Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Joe Jackson: "Smoke, Lies, and the Nanny State"

A few years ago, songwriter Joe Jackson wrote an essay called "The Smoking Issue" which appeared in the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph. His new piece, "Smoke, Lies, and the Nanny State," comes after four years of research (perhaps explaining why I'm still waiting for a new album) and "replaces" the earlier "Issue."

While I disagree with a large chunk of his central premise, Jackson's perspective is worth spending some time examining. He certainly shares my skepticism with the established power of scientific-intellectual centers:

I believe that we have to put our faith in someone, and that as our faith in political and religious leaders has declined, we have become not only excessively reverent towards doctors and scientists, but increasingly willing to allow them to dictate our lifestyles and laws. Health is seen as an unqualified good. Who can be against "health"? Likewise, "science" is equated with integrity and certainty. It has become our religion.

Unfortunately, there is precious little genuine science to be found in the pronouncements of media pundits and politicians. Instead we’re fed a steady diet of "junk science": facts out of context and out of proportion, insubstantial claims based on dubious methodology, and clever games with statistics. Like the perennial pub bore who holds forth with great authority on any number of topics, the average politician or newspaper editor tends to promote whatever "science" suits his or her prejudice or agenda.

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  • At 5/08/2007 9:44 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Well Andrew, I'll admit that Joe has more leisure time than I do. I'd love to read his entire 24 page treatise, because as you know by my love of the man's music, I have the utmost respect for his mind even if I don't share his every point of view.

    Reading several pages into his paper, though, you hear the echoes of his songs - from "I'm the Man" to "Cancer" ("...everything gives you cancer, there's no cure, there's no answer"). He does to some extent reflect a very European perspective, even if the Brits don't technically consider themselves Europeans, and that perspective is "Enjoy life, all things in moderation, don't worry yourself to death". Joe rightly points out that legislation and social pressures shouldn't trump personal accountability or the right to make personal choices even if they can lead to self destruction.

    On the other hand, while Joe himself may not be full of contradictions (maybe, maybe NOT), it's very European to represent such dichotomies: Champion individual rights and personal responsibility, but legislate societal equity; form a representative democratic government, but create laws that protect the lazy and negligent the same as those whose sad misfortune has brought on their hardships (e.g., free drugs and medical care to Dutch addicts, among other examples). I've got nothing against smoking, though I choose not to smoke and don't believe in legislating a legal product out of existence. But I also believe those who choose to smoke KNOW the risks after nearly 50 years of Surgeon's General warnings, and cigarette companies shouldn't be sued for selling too much of their product to fools who want to self-medicate with nicotine.

    Joe Jackson points out our collective blind trust in medicine and science, though few proofs drive modern health policy today - only educated guesses based on recent studies. In our lifetime alone, dietary "evidence" has wavered from high protein to high carb to high protein again as the answer to weight and health issues, and that's just scratching the surface. Well we SHOULD be following the latest reports, but with a skeptical eye looking out, and the "third eye" looking in...we need to listen to our own bodies telling us what makes us tick, because in our time there will be no ONE book, no ONE prescription to health and happiness for us all. "Seek and ye shall find", the gospel says...but don't limit that search to the evening news or the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble, and I think that's the key point Mr. Jackson makes with which I agree wholeheartedly.

  • At 5/08/2007 9:47 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Um - okay, I'm not saying you're a fool if you smoke. I'm saying you're a fool if you allow any addictive habit to destroy your health, abdicate personal responsibility, and then try to hold others accountable for your choices, whether you're a chain smoker or Paris Hilton. So, just wanted to make that clear.

  • At 5/13/2007 7:24 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Yeah, heavy echoes of "Cancer" in this perspective. Joe also has written "Caffeine is just about the only vice I don't have," so your comment on addiction is quite appropriate.

  • At 5/14/2007 1:47 AM , Blogger Scott Wichmann said...

    Smoking has 'benefits,' Joe? umm... I think you're reeeeeaching for that one.

