Nora Aunor with a cig: So what?
By Katrina Stuart Santiago
Let it be said that Superstar Nora Aunor’s comeback is by all counts a success, if we are to measure it not by media mileage or product endorsements, not by tell-all interviews in every darn showbiz talk show or by grand statements about home being where the heart is.
Ate Guy’s return has been about none of this and that is precisely a measure of this comeback’s success. Because would she be the unbeatable popular culture icon that she is, the film actress par excellence, the Superstar in the real sense of the word, if she came back and fell into the trap of showbiz as created by the Kris Aquinos of this world?
MK Gilad Ardan has succeeded in tightening the noose around the necks of smokers and bar owners, and unlawful smoking is now punishable with higher fines. Shouldn’t we applaud his pursuit to evict smoking not just from restaurants, but from bars and pubs as well? Finally Israel is joining the chorus of the relentless hunt of the politically correct after the smokers!(Full disclosure: I am a smoker.)
Isn’t this a triumph of culture and civilization? I doubt it. If anything, we are witnessing another step toward a paternalist conception of a state that tells us what we are allowed to do and how we are supposed to live our lives. I am not impressed at all that the United States and the European Union have been sliding down the same slope that leads the state to tell individuals how to live.
Rational discussion of the issue has become impossible, to the point that evidence is being withheld from the public. For example: The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an affiliate of the World Health Organization (WHO), conducted a seven-year study that did not show that secondary smoking has any impact on health – but the study’s publication was suppressed, because it would have shaken the thoughtless consensus by which we all “know” that secondary smoking kills.
The studies that are currently quoted, stressing that a large percentage of voters are in favor of no-smoking laws, are not to the point, either. One of the greatest dangers of democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out long ago, is the “tyranny of the majority.” It is remarkable how the media avoid really addressing arguments against the anti-smoking law, because this would violate the established consensus. When open discussion is avoided, life under a totalitarian thought-police is not far off.
If indeed the rationale for the law against smoking is to avoid suffering or harm to non-smokers, there are still ways to take into account the desires of the one quarter of the population that smokes. Smoking spaces can be designated and bars can be rated by the degree of the separation of these spaces, so non-smokers can choose to avoid them.
But no such effort to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers has been made. Instead the Health Ministry triumphantly tells us that the percentage of smokers in Israel is going down. Does that mean that the state is supposed to educate adults on whether they want to smoke or not? Are we going to close the beaches at noon because exposure to the sun causes skin cancer (a causal link much more strongly established than the health effect of secondary smoking)?
The state is not supposed to be the nanny that tells us how to live, and we are coming close to a situation like this. Not long ago, MK Ruhama Avraham-Balili tried to pass a law that would have limited the hours during which alcohol can be dispensed. It did not pass, but the very idea that a lawmaker can prescribe how we live our private lives should shock us. Political philosophers like John Stuart Mill and Hannah Arendt have also warned against the tendency of the state to interfere in our lives, and their warnings should not go unheeded.
One might argue that, after all, only good things can result from a ban on smoking in public places: Smokers will smoke less, and non-smokers will suffer less, but this is a short-sighted view.
There is a price to be paid for turning our cities into health spas, clean of all vices. If cultural creativity has always been associated with vices of many sorts, it’s because, beyond a certain limit, over-regulation of our private lives, our desires and our habits leads to gray uniformity and sterilizes the cultural atmosphere.
New York City used to be a bustling city, in which huge corporate headquarters and respectable law firms were balanced by areas filled with artists who frequented bars and jazz clubs filled with smoke. Giuliani and Bloomberg outlawed smoking in all public places, took care to wipe out all seedy areas, and as a result, N.Y.C. has become clean, sterile and less interesting, because the pressure to conform has made alternative lifestyles more difficult to maintain.
Vienna of the late 19th century, Paris of the early 20th century, New York of the 1940s and 1950s, were all unruly cities. Along with cigarettes and alcohol there was enormous cultural creativity. These were the cities that allowed Freud, Klimt, Picasso, Braque, Sartre, Rothko, Philip Roth and Woody Allen to flourish. Not all of these smoked, and I am not arguing that there is a connection between smoking and creativity. But thereis a correlation between how open a society is and how much creativity and joie de vivre it nourishes. We are entitled to our vices, and the virtue of moralizing political correctness may do more damage to our society than cigarette smoke.
Carlo Strenger is a professor in Tel Aviv University’s department of psychology, and a member of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Terrorism of the World Federation of Scientists.
Let Obama smoke in the White House.
