the problem with anti-smoking

people that don’t know me that well could find it head-scratchable to hear “anti-smoking adverts make me want to start smoking” come out of my mouth, particularly given my history of asthma. i’ll admit that as a non-smoker it’s nice to be in a public place and not have to deal with a stale smoke haze, particularly when i’m trying to eat. But the ire that gets raised in me when it comes to the concept of anti-smoking laws and general anti-smoking attitudes tends to supercede my own personal comfort because the principle behind it is something i’m strongly against.

This has come up in two recent forms. First, it’s possible that smoking will be banned in bars and casinos in louisiana, a surprising move given the sort of culture i’m living in. Second, i discovered that anti-smoking regulations in Oregon have become even more strict than they have before, moving beyond merely “can’t smoke inside of buildings” to “can’t smoke in outside areas that are mostly enclosed” or something similar, meaning that outside patio areas that have walls (such as the back area of the Espresso Roma in Eugene) is now non-smoking, giving those customers absolutely no place to sit down to have coffee and a cigarette.

To be clear, i think that there’s benefit to having non-smoking restaurants, particularly a family sort of establishment. although the true effects of second-hand smoke is widely debatable, the air quality difference is something that i think could deter proper enjoyment of good food, and i think that exposure to that sort of atmosphere to kids of non-smoking parents is a good thing to avoid. The problem is that the blanket regulation of non-smoking as a state law has now been used as a ‘gateway drug’, a precedent to instill similar regulations in establishments in which that context has less relevance. bars and casinos are 18 and over establishments. Everyone who enters such an establishment is an adult and should be allowed to make their own choices about whatever unhealthy habits they want, beit smoking or drinking or putting their money down on a situation that has unfavorable long term expectation.

There’s an argument out there about how “if i choose to drink, that’s my choice. But if someone else is smoking and i’m breathing it in, that’s not my choice.” I understand the sentiment, but the issue i have with that is that the solution that was put into place as a result of that has gone too far; blanket regulation of non-smoking in enclosed spaces eliminated the concept of individual choice in favor of a faulty sense of rights. Somewhere, the anti-smoking movement decided that they should have the right to go anywhere and not have to smell cigarette smoke, and innately that feels very wrong to me because of how it blatantly disregards the rights of smokers and those that don’t mind and/or like cigarette smoke. Where does the line stop? Will we eventually have non-smoking sidewalks because the anti-smoking movement can come up with some biased research that if a non-smoker happens to breathe in smoke from a passers-by that it will decrease that non-smoker’s lifespan by a day? Will it hit a point where cigarette smokers will have to buy some sort of bubble and any time they want to smoke they have to do it inside the bubble?

To me, a better solution is to find some middle ground. Suppose you left the choice up to an individual establishment whether or not they were going to allow smoking or have a smoking and non-smoking section. Sure, if the top restaurant offered smoking in their establishment, the non-smoker reaction is something like, “but then i can’t or don’t want to eat that signature steak dish.” But that would also be true if you were a vegetarian. Or if the top chef only served spicy food and you didn’t like spicy food. You miss out, whether for health reasons or personal comfort reasons or what not, and that’s life.

Now, the idea of having smoking and non-smoking be a choice of an individual establishment creates some other issues having to do with customer base. Depending on the atmosphere of the community, businesses are going to lean one way or the other in order to be competitive. In a city like new orleans, given two bars of equal quality and repute, the one that chooses to be non-smoking would more profit less and even go out of business, so they’re not going to do that, and as a result of most bars having that attitude, non-smokers would be hard-pressed to find a permanent place where they could go to enjoy a smoke-free atmosphere. Maybe the solution to that would be to have some sort of ‘cigarette license’ in the same way that Oregon distinguishes between a beer license versus a liquor license.

Unfortunately, all of that is useless speculation as the general national aesthetic would never move in a direction that would respect both the rights of smokers and non-smokers simultaneously, and it generally disheartens me because it’s another example of how society can isolate, put the microscope on, and pass judgement on an individual or a group of people based on a label. “oh, she’s a smoker. oh, he’s overweight. oh, she’s sleeping with a few different guys. that’s just wrong. i think we should put them into a box over there far away from me so i don’t have to see them or deal with them or have that be a part of my world.” there’s a fine line between that being an acceptable form of personal bias/judgement call versus becoming the new version of racism. hopefully we can hit a point where societal trends will take the blur of that line into sharper focus than what i feel it is now.

Originally posted on resonate. I prefer any feedback or commentary there.

gustav: the overhype of the century

i’ve always had a pretty healthy disregard for television news and rolling news channels in particular (CNN, Headline News, etc.) but it wasn’t until i watched Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe special on news that i could understand my distaste for it in concrete terms. Now whenever rolling news tries to put itself in the spotlight during big stories, all of the faults that Brooker brings to the forefront seems amplified to me, and now that i live inside of the city of New Orleans, the overhype of hurricane gustav is a glaring example.

clearly anything that has destructive potential of this magnitude is not something to be taken lightly and measures need to be taken to preserve both life and order.  And in that sense, i think the city of New Orleans was fairly successful – the mandatory evacuation of the city, though inconvenient, was, in my opinion, a decent preemptive measure that helped create a sense of calm amongst what was potentially chaotic even though the landfall prediction at the time of hurrication wasn’t slated to hit the city.

the problem is that when something like this is poised to happen, it’s going to cause stress in the citizenry, even those who are used to dealing with hurricanes and particularly those that went through katrina three years ago.  And whether the public’s individual level of stress is high or low, it should be the responsibility of the news and the media to help alleviate that stress and keep the public calm, and the approach that the media took did exactly the opposite.

