Joe Bast — wonk with a beer and a swisher sweet

Author: John Dunn, MD
Article Published: 22/10/2008

Review of the book of essays Please don’t poop in my salad. By Joe Bast, Chicago guy.

 Joe Bast is the exec for the conservative think tank Heartland Institute of Chicago.  Chicago, like all cities, has undergone a political correctness metamorphosis in the last 20 years that makes it look different from Sandberg’s Big Shoulders image. Chicago is quite sensitive, even to a little cigarette smoke and Joe started writing against the nannies a while ago.  This book is a collection of his essays.  I think he does some polite kick-ass on these meddlers.    

I used to travel a lot.  I remember one morning getting on a Delta fight to Atlanta out of Raleigh, North Caroline, hearing, as I shuffled through first class, some brassy, claxon voiced woman claiming to all who would listen that she was allergic to cigarettes.  Well, being a polite suthrun gentlemen Doctor who lived on a farm not far from that airport next to some nice people who grew tobacco, I held my tongue.  Knowing that there was and is no such thing as allergy to cigarette smoke, I resisted grabbing her by her oversized larynx and I moved back to proletariat seating.  I knew that day the beginnings of the foundation of the First High Church of the Holy Smoke Haters.  This lady was probably in charge of the altar society during the formative days.

I knew than that first it would be allergies, then someone would concoct second hand smoke research that claimed the world was dying from smelling smoke, not long before the tobacco crop profits for my neighbor, handsome at the time, would be the considered the wages of sin.  I regret presaging such a development.  Sometimes wisdom and prescience are a burden.

So back to our author and his book.  Although Chicago has outlawed all kinds of smoking and acts like an anxious, slightly overweight, suburbanite, fretting over cigarette smoke, Joe Bast, God love him, has the cojones to write not one, but a bunch of essays that make fun of and impune the High Church of the Holy Smoke Haters.  His heresy is my joy.  His rebellion is food for thought for sensible politicians, anxious about the history of failed prohibition.  Trust me, alcohol can kill too, first and second and other handed.  Probably the number one reason for trauma in America.  Chicago ready to do alcohol again? Think that cigarette smokers and cigarettes are on their last legs?  My dad, a physician, smoked from the time he was 14 on the farm in Iowa, and the later part of his life had to go outside all the time, and the only time he suffered from smoking is when physicians misdiagnosed his lung infection because they assumed he was sick from the affects of cigarettes.  Their biases and their prejudices got in their way.  Happens all the time on these moral battlegrounds.  Physicians are particularly dishonest and exaggerate the affects of smoking because they want to win the argument and know they can claim to be on the side of justice and truth and morality—they are the priests of the High Church of the Holy Smoke Haters.

In his introduction Bast comments that he put all his anti smoke hater essays together and there were 20, he picked 13 to avoid repetition, mission accomplished.  They read quick, zippy, and insightful and don’t repeat except on big stuff.  Joe is a good writer, tells you what he goin to tell you, tells you, and then tells you what he just told you.  He does it efficiently too.  

Joe takes on the anti smoking crowd and anti smoking politics and science from a lot of different angles, science, common sense, anger, frustration, irony, humor, outrage, pity, all directed to the army from the High Church, their clergy and in all their various manifestations.  Joe and I both know that smokers choose to smoke and know that even John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart couldn’t duck the cancer bullet after smoking 2 and 3 packs of camels and other non filtered cigs for years.  

However, as Joe points out, driving fast assumes a risk, laughing too loud, drinking to much, dancing, sports, living or camping and climbing in the wilderness.  As a great emergency physician thinker Ed Leape said recently when considering some of the silly reasons why people come to the ED-- if coyotes were as big as minivans, people would stop complaining about these little things.  As another thought, is second hand smoke a big deal in Bombay, or places where life is a little more stressful?  Our problem is we have too much time to worry about phantom risks and too many fat and happy academics who live off our anxieties and worries.  Too many politicians who get elected by promising to do something, too many agencies who need to do something to keep themselves afloat.  If man were immortal, church going would decline.  If man were busy surviving, we would have fewer phantom risks, like second hand smoke.  Joe Bast is just talking sense.

Another problem in this country of comfort is people have the luxury of meddling in other peoples affairs.  Those same meddlers have never heard the aphorism —don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  They are convinced we are one planning committee meeting away from the answer.  They vote for politicians who promise the same fantasy.  Everyone with a college degree or a TV channel changer has been infected with the bug of telling other people how to live.  Joe Bast, with good taste, except the well justified scatological reference, and a keen and perceptive mind, gives the bossy schoolteacher in all of us a little reminder.  He exposes the precautionary principle and the meddling that surrounds our obsessions about living healthy and reminds us—mind your own business.

Oh, I know fanatic members of the Church of the Holy Smoke Haters have a new catechism that says smokers are killing their kids with second hand smoke, and everyone else for that matter.  The new weapon sounds ominous and convincing until you check out the research that Joe exposes as junk science, and find out, for example, that second hand smoke in the worst of circumstances is the equivalent of one cigarette a day.  There is no research that shows such a small exposure affects anyone’s health.  Trust me on that, I’m a doctor.  However, the doctor, lawyer, schoolteacher, politician nanny crowd have taken up the chant.  No more risks, no more deaths, no more smoke.  They chant, they rant, they intimidate hand wringing politicians into interfering in peoples lives.  The new rule is, if you can smell it, it will kill you.  Well, I am an emergency physican, and I know what it takes to kill you.  Second hand smoke is not even on the list.  

Joe give the prisses a couple of good Chicago jabs, and creates a nice healthy space between their attitudes and what should be the rule of a free and civil society—mind your own damn business, and quit claiming injuries based on your ____ anxieties.  The Church of the Holy Smoke Haters is built on anxiety, the precautionary principle and the elitist belief that being smart, or thinking you are smart, gives you the right to make other people better, and boss them around.

There is a world of difference between Mike Ditka and the prudes of the Church.  Mike bosses because it’s his job.  Prudes boss because they suffer from delusions that they are superior.

Joe Bast in this book of essays, takes a couple of swings at that modern elitist conceits and meddling attitudes, he discusses in a sensible way how they have generated junk science to get their way, and he reminds us that civility is a little more substantial than worrying about the hypersensitive mouthy members of society.  Find me a whiner and I’ll show you a taker, not a giver.  The anti smoker crowd take civility and courtesy out of the world.  Their lives are dark holes of malicious dislike of their fellow man.  They want things to change to their idea of aesthetics.  Hey, you fat people, are you listening?  Joe Bast is your friend, he believes in the old fashioned version of society, only interfering with individuals when necessary, and not cooking up excuses for being boss.

But Joe, how do you expect to run a think tank dependent on rich old men and ladies for their contributions when you admit to smoking a Swisher Sweet every night?  A 30 cent cigar and you expect to be invited to fancy soirees?  What will the policy wonks think?  Being a common man only goes so far, Joe say you’re smoking something from Nat Sherman, purveyor of fine cigars, and claim that it’s for medicinal purposes.

Did you know, Joe that a study of British Physicians who smoked less than ten cigarettes a day showed they lived longer than non smokers.  Cigarette smoke appears, in moderation to be good for preventing dementia and colitis, family quarrels, and it steadies the nerves before and after important sexual encounters.  Aristotle said it best—all things in moderation.

John Dale Dunn MD JD of Brownwood, Texas is an emergency physician of 30 plus years and knows something about what kills you.  Second hand smoke doesn’t.

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