunity, in which no rational calculations are being made? The man who punches somebody in the face, immediately after he’s been taken a swing at, is someone who is reacting spontaneously, without prior planning. The same also might be true of rapists, suddenly aroused by a passing woman. And the casual thief who notices an unattended bag in an airport, and picks it up, may also be reacting spontaneously to opportunity. If such people perform rational calculations, it’s most likely after the act, rather than before it. And are such people, who are reacting spontaneously to the circumstances they find themselves in, going to be deterred by the rational prospect of prison?

A further consideration, which I set out in my letter to my MP, was that if prisons are also supposed to reform prisoners, and make them into law-abiding citizens, is it likely that maltreatment of them could ever achieve such an aim? Isn’t forcing prisoners to stop smoking any different from forcing people to part with their wallets? Isn’t it doing to them what they did to others, and which resulted in them being sent to prison in the first place?

And if reform is deemed impossible (once a bad apple, always a bad apple?), why not just execute all criminals, on the grounds that once the rot has set in, it will only get worse? In Britain, at one time, more or less exactly this actually happened.

And aren’t a great many of the things for which prisoners are sent to prison not really crimes at all? For example, Al Capone was a bootlegger in prohibition America, transporting and selling alcohol that people wanted to buy. Is that any different from selling them bread or cars or houses? Isn’t the same true of all other drugs, like cannabis and opium and cocaine? What’s wrong, furthermore, with prostitution, if the women partaking in it do so of their own free will? And the same with gambling? Isn’t it the case that it is just that some people disapprove of other people smoking and drinking and gambling and whoring? And these people can also disapprove of people doing more or less anything else – including holding knives and forks in the wrong hands.

Prisons seem anyway to be relatively new social institutions (much like psychiatric hospitals). Was there some sudden upsurge in crime (and madness) at some point in the past that necessitated their construction?

I have other problems with prisons. In Idle Theory, crime is something that reduces social idleness and freedom. But sending prisoners to prison reduces their freedom (and hence also their idleness). So we respond to one loss by compounding it with another loss. What good is that to anyone?

I ask all these questions because they’re ones that bubble up when I start thinking about prisons. I have plenty more of them. And I don’t have answers to most of them.

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Words and Pictures

I wrote to my MP last week. I wrote to him to protest about the treatment of prisoners in British prisons. They are being forced to stop smoking. All in the name of “health”, of course.

I doubt if my letter will do any good. My MP probably gets lots of letters. He’s probably a very busy man. But my letter will be filed, and passed along to one ministry or other. And someone will read it, and they’ll file it too.

My letter was made of words. And words are like sand. In fact they are less than sand. They are not even fine dust. Or even breaths of wind. They carry almost no force at all.

But then even sand and wind shape things. The world is full of things that have been shaped by sand and wind. Even tiny forces, ones we can’t feel, exerted by the Sun and Moon, act to raise and lower tides.

And maybe my letter will exert a similar tiny force, much like my vote. And all these tiny forces add up.

Would it have helped if I had sent my MP a long letter, made of thousands of words? Would it have helped if I had written it in big black capital letters? Perhaps I should have included accompanying helpful pictures?

Maybe I should make such letters as short as possible, rather than as long as possible. Maybe I should make them into little works of art.

For it’s not as if governments are immune to public opinion. Or even as if I am immune to government. Many years ago, I walked into a government office to tell them that they should add several inches of insulation to buildings, in order to save energy. They listened to me with great interest. They even made me a cup of tea. And most of them more or less agreed with me. But one man did not. And he said something to the effect that what I was proposing was rather fascistic: it would force people to do something. But I exerted a little influence on them, and a few months or years later they did indeed add a requirement in the building regulations for additional insulation. But by then, I had changed my mind. For I had woken in the middle of the night to remember what that one man had said, months before, and I’d realised he was right, and it was rather fascistic to force people to add insulation to buildings, even if it kept them warmer and saved them money. And I also realised that I was a little fascist.

That lone man in the government office didn’t say very much. He listened to what I was saying, and what his colleagues were saying, as they were all agreeing with me. When he spoke up, when prompted by his colleagues, it was to speak very briefly. And he probably thought that he was fighting a lost cause. For he could see how enthusiastic his colleagues all were to add insulation to buildings, maybe even bending the law to do so. And he could see how enthusiastic a little fascist zealot I was. And he probably thought his words were wasted. For he looked a little dejected.

Yet that one man I now count among the most influential people in my life. It took months for his words to sink in. It took months before I woke in the night to realise that he was perfectly right. And I stopped being a little fascist. Or became rather less of one, I hope.

And perhaps that’s what fascists are. They’re people who think they know what’s good for everyone, and who then go and make them do it.

And now the fascists in Tobacco Control are doing this in Britain’s prisons. They know what’s good for the prisoners in them. So now they’re forcing them to do it. They’re forcing them to stop smoking.

But now, some 50 years later, it’s me who has written to government to point out the fascism of what they’re doing. And maybe my words will filter through to one person, And he will wake up in the middle of the night, months from now, and understand what I was saying.

After all, if one quiet voice in a government office could exert such great influence on a member of the public like me, then one quiet voice from a member of the public can also conversely exert great influence on members of the government.

And I get lots of government voices speaking to me these days. In fact, they’re mostly shouting at me in big black capital letters.

They are the converse of the letters to the government that I send my MP. They are letters the government sends me. And they’re written on the tobacco packets I buy, usually accompanied by gory pictures. My current one yells: Quit smoking – stay alive for those close to you. Alas, government smoking bans have long since blown away all those who were once close to me. And stopping smoking won’t bring them back.

And reading this letter from the government (which is accompanied by a helpful picture of a  young mother cradling a baby in her arms as she stands over an open coffin containing what must be the dead body of her husband) I found myself reading it in the way that MPs or civil servants must read letters from their constituents. Who is this person? Why is he writing to me? What is he trying to say?

And in many ways, the letters you write to people always tell as much about you as they tell to them. My MP knows quite a lot about me, without me actually stating anything about myself. He knows what sort of English I write. He knows what I am concerned about.

And what do the little letters I get from the government say about them? Well, it tells me that they’re the sort of people who will deface anything to scrawl their messages over it. They would vandalise graves. And in this case, that’s more or less exactly what they’re doing. And in this case they’ve also erased the logo and artwork of the tobacco manufacturers in order to superimpose their own strident message.

And they’re also bringing ugliness into the world. Their ugliness. Their strident ugliness. They’re printing their ugly, strident images on hundreds of millions of tobacco packets.

I hope that in my life I have not brought ugliness into the world. I would have liked to be an artist who painted beautiful pictures, or wrote elegant poetry, or set out enchanting ideas.

And I think that with this “plain packaging”, Tobacco Control has made a huge mistake. For they are going to be remembered as people who printed millions and millions of nasty, ugly, shouty pictures. They’re going to be remembered as nasty, ugly, shouty people who brought a lot of ugliness into the world, and made it an uglier place. These “plain packets” (even the name is a monstrous deception) will be displayed in museums one day, behind armoured glass, as the testament to a barbaric era.

For in these words and pictures they’re telling us who they are and what they stand for. They’re telling everybody. They are being condemned by their own words, coming out of their own mouths.

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