In the third part of the Screenwipe episode starting around 05:55, Brooker discusses the incident in which Northern Rock Bank was suposedly in danger of going bankrupt and his theory that the media helped contribute and almost seemed to *will* the public to panic based on the way they presented it, and it bears a striking resemblence to how i feel the media handled Gustav several days before the impending landfall.  Local New Orleans news and rolling news channels were giving out contradictary signals in their broadcasts – they would spout out the obligatory, “everyone is urged to stay calm,” while at the same time flashing “GUSTAV IS COMING!!!!!” in big bright letters on the screen, showing weather projections that made it look like it was a certainty that it was going to hit New Orleans dead center, and saying things like, “If this storm remains a category 4 for landfall, there could be catatstrophic consequences!  And it could turn into a category 5, which is not something you want to mess with!”  Mayor Nagin went on record to say that “You need to be scared.  You need to be concerned.  You need to get your butts moving out of New Orleans right now.  [Gustav] is the storm of the century.”

Let’s make sure we have our facts straight.  When the National Hurricane Center makes a five-day forecast projection path, the “projection circle” is predicted based on historical hurricane data for the past 50-60 years.  About a week before landfall, the “projection circle” was stating that the storm could make landfall anywhere from about Houston, TX to Tallahassee, FL – a 700 mile span that had its own margin of error of up to 250 miles.

The reason for this is because even with all of the advancements that have been made in weather technology and prediction, weather in its finest detail is ultimately unpredictable due to chaos theory.  The movement and intensity of tropical storms/hurricanes fluxuates so often that relying upon a five-day landfall projection forecast to tell you what you should do and where you should go is no better than relying on gambling on a roulette table to pay your rent.

But the public isn’t given those sorts of facts.  Instead, they’re given a projection map without proper understanding, they’re given news stations and public figures that scream, “IT’S THE NEXT KATRINA!”, and they’re overwhelmed with other alarmist sorts of sensations that perpetuate and encourage the potential landfall areas to panic and the rest of the nation/world to be given a horribly skewed picture of what is actually happening.

The whole thing was pretty sickening.

And what was even more disgusting to me was watching some of the news coverage after Gustav actually made landfall because i got a very strong sense that the media was *disappointed* that Gustav didn’t hit New Orleans directly.  CNN and CBS’s strong hurricane disaster erections never got to orgasm, and reusltingly they’re all scrambling to find *any* sort of nonsense to report.  Video footage of the Industrial Canal levee which frustratingly refuses to actually break, talk about how New Orleans “isn’t out of the woods just yet!  You never know!”.  And they put on a public face of relief and an implied message that they should be congratulated for helping people feel watched over and thankful that Gustav had little damage impact whilst behind closed doors their debriefing about the whole affair is probably something like, “well, at least Hurricane Hanna could give us good disaster coverage in Florida.”

One of the things that stuck out to me about my first hurricane experience was how different people’s reactions were to it, particularly some of the old citizens that have lived in New Orleans all of their lives.  The common feeling amongst those people was annoyance – annoyance that the city and the universities and the general populace were panicking prematurely based on overhyped and skewed information.  Out of all of the stories and reactions and etc., that one was the one that resonated most strongly to me, and when i thought about it, i realized that their attitude is purely a product of their generation – the ones that grew up before the current paradigm of rolling news and alarmist style media, the ones that watch all of those people scurrying around like headless chickens and laugh, sit on their front porch with a scotch and a cigarette, and wait to ride out whatever comes their way.  The experience and the attitude they have feels like it can be summed up into one basic credo: “Life happens.”  Hopefully it’s one that i will continue to abide by.

replacing the electoral college

many will agree that the electoral college is an outdated system for determining our presidency, but no one can figure out what’s the best way to replace it.

here’s my idea:

everyone who decides that they’re going to vote has to take a comprehensive aptitude test. but not an aptitude test like the GRE or the SAT or something that’s just based on intelligence. it’s a much broader test that encompasses other things as well – mechanical things, house sorts of stuff, understanding of politics, awareness of issues, that sort of thing.

weight the individual questions based on some sort of predetermined system (as in answering 2+2=? isn’t as impressive as 13! mod 4). Then, based on the individual’s final result, weight how much their vote counts towards the final tally to determine who takes office. that way, someone who doesn’t know what end of the pencil is used to fill in the little boxes will only influence the vote a little.

there’d have to be some guidelines. it can’t just be an isolated measure of intelligence or practical things or awareness of social issues – placing too much emphasis on any of those things individually would influence the presidency too heavily. a balance needs to be struck, determined and governed by a well-picked council.

this way, everyone can still vote, which i think is important to the democratic process, but it eliminates the total free-for-all nature of the voting system being completely equal.

and then of course there’d have to be an air-tight auditing process to prove that it was all done fairly and no one breached the system and all that.