M. A. Padlipsky
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.
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.
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.
was rather barbed and witty:
The Madness of the Meanwells?
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.
other was fairly “straight”, by my standards, anyway:
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:
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
my others, this letter is not long enough to ignore with length as
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.
A moment or three on the more prominent falsehoods that do get all the ink:
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
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.
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.)
Michael A. Padlipsky
8011 Stewart Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90045
< http://www.lafn.org/~ba213/mapstuff.html >
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