No Voice, No Rights

H/T Junican and Chris Snowdon for this ONS study:

ONS is developing new measures of national well-being. The aim is that these new measures will cover the quality of life of people in the UK, environmental and sustainability issues, as well as the economic performance of the country.

To develop better measures of the nation's well-being we want to ask what matters most in people's lives and what is important for measuring the nation's well-being.

I signed up (just name and email address required) and wrote my answer to the following question:

What things in life matter most to you?

The simplest of things in life: to be able to sit in a pub and drink a pint of beer and smoke a cigarette and talk to friends. This simple thing brought pleasure and laughter, and allowed networks of friendships and pub communities to grow and flourish within a shared culture.

It's illegal now to do this, of course. And so the happiness it provided, and the friendship, and the community, and the shared culture have all been crushed. With them also, needless to say, freedom and democracy were also crushed.

There was no indication that the above would be published anywhere, or even considered. Still, no harm done by writing something.

It will almost certainly be ignored. Smokers are people whose opinions are systematically ignored. They have no voice in this 'society'.

Chris Snowdon's piece is tagged 'pretend consultation', and he's almost certainly right. The British people will be found to be deliriously happy about everything.

Along similar lines is Michael Kelly's comment on Stewart Cowan's Facebook page:

Stop defending smokers' rights. They have none.

michael kelly

I took the trouble not only to check the Facebook page, but also to find out a bit more about Michael Kelly:

Michael Kelly - Celtic director (1990-1994)

Michael Kelly is a Scottish politician and businessman. He held the position of Lord Provost from 1980 to 1984, and was Lord Rector of Glasgow University from 1983 to 1987.

It's one thing to hear such vicious sentiments from some anonymous online commenter. It's quite another to hear them from someone who has held a number of senior posts in public life.

A Modest Eugenic Proposal

The war on smokers and drinkers and fat people is quite manifestly part of a global eugenics programme. So I've been thinking about eugenics a bit.

The opening chapter of Darwin's Origin of Species, "Variation under Domestication", is concerned with artificial selection. This is the process whereby plant and animal breeders select only preferred variants (e.g. ones that are bigger, stronger, more resistant to disease) to breed. In this manner, over time, they produce larger and stronger cattle, cows that yield more milk, sheep with more wool, wheat with larger ears, and so on. Darwin then goes on to introduce the idea of natural selection as the process by which plants and animals are allowed to continue to breed and multiply in the natural world according to whether they are naturally 'fit' or 'unfit' to survive in that world.

The eugenic programme might be said to be identical with the artificial selection programme employed by plant and animal breeders, except that now it is applied to the human race. The eugenicist sets out to breed an ideal human race, by selecting only the fittest members, and permitting only them to breed. Very much this sort of reasoning guided the eugenic programmes of a century ago, with 'unfit' humans eliminated or sterilised, and 'fit' humans strongly encouraged to breed. If the programme had been continued for a few centuries or millennia, something like an ideal human race may have resulted.

But, quite apart from any moral reservations which anyone might have about this programme, it seems to me that there are a number of logical problems associated with it.

In the first place, how does one decide whether someone is 'fit' or 'unfit'? The process of natural selection is one in which plants and animals are subjected to variety of trials, at the end of which only a few of them have survived to continue to reproduce. It is only at the end of the process that it emerges which were the 'fit' (i.e. the survivors) and which the 'unfit'. But in the process of artificial selection, those who are 'fit' and those who are 'unfit' are determined at the outset. But how?

Natural selection might be compared with a marathon race, in which a number of runners enter, but only one crosses the finishing line ahead of all the others, and wins the prize. Artificial selection, in the same circumstance, would take the form of allowing only those runners who are deemed likely to win (e.g. the slimmest, tallest, longest-legged) to run in the race. Or it may take the form of allowing only one runner to run in the race, thus rendering the race itself irrelevant. In the natural selection marathon, the race is run, and the judges then award the prize to the winner. In the artificial selection marathon, the judges award the prize to the winner, and then the race is run.

Furthermore, in the process of natural selection, appearances count for nothing. The most unlikely plants and animals may be the ones which survive the trials to which the natural world subjects them. The short, fat guy with glasses might be the unexpected winner of the marathon. But in artificial selection, appearances are everything, because there is no other evidence to go on. The judges must examine the runners very closely, weighing and measuring them, before they pre-emptively award the prize to the tallest or slimmest runner, and allow him to run a token lap of honour. Artificial selection is essentially a beauty contest.

The process of natural selection is foolproof, because it requires no exercise of thought beyond pressing the cup into the hands of the first runner to cross the finishing line. But the process of artificial selection is one which requires considerable forethought, weighing up the relative merits of strength versus endurance, speed versus power, weight versus height. And the more thought that is required, the less foolproof it becomes. The judges may end up awarding the marathon winner's prize to a man with no legs.

Indeed, it might be said that artificial selection is always a way of cheating the process of natural selection. For the fattest pigs, and the hairiest sheep, are most likely those which the process of natural selection would rapidly reject. A pig breeder isn't trying to mimic natural selection, but to override it. He knows from the outset that he wants big, fat pigs. And he wants them this way because they will fetch the highest prices at the market.