By Ron Rosenbaum
… Obama—who, according to a wide array of sources, has smoked for years, but promised his wife, Michelle, that he’d quit in exchange for her help with his presidential campaign—has never said that smoking is good or healthy or that quitting is easy. Quite the opposite. He’s made clear that quitting is a struggle and, like others who struggle with their demons, he’s fallen off the wagon.
So what? This is probably the most sinless president we’re likely to get in the foreseeable millennium, and yet he’s already got the health Nazis on his tail. He’s human, he’s not on Mount Rushmore yet. (Although I kind of like the idea of a giant, granite Obama next to the Rushmore four, a stone cigarette dangling from his lips.)
In fact, I’d argue that Obama’s smoking habit gives us another reason to like him: He’s not a perfect paragon of the Whole Foods boho sensibility, comments about arugula notwithstanding. I’m told there are people who were surprised to learn he smoked, as if it was somehow shocking he didn’t fit all the virtuous liberal-elite stereotypes. It would be refreshing (and not in that cool-menthol way) if he’s more a democrat, less a virtue-crat.
I also wonder—and this will seem wildly heretical to virtue-crats, so hide the children—whether some of Obama’s finer qualities aren’t bound up in his alleged nicotine sins. That contemplative self-possession that so many admire him for. It might come from Obama’s ability to sit back, inhale a puff or two, slow down and think—meditate, cogitate—before acting. Sure it’s a trade-off. Lung cancer later in life: the percentage grows grim. But isn’t it possible that, without the mediating thoughtfulness of a nicotine break, Obama would still be a “community organizer”? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Look, people, we have what looks to be an incredibly thoughtful, long-view-taker as president, and maybe we owe it to cancer sticks. That’s the tragedy of life. You don’t get somethin’ for nothin’. Maybe you don’t get the Obama we think will make a great president without the devil weed. Maybe we owe him some cancer sticks if that’s what he chooses. Because—and here I take the libertarian view—you choose your poison. He knows the stats and the risks. Maybe he makes a choice to have a butt or two despite the stats and the risks. Bill Clinton knew the odds and chose his butt or two with consequences that were arguably graver for the country as a whole. (By the way, you know who made the White House into a smoke-free zone? Hillary Clinton. We’d all be better off if Bill had thought “smoking hot” meant he was hot for smoking.)
If Obama were still a senator, a largely do-nothing job (at least if you consider senators’ achievements), fine, take time, enroll in an anti-smoking program, white-knuckle it, whatever you decide: You have the leisure. But he’s going to be president, with the fate of the nation, of the Earth, in his hands. Did George W. Bush make great decisions as a president while abstaining from alcohol? Maybe a sip of sherry or a cold brewski might have calmed him down enough to think twice about invading Iraq or deregulating the markets.
Look at all the great presidents we had during Prohibition: Harding, Coolidge, Hoover … Wow, makes you wonder if abstemiousness is to blame for turning out mediocre-to-disastrous louts in the Oval Office.
Come Jan. 20, Obama will be the president of a nation whose entire economic infrastructure is collapsing and who faces renewed tensions with a nuclear superpower. Such tensions could easily lead us to the nuclear brink. Is this the precise time we want our president to undergo the ordeal that giving up smoking represents?
Give Obama a break … a smoking break. No president has come into office facing the massive problems he does. And now he’s got Chicago politics, like another monkey on his back, following him there. Let him enjoy a few contemplative moments as he works a problem. Let him have his down time. We’ll probably be better off for it. So get off his case, all you holier-than-thou Puritans. I’m not advocating smoking for anyone else, and I think he should make a point of telling kids what a horror quitting is. But, meanwhile, cut the guy some slack. He’s risking his health for you.
Please give the guy a break. Anyone drinking coffee everyday, raise your hand. You’re an addict as addict does.
My only concern with Noynoy smoking is that he might leave a lighted cigarette and burn down the whole of Malacanang. As long as he uses a secure ashtray, I will leave him to his favorite carcinogen.
Leave the guy alone. Must his lungs be national property too? I strongly suggest you focus on his unsightly hairdo instead. Semikal (semi-bald) would be fine.
Brain cells work differently than previously thought:
NICOTINE HELPS TO SPARK CREATIVITY
University of California – Irvine
Scientists know that information travels between brain cells along hairlike extensions called axons. For the first time, researchers have found that axons don’t just transmit information – they can turn the signal up or down with the right stimulation.
This finding may help scientists develop treatments for psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia in which it is thought that different parts of the brain do not communicate correctly with each other.
“Until now, scientists have thought that in the brain’s cortex — where most cognitive processes occur — information was only processed in the cell body,” said Raju Metherate, author of the study, associate professor of neurobiology and behavior, and director of the Center for Hearing Research at UC Irvine. “The result of our study suggests that we must consider the axons as sites of information processing – and of potential problems when things go wrong.”
