liberty up in smoke?

langstonsmoking.jpg
Langston, outside


Smart, generally progressive people should know better than to use their power and privilege to champion their personal addictions, especially ones which threaten their own lives and the lives of those who have to be around them.

A silly piece in the local section of today's NYTimes is more than a case in point, since it represents itself as a news article about the not-so-private campaign of the editor of another publication to reverse New York City's smoking ban.

The reporter writes that Mayor Bloomberg and Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, used to be friends.

But that was before Mr. Bloomberg imposed an almost total ban on indoor smoking in public places in New York City, infuriating Mr. Carter [actually, it was the City Council which imposed the ban, in 42 to 7 vote], who enjoyed lighting up in restaurants, bars and, according to three summonses he has received from city inspectors, his office at the sleek West 42nd Street headquarters of Condé Nast. Mr. Carter has called the enforcement of the new law harassment, among other things.

"It is an important issue," said Mr. Carter. "It is about freedom and your own civil liberties, and it is about the city. This is not Denver, it is not Seattle, it is a big rough turbine that is fueled by cigarette smoke and food and liquor. People want to go out at night. If your best friend smokes, it makes it very awkward."

Over the last six months, Vanity Fair has been ripping into Mr. Bloomberg on almost a monthly basis, vexing the mayor's staff and angering Mr. Bloomberg at times, too. In September, the magazine ran a lengthy profile of Mr. Bloomberg that was far from flattering, referring to him as "waiflike."

Mr. Carter has also devoted no fewer than three editor's letters to criticizing the mayor. In the latest, in the February issue of the magazine, Mr. Carter says the mayor is "like a husband who returns home after the honeymoon and announces to his new bride that he has decided that henceforth they will be vegans."

For that same issue now on newsstands, Mr. Carter commissioned an article by Christopher Hitchens in which Mr. Hitchens chronicled his minor crime spree throughout the city — feeding pigeons, smoking in a luxury car — painting Mr. Bloomberg's New York as something just short of a police state.

Carter is in good company, but he and his company are wrong. Lewis Lapham and Rick MacArthur, editor and publisher respectively of Harpers Magazine together with [perhaps less good company] Christopher Hitchens are among the more illustrious and outspoken sour critics of New York's public smoking ban, and all of them have used their very prominent professional names, visibilty and pulpits to attack it relentlessly either in print, on radio, in public forums, or in any combination of the three.

But New York is not a police state because of laws which protect public health. Mr. Carter and the rest would deserve our attention and our respect if they were talking about the laws and police tactics which directly threaten freedom of speech and assembly in the city they all profess to be defending.


[image from Anthology of Modern American Poetry]