And so a eugenic programme which employs methods of artificial selection is not an attempt to mimic natural selection, and find out which plants or animals are the 'fittest', and so likely to survive the rigours of natural selection. For only an actual trial by natural selection can do this. Artificial selection is always an attempt to skew the process of natural selection in favour of one type. And so also is any eugenic programme. It will never produce the 'fittest', but only those who have been deemed to be the 'fittest' in a beauty contest.

And furthermore, whenever eugenicists ever conduct any 'scientific' experiments, they always follow their method of artificial selection, which is one of deciding what the answer is first, and then finding evidence to support this pre-determined conclusion. One first decides that Jews or Gypsies or smokers or fat people are 'unfit' or 'subhuman', and then conducts 'research' which is designed to reach this foregone conclusion. One decides, for example, that smoking is an undesirable social trait, and then conducts research in order to reach this conclusion.

But there is a second logical problem with any eugenic programme. The pig breeder sets out to 'improve' his pigs because pigs are useful to men, and he would like to make them even more useful. They are an animal means to a human end. But in what sense can men be made more useful to themselves? Human beings are ends rather than means.

This question can only be answered if humans are divided into two groups, one of whom serves as a means to the ends of the other group - as for example would be the case where one group consists of slaves, and the other of slave owners. The slaves, although human, have become the equivalent of cattle and sheep, and can be subjected to a process of artificial selection to produce the ideal slave. A similar process of selection is not applied to the slave owners, because they are the ends towards which the process is directed.

And so any eugenics programme is inherently elitist. Not only is it not aiming at producing the true 'fittest' humans - i.e. humans which would most likely survive a process of natural selection -, but is instead twisting human nature into the services of a small elite, and acting entirely contrary to the best interests of the non-elite remainder of humanity.

There is a third problem with any such eugenic programme, which might be posed as the question: what happens when the conductor of the eugenics programme discovers that he is himself one of the 'unfit' or 'subhuman' or a member of the class of 'life unworthy of life'? Does he sterilise himself? Or shoot himself? In practice, the eugenicists never apply their eugenics programme to themselves, for the elitist reason just given. They do not themselves practise what they preach for others. Either that, or they select their ideal type by looking in a mirror.

Yet another problem with any eugenics programme is that no sooner is some sort of ideal human type defined, than 99.999% of humanity is discovered to be defective, through being too short or too tall, too fat or too thin, or whatever. Nobody shapes up. Everybody needs to be eliminated.

Finally, there is nothing to stop anyone setting up their own eugenics programme in competition with the established eugenicists (i.e. the WHO), but using quite different selection criteria. If you can be a eugenicist, then I can be one too.

And if I were to propose a eugenics programme that aimed to improve the human race, I can think of no higher and more exalted eugenic goal than to rid the world of eugenicists. Indeed, I would say that this is such an urgent task to undertake that humanity can't be forced to wait for them to die out after a few generations. We can't just fire them from their jobs, and hope they never come back. Nor would sterilising them do much good. The only way is to shoot the lot of them. Tomorrow.

The benefits to humanity would be immediate. Life would improve overnight for the smokers and drinkers and fat people who make up 99.999% of humanity. And once liberated from the distortions imposed by eugenic programmes on society, natural selection would once again be allowed to throw up the true winners of life's marathon, life's true survivors. Which would, these days, quite likely be thin, bald, bespectacled, chain-smoking computer nerds.

...A bit like me, funnily enough.

Shortest Ban Ever?

Various items of news.

Not often smokers hear any good news. So this is one to enjoy.

March 3,2011 CARACAS -- Venezuela’s Ministry of Health has annulled by decree an anti-smoking law which would have prohibited smoking in public places and offices of work a day after it was published. By contrast to the US, Canada, Europe and Asia, Venezuela is one of the few countries that still allowed smoking in a wide variety of public places, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and stadiums.

A day after the anti-smoking law was printed in the Official Gazette, the annulment resolution was published in the Official Gazette. All laws must be published in the government's Official Gazette to be official. The text read: “to declare the absolute annulment of the resolution of environments free of smoke identified by number 014 and the date of February 24.” No motive or explanation was given for the sudden annulment.

The second item of news, via Bishop Hill, is that the chief executive of National Grid has said that, thanks to increasing reliance on wind turbines, permanently available electricity may become a thing of the past.

rolling blackouts

I'd heard rumours along these lines a number of times, but I guess this makes it official. We're just going to have to "change our behaviour", it seems. Where did I hear that before?

So, all because of non-existent global warming, there are going to be rolling electricity blackouts in 10 years time. Or maybe earlier.

Can't see many people liking this much, somehow.

And finally, this via Dave Atherton on Facebook.


According to Dr. Karen Weatherby, a gerontologist and author of the study, gawking at women’s breasts is a healthy practice, almost at par with an intense exercise regime, that prolongs the lifespan of a man by five years.

She added, "Just 10 minutes of staring at the charms of a well-endowed female, is roughly equivalent to a 30-minute aerobics work-out."

