From punditry to paleontology

Raymond Chandler once dismissed Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express by saying its solution “is guaranteed to knock the keenest mind for a loop — only a half-wit would think of it.” This P.J. O’Rourke rant about laws banning cigarette-smoking merits the same response:

My grandmother was able to keep people from smoking indoors with one cold stare. Why would laws and parliaments and police powers and courts and all sorts of annoying and ugly signs everywhere be necessary? All this expense and exercise of power of one group of people over another – why is all this needed to achieve what my grandmother could achieve with one cold stare?

That’s one of the leading lights of conservative intelligentsia, folks, a published author and nationally recognized columnist. You’d have to have seven-eighths of your brain surgically removed simply to address that remark on its proper intellectual level.

I’m old enough to remember the days when smoking was still ubiquitous, and it was considered your problem if you wanted to have a meal or a conversation without the stench of cancer sticks filling the air. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a half-smart argument from somebody who thought I was the reincarnation of Stalin because I wanted to be able to breathe in my own fucking apartment, I could afford to buy my own island in the south Pacific, where the trade winds would carry a warning whenever an old fart like P.J. O’Rourke was coming over the horizon. Move this guy from the punditry column into the paleontology wing, that’s how fossilized these arguments have gotten.

Come to think of it, I’m old enough to remember when National Lampoon was funny and P.J. O’Rourke sounded like an amusing iconoclast, instead of a mastodon sinking into a private tar-pit of the mind. Boy, does that make me feel old!  Hey, P.J. — I’ve got a stare every bit as cold as your granny’s, but those anti-smoking laws are just the thing for bartenders, waitresses, flight attendants, and anybody who wants to live his life without getting into a battle of wills with some nicotine-ridden putz out to make a spectacle of himself.

There used to be a time when reading O’Rourke’s books had a certain low entertainment value, like watching an old monster movie in which some stop-motion dinosaur knocked down cardboard buildings. That was quite a while ago — O’Rourke’s act is even more tired than Camille Paglia’s, if such a thing is possible.  O’Rourke may see himself as The Man Who Came to Dinner, but his movie is really The Beast From Hollow Mountain, and the swamp beckons.

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