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Semiformalishmaybe

What I think about when I think about smoking

Today: slightly less lonely because stores are open and so I can go to the fake dinner room that is restaurant and then the fake living room that is teahouse. Meandering thoughts:

India Garden: New chefs account for much better Samosa and Paneer Tikka Makhni, and inedible Gajar Halwa. I don't often order the latter, so this is not so big of a deal, just some wasted money (actually, found this out on my last trip, 3 days ago I think).

On the way back, spotted a (big!) news headline in the newspaper boxen that I had somehow not seen online - that al Qaeda had attempted to blow up a plane on Christmas as it flew over Detroit, consequently bought my first newspaper in many years. Details on the attack were fairly sparse, but apparently this cell of al Qaeda didn't test their means of attack very well. Other things in the paper that I did not know:

  • My former bank, NationalCity, didn't get scooped up just because of general economic hard times - it was one of several banks involved in the more stupid levels of financial irresponsibility and unbacked lending, and regulators nudged PNC to buy it to prevent it from dying. Huh.
  • AIG is failing to strongarm executives to return their large bonuses during the financial bailout, many of the recipients having hired lawyers, and defending the bonuses by saying they would not have stayed had they not been promised these. I don't think anyone should be entitled to recompense far in excess of what is needed to live a comfortable life, regardless of what they do - I have no sympathy for them. The government has been threatening to publish their names so populist rage can be aimed at them - I think in general there should be populist rage when people live opulent lives when others lack access to decent housing, food, and education.
  • Newspapers are still big, and Pittsburgh has two of them!

Rauchen:On the way to Té Café, I passed a smoker who tossed their cigarette on the ground, stomped it, and stood next to me waiting for the walk light to turn white. I have very little opinion on smoking, but littering bugs the hell out of me, so I told him it's really not nice to litter, picked up the smashed cigarette from the ground, and handed it to him. I've tried to do this when people litter around me for the last year or two - the type of response people get depends on the situation (at worst, I've dropped the butt into people's coffee if they toss it while drinking, or thrown people's junk back at their car). In general, I think we need to be willing to break the particular Americanism of "nobody can tell me what to do and my actions lack consequences", particularly with litter.

Onto smoking in general, as I've said in the past, I don't have an opinion on whether it should be banned in public, semipublic, or private spaces, indoor or outdoor. The only solid thing I can say is that I think that semipublic and private places should be permitted to ban it. These are the relevant arguments and why I haven't ever reached anything more conclusive than that:

  • Some people have extreme difficulty with cigarettes and it is life-threatening or at best very discourteous to create situations where they must endure that
    • I don't know what I think about this - looking at similar instances, we note that peanuts, chocolate, environmental toxins, cat dander, and several other things impact some subset of the population. Some people can't handle blinking lights (seizures). If some part of the population has an extreme reaction to something but most people don't, how do we handle it? Do we go by proportion? Severity?
  • It is slowly harmful to those exposed to it
    • Yes, but so are many other things in daily life - exposure to car exhaust fumes, pollution, etc are as well. Unless smoking really stands out (maybe it does), this is not a particularly good argument
  • Some people are trying to quit
    • Same goes with fatty foods, bread for Atkins folk, videogames, etc. Not a good argument
  • It smells bad
    • Not all cigarettes smell bad, same with incense, perfumes, etc. It's hard to enshrine a reasonable version of this distinction into law. On a personal note, I rather enjoy the smell of clove cigarettes and most pipe tobacco, and I smell nasty-overly-sweet perfumes all the time on the buss
  • Healthcare costs go up if smoking is permitted
    • An interesting argument, but I'm uncomfortable with categoric bans of this sort for unhealthy behaviour. Many of the things we do are not health-optimising, from living in cities to our diet. People should care about their health, and we have an interest in promoting that value in people in education, but people should see digressions from health for the sake of enjoyment as a reasonable thing to do occasionally.

The reason I angle it this way rather than making people argue for it is that I feel society should be permissive by default, requiring a good policy argument for each departure. I have never been able to decide about the first argument, and the latter arguments are much weaker.

I generally feel a bit uncomfortable around people with a very strong opinion on the matter - the person who freaks out and goes into a frenzy when someone is smoking nearby even if for some reason they're not affected, or the person who sees smoking as an essential human right and would happily go up and puff smoke in the face of the first person. These are not meant to point at any particular person - I have known a lot of people in both camps. These are just feelings though - there are a lot of things people do that make me uncomfortable and in general I just am a bit less willing to be around them (not that I really spend time in anybody's company nowadays).