I think I, ...erm, already knew this. But good to see it 'scientifically proven', of course. No need to get a rowing machine or anything stupid like that. A year's subscription to Penthouse or Playboy (or both) should do the trick.

Report From Greece

Guest post from Nisakiman.

The Greeks, on the whole, are a pretty feisty bunch. They don't take kindly to those in power trying to make their choices for them.

Witness the reaction to the recent austerity measures imposed as a result of the EU bailout.

And anyone who has visited this country cannot have failed to notice that most people riding motorbikes and scooters like to do so with the wind in their hair, despite there having been a law requiring the wearing of helmets for donkey's years.

So banning smoking in public places was never going to be easy here. If you google "Greece smoking ban", you will see a long list of headings like - "11 Jun 2009 ... /Greece-to-impose-smoking-ban-on-July-1-in-third-attempt-to-stamp-out-the..."; " 1 Jul 2009 ... Greece will impose a limited smoking ban in public places"; "Greece smoking ban takes effect. (AFP) – Sep 1, 2010. ATHENS"; "19 Jan 2011 ... ATHENS — Greece has pledged to enforce a smoking ban", etc. etc.

They are, however, under considerable pressure from the EU to enforce the smoking ban. I read somewhere (can't remember where) that this was one of the provisos that came with the bailout package, although I'm not sure as to the veracity of that. Whatever, there seems to be fresh impetus for enforcement. There is a good summary of the current smoking ban situation in Greece by Carol Cattell on Freedom-2-Choose here, which covers the political and practical aspects of the proposed enforcement, but as she says " Will it work?"

The Greeks are by-and-large a law-abiding people. The crime rate is by European standards extremely low, and I've never worried about walking the streets alone late at night. But when it comes to arbitrary laws like the helmet law and the smoking ban, the attitude tends to be "who the fuck are they to tell me how to live my life?" and they carry on as they always have.

The smoking ban applies of course to all "public" places, as in the UK; that is workplaces, government offices, bars etc. Since the "crackdown" began mid January, I have been to my accountant (chain smoked throughout), the tax office (full ashtray on the desk), renewed my bike tax (fag hanging out of his mouth), Post Office (ashtrays on the desks at the back, smoke in the air), caught a bus (driver was smoking and talking on his mobile most of the journey), and of course in all these places, as required by law, there were big "NO SMOKING" signs prominently displayed. Well, they complied with that bit! Needless to say, all the bars and restaurants I've been to recently provide ashtrays. About the only place I've noticed people don't smoke is in the big supermarkets and the pharmacies, which has been the case for years. The butcher sits in his shop smoking and drinking tsipouro (a fierce Grappa-like spirit) with his mates. The local betting / lottery shop is a fug, and there are bottles of whisky and Ouzo on the table. Maria, who owns the village mini-market / deli / post office counter always seems to have a fag on the go. So all in all, I would say that the "crackdown" hasn't really had a massive impact to date.

How long this continues to be the case I can't guess. The government has set up "snitch" lines so antis can report transgressors, and of course there is that pernicious system whereby a bar owner is fined heavily if a customer is caught smoking, thus coercing the customer into not making problems for the host. And of course the 'divide and conquer' ploy is ever present in that a bar owner who is in a high profile location, and thus forced to comply with the ban will often report the guy with the bar in a side street round the corner who's getting his lost trade.

There is growing resistance to the ban though. This in the Athens News recently for instance. Note "She added that the owners throughout Western Macedonia will continue and escalate their actions if a solution is not given to their problem. " And an article from last October in Bloomberg here indicates that the bar / restaurant owners don't intend to give up without a fight.

Another salient point which further muddies the issue here is that a large percentage of the police, who are for the most part the ones charged with enforcing this law, also like to go to bars for a drink and a smoke, so are not exactly over-enthusiastic about policing the ban.

I sincerely hope that my adopted countrymen continue to stand up to the control freaks in Brussels that would have them knuckle under. It would be a sad day indeed if Greece went the way of the rest of the EU countries who seem to have succumbed to the lies and misinformation disseminated by the tobacco control lobby.

After all, as has been said many times before, this kind of draconian legislation is not in any way compatible with the freedoms our fathers and grandfathers fought and died for. Those freedoms were costly in human life, and hard won. We should not allow them to be taken from us piecemeal by a coterie of fanatics with an agenda.

Time will tell how things pan out. I hope to post the occasional update.

P.S. In other European news, in Spain the Andalusian Federation of Hospitality expects to get one million signatures protesting against the smoking ban, surpassing the 500,000 signatures needed for a popular legislative initiative.

Late postcript: Latin American Herald Tribune 3 Mar 2011

Venezuela Cancels Smoking Ban
A day after a smoking ban is promulgated, it is annulled.

CARACAS -- Venezuela’s Ministry of Health has annulled by decree an anti-smoking law which would have prohibited smoking in public places and offices of work a day after it was published. By contrast to the US, Canada, Europe and Asia, Venezuela is one of the few countries that still allowed smoking in a wide variety of public places, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and stadiums.

