No Smoking, Ever
Inside the royal enclosure at Ascot races last week—for any of you unfamiliar with the place, Ascot is a race course next to Windsor Castle, and inside what is known as the royal enclosure, for one week in June, gentlemen are required to wear top hats and tailcoats, ladies large hats preferably with flowers—I asked the Countess Alexander of Tunis if she would drop her title and become plain Mrs. Taki. “Your family only got it because of 10-to-one superiority of men and material and the fact that Rommel ran out of fuel…”
“What have you got to offer?” asked Davina.
“Feta cheese, olives, Mykonos, you name it,” offered yours truly.
“I hate feta cheese,” said the divine Davina, so I moved down the line propositioning the rest of the ladies with equal success. What I should have offered instead was free smoking areas. Greeks consume more ciggies per capita than all other Europeans, and do so by a large margin. Trying to get Greeks to stop smoking is like trying to make fish walk, and suddenly there’s more to Greece than just sea and sun and lots of greasy food. It is a place where people thank you for smoking, and where there is not a single taxi driver who is allergic to tobacco. Ergo the “smoking tourist” boom.
Legislation to ban tobacco advertising in Britain before the end of the year was unveiled last week by Tony Blair’s socialist government, sending the freedom of the individual up in smoke, so to speak. At best this is a case of the romantic delusion that the state can solve all the problems we face; at worst it is the new breed of coercive bureaucracy striving to alter our culture and control our behavior at work. There will be no more tobacco ads on billboards and in newspapers and magazines starting Dec. 10. Advertising inside shops will also stop in this, the toughest crackdown anywhere in Europe. The European Union plans to follow Blair’s lead in two years. Needless to say, the ban was hailed by all sorts of health freaks and antismoking campaigners, but all it really does is add a nail to the coffin of our civil liberties.
Once upon a time, when someone was criticized for self-destructive behavior, they used to answer, “It’s a free country.” No longer. Laws today have become so extensive and regulations so expansive, contradictory and devoid of common sense that almost anyone in the private sector who manages any business can be held in violation of something. What this Blair bullshit means is that after Dec. 10 no one will be allowed to see an advertisement for a pack of, say, Camels or Marlboros. You will not be permitted to send a letter to an individual containing a free Camel cigarette, even to an adult person who has expressed a willingness to receive such a letter. It is the self-righteousness that makes me want to puke.
And I know my bureaucratic-loving socialists better than I know my Greek alphabet. Smoking in any public place will be forbidden next, followed by smoking in private. Eventually people will be prosecuted for offering cigarettes to someone, just like girls are nowadays prosecuted for practicing the world’s oldest profession. I wonder who will one day become the Heidi Fleiss of smoking—maybe Nan Kempner, or even Pat Buckley, both smokers and generous hostesses, bless their little lungs. (“Mrs. William F. Buckley Jr., is it true that on June 23, 2000, you offered a cigarette inside your living room to one Taki Theodoracopulos?” “Guilty, your honor.” “Eighteen months, not suspended because you have a previous record of a similar offense, to be served in a federal penitentiary, and a fine of 5000 dollars. Take her below!” )
The trend of legislation for our own good is a bottomless pit, pun intended. The ban of other consumable goods that could damage our health will be sure to follow. Ads for butter, which contains cholesterol that brings on heart attacks, have to be among the first to be banned. Advertisements for bacon ditto. And meats. And what about sugar products? They’re bad for Muffie’s teeth, and that includes Coca-Cola and other fizzy drinks. Which means Muffie and Buddy will not be able to watch violent videos or homoerotic ones while downing Diet Cokes and munching beefburgers.
The largest cause of death, of course, will never be addressed by the autocratic buffoons who lord it over us: Pollution caused by motor vehicles kills more people a year than road accidents, according to the World Health Organization, but bully cowards like Clinton and Blair are very, very silent on the subject. No one has ever accused either man of being dumb, and both of them know on which side their bread is buttered. The automobile industry is stronger than the tobacco by far, and just as we went to war for cheap oil in 1990, we are not about to go to war for expensive cars in 2000.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. Guess which was the only industry to be exempted by the ban on tobacco advertising. Yes, you guessed right. Virtually all tobacco sponsorships will end by 2003—except for Grand Prix racing. Formula One has secured a special exemption until 2006. The sport’s billionaire boss, Bernie Ecclestone, donated one million pounds to Tony Blair’s party a couple of years ago, a highly controversial move that worked both ways for old Bernie. When the story got out Blair had to give the moolah back, but this was long after he had made the concession to exempt. And you thought Clinton and Gore were slippery.
