Sunday, 20 February 2011

The ultimate reality game.

Clicking should result in expandification.

I am not an animal lover. Those rumours are untrue. Past pets have extended to a hamster called LHB (little hairy bastard) who hated me, a budgie who never bothered to fly and had a seed-gut that hung over the perch, and various forms of fish. The budgie was vicious too. He would look away when you poked your finger into his cage until you were well enough in that he could get a grip on the side of your nail with his beak. He never missed. Leave the cage open and he'd climb out and sit on top of it and hurl abuse in budgie-speak. He went back inside when he was ready.

No cats or dogs, even though my parents always had one or the other and sometimes both. Bigger pets need a lot of attention and exercise and I have no time for one and no inclination for the other.

None of my pets ever died of passive smoking. Last winter, my entire pondfull of fish died of climate change but not one pet has ever coughed, wheezed, or lived a shortened life. The nasty little swines I take in always exceed advertised lifespans. From my experience, climate change has killed more pets than smoking.

Many years ago, I read about an Aberdeen woman whose budgie allegedly died of passive smoking. The budgie was eight years old, and she was 93. Eight years is a good age for a budgie, and that assumes she owned it from hatching so her assessment of its age was accurate. Besides, Health and Safety should demand that every smoker keeps a canary. If the bird keels over, it's time to open a window.

I'd say 93 is a good age for a human too, never mind a smoker. How can there be so many smoking pensioners around when the medical profession tells us we'll all be dead by thirty? How come smokers' pets aren't toppling over like coal-mine canaries all the time? Could it be that it was all lies?

All forms of life, including humans, become acclimatised to their environment and adapt to fit it. Not necessarily by evolving into a new species, but through natural selection (an entirely separate thing from evolution). With natural selection, the species doesn't change, but the individuals best suited to the environment survive. Those that can't hack it die out. If you capture a whole load of budgies in the wild, some will die of panic but some will adapt to becoming pets and of those, some will become tame. It's a new environment and not all members of the species will take to it but those that do will thrive.

Inhaling smoke isn't 'natural' in that we don't actually require it to live. What happens is that continual exposure to small amounts builds up a tolerance. Overexposure will still cause damage - even a 100-a-day Capstan habit won't let you survive in a burning building. Even so, a continual low dose will let your body adapt, and those who can't survive in the presence of smoke will die. We would end up with an entirely smoke-tolerant population.

Does it sound like I'm advocating killing antismokers? Well, they have long advocated killing me so it would really only be fair. Actually, I'm not talking about smokers at all. Nor am I talking about tobacco. I am talking about smoke.

One of the smoky-drinkers has only recently switched from an open fire to central heating. In this part of the world, global warming is somewhat colder than we were led to expect. Most of those reading this remember coal fires or log fires. There is an entire generation growing up now to whom the idea of a deliberate fire within their house is terrifying. They are not normal. They are the very first generation of humanity, ever, to not have fire in their homes.

That smoke-tolerant human race is not some tobacco-company dream of the future. It is what we are right now. We have lived in the same room as fire since we learned to walk upright and expanded our vocabulary beyond 'urgh'. We are, all of us, acclimatised to a continual low level exposure to smoke. The latest generation is the first in the whole of human history to grow up knowing only metal radiators and heat that comes on before anyone is awake. The first to grow up in the tinder-dry and particulate-free atmosphere of the central heating system.

It will take the human race many generations to adapt to this new environment, assuming it gets the chance. If the oil and gas run out, what then? Modern houses don't even have chimneys. Meanwhile, those future generations will find smoke so offensive, so terrifying, that they will delight in the banning of bonfires and any source of flame. Then, when it all falls apart as it eventually must, there will be none who know how to set and light a fire and none with the courage to try. Any who make the attempt will be silenced by the offended noses of the feeble and even if they succeed, nobody will be able to tolerate being in the same room as the source of heat.