Not Even The Illuminati

I'm not a great conspiracy theorist. My objection to them all boils down to one thing: I don't believe anyone is that smart. So when I read about the New World Order and so on over at The Tap, and all the fiendish things that the bankers and the Bilderbergers and Common Purpose are supposed to be up to, after the initial frisson of fear and dread has subsided, the old objection pops back up again: I don't believe anyone is that smart. I don't believe that, after thousands of years of people unsuccessfully trying to rule the world, someone has just managed to do so. Or will have done so by next Thursday. Or maybe the Thursday after.

These days my attention in mostly focused on smoking bans around the world, and particularly in the UK. But I also pay a lot of attention to the global warming thing too, in large part because it's so similar to the secondhand smoke business ("Trace amounts of gas pose dire threat", scientists say). And I pay rather less attention to the EU, in large part because the only thing I know it's proposing is an EU-wide smoking ban.

I don't believe that any of these are conspiracies. Or if they are conspiracies, they've been conspiracies in plain sight for many decades. No, to me they all look like examples of idealism, 'building a better world' and all that. A smoke-free world is (some people's idea of) an ideal world. A green world, devoid of cars and machines and factories, is another ideal world. And the EU state, into which all the countries of Europe have been dissolved, never to fight wars with each other ever again, is yet another ideal world. Who could possibly object to a green, smoke-free, war-free world?

But to me it all looks exactly like what was happening in Russia 100 years ago, when Bolshevik revolutionaries set out to overthrow the tsar and the old scheme of things, and build a heroic new Worker State, where everyone would be, y'know, ... equal. It very rapidly turned into a complete dystopia, with a gulag archipelago of labour camps. It turned into something far, far worse than anything that preceded it.

And I think that the same is likely to happen with the latest utopian dream of a green, smoke-free, war-free world. It'll just turn into another awful dystopia. It's already happening. The smoking ban is trumpeted as a great success, but it's only a success if the downsides of it are ignored (and of course they are ignored) in terms of fractured communities, bankrupt pubs, large scale smuggling, not to mention the falls in productivity and inventiveness as people stop smoking and get 30% dumber.

With global warming and 'green' energy, the result is whole countries carpeted with useless windmills, and dimbulbs in every home. Pretty soon we'll probably start having prolonged power cuts, as one by one the old power stations stop working.

As for the EU, the cracks are already beginning to show, in Ireland and Greece and most likely next Spain and Portugal and Italy. The EU, as best I can see, is an institution which generates thousands of restrictive rules and regulations which simply make life more difficult for everyone everywhere.

None of this surprises me particularly. There was a time, 30 or 40 years ago, when I would have thoroughly supported all these things. I've said before that I used to be a bit left wing (i.e. a bit of an idealist). I also used to be a bit of an environmentalist. I was all in favour of 'progressive' measures of every kind. Furthermore, a lot of the people I knew gradually gave up smoking over that period. And quite a few became 'environmentally aware'. And some bought into the idea of Europe, whatever the idea was. Only reactionary know-nothing stick-in-the-muds objected. There's a lot of soft support out there for smoking bans, green technology, European integration, and all that jazz.

But while a lot of the people I knew were going in that direction, I was slowly walking away. It perhaps began a few weeks after I'd walked into the Department of the Environment in London, some time around 1971, and told them that they should make people build houses with 6 inches of insulation in the walls. They listened to me kindly. But a few weeks later I woke up in the middle of the night, remembering the faint suggestion by one of them that it was perhaps a tad fascistic to require people to do things like that. That night, I realised that it was indeed fascistic. Who was I to tell people to fill their walls with insulation? It was up to them to make their own choices, wasn't it? Just because I'd written a computer programme that showed what savings could be made, did that make me an expert or something?

The end maybe came a few years later when I was a university researcher in building heat flow, and a young man (younger than me, anyway) came around and unfurled the plan of an eco-friendly, self-sufficient farm he wanted to build in Somerset, complete with solar collectors and all sorts of environmental gizmoes, and even a duck pond, and after studying it for a while I asked him how it was going to earn any money to buy stuff like seeds and new solar collector panels.

"Oh," he said. "We'll earn money from the tourists."

So there it was. He was going to build a 'self-sufficient', show eco-farm which was supposed to be funded by all the tourists who'd want to pay to visit it, and buy T-shirts and mugs and stuff.

It was completely barmy. After that, I began to see environmentalists as rather barmy. Just like I've always seen anti-smokers as rather barmy (there were hardly any of them 40 years ago). And vegetarianism.

Looking back at that time, I think that most of what I thought, and what everyone I knew thought, was all rather barmy. It hadn't been properly thought through. And it was all driven by idealism of one sort or other. But as I was retreating from it all, lots of other latecomers were piling in.

I suppose I've come to distrust idealism of any sort. And I've also come to distrust the idea of state planning. All these things look very captivating on the surface. But none of it has been fully thought through. Because the ideals can never be attained, and the planning always goes wrong. Because nobody really knows what they're doing. And nobody is smart enough.

I suppose that the way that I see the world these days, it's as a place of toil and suffering, some of which can be slightly alleviated here and there. For this is what the world has always been like, and very likely always will be like, only slightly better, or slightly worse. And rather than trying to make the world a better place, I'm more interested in stopping it becoming a worse place than it already is.