In theory, if society decided that smoking is ok unless the property owner forbids it or unless there's a particular risk in an area (e.g. gas station), people who can't stand it would (leave/not show up in) an area if someone (started/were) smoking. As I find the smell of popcorn deeply disgusting and some pop music too terrible to listen to (like that damned "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" song - one of the worst songs of the 20th century), I sympathise with the inconvenience of this, and given how for a few people there is legitimate danger, some additional protections may needed to be in place for confined areas where someone cannot leave. On the other hand, if society decided that smoking is forbidden unless the property owner explicity permits it and there's little chance of the smoke making it out in large quantities to public areas, unless there's a good difference in meaning between this and other acts, we are obliged to ban a number of other actions that might be problematic to some portions of the public (and heck, if we decide to have certain kinds of society, I might put forward the smell of popcorn butter and many perfumes as things that I'd rather not smell). The thing is, as I don't have a good conclusion with the arguments, but the first argument is enough to make me think that the default of permissiveness *might* be worth abridging here, I would not feel much bothered living in a society that permits smoking (provided that people would have the option to exclude smokers from semi-public areas), and also would not feel much bothered instead living in a society which has various forms of bans. In theory, smoking areas might instead do a reverse-ban, banning people who cannot handle smoke. It's all the same to me.

That said, I do wish people were less schmuckish about littering - it's very hard to make an argument *for* that, and the public policy argument against it is very clear - it takes rare obliviousness to throw litter into an area 5 times and then wonder why it looks shoddy.

Apparently the 「Outland」 goth club that I used to enjoy in Columbus has, in its latest gap between homes, split into two, Outland on Liberty and Outland Night Club. Confusing, particularly as it looks like one is still not open and doesn't like the other one.

Recent dreams: Wonderful hip-hop/choral music sung by latino guys in tuxes accompanied by old Japanese or Korean dudes playing orchestra. Despite musical dreams generally being pretty nice, they're usually a bit frustrating because unlike interesting conversations or ideas, I can't simply jot them down... well, maybe I could if I had blank sheet music paper around and got good at transcribing. I swear, sometimes I think I'm only living for the sake of my dreams. One of the things I liked about Second Life was that it was about as close as one could get to the creative environment one can have in dreams - the kind of willing objects into being and then their refinement, cut as close as they could to just the inherent complexity of requiring an interface to the mind, given computing resources. There was something cool about popping a box into existence nearby, telling it to accelerate itself in a few seconds, and watching it go. Dreams are like that, but much moreso. Positively and negatively, they inherit our humanity and neuroses - I may have better interactions with the shadows of people from my real life than I do IRL, but things easily fade or twist when I stop paying attention to them. I imagine this is the human condition, but I'm not sure, nor do I know if this is what people talk about when they talk about lucid dreaming - I typically don't know that I'm dreaming when I am, but I have a *lot* of control over my environment, but that fear of decay and feeling of entropy I have in real life (some small part of me is terrified of being inside big buildings) is much stronger there. Do the dreams of people reflect their neuroses? I'm not sure - if they do, probably not all of them - I actually *do* have the conversations about art and philosophy and science in my dreams that are so lacking in my real life - the social fears don't seem to engage. Similarly, I wonder how hard it would be to read the intentions that shape the reality of a dream or daydream using some external device and turn it into a manipulation of a virtual world - I've had those "actions" consistently enough that they carry between dreams, and I sometimes am disappointed when I will a blackboard or object into existence near me and nothing happens IRL - the specifics of that willing feel like a real action, and maybe would be distinct enough to be spotted by a variant of MRI with good temporal resolution(?). Maybe this is the distant future :P ... I think under some circumstances, a full retreat to dreams might be a good thing.

Occasionally I toy with the idea of taking the GREs, hoping nobody wants a transcript from me (as I was unconcerned with grades in university so much as learning), and sending out a lot of applications everywhere for absolutely every field I'm interested in, hoping somebody bites for something, and disappearing from Pgh ninja-like, hoping I could build a new less-rotten life wherever I ended up. Would be nice if that were a little bit more realistic - I know I really would need to take some classes, do whatever I could to get an academic record that's less like a spent battlefield, and somehow get people to recommend me. I don't think I can stay here for the rest of my life, but I'm still stuck. I guess there's time to mope about that more with the giant turning-of-the-year post though.

And because some people like memes, these are the browser windows/tabs I have open:

Are there any memes people wish I had participated more in? If so, they should leave a comment and I'll make a belated entry now (if I'm comfortable with the meme). Likewise, any questions people have or requests for judgement on a particular matter will probably be honoured.

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