Our pets, likewise, have travelled with us through all those log and coal fires, all those smoke-filled rooms that existed even in nonsmoking homes and which might explain past tolerance of a little bit of burning leaf. It makes no real difference in a room where several kilograms of burning coal are roaring in the fireplace. Those pets, like us, have acclimatised. They are not troubled by a cigarette, their ancestors spent many hours lying in front of the fires we built in our living rooms. Do dogs and cats sprawl in front of radiators now? Somehow it doesn't seem the same.

Take away all atmospheric particulates, take away all sources of smoke, take away every speck of dust and dirt, and what happens? The immune system is left with nothing to do. Nothing to practise on. So it turns on itself and autoimmune diseases become common. Then, the isolated individual leaves their purified habitat and visits the real world - where traffic and factory exhausts vie with pollen, bacteria and viruses for their pristine bodies.

That real world is still out there and always will be. Climate will change whether we use our heating or not. There will be ice ages and there will be droughts. Bacteria will continue to develop new strains and new diseases. Viruses will change hosts. Forests will burn and grow back, deserts and seas will expand and recede. The world changes all the time.

In one generation, the human race has forgotten this. Now, a mere few degrees away from 'normal', as defined by 'in my lifetime', and they panic. Mention harmlessly minute traces of a possible carcinogen and they shriek in terror. Consider lighting the smallest of fires and they curl into a foetal ball. They can no longer adapt. Everything must stay as it is now. Everything must be kept exactly the same forever.

Well, I'm afraid Nature has other plans. Everything is going to change. Everything. Species that refuse to adapt to those changes will become extinct. It's how the world works. Humanity? The world doesn't really need us. It'll soon come up with a replacement.

This species is in its death throes. Frantically trying to keep every environment, every animal, every detail long after Nature has finished with them all. The human species believes that if it can keep the world in stasis then it will endure forever. We used to let the world change and we'd change with it. There are villages at the bottom of the sea between the UK and Europe because it was once dry land. The sea rose, we moved. No problem. We survived ice ages and hot spells, rainy times and dry, by adapting to them. No longer. Now, the human race cannot adapt. It must force its environment to stop changing.

This is, of course, impossible. The environment is going to change. No matter how many million tons of concrete we put under thousands of tons of steel windmills, no matter how many toxic lakes we create in the production of windmill magnets, no matter how much silicon we slab onto solar panels, the environment will change. Nature will do a much better job of it than the Greens, incidentally. Adapt or die. There is no other game in town.

Our pets adapted from the wild life to the tame. Many have adapted back the other way - I believe there is a population of parrots in London now and haven't there been worries about various pet rodents and even piranhas surviving and breeding here after escaping or being dumped? They didn't meekly return to their cages after finding the world outside was hard. They adapted to it.

Humans will not. The Green Dream of a pure world powered by wind and sun conveniently ignores all the ore mines, the foundries, the concrete and copper producers, the maintenance vehicles (and their roads, and the oil to run them) and all the toxic waste that results from producing Green power generators. To them, those things just don't exist. They believe they plant windmill seeds and the things just pop up and magically transmit power without the need for cables. They demand that the world stay the temperature it is now, when it has never done any such thing in the past. They cannot adapt to change so they must prevent change.

Fire is already a distant memory to the new generation. It is, to them, a cancer creator and a terror to be vanquished. They cannot make use of it when their oil runs out and their heating stops working. Adapt or die. This species has made its choice.

But they will not die of heat, as they think. They will die of cold.

Will any survive? Only those with matches and lighters...


JuliaM said...

" Do dogs and cats sprawl in front of radiators now? "

Or in radiator beds, if you put them up! Well, the cats will, not sure a dog will fit in there...

Leg-iron said...

Radiator beds?

How big do they make those?

PT Barnum said...

Cats only cuddle radiators when there is no alternative. Give them any form of glowing heat source, from wood-burner to halogen heater, and they're there, gazing in deep contemplation into its "depths". And, leaving aside those afflicted with advanced smokophobia, humans are exactly the same. We revert to the ways of our ancient ancestors, finding a solace and even meanings in flames beyond mere heat.

But I do think we need to learn to light fires the old way, without matches, for those are surely due for banning soon.

Robert the Biker said...