You are, I think, doing well if you are moderately prosperous, and have a circle of friends, and can simply go down to a pub in the evening and drink a few beers and smoke a few cigarettes and shoot a few games of pool.

But the antismoking idealists and the health zealots and the environmentalists and the EU technocrats - all busy making the world a 'better' place, all busy working for that green, smoke-free, war-free, ideal world - have already managed to remove even this simple pleasure. And that's before they've really got started with all their other grand plans for everyone.

It'll be a disaster, of course. It always is. The plans never work out. I just wonder how bad it'll be this time. I wonder how many people will tortured and locked up and shot and gassed and bayoneted when it all goes wrong, and they start looking round for 'wreckers' to blame for this latest failure of theirs to create their latest ideal world. Because none of them really have any idea what they're doing. None of them have really thought any of it through. None of them are that smart. No, not even the bankers and the Bilderbergers and the Masons and the Illuminati.

And when it all comes apart, there'll be a call to return to the world the way it was before, whatever's left of it. And the pubs will re-open, and you'll be able to drink and smoke as much as you like, if there's any beer to drink or tobacco to smoke. And they'll burn one or two lumps of real coal in the hearth. And there'll be a sovereign parliament in Westminster, with 30 or 40 MPs who can afford the horses to ride there. And nobody will want to hear any talk of any ideal world, shimmering like a holy grail on the horizon. And nobody will want to hear anybody's plans for anything either. They'll have had enough.

This brief respite won't last long, of course. Pretty soon, the idealists and the planners will be back again, with some new utopian goal in mind. Perhaps one in which dogs walk on their hind legs. Or parrots write books. Or everyone has a tricycle with a silver bell on it. Or whatever.

The Tobacco Centuries

After I'd carried bits of a Danish article which cited evidence that smokers performed a variety of mental tasks up to 30% better than non-smokers, Stewart Cowan suggested that banning smoking was an integral part of the modern dumbing-down process. Leg-iron continued the theme last night.

Today I wondered whether 30% increased mental acuity translated into 30% increased IQ. I couldn't see why it shouldn't. If your mind works better under the influence of tobacco smoke, you're likely to solve puzzles quicker. And that's all an IQ test consists of.

Lewis Terman (1916) proposed this scale for classifying IQ scores:
Over 140 - Genius or near genius
120 - 140 - Very superior intelligence
110 - 119 - Superior intelligence
90 - 109 - Normal or average intelligence
80 - 89 - Dullness
70 - 79 - Borderline deficiency
Under 70 - Definite feeble-mindedness

Normal or average intelligence measures about 100 on the IQ scale. So if IQ is boosted 30%, an ordinary guy of average intelligence will find he has a very superior intelligence of 130 once he starts smoking. If he's a smarter than average guy with an IQ of 110, he becomes a genius with an IQ of over 140. And if he's a bit feeble-minded, with an IQ of 70, a 30% increase of intelligence will boost him to IQ of 90, which is almost normal.

Today I found myself wondering what happens to a society when, almost overnight, it gets 30% smarter. I figured there'd probably be a great flowering of science and philosophy and art and music and literature. But the gains wouldn't just be in outstanding scientific discoveries and inventions and works of art, but in the performance of everybody, right the way down to the butcher and baker and candlestick maker.

Well, we can just take a look at history. The New World (and tobacco) was discovered in 1492 by Columbus, sailing from Spain, and funded by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. This time corresponds to the period of the High Renaissance in Europe. In Spain, the Spanish Renaissance is dated from exactly 1492. Assuming that tobacco spread rapidly from Spain to the aristocracies of neighbouring countries, then since Leonardo da Vinci lived from 1452 to 1519, he could have smoked tobacco for the last 30 years of his life, while painting the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) could have picked up the habit when he was about 25, and lit up every now and then while painting the Sistine Chapel. Nicholas Copernicus (1473 – 1543) could have lit his first pipe at age 30, while pondering the motion of the planets. The Reformation is kicked off by Martin Luther in 1517. What set him thinking? And whatever induced that larger-than-life king Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) to write poetry and music and theology? None of his predecessors did. Ah, he had a Spanish wife. By 1530, tobacco had become popular with the Spanish lower classes (which suggests that there was already a lot of it around).

It's not as if absolutely nothing was happening before 1500. But there does seem to be a veritable flood of artists and philosophers and scientists and engineers after that date. Francis Bacon was a smoker. Very likely William Shakespeare was too.

And it's not just that many of the key figures in the Renaissance could have smoked tobacco, but that many of the main players in the subsequent Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution most definitely were smokers. Isaac Newton was a smoker. Charles Darwin was a smoker. Isambard Brunel was a smoker. Johann S Bach was a smoker. Albert Einstein was a smoker. Pablo Picasso was a smoker.

The Renaissance and the Reformation and the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution were all intellectual revolutions. There's really nothing equivalent to them in the previous 1000 years or more. What could have made that happen? Climate change? In the 16th century Europe was entering the Little Ice Age. It's a bit difficult to think when you're freezing cold. Rising living standards? The Industrial Revolution didn't really get under way until about 1800. The arrival of tobacco, raising almost everyone's intellectual performance by 30%, offers an excellent explanation of this rolling series of intellectual revolutions. The timing is perfect.

