Thursday, September 22, 2011

Smokers and World Peace

A lion-hearted colleague asked me if I was going to write about the latest harsh and ludicrous anti-smoking laws. “I suppose I could,” I said “I’ve been thinking about aggression and lies.” ...Sometimes people write into the newspaper to say, “I don’t care if people smoke; I just don’t want them smoking around me.” Are they truly carefree and good-natured about smokers? Or is there something nonpeacefull down in their spinal brain stem, something primal that wants to rise up and get out?

(Thought experiment)

Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s suppose that, close to the university, there is a Foothills Medical Centre (there is) that includes a hospital and a university medical school. (It does) You would expect to see patients just outside the doors smoking. (I have) But here on the prairies…Brrr it’s cold! You might expect some starving student to show some enterprise. He could drive his old VW van in a loop around the huge parking lot picking up and dropping off patients.

But if the person who claims he doesn’t care about free adults smoking were in fact just “blowing smoke,” then you would expect him to somehow thwart the student. Here are the facts: I no longer see patients with their loved ones smoking. The entire huge parking lot has been ruled nonsmoking by the hospital. Coincidence? Maybe so. My point is that “good” people do indeed care about aggressively thwarting innocent smokers. “Good” people once burnt witches. “Good” Muslims today give silent support to youthful terrorists, rather than organize the community to roundly condemn terror.


Aggression extends through space and time. There’s something I’ve never understood about colonial (pre-1947) India. Something about the British wives of officers and administrators. In the summer they would escape to their little hill stations, in the winter they would be down in their little neighborhoods, and always their fellow housewives would be precious few in number. So how to explain the intense feuds, the obsessive hatreds that went on for years? Boredom? I wonder: maybe their aggressions had no other outlet?

In the U.S., after the cold war, many were taken by surprise. Nuclear peace—at last!—did not mean peace but lots of little wars such as in Yugoslavia. Why the surprise? Partly because people are mostly innocent of social studies. To paraphrase George Santayana,  “Those who don’t know history are condemned to be surprised when it repeats.” Partly because during the cold war very little money was spent on research for peace. At the time I was miffed at the lack of funding but I guess it’s understandable. If indeed we all have an aggression gene, well, who wants to know?

Speaking of research, I recently read that the earliest studies into the danger of second hand smoke were rubbish. I don’t expect this fact to be widely publicized, nor do I expect the public to demand to know how such flawed research ever got so widely publicized in the first place. I offer no answers as to whether or not the later research was equally flawed. Some questions are not for the faint of heart…nor for hospital administrators. (Speaking of later research, here's the very latest, Dec 2013)

I remember a roommate of years ago. She was both a communist and wanted world peace... under world-wide communism, naturally. One day she came home all jazzed up from seeing a James Caan movie, Rollerball. She eagerly told me the whole plot with special relish for the part where the worker/athletes used violence to rebel against the capitalists. I can still hear the line from the TV commercials. “In the future there will be no war… but there will be… Rollerball!” Some one back then noted that I was sensitive but not fragile. True. I would want to know if I have an aggression gene. And not because I could bring in world peace through Rollerball!


There are so many theories, some crackpot, about the cause of war. Here’s another: maybe there would be fewer theories if we weren't each afraid to look inside our own heart.  Maybe—here’s a glum thought—maybe we can’t cure war but can only cope? If so then I’d welcome all the research we can get, however unpleasant.

I remember Captain Kirk talking to some faint hearted leaders. Their planet, in Balance of Terror, was facing Armageddon. Kirk said something like, “Yes, I'm a killer ape, but I choose…not…to kill…today.” Then he told those leaders to start talking.

You see, war is caused—Never mind, I’m not a crackpot and I won’t sound risk sounding like one either. But I will say I believe in Dialogue. And Science. Only with science can we navigate a starship or steer our society along past Armageddon to a better world.


James T. Kirk will always be my hero, while lately I have found inspiration through the example of a living person, Michael Crichton. Maybe he’s crazy, because even though he (presumably) is a millionaire, he doesn’t spend his time idly on the beach. Instead he slogs through thick wordy UN reports and reads oodles of UN footnotes while finding time to write his big novels. I never knew how some capitalist scientists were betraying Science, and blindfolding the workers, regarding things like tobacco smoke and climate. I learned from Crichton doing a speech, complete with charts and graphs, to the National Press Club. (His tobacco bombshell was from a science speech at the California Institute of Technology)

Many reporters pride themselves on being hard boiled. I wonder if any felt faint as Crichton rocked their world-view? The speech is on his web site, entitled The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming. I would recommend it to anyone who wished to be crew, not passenger, on spaceship earth.

In summary: We need to know our hearts, and dishonest science is very uncool.

And now I can either ponder nuclear terror or I can focus on the absurd. No one could have imagined, at the start of this essay, that I’d be led to one inescapable conclusion: that a step for smoker’s rights is a step for world peace.

Sean “I’m merely a social smoker, honest!” Crawford,
Calgary, 2008


Iraq, anyone?

There was a consensus of scientists and experts for the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps anyone who disagreed with the consensus (can you name even one?) was labeled a "stooge of big oil" for "trying to keep the oil fields stable."

As for Climate Change, if only M. Crichton is reading the "actual U.N. reports," if even journalists aren't reading them, then what are the world's national policy makers reading? Easy: U.N. Summary for policy makers ...This disturbs me because the invasion and occupation of Iraq was made possible in part because all those self-important people in the white house only read the summaries, not the actual reports... The actual reports had expressed doubts about the data, about the reliability of sources, and so forth.

This I learned from reading Chain of Command by pulitzer prize winner Seymour Hersh.

Peace, anyone?

...Update: Shades of Franz Kafka! This summer I bought a book, still unread, that says that UN climate reports are written so that the body agrees with the summary: the summary is written first! When I find the book again I'll report here. (Unhappily,  my storage-and-retrieval locker is now so full it is storage-only)

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