LI, those radiator beds come in sizes from Cat to Medium Dog, so I'm afraid you'll have to make your own : )Given a choice between trying to squeeze under the radiator or sprawling in front of a live fire, Puppy goes for the fire every time.

Anonymous said...

This official fear of smoke seems to have started with stubble burning.

Straw and Stubble Burning Prohibition Bill - 1984

"The Bill has the support of local authority health officers and of some county and district councils and parish councils.

But, above all, it has support from people who live in the villages and towns in the farming areas—from housewives exasperated by the ruining of their lines of washing; householders whose newly-painted walls have been defaced; market gardeners with ruined crops; motorists suddenly 202 bewildered by blankets of smoke across the highways, and those who mourn the young couple killed in Yorkshire last summer.

I must tell your Lordships that the vast majority of these men and women want an immediate ban."

I didn't, a controlled burn to clear the fields seemed perfectly reasonable to me, those little lines of fire running through the fields were wonderfully evocative.

And yes, I long ago decided to lay down a stash of lighters.


microdave said...

"expandification." - There seems to be an unofficial competition to come up with the most un-english term for "click to enlarge"...

I like cats, but the cat carrier had me laughing out loud!

subrosa said...

Anonymous, stubble burning still goes on here but not to the degree it did. 'Must have been a walker' is oft heard from a nearby farmer 'these bluddy ramblers...'. The locals say nothing. Why should we? It's by far the best way for the ground to be cleansed and it's been done that way for centuries.

Have two fires but adapted them for gas some years ago. They're not used often but when I'm feeling cold and miserable they're a great reviver. Even better than good malt LI. :)

Bill Sticker said...

'This species is in its death throes'. I'd disagree. Only the silly sods with a reality disconnect will die out.

Darwin will be vindicated.

Derek said...

Yes, many will die of cold. Unable or unwilling to find wood (sticks to Subrosa) and keep a chimney (lum) clean and smoking.

I have a stove in my shed, and frequently remind the neighbourhood of the sweet aroma of Oak, Pine cones, and a bit of smokeless (which isn't when cold).

Todays generations have bee bred on 'clean air' compared to mine in a smog filled London (and not the only one). No fish swam in the Thames below Brentford, and no-one 'jogged' for the betterment of their health along the Embankment (you'd have been taken for a fool). Now, they bleat at a little puff from a pipe and treat you like a social outcast. It's all that guv'mint training. I don't think people have 'forgotten' how things were, it's been covered up, hidden, wiped from the history books in favour of a scenario of what we are doing is disastrous and how we must 'change' or we'll kill ourselves. I do wish some of them would kill themselves. Ignorance and self loathing has been the order of the generation, to get us to reach into our pockets for existing at all. As George Carling said "The planet's doing fine - it the people that are fucked!"

Some wonderful quotes of his:

Makes my day so much brighter.

Derek said...

Oh yes - And pets!

We have two rats that bark ('yap' more like), a vocal and inherently clumsy cat, agile as a Fox even at 19yrs, and a couple of chucks (good eggs). I suffer them all as I am not for keeping 'pets'. I once cared for domestic animals on the farm, and entrapped wild animals in Zoos where most of my day was stopping people throwing crap at the animals. But that was work. Pets are a liability for most, a selfish indulgence for many, but companionship for those alone and old. I'd rather have a book, a stove lit, and a comfy chair - any day. Nothing should be kept in cages for a personal whim, save a few politicians.

Derek said...

'Im again - I'm sure I've seen that cat carrier before - a 'Goon' cartoon, Private Eye or Python maybe?

It's 'er indoors has the pets. I think I may be one.

Anonymous said...

One of my dogs regularly cuddles the tumble drier as when he was a puppy we lived in a house with an open fire that he could sprawl out next to.

Also, you're bang on about the population of wild parrots in London, they've even spread east into Kent as I've seen a few flying about and even found a dead one in the back garden.

Well written piece, yet again.

timbone said...

"...all those smoke-filled rooms that existed even in nonsmoking homes and which might explain past tolerance of a little bit of burning leaf. It makes no real difference in a room where several kilograms of burning coal are roaring in the fireplace."

