Conspiracy of Silence Theory

©2006 M. A. Padlipsky

To begin on a deliberately dramatic note, it isn’t only my last name that leads me to identify with the Jews in Germany in the early 1930’s. Note the stress on “early”: I’m not comparing the situation of my current main persecuted minority to that of Jews in Germany in the late ‘30s and into the ‘40s. But it really does seem that “the media” over here treat smokers these days with the same disregard as the German press and radio had for Jews in those pre-Holocaust days -- a disregard so intense that I belatedly felt I must add an assurance that my only connection to the tobacco industry is as a consumer to the very first paragraph.

Not only are many of the attacks based on arrant falsehoods, but the sheer repetition of even those that possess a grain or two of truth amounts at best to a campaign of Proof By Strong Assertion. That today’s “media” also essentially never allow smokers to defend themselves is consistent with the Neo-Big Lie attacks, of course. It is, however, strikingly inconsistent with the presumed principle of the freedom of speech ... although it's abundantly consistent with “The freedom of the press belongs to those who own one”.

Leaving a primer on the falsehoods for an Appendix, what evidence is there for the title of this exercise? (Granted, it's necessarily based on personal experience: but proving a negative is notoriously difficult, so even if I were to have assiduously searched for any instances of smoker-tolerant, much less -friendly, “press” other than the ‘94 Robert Scheer column mentioned later, it would still only be anecdotal evidence, after all.)

Since I currently reluctantly reside in California and find writing cathartic, I’ve submitted innumerable Letters to Editors and candidate-columns to OpEditors over the last dozen or more years. Infuriatingly, even when I deprive myself of the full catharsis I normally find in writing and deliberately keep the word-count down and the sentence and paragraph lengths short, in conformance with the debased contemporary standards of “journalese”, they get ignored.

Let’s focus on just two of my own particularly galling recent rebuffs, leaving aside a number of other cases except to offer two older lowlights in passing here, and to tuck another one away down in the Appendix: When I noticed perhaps eight years ago in the (London) "e-Telegraph" that the World Health Organization had commissioned a definitive study to prove once and for all that ETS was bad and it didn't reach the desired conclusion so they suppressed publication of the report, and for that matter that the WHO's average life expectancy figures a few years ago showed Japan first and France third (quick, think of two countries famous for high levels of smoking), I couldn't get any U.S daily to pay any attention to either of those fundamentally smoker-friendly happenings.

So it was unsurprising that when the California Legislature was seriously considering banning smoking in cars “with kids in them” a year or two ago, I wrote two quite different 150-word Letters which no California, or national, “major paper's” Editor would print.

One was rather barbed and witty:

The Madness of the Meanwells?

I've got no use for the Ranting Right, but there does seem to be a bit of fire under all the smoke they blow about the Loony Left.

Consider: last week in the Assembly, Firebaugh was pushing a ban on smoking in cars where children are present; this week in the Senate, Murray wants to make smoking while driving, even alone, a fineable "distraction". Loony, indeed.

Don't they care that the primary nicotine withdrawal symptoms are difficulty concentrating and heightened anxiety? Do they really want to promote accidents, and "Road Rage"?  Nutty, for sure.

But wait.... Maybe that's too simplistic. What if the correct diagnosis isn't psychosis but merely a twist on an old classic: They might NOT be crazy, but they ARE stupid?

Could be. Anyway, mad or not, they sure are maddening.

And furnishing way too much aid and comfort to the "NeoCon" enemy....

The other was fairly “straight”, by my standards, anyway:

Redefining DWI

Maybe it's too subtle for the California Legislature. Maybe it's just that "the media" haven't mentioned it because it's deemed too subtle for the public. Whatever the explanation, an extremely negative unintended consequence of some upcoming legislation is looming and nobody seems to have noticed:

If drivers who usually smoke can't smoke while driving (per AB1569 and/or SB1800), untold thousands of cars would be driven by what we're assured are addicts whose primary withdrawal symptoms are difficulty concentrating and increased irritability being forced by law to suffer those withdrawal symptoms!

Regardless of whether the legislators' motivations are good or misguided--or both--the result must be to promote accidents and/or road rage. Suddenly, DWI becomes Driving While Impaired ... and DWI's now required.

What next, California? Legislation to require drivers to have a few drinks before taking the wheel?

Both made the logically valid point that if you accept the “everybody knows” that smokers are addicts, you really ought to be aware that their main withdrawal symptoms are increased irritability and difficulty concentrating, so if you deny them their “fixes” while driving, in ostensible aid of protecting "kids" against a speculative, far-term “risk” from the smoke, you’re dramatically increasing the near-term likelihood of getting kids killed in the resultant accidents. Neither was published. Naturally, the “OpEd” I subsequently wrote based on that experience (“So, is rationality politically incorrect or what?”) never saw the dark of print either.

Most recently, there’s week-before-last’s 110 word gem, netmailed, as we called it when we were inventing it, to the Editorial Page Editor of the Los Angeles Times personally, that didn’t even garner a perfunctory e-rejection letter despite a prefatory paragraph throwing down the gauntlet on his paper’s long-standing mistreatment of my kind:

Speaking of Nasty Habits

Unlike my others, this letter is not long enough to ignore with length as the excuse.

