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the surgeon general atop his mighty horse

Had a humorous vision/realization this morning, and thought I would share, just for grins.

I was staring at the side of a cigarette pack and trying to picture who the surgeon general was. I realized I had very little idea of who this person is or what their job is, aside from a patently absurd picture in my head of the odd concept "Surgeon General". The first thing that comes to mind when I picture the Surgeon General, I realized, is a brave man with a beard sitting atop a horse, with a fancy general's outfit and feathers in his cap (or macaroni, as the yankees call it?), wearing surgical gloves and a facemask. The sole purpose of this brave surgeon general is to ride around on his horse yelling "For the love of God people, STOP SMOKING!! I'm warning you, it's KILLING YOU!!! Why is nobody taking me seriously??! Ahhh!!"

At realizing this was the picture I had in my head, I had to laugh out loud, and acknowledge that the real surgeon general is probably nothing like this, and probably actually has a job description outside of warning people not to smoke. But I do think somebody ought to draw a cartoon of it, or make an SNL-style skit out of it... could even be a recurring character? Stay tuned for the crazy surgeon general's latest address... the lulz keep on coming.

Upon writing up this post, I of course had to check and see what the actual surgeon general looks like. Apparently, I was wrong about the horse and the facemask, but to my exquisite delight he (or she!) actually DOES wear a general's uniform:
[UPDATE: I stand corrected... it's a naval Admiral's uniform, which of course makes so much more sense!]

Joycelyn Elders, surgeon general under Clinton:

Steven K. Galson, surgeon general under Obama:

So why is it that cigarette packs do quote the surgeon general on each pack? Wouldn't it make more sense to say "the best scientific evidence shows that smoking is bad for you" rather than "the surgeon general says smoking is bad for you"? Seriously, does the latter way of saying it carry more weight with smokers? And mightn't some smoker think to himself "sure... that's what the *current* surgeon general says, but what about the last ten surgeon generals... would they all agree? And what's the next surgeon general going to say?"



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 11th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC)
That was awesome.
Apr. 11th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)
The first image that pops into my head is a man in a white lab coat smoking a cigarette. Go figure.
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:42 am (UTC)
it's funny how associations work... I can totally see that making sense in a way.
Apr. 12th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)
:) the Surgeon General is a General because they're the head of the Public Health Service, which has it's roots in the military (and which spawned the National Health Institute which funds most medical research in the US. They're not really a military organization anymore, but they still wear uniforms.

FYI, Clinton also fired Elder's ass for saying it might be a good idea to teach kids that masturbation is a good alternative to riskier sex.
Apr. 12th, 2009 05:39 am (UTC)
thanks for the info! that's a sucky thing to get fired for... I guess Clinton had to deal with political pressure from the right, hopefully it wasn't that he actually thought it was a bad idea.
Apr. 12th, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
I think his problem was that she chose to voice that sane thought --but I could totally be projecting. I do like Clinton.
Apr. 12th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
I thought it was "general" only in the sense of "attorney general" and the like - it's a French adjective that gets stuck after the noun for some reason rather than before it, so it really means "general surgeon" or "general attorney". Come to think of it, I think the military title of "general" also has the same root, but the noun disappeared somewhere along the line.

Though the military uniform is an interesting twist that only gets its explanation with the further fact that you mention.
Apr. 14th, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I thought the same as you, so I was surprised at the uniform. I had come across this title before,
while reading the Baroque Cycle and figured that explained it. Guess not.

Looking at the etymology, I had a an idea, and indeed, the "comptroller" position derives its name from the same basic source. Always wondered what those fuckers did; sounded more like someone who blogs incendiary remarks than a chief accountant.
Apr. 13th, 2009 02:46 am (UTC)
Those look more like Navy uniforms.
Apr. 13th, 2009 03:33 am (UTC)
Do they not have generals in the navy? I know very little about the military. Anyway, I just found this page, which explains it in more depth, and you're right, it is naval:


"Uniforms had fallen into disuse until C. Everett Koop was appointed surgeon general by Ronald Reagan. Koop conceived of his post as a bully pulpit and thought the uniform (the SG is the equivalent of a three-star admiral and has a similar uniform) would get people to take him more seriously. Instead, at least at the outset, it got them to take him for an airline steward, and Koop good-naturedly hoisted a few bags into the overhead bins for fellow passengers."
Apr. 14th, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC)
Ha! You "know very little about the military", but I remember that you claimed once "those uniforms look like 18th century French military uniforms" (I think referring to Babylon 5 Centauri dress?) and when I called you on it, you said you knew what you were talking about. So are you just an expert on classical military fashion? :)
Apr. 14th, 2009 09:25 pm (UTC)
I recall saying that the Centauri wear french-looking clothing and have french-sounding accents. You make it sound like I said something much more specific... I don't recall saying it was a particular century.

I think the reason they look french to me is because the French tend to use a lot of frills and stuff on their clothing, just like the Centauri use. I don't think you have to know anything about the military to know that... it's all over their culture.
Apr. 14th, 2009 10:52 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't have reacted if you had just said "their clothing looks French". I'm quite certain you mentioned "18th century" and "military"; I don't recall anything about accents.

It's obviously not worth memory-battling, but perhaps it is an example of your tendency to exaggerate things to make what you're saying sound better. What you recall is the thought you had in your head prior to speech, but in preparing to say it you augmented it. I think another example is when you were talking to your dad and you rattled of some inordinately large number for the cost of the Iraq War.

This sorta fits in with the "hedge words" discussion we had.
Apr. 15th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC)
I'm pretty sure that the initial thing I said was "doesn't it look like the creator of B5 was modeling the Centauri after the French?" I expected you to laugh and say "yeah" but instead you reacted by saying something like "No, what the hell are you talking about?". Following that, I tried to get across what it was about the Centauri that reminded me of the French. And I may have said something like "their uniforms remind me of something out of..." But I was certainly not making any precise claims or saying that I knew exactly what a French military uniform looked like. It's just that I could picture the French wearing such things. It was clear to me what I was trying to say, and I remember being frustrated that it seemed like you should be nodding but instead you were contesting everything I said.

I think the hedge words would be more relevant if I had stated something specific with certainty. But this was clearly not such a case, as I did no such thing. Although I'm not too surprised that you thought I was saying something entirely different than I thought I was saying, because I do remember thinking it was odd that you were objecting to everything.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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