Add to this that America was built on tobacco. The original colonies of Virginia grew and exported tobacco. Probably almost every single one of America's founding fathers were tobacco smokers. The US Constitution is wreathed in tobacco smoke. The most successful political experiment of the past 300 years was founded on tobacco.

This won't be the first time that a large claim has been made for a drug. Anyone who was familiar with the 1960s will remember the large claims that were made first about cannabis and later about LSD. "Feed Your Mind" was one of the mantras of the late 60s.

And maybe minds do need feeding, and humanity has long been starved of the nutrients that nourish thought, just as much as it has been starved of the nutrients that nourish physical vitality. Maybe what drives all drug experimentation is the search for the elixir not of immortality or eternal youth, but of genius. Tobacco has been one of the best.

If smoking tobacco substantially increases mental performance, then why would anyone want to prohibit tobacco? It probably just boils down to one simple thing: jealousy. Smokers have a 30% intelligence advantage over non-smokers. Not because they're inherently smarter, but because they're using performance-enhancing drugs, just like olympic athletes cheat by using steroids. It's not a level playing field. Banning smoking gives non-smokers an equal chance of winning prizes, gaining advancement, and getting the girl. If you can't speed up your own racing car, your only recourse is to demand changes in the rules to slow down the other guys' cars.

If we might want to know what a smoke-free world would be like, all we need do is wind back the clock to before 1492, when nobody smoked. Almost all intellectual inquiry is restricted to monks in the Roman Catholic Church, and if they're thinking about anything, it's most likely theology. It's an authoritarian intellectual world, where questioning almost anything is heresy. Sound familiar?

And in this world where more or less everyone is 30% less intelligent than in previous generations, there will be incompetence at all levels of society. Politicians will make stupid decisions, science will decay, philosophers and intellectuals will disappear, the arts will degenerate. Nothing will work properly. Most people will be feeble-minded. Again, sound familiar?

Ours is increasingly a world without vision and without imagination. It's a frightened world. It's a world in which people are frightened of their own shadows. Frightened of tobacco smoke. Frightened of carbon dioxide. Frightened of Terror. It's a world in which people readily accept the authority of doctors and scientists who are all too ready to exploit and dupe them. It's a world in which the Holy Father, il papa, the pope, is returning the nanny superstate is emerging, to regulate everything that anyone does, in the smallest details.

For a few centuries - the Tobacco Centuries - people were 30% smarter than they were in centuries before or after. For a few centuries science and reason triumphed over superstition and credulity, before it all came rolling back in a tidal wave of joss sticks and Vegan diets and global warming and windmills.

A Libyan Appraisal

Continuing my new focus on Libya (perhaps because I lived there once). As best I can make out, most of the east of Libya is in the hands of rebels (pink area of map below), except for Surt, Gaddafi's home town, which was reported a day or so back to have 4,000 loyal troops of his in control of it, and of the coast road. In the west, Gaddafi still seems to be in control (green areas in the map below) except for the towns of Sabratah and Az Zawiyah, and parts of Tripoli. After Tripoli, the largest city in Libya is Benghazi, followed by Misratah and Az Zuwiyah (which also has one of the two largest oil refineries in Libya). I'm supposing that most of Libya's population lives along the coast, and that large areas of southern Libya are almost entirely unoccupied.

At the moment there seems to be little sign that Gaddafi is likely to step down or be toppled in the immediate future. So what's likely to happen in the longer term?

libya map1Reports today say that Az Zawiyah is surrounded by Gaddafi's forces, and units of his have been approaching Misratah, which both suggest that Gaddafi is trying to take complete control of the west of Libya. In the meanwhile, in Benghazi the ex-Justice minister is trying to form a provisional government, banks have re-opened, and a semblance of normality restored.

At the moment, with most of the weapons and troops in Libya, Gaddafi looks stronger than the rebels, in the west of Libya at least, and he looks set to recapture both Az Zawiyah and Misratah. What else is likely to happen when heavily armed soldiers confront mostly unarmed civilians? There would seem to be every likelihood of a bloodbath if Gaddafi's forces fight their way into these two cities. Or else starvation if he lays siege to them.

But Gaddafi's position is likely to deteriorate. He may currently be strong, but armies need to be supplied with ammunition, fuel, and food. And it's rather hard to see where Gaddafi's supply chain comes from for any of these (apart from fuel, if he retains control of the refinery at Az Zawiyah). There is revolution both in Tunisia in the west, and Egypt in the east. Trade with the world, by sea and by air, is at a standstill. As also are oil exports.

With America swinging behind the rebels, and Senator John McCain today calling for a no-fly zone over Libya and for weapons supplies to the rebels, the eastern rebels may be able to return their half of the country to something like normality fairly rapidly, restoring oil exports from the eastern oilfields, and trading out of Benghazi. A British Hercules aircraft today flew (twice) into the airfield at Nafoora to collect 150 oil workers, and returned them to Malta, suggesting that the Libyan air force either does not have control of Libyan airspace, or has sided with the rebels.

