I have a few rules that help me navigate the world. Here are three.
1) Fat Black Comics Bad, Thin Black Comics Good.
The late Bernie Mac and Cedrick the Entertainer versus Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle, for instance. Now there are always exceptions to the rule: the late Godfrey Cambridge was a superb fat black comic.
2) Black & White Stanley Kubrick Films Good, Color Kubrick Films Bad.
“Dr. Strangelove” and “Lolita” versus “Barry Lyndon” and “Eyes Wide Shut” (“2001″ is one possible exception).
And (3), which only recently occurred to me is: Health Warnings About Smoking Credible, Warnings About Secondhand Smoke Not Credible.
In fact, the warnings about smoking – first-hand smoke – are almost understated. For a long time, the health police showed photos of horrible tarry lungs to get smokers to quit. And that worked for a lot of people, the so-called reasonable people.
And after a large number of smokers readily gave up the habit, the health cops got addicted to easy pickins. So when they came up against the second wave of more entrenched smokers, the gendarmes switched to social pressure.
And the tone of the health warnings changed. It had to.
There is plenty of observable evidence that smoking is bad for you. It reduces your ability to run. You have more phlegm. You cough. None of this feels healthy. And the more you smoke, the more the phlegmy coughs. Too often you hear of smokers dying early.
But there is little observable evidence of the negative health effects of moderate amounts of secondhand smoke. Outside of asthmatics and others with compromised breathing, you really can’t tell who has been exposed to a moderate amount of secondhand smoke and who hasn’t.
People got used to seeing the visible effects of first-hand smoke, so the health authorities were not able to make fantastic claims. But with no visible effects of moderate secondhand smoke, the health fuzz was free to let their imaginations (and statistical constructs) run wild.
So – if you hear a warning addressed to smokers, pay attention. If it has to do with the extreme and diabolical effects of secondhand smoke, not so much.
Remember rule (3).