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Archive for the ‘Cultural Dogma’ Category

All Life is Precious

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“Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts!”

Kurt Weill, “What Keeps Mankind Alive?”

The Girl (our two-year old blonde and super precocious daughter) and I usually take the bus to daycare. We often sit at the front of  the bus, where she makes lots of friends, unless the front is inhabited by the grumpy variety of old person. Today it wasn’t looking good, so we went directly to the back, where the Bad Kids sit.

Imagine our dismay (my dismay, really, she says “Hi” and “Bye” to everyone without bias) when the back also filled up with grumpy old people, including one who commented on her cuteness and immediately related it to his wrist ban (right next to the “Livestrong” band) that said “All Life is Precious,” with a little pair of baby foorprints, which he connected to the Girl’s feet with his finger.  I didn’t debate the point – we’re on the back of the bus having a (for me) casual conversation, I had a toddler on my lap, and he’s going to be dead soon – but I did have to suppress one burning question – “If all Life is Precious, why do you just have a pair of human baby feet on there? Where are the chick feet, calf and piglet  hoofs? Fish fins? And while we’re at it, what about humans who don’t fit into your preferred social/racial/economic/sexual stereotype? How can we represent them?”

I’m not sure why he drew the connection between the Girl and the wrist thing. I suspect that he was suggesting that, but for cruel abortion, there’d be a whole army of precious little blonde girls sitting on the bus.

 Pragmatic Practices

Human cultures function usually thanks to a bunch of  pragmatic and often harsh decisions that were made in the past and formalized into Tradition, Good Business Practice, Cultural Stereotypes and so on. In North America, most of us our lucky because our particular consumerized culture tries to protect us and lie to us about the ugly pragmatic stuff that has to happen every minute to keep us in the manner we’re accustomed. Animals are mistreated and brutally killed, employees are underpaid and disrespected, governments make far-reaching decisions to answer immediate and fleeting situations and please their supporters, the earth is further polluted and  messed up, and third world people are made to live in work in horrible conditions. Many of these pragmatic decisions-made-practice involve controlling and using human nature to the advantage of whatever power base is making the decisions. One of the biggest aspects of human nature is the urge to mate – arguably, it’s the reason we’re all here. Mating has always been useful to empires and popes since it brings more bodies into the army, factory, or tithe lineup, so we have all sorts of rules about it – The pope tells starving third worlders not to use birth control, the British Empire made it illegal to sell birth control at certain points in history, mating with someone of the same gender is bad because it places emphasis on the pleasure aspect which takes everyone off on a bad tangent if they think about it too much.

 Individual Sexuality

Due to all these rules around mating, and the lingering effect of these rules and the absolute thinking they required, we’re still screwed up over the it. But it needs to be looked with what seems to be a simmering possibility in human cultural evolution, that the needs of the individual can be emphasized and co-exist peacefully with a general set of rules that look to the needs of the group. Mating and sexuality should not be looked at as tools of the church or state, but a fundamental component of each individual’s being, and dealt with in a manner that best suits the individual, according to circumstances. Abortion is not the best, but this is a complicated world with weird stuff happening, everyone makes mistakes. It’s not good to make a whole series of additional mistakes just trying to satisfy some dogma regarding the first one.

I also think the Animal Rights community should really take advantage of the excellent traction the “All Life is Precious” motto has and print up some with the additional footprints.


Written by balloonhed

June 15, 2011 at 11:37 am

Hanging out with Intravenous Drug Users

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I used to hang out with intravenous drug users, due to an association belonging to my roommate at the time.  Mostly cocaine, but sometimes other stuff that i had or had never ever heard of.

There were two types of dealers in this netherworld – those that did do their own product, and those that did not. The ones that did their own product usually had you come to their place to purchase, which was usually a squalid apartment furnished with lawn chairs and an unusual number of second-hand mattresses. They dressed like, and usually were welfare recipients – Giant Tiger track pants and t-shirts with weird and dated logos on them. They took the bus or rode their bike if they were meeting you away from home.