This study appears online Aug. 19 in Nature Neuroscience.
Increasingly, studies are beginning to show that complex information processing, and perhaps consciousness itself, may result from coordinated activity among many parts of the brain connected by bundles of long axons. Cognitive problems may occur when these areas don’t communicate properly with each other.
Cognitive function occurs when millions of brain cells communicate with each other at the same time. A brain cell has a network of branches called dendrites through which it receives and processes information from other cells. The body of the cell then relays the processed information along an axon to a terminal that links to another cell’s dendrites. At the terminal, chemicals called neurotransmitters are released, allowing the information to enter the receiving cell. Until now, scientists believed axons were just the wires between point A and point B.
“Axons, we thought, were like wires in a radio conveying signals, but we found that if you stimulate the axon, the signal can be altered, like turning the volume knob on the radio,” Metherate said.
Originally, Metherate and his colleagues had hoped to confirm the idea that the drug nicotine alters information that is processed in the cell body or terminal. Puzzled by several negative tests, they developed an experiment in which they could study the intervening axon.
In their experiment, they examined a section of mouse brain associated with hearing that contained a brain cell with an axon connecting to the cortex. Using nicotine, they stimulated the axon to determine how it would affect a signal the brain cell sent to the cortex. Without applying nicotine, about 35 percent of the messages sent by the brain cell reached the cortex. But when nicotine was applied to the axon, the success rate nearly doubled to about 70 percent.
“We looked for more conventional reasons why the response was enhanced, but the evidence just kept pointing to the axon. Nicotine activated the proteins that we think are on the axon,” Metherate said. “This is a completely new idea about how the brain works.”
Nicotine. Good for Creativity?
Roger Yaspen in “How to Boost Your Brain Power” – published by Rodale Press in 1987 writes…
“Although nicotine is a poisonous substance that has long been used as an insecticide and rat poison, the small doses taken by smokers can cause temporary improvements in mental performance, including alertness, capacity to carry out repetitive tasks, and both accuracy and speed in an information processing test. Smoking is used by workers as an aid in tasks requiring thinking and concentration, and cigarettes can perk people up in much the same way as a cup of coffee.
At low doses, nicotine stimulates the release of beta-endorphin, an opiate made by the body. Consequently, smokers fell calmer. In contrast, a high dose apparently prompts the release of noradrenaline, adrenaline and dopamine. Smokers may experience a lift, or find themselves in the paradoxical state of being more alert and more relaxed. Nicotine has also been credited with improvements in mental performance through an increased release of two neurotransmitters involved with memory function, acetylcholine and vasopressin. These effects don’t last for long – from 15 minutes to half an hour.
In defense of smoking
I’m reading a book called In Defense of Sin. It is a compilation of essays from different authors defending one or another practices usually considered sinful. For example, Friedrich Nietzsche in defense of blasphemy, Oscar Wilde in defense of lying, Sigmond Freud in defense of breaking the golden rule, etc. It’s always fascinating and illuminating to read counter-intuitive essays from such great minds.
I wouldn’t presume to write at a level comparable to those greats, but I would like to suggest that smoking did, in fact, have some beneficial effects. There’s an ease that settles over someone as they smoke – an opportunity to stop, forget everything, and be mesmerized by the swirls of smoke as it rises. In short, a brief reprise from the world to a meditative state. And that’s a place that fewer and fewer of us are spending time these days. I believe it is one of the major causes of the steep rise in mental disorders – a virtually complete elimination of opportunities for reflection, repose and meditation. There’s just no time!
There’s no doubt that the dramatic shift in our culture away from cigarettes has been good for the body. But perhaps what benefits the body has damaged the soul…
The anti-smoking bigots should butt out
There are a lot of people who don’t like smoke or smoking but there are a lot of people who do. Tobacco is a great calmer, it relieves stress, it can put you in a contemplative mood. Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Clement Attlee and Stanley Baldwin, with their pipes, don’t look too stressed. I used to hitchhike in my youth with a pipe, counting on a pipe smoker picking up a fellow contemplator. It worked many times. If tobacco is taken away, something else moves in to replace it. We can now see in the US what this is. Television there is saturated with drug advertising painkillers and antidepressants and allsorts of other things, all on prescription. Just tell your doctor you need whatever the product is and you’ll be fine. It’s hardly an improvement.
In defense of liberty sticks
…all these smoking bans strike me as totalitarian and un-American. Hilter banned cigarettes in Nazi Germany. Do we want a government like Hitler’s?