Nor is this letter witty enough to have to ignore for fear it might charm anybody into agreeing with its politically incorrect position.

This letter merely contends that in my considered opinion the Calabasas smoking ban is wrong, without even mentioning my academic qualifications for performing the analysis.

So will it be the first thing you've printed giving smokers anything like an even break since the Robert Scheer column in 1994 that described the statistical skulduggery underlying the infamous EPA "environmental tobacco smoke" report, or will you ignore it, too, just out of habit?

It did seem rather "creative" to me. More to the point, it seemed awfully hard to ignore if there isn’t a conspiracy of silence. As theory indicates, however, it was ignored not only by my hometown paper in its original version, but by the also personally-netmailed semicelebrity Executive Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, in a “frame” about the Conspiracy (which included "Publish, or co-conspire.") that still left it well under 200 words. And by the ordrinary “letters” e-address at the San Jose Mercury News, as well, with its final paragraph necessarily recast slightly but still only at the 124-word mark, vs. their stated, dummy-down pandering, 125-word limit.

Now, when a published author can’t get a carefully crafted Letter to the Editor run even when its Form is well within today’s pathetic norms, what else can one conclude other than that it must be the Content that’s killing it?

Let's be fair. Calling it a “Conspiracy of Silence” is, I submit, more civilized than labeling it the Galloping NicoNazism it could just as honestly be dubbed. Whichever we call it, though, the real consideration is whether "naming and shaming" it in public will do my oppressed minority any good ... if, of course, this one ever sees the dark of print....

Appendix: Some "Lies agreed upon"

A moment or three on the more prominent falsehoods that do get all the ink:

In 1994, the wonderfully self-important Los Angeles Times printed, probably accidentally, a column by Robert Scheer which exposed the statistical skulduggery on which the infamous EPA “environmental tobacco smoke” report was based. By dint of ignoring 20 of the cited previous studies that hadn’t reached the conclusion they wanted and lumping the remaining 8 or 9 together in a statistically inappropriate fashion, they came up with a claim that “ETS” was responsible for 3,000 deaths per year in the U.S. It was an exercise that deserves a chapter of its own in a devoutly to be wished for new edition of that closet classic, How To Lie With Statistics.

Within months, by the way, the California Health Services Department was running television commercials claiming 53,000 [sic: fifty-three thousand] deaths per year, and making it sound as if that were in California alone. Now, it's hard enough not to lie with statistics inadvertantly, but when it comes to combatting "vice", apparently there are lies, damn lies, statistics, and damn liars with statistics, and they get all the ink (and electrons).

Even worse than the particular "secondhand smoke" scare tactics is the general "smoking kills x-hundred thousand a year" trick. Think about it, hard if need be: death certificates don't say whether the decedent was a smoker; where do those numbers come from? There's evidence that they're based on circular reasoning, and ignore other "risk factors" that might have been the real causes of death in numerous cases, and might even ignore whether the decedents had already exceeded their average life expectancies, but let that go for now. The key point is that the mindlessly parroted hundreds of thousands of deaths per year claims can't be "hard numbers".

For that matter, even the "20some times more smokers than nonsmokers contract X" numbers are willfully misleading: Not only do honest statisticians acknowledge that "Correlation doesn't imply causation", but the public never hears about the negative correlations, even though, for example, at least four times more nonsmokers get Parkinson's Disease than smokers do ... and of course the paper that printed the OpEd by the supporter of increased cigarette taxes to support research on Parkinson's because his wife had Parkinson's wouldn't print my letter pointing out the irony of his stance.

(There is, by the way, a delightful, if formidably learned, paper, called "Lies, damn lies...", by an Australian professor of statistics who was offended by the way the NeoPuritan Health Establishment deliberately [ab]uses statistics to make matters sound worse than they are, in which the point is made that the same numbers that yield "20some times more smokers than nonsmokers contract X" can also yield "99.8% of smokers don't contract X, vs. 99.9% of smokers".  Not having access to the numbers, I haven't independently verified the contention, but I'm far too fond of it not to make mention of it here.)

Granted, I didn’t study enough Applied Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at M.I.T. to qualify as an expert witness, but I did study enough to know a fair amount about statistics and causality. And in my considered opinion, the “risks” are being exaggerated. Quite likely deliberately, based on NeoPuritan biases, but that’s a topic for another time -- as is the suppression of knowledge of the psychopharmacological benefits of nicotine, which stem from boosted norepinephrine levels, are in the literature, and get no public attention.

Michael A. Padlipsky
8011 Stewart Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90045
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Mr. Padlipsky, whose only connection with the tobacco industry is as a consumer, is the author of The Elements of Networking Style and Other Essays and Animadversions on the Art of Intercomputer Networking, "the world's only known Constructively Snotty computer science book" (©1985, reprinted ©2000).

"One (indeed, perhaps the only) indisputable benefit of the 'Net is that you don't have to waste any stamps on, nor be complicitous in the killing of any trees for, letters to editors and/or other invincibly smug corporate behemoths that aren't going to be responded to because they show said institutions up, but need to be sent anyway."
--first new, official Elements of Networking Style Slogan in yearsandyears