So remember. In Britain after Dec. 10, do not under the penalty of imprisonment send unsolicited mail shots, leaflets or anything else free of charge with the aim of promoting a tobacco product. And in a few years, learn from the mythical Pat Buckley lesson and do not offer your favorite girl a smoke. Sing Sing, here I come.
Proud to be
Russia’s seizure of Pristina airport was its first armed confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. History will record this as the act that signaled the start of the Second Cold War. During the First Cold War, I was staunchly on the side of the West. This time around I will be just as staunchly on the side of Russia. For today it is Russia that is upholding civilized norms, the sanctity of international law and the sovereignty of nations—the ostensible “values” of our side in the Cold War. Now it is the West, led by an increasingly demented United States and animated by a shallow materialist ideology, that contemptuously disregards laws, treaties and conventions and seems unable to live peacefully with the rest of the world.
As of this writing, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania are denying the Russians access to their air space, which prevents them from reinforcing their troops in Pristina. They do this in flagrant disregard of the requirements of the June 10 UN Security Council Resolution and the June 3 G-8 Agreement. The two documents state quite explicitly that the “international civil and security presence…in Kosovo” would be “under United Nations auspices” and that the Russian contingent “will not be under NATO command.”
NATO, of course, had no intention of abiding by any of its commitments. Even before the passage of the UN Resolution, the United States was working fiercely behind the scenes to make sure that Russia was prevented from playing any role in Kosovo. Washington leaned on Russia’s former military allies and, without hesitation, they responded with the dishonor that is such an integral part of their national character.
Back in August 1968, ignoring previous pledges of noninterference in the internal affairs of their neighbors, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria marched into Czechoslovakia alongside the Red Army. (Significantly, Yugoslavia was the only country in the region that condemned the Soviet invasion.) Now these countries have a new master, but their conduct is the same: craven and devoid of decency. Their action tells the Russians that they made a big mistake in granting them freedom. Confronted by a United States determined to establish a series of satellites on their borders, the Russians realize that restoration of their old sphere of influence is a matter of life and death for them. I write as someone who was born in Budapest and who can still recall the pockmarked buildings that were the scenes of the heaviest fighting in 1956 between the Red Army and the Hungarian freedom fighters.
The First Cold War was caused by the Soviet Union’s inability to combine a sense of national security with respect for other people’s—or indeed its own people’s—right to self-determination. America won, but instead of savoring their triumph, they desperately looked around for new enemies to fight. Unable to believe that the world they were living in was by and large a peaceful one, by late 1989 the demented search for enemies was well under way. Japan was the first candidate. But the collapse of the Nikkei index soon ended that scare. Then it was the turn of reunited Germany (remember?).
Then came a variety of old favorites. Islamic fundamentalism. The China scare also made a comeback, but too many Americans make too much money in China to permit the foreign policy elite to start a pointless fight. Drug trafficking became an obsession for a while. But it is hard to blame foreigners for our own addictions. Noriega, Saddam and, of course, Milosevic all had their turn. Shrill little intellectual magazines like The Weekly Standard and The New Republic regularly print venomous screeds against dangerous targets like Switzerland, France (apparently still governed from Vichy), in fact almost everyone in the world with the exception of Israel and Turkey.
Alas, the search for enemies invariably produces them. Today, for the first time in its history, the United States confronts a world that by and large wishes it ill. China hates and mistrusts the United States. Japan is sick of listening to American strictures about their economic system and about their supposed lack of contrition for the “rape of Nanking.” Latin Americans are tired of being judged only by their “efforts to combat drug trafficking.” Brazilians can’t bear hearing again about the destruction of the “rainforest.”
As for the Russians, they gave up their empire without firing a shot. They made it clear that all they wanted was to be left in peace to address their innumerable problems. Rather naively, they assumed that other powers would not take advantage of their weakness. After repeated humiliations, the Russians have had enough.
The Second Cold War will be fought over the same issues as the first one: freedom and self-determination for nations. Arrayed on one side will be the United States promoting its ideology of “market democracy,” supported by its small, weak but noisy pup, Great Britain. Arrayed on the other side will be Russia, China, India and much of Asia and Latin America. As in the First Cold War, Europe is up for grabs. Doubtless, the neoconservative magazines, The New York Times and the various half-mad foreign policy intellectuals who pop up on CNN will soon be trying to whip us into line. We will be told that the new Cold War is all about “American” values. We will hear chilling tales of Russian nationalists, crazy generals, xenophobes, anti-Semites, former Communists and religious fanatics. We will hear hoary tales of Chinese-sponsored terrorism. As before, anyone opposing the Second Cold War will be smeared.
Today’s America is waging war against the values yesterday’s America fought for. I will be proud to be called “anti-American.”