In the west, it would seem likely that there will be no return to normality. Instead there will be fighting, starvation, and great suffering among the civilian population while Gaddafi remains in control. Gaddafi's only hope for the long term is, after securing the west of Libya, to set out to recapture the east. But the longer he waits, the more likely the east will be re-supplied and re-enforced by land and by sea, and become too strong to recapture.

Gaddafi may temporarily have military superiority over the rebels, and may be able to recapture several towns. But, unless he can regain control of the whole of Libya rapidly, he faces an increasingly impossible task as the rebels in the east grow stronger, and his own resources dwindle away. The hitherto-loyal commanders around Gaddafi will probably recognise one by one that the situation has become hopeless, and make their escape as best they can - particularly if eastern army units seize the initiative and begin to lay siege first to Surt and then Misratah.

Every day that Gaddafi fails to recover control of Libya means that every day he is less and less likely to ever manage to do so.

Update 28 feb 2011: Daily Mail:

David Cameron threatened Colonel Gaddafi with military action last night, promising a no-fly zone and arms shipments to his enemies.

The Prime Minister even suggested he could send British troops into Libya as a peacekeeping force to stop Gaddafi’s henchmen massacring democracy campaigners.

At a National Security Council meeting yesterday morning, he ordered military chiefs to draw up plans for the no-fly zone. If Gaddafi turned his air force on the rebels, RAF warplanes would be able to intervene.

Update 1 Mar 2011: David Cameron has backtracked after the US White House called his idea "premature".

Smoking Boosts Brain Power

H/T Det Fede Skelet on Facebook for this Google translation of a Danish article, Tobacco Increases Work Capacity, exploring the benefits of smoking tobacco. It's not a very good translation, so I'll try to summarize it:

Tobacco, according to the WHO [1], is a "harmful and unnecessary product". It has no benefits whatsoever. Antismoking campaigners have place all their emphasis on the negative aspects of smoking, ignoring all the positive aspects, which are that the brain works better when it gets nicotine. Nicotine makes its consumers focus better and think faster and concentrate longer. Studies have shown that nicotine makes the brain work 10-30% more efficiently in a number of areas.

In 2010 the US government released an analysis summarising the last 40 years of knowledge about the effects of nicotine and smoking on the brain. The study was led by Stephen Heishman: Meta-analysis of the acute effects of nicotine and smoking on human performance. Abstract: ( 3 ). Nicotine has a significant positive impact in the areas of motor skills, attention, focus, speed and memory. Heishman's team examined 256 published non-medicinal nicotine tests done since 1994, when they made a similar analysis, and selected 48 studies for their meta-analysis. Their analysis paints a picture of nicotine as an effective and fast acting drug, which improves the brain's performance in social work situations - a decidedly "social work-drug".

The positive effect on the brain may explain why many of history's greatest scientists have been passionate smokers - eg. Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, who both praised the tobacco effect on their scientific thinking. Equally some of the world's most creative footballer such as Zinedine Zidane, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Dimitar Berbatov and many other players were avid smokers.

Cigarettes have also always been an indispensable part of soldiers' field rations, and remain so.

The 48 experiments included in Heishmans analysis consisted of several groups of volunteers who have completed a series of standardized computer tests: One half received nicotine, while control subjects received placebo. Nobody knew whom, who got what. With few exceptions, nicotine users did better in all tests, whether they were smokers or nonsmokers. This was especially true in the areas of attention, precision, focus, memory and speed - and to a lesser degree of motor skills:

The researchers also found other areas where nicotine users had significantly better outcomes - including motor skills, long-term memory, semantic memory, arithmetic, complex calculations & Decision attention.

Tobacco Harm researcher, Professor Brad Rodu from Louisiana University, says that Heishman's analysis is a breakthrough in understanding tobacco & nicotine effects. In his article "The Proven Positive Effects of Nicotine and Tobacco ( 10 ) on his blog, Tobacco Truth, he writes:

"It’s time to be honest with the 50 million Americans, and hundreds of millions around the world, who use tobacco. The benefits they get from tobacco are very real, not imaginary or just the periodic elimination of withdrawal," writes Rodu (original English).

Professor David Warburton of Reading University, in a double attempt experiment in 1994 first demonstrated that 100 "abstinent" smokers and 100 nonsmokers achieved similar results in three specific figures tests. In experiment No. 2 then he repeated the same three tests with smokers when they were divided into two groups - one was "abstinent" in 12 hours, while the second group had smoked one hour earlier:

Figure 1 - Warburton & Arnal, 1994: - The scale shows the number of correct answers, minute by minute. Participants smoked one puff per minute in the period between the dotted lines, from the 6th minute to 15th minute. The two top lines are the results for nicotine groups - the bottom two are from non-nicotine groups. Each group consisted of one abstinent group & one non-abstinent group.

Result: The number of correct answers rose in the two nicotine groups with approx. 30% from third cigarette puff. There was, however, no difference in responses between the "abstinent" and the non-abstinent participants. The two nicotine groups had also significantly 10-15% faster reaction time, (not shown in graph).