The ones that did not do their own product usually met you at some 24-hour restaurant in Vanier, a rather shady part of Ottawa. They wore sharp suits or fashionable sportswear with lots of gold jewellery.  They usually had very, very fancy cars. I don’t know if any of them were on welfare or had other jobs.

The dealers that did their own product were usually living just on the edge of being in trouble with their upstream providers – they always had a tinge of desperation about them. They were generally happy to advance you some if you were broke and they knew you, especially if you were going to hang around on their mattresses and share.  I suppose the willingness to sell on credit was some sort of lazy putting off obligation till another day – a sale has been made and money will come. Some of them would also accept payment “in trade” or valuable objects. If you didn’t pay them in a timely fashion, they would get increasingly more desperate and angry, and would eventually fly into a rage and beat the crap out of you if they found you insufficiently accompanied by friendlies.  They’d take anything you had, books and CDs if they got into your place, even if it had no real sale value.

Users of their own product were usually vastly suspicious of my presence, a friend who didn’t use, hanging around.

Dealers that didn’t do their own product never sold on credit to regular users. If they knew you very well, and you had a stellar reputation, they might advance you a small amount. I’m not familiar with what happened if you didn’t pay back in a timely manner in such a case. If you managed to convince them you were a possible franchisee, they’d lay a goodly quantity on you with partial payment or on credit.  I was a secondary witness to and heard of several other occasions where the recipient messed up and used or lost the merchandise without getting an appropriate amount of money for it – it usually involved guys in balaclavas kicking in the door of debtor’s apartment and smashing the place and the occupants up. The actual dealer involved could be reliably found in his usual haunt while this happened.  Non-using dealers never accepted CD players and the like in payment.

Non-using dealers always congratulated me on the fact I wasn’t using.  They’d buy me drinks, confidentially wonder why I was hanging around with such losers, and give me rides places in their fancy cars (more than once as a trustworthy go-between to pick up some cash for someone). And eventually each and every one would get around to offering me a free sample or a limited-time-only reduced price selection of products.

I think of this little period in my life every time I think of current purveyors of products – The Execs at Blizzard Entertainment who don’t play World of Warcraft, fit and healthy directors at junk food and cigarette companies, builders of  tiny overpriced yuppie-hutch “exclusive executive lofts” who live in sprawling one-of-a-kind country chalets or century homes.  So much of the modern world depends on the appealing, addictive qualities of products and the common person’s inability to moderate or properly value things, which is reinforced by the constant demands of making enough money to buy critical consumer crap and then deal with less important needs like rent and food.

Written by balloonhed

May 11, 2011 at 10:37 am

Capitalists and other Pillagers

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In Canada, Centre-Left parties tend to build and create when they’re in power (if permitted), and when the Conservatives take power, they harvest what’s been left behind. Like Capitalists and other pillagers do in the real world. This used to be an “OK” system when the Conservatives were the odd choice in a landscape of Liberal leadership, but “Harper’s Conservatives” are not really “Canada’s Conservatives” – they’re a new hybrid derived from the Western Reform party assuming the empty hulk of the Progressive Conservatives,  and strong corporate (oil)/ultra-rich libertarian influences. We can only hope that once Harper is out of the scene, a more moderate Conservative party returns.

Harper likes to talk about Canada being an island of responsibility in a world of economic strife, thanks to the stability of our banking system. Was this system created by Harper, or by a conservative government? A historical Conservative party may have contributed to it, but definitely not Harper – despite his frantic squirming to stay in power, he ultimately sees the perfect world as being the situation in the US – low government regulation on everything financial, with the institutions being allowed to call their own shots.  Harper and Canada are fortunate that he wasn’t in power long enough or had  total power (i.e., a majority) to do what he’d like before 2008 came along – we’d be in the same boat as everyone else, and Harper would not have the glittery medal of being the leader of a nation that sailed through the crisis relatively unscathed with the sudden status of expert on world economics and everyone else looking for our secret.  “Harper’s Conservatives” and their rule had nothing at all to do with the Canadian banking system, aside from being Canadian in the first place.