    He presents this argument on page three, then he fails to cite any hard data other than "Some buddies of mine in 'the know' privately confide this to me but would never admit it publicly yadda yadda yadda" and he really expects to be taken seriously when he wants to dispute statistics?? Heck, then I'll just come out and say that sucking the tailpipe of a bus has many positive
    side effects and say that someone at MCV told me... could be the janitor.. and then I'll attack the american cancer society for being the lying, alarmist, fascist bastards they are.

    smoking is nasty, filthy, yucky. ...Obviously not words to create policy from-- but I speak from experience.

    I mean, I used to smoke, and my skin turned yellow. YELLOW. I coughed up green phlegm and I lost my energy, developed hypertension and couldn't run very well without getting winded... but, I realize now, that, like Joe says, that would have happened to me anyway because, let's face it, I was turning twenty-eight.

    I mean, people get old.

    It's at the point now where
    I cannot believe I ever smoked. It was and is a foolish habit. I go to a bar or restaurant and if someone is smoking I can smell it and I just want to leave immediately. I then have to wash my clothes the next day. Ugh. I think now how kind of crappy my behavior was to the people around me, and how bans on smoking in enclosed public places are actually beneficial because when you smoke, everyone around you has to suffer the unpleasant consequences of your nasty habit-- directly affecting the air that one breathes-- and there's nowhere to go... but then, one could say 'go to another bar/restaurant', and yes, one would have made a valid point. BTW, could they please enclose the 'smoking section' or put it at the other end of the restaurant?? I hate when the smoking section is like ONE CHAIR OVER. Thanks for the effort, Applebees-manager-in-training-guy.

    That having been said, I am all for personal freedom. legalize Marijuana while you're at it-- more carcinogens than tobacco, but hey, those people just want to watch cartoons and talk thermodynamics, and they have an adventure trying to carve up a pizza. Good times. Cigars contribute to lip cancers (just like dip, chew and skoal bandits, all of which I used to do like crazy) and there are graphic examples of these things, but people should still have choice to do them or not to do them and to be given the real data involved.

    But having done it-- It really it makes no sense to smoke. I mean, if it floats your boat, fine. You should be allowed to do whatever you want in your own home, but don't be suprised if your skin turns yellow and you can't sing or run or do all the great things you loved to do because you had to have a mouth, trachea and lungs full of smoke-- well, I just think that's a stupid waste.

  • At 5/14/2007 10:36 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    I dunno Scott, getting some mixed messages here...where do you stand on the issue exactly?

    Truly though, I'm one of the lucky ones. I can have an occasional cigarette with a brew (I have, like, 5 or 6 smokes a year) and I don't have a NEED for a smoke. It never became a habit. I smoked while I was in Germany years ago purely out of self-defense...Christ, I was one of maybe 3 guys on my soccer team that didn't smoke, so it was either smoke my own filtered cigs or the stuff coming off the ends of their burning cancer sticks. But when I got back to the states, no problem, didn't buy a single pack. Didn't want to.

    But good point as well, Scott, about how smokers in bars and restaurants will stink up your clothes. I love a night at the pub, but then I have to do a load of laundry the next day no matter what, because I just REEK of tobacco even if I didn't have a smoke (as I said before, I rarely do, even when I'm around lots of smoking). So the real difference between smoking and other unhealthy habits - whether it be drinking, drugs, overeating - is that no other habit FORCES others to partake by proxy. That is the part which I find truly objectionable and unacceptable.

    Next blog entry, Andrew: The new Patriots receiving corp. These guys intend to win another Super Bowl next year, and they don't care who is offended so long as some big fast dudes catch some Brady passes! Stay tuned kiddies, this is going to be one fun joy ride!

  • At 5/16/2007 9:52 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Either that or Randy Moss blows the team up T.O.-style...

    Smoking is super-yucky and no one should do it. I just want to be very clear on what my stance on the issue is here.

  • At 5/16/2007 11:38 AM , Blogger Brad said...

    Could a link to these articles, please? Thanks.

  • At 5/16/2007 11:38 AM , Blogger Brad said...

    Er..."Could" you email me "a link to these articles, please? Thanks."

  • At 5/17/2007 9:26 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...


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