If nicotine actually does enhance performance, it may help to explain why the productivity of labor in the western world has decreased slightly each year since 1970s, as health campaigns have reduced the number of smokers. In Denmark, there has been an unexpected and inexplicable collapse in productivity in 2007 and 08 - just after the time when the state banned smoking in all Danish workplaces. ( 19 )

There's quite a lot more in the article, and 19 useful links appended.

Update: DFS has emailed with some corrections (shown above). He also appears to be working on a better translation of the original article. If I get a link address for it, I'll post it here.


I've been paying a lot of attention to events in Libya, and in its capital city, Tripoli. I have a personal interest. Some 60 years ago I lived there for about 6 months in a house overlooking the harbour.

So when I saw video footage today of Gaddafi speaking in Green Square in Tripoli, I wondered if it really was Green Square. I dug up a few photos, and fairly soon managed to work out that he was standing on the ramparts of the Red Fort (Assaraya Alhamra) in Tripoli, right by the harbour.

tripoli red fort On the right below is part of the video footage, and above it a photo of the Red Fort. So yes, he actually was there earlier this evening. Interesting way of validating a news report.

But why was he up on the ramparts? Why wasn't he down in the raised, covered pavilion at street level (which seems to be a permanent feature, given that it's in all the photos), where his supporters would be able to see his face as he spoke to them. I suppose the obvious answer was that he didn't want to get too close to them, and didn't entirely trust them. If it all turned nasty, he was behind some stout walls.

As best I can gather from the news reports from Al Jazeera, most of the east of Libya, which is where the oilfields are, is in the hands of the rebels. A couple of towns to the west of Tripoli, including Sabratah and Az Zawiyah, are also in rebel hands. I've visited the ruined Roman city of Sabratha, so I know that place too.

With many Libyan diplomats deserting the regime, and a number of Gaddafi's senior people fleeing, it looks like Gaddafi's days are numbered. Except that he shows no sign of recognising this himself. And since several of his sons seem to have well-equipped military brigades of their own, and the rebels seem to mostly be armed with stones or at best hunting rifles and pistols, there's likely to be a terrible bloodbath if Gaddafi uses his superior loyal military forces to recapture the rebel towns one by one.

Obama has said next to nothing. Nor has Cameron, except to say that there would be consequences for any crimes. And the UN seems to be simply formulating the right words for doing nothing beyond imposing sanctions on Libya, and freezing bank accounts. I can't see how that will help.

Meanwhile, everybody else is scrambling to get out as fast as they can. The Brits seem to have mostly managed to get out. A ferry-load of Americans followed today. Petrol prices are soaring all round the world, as Libya's oil exports have dried up. I read today that Libya supplies a quarter of Italy's natural gas. And the Italian government are very worried about hundreds of thousands of Libyans seeking asylum in Italy.

It's not just Libya either. There were continuing demonstrations in Tunisia (where Ben Ali was toppled a month or two back), and also in Egypt (where Mubarak was toppled), and in Iraq, and Yemen, and Bahrain. The whole region looks set to catch fire.

Yesterday in a rambling speech broadcast on radio, Gaddafi was blaming the insurgency on Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who had been drugging the youth with pills to make them riot. Today, standing on the Red Fort, he was pointing the finger at Italy and Turkey, and threatening a bloodbath.

If it was down to me, I'd be seriously considering landing a rapid deployment force in Benghazi in eastern Libya to shore up the rebels there, and prevent a bloodbath. And then I'd bring in some more firepower to defeat Gaddafi's units in the field. Then I'd call elections and hand Libya back to the Libyans. But I doubt anyone will actually do anything in the least bit like that. Too obvious.

Bloody Cigarettes

DP has already posted up this video, and Leg-iron has commented on it, but I thought I'd repost it.

It reminds me a little of the 10:10 "Your Choice" video, where anyone who was sceptical about global warming was blown up. This one is similarly violent. Smoking a cigarette is portrayed as being no different from punching yourself in the face. And offering anyone else a cigarette or smoking a cigarette in a room with other people is no different from punching them in the face.

Probably, as with 10:10, its producers thought it was funny. But, as with 10:10, they say far more about themselves than they do about smokers. The 10:10 video showed that the people who made it really wanted to blow up climate sceptics, and this new video shows that the people who made it really want to punch smokers in the face.

But it also shows how distorted their thinking about smoking has become. For smoking a cigarette is in no sense equivalent to punching yourself in the face. Smoking a cigarette is a pleasure, not a pain. If smoking a cigarette were no different from punching yourself in the face, nobody would do it. Because nobody punches themselves in the face.

It ends by asking the question: "Do you really want a hit along with your coffee?" Yet a cup of coffee has at least as much of a 'hit' as a cigarette - perhaps more. If this had been an anti-coffee video, the cup of coffee could have been portrayed as poison that was killing the people who drank it. And since coffee has a strong smell, it could also be portrayed as killing everyone else nearby. It's just an accident that it's tobacco rather than coffee that is the target of this video. After all, coffee has had its detractors as well.

All this video really shows is that the people who made it abhor smoking, and want to get more people to think the way they do. But the real message of it, for many people, will be just how utterly twisted and distorted the way they think about smoking really is.

And that's why it should, like 10:10, get the widest possible airing.