Back in the mid seventies I played in a band with a guy who had a wife and two kids and none of them smoked. I used to drop by quite a lot to his abode. Thyese were the days when non smokers were tolerant. When I lit a fag his wife lit a candle and put it next to the ashtray.

Leg-iron said...

I remember the stubble-burning. It was a good way to wipe out fungal infections, and insect eggs in the ground. We didn't need all those chemicals back then. Well, at least someone is profiting from that ban. Someone always does, don't they?

I seem to recall Desperate Dan indulged - didn't he shave with a blowtorch? That's unlikely to be allowed now.

Leg-iron said...

I don't know where the cartoon originally came from. It's been in my archives for a long, long time.

Leg-iron said...

Timbone - in a bar I used to visit, a barmaid who didn't like smoking kept a lit candle on the bar. She said it worked to keep the smoke away.

I don't know how it works but I've tried it myself and sure enough, this little room doesn't smell of smoke the next day.

Unfortunately, antismokers are likely to object to the smell of candles too. They are just objectionable people.

Anonymous said...

As an old friend of mine with whom I shared a lab said, when you're dealing with biology and bio-active systems, you don't actually need statistics for much save a sort of icing on the cake sort of thing. If what you're doing actually has an effect, then as long as the sample size is decently large the effects ought to shout right at you, and they do too. Getting the sample size up big enough can be a bugger, mind, if you're an experimental biologist like I was; damn hard work managing greenhouse plant growing, parasite farming and collecting the buggers AND a goodly amount of biochemistry as well and all that before you even started collecting actual bioassay data (and that took time, too).

By contrast, medical records are a bloody gold-mine of info, especially if you've got some behaviour like smoking to play with. Thing with smokers is, people are mostly either smokers or non-smokers, and you have a devil of a job finding someone who is in close proximity to smokers yet who doesn't try and stay away from them when they're smoking (I know this because I tried it once; doesn't help that salivette saliva collectors taste vile and everyone in a bio-pharmaceuticals firm knows it, though).

Smoking therefore gives you a lovely case-study of what happens if you load people with toxins over a certain threshold versus people who are presumably on average identical but not so toxin-loaded. Compare the mortality to age curves for those two groups, and as my friend Jim said, the data doesn't so much shout as screams down a Disaster Zone-style PA system at you. Smokers die younger than non-smokers, and they tend to die of heart disease and lung cancers much more so than non-smokers.

The mistake here is assuming that the dose-response curve is straight, or something like it. Most of the time with biological systems, you get a sort of background noise of whatever you're trying to measure and if whatever treatment you're putting in doesn't really do very much (like homeopathy,say) then the response is going to be lost in the noise. So it is with low-dose radiation, low-dose alcohol, and of course low-dose tobacco smoke. It might do something, it might not but all of this is lost in the noise.

What tobacco smoke does do, of course, is stink. A lot of things pong like this; people are much more smell-sensitive than they think they are, mostly because we don't use our noses nearly as much as we used to do. Walking down a lane for me is a nasal symphony; niff of fox in the hedge bottom drifting across, tang of woodsmoke (hmm, no house upwind; kids in the woods?), lingering reek of diesel on the puddles, and oh look we have one of those demons smokers over behind that hedge over there.

Problem is, just because you can smell it doesn't mean it is doing harm, but unfortunately a spot of evil propaganda about toxic smoke and all of a sudden the non-smoking majority don't like tobacco smoke any more. Secondhand smoke scares are bollocks, effects lost in the noise, prejudice mostly irrational but unfortunately a decade of NuLabour has bred a population of ignoramuses.

FoolD said...

Humans won't die out as a species just yet - only the ones too afraid to adapt, as it should be.

As the price of domestic energy increases the sane people will install wood burners (chimney or not) - especially those with access to a few trees.

The art of setting a fire will survive and, with any luck, the fire dodgers will be lost to history as the aboration that they are.

Rejoice in the new age of domestic fire ... smokers may even be invited inside again, so long as they can spare a light.

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