Written by balloonhed

April 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm

A Nation of Bullying Victims

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So,  apparently Stephen Harper continues to be in power with the votes of 40% (or less) of Canadians. The rest of us are too divided or disillusioned to vote cohesively, or even turn out.

This seems like a classic bullying scenario – a bunch of people cowering, afraid to draw attention to themselves as a smaller, more active minority parades around crowing. We’re afraid of Harper’s dead gaze and his lame insisting that the nation will be a charred hulk without him. We’re concerned the alternatives aren’t as “competent” has him. In the end, though, we could easily take him and all his cronies if we stood up and banded together.

So You Don’t Respect Iggy – Who Cares?

Being unwilling to back a challenger to a bully is also another form of bullied behaviour.  The bully scares me, I don’t want to risk anything. You go ahead and challenge him, I’ll be on board when you succeed.

What does it matter if you respect him? Respect for politicians is a passing thing anyhow – look how poor Obama has fallen. Voters, not having to make the decisions or take the risks themselves, are fickle and quick to blame.  Being disliked and disrespected is an occupational hazard for politicians that I’m sure they fully take into account when they  step up to the job.

Furthermore Iggy and Layton, or even Duceppe,  will hardly get enough power to manifest any massive negative effects if they turn out to be incompetent or dangerous.  At best (worst) it would be a minority government that had to kowtow to other interests. The winner would have a term to win your respect and belief in his/her competence.

There will never be a “perfect” candidate. That’s the nature of politics and politicians – politicians are individuals who have certain abilities that allow them to come up with compromises that aren’t totally abhorrent to everyone involved.

You Need to Vote

You might think you’re being clever not voting to protest what you think is a bad system or a bland selection  of choices. You’re only impressing yourself, because while you sit there patting yourself on the back, everyone else is deciding how everything around you will function. Change is unlikely to happen if the people demanding the change have decided not to answer any questions about it.

Vote Splitting – Just Don’t Do It

Harper’s biased, non-representative rule of our nation has tilted the playing field. The nation has slid further to the right than ever before, and it’s likely no one is aware of the full implications.  Canada’s true nature as a leftist nation is reflected in the constant  comments that “the Canadian Progressive Conservatives would’ve been seen as Democrats in the United States,” and the variety of left-leaning parties that continue to get support.

A tilted playing field is not the time to start splitting leftist hairs. You will be voting for Harper if you insist on voting for a leftist party with no hope of winning when there is a left or left-centre party in your riding that has a better chance of of preventing a Harper victory. Voting for long shots is something you can do when we’re back at an even keel.  Vote swap. Give money instead of a vote to your preferred party. The time will come.

Written by balloonhed

April 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

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Good: behaviour that provides positive outcomes for all people involved . . . or as many possible. Stuff done in the spirit of kind thoughts for those around you.

Evil: Unenlightened-Self-Interest. Exploitation of a situation to certain ends knowing it will cause harm to other parties involved. Forcing people to act against their own best interests. Profiting off the discomfort of others.

As a civilization, we theoretically stress the values of Good over those of Evil. In practice . . .  Evil behaviour is a necessary tool in how the modern world works, especially in business.

We tend to teach children behaviours that can be categorized as “Good” in school. But are we really doing them a service? Perhaps we need to look at the requirements of real-world life and revise what we’re handing down.


 The Standard: Bullying is bad. All schools teach that bullying is a problem that must be nipped in the bud, that a bully is someone who is in need of help just as much as the victims. We have bullying help lines, anti-bullying songs, books called “I was a Bully,” yadda yadda.

 The Adult World: The skills that bullying develops – intimidation, leadership, coordination, project management, coercion, psychology  – are very useful skills in the areas of sales, politics, office life, interpersonal relationships, and law enforcement.

 Conclusion: Crass and unskilled bullying should be punished as usual. Skilled manipulations and coordinated campaigns against one or more individuals show a lot of promise in many lines of work in the child’s future. This should be rewarded. Efforts to curry favour with principals and other higher authorities to reduce the impact of bullying behaviour is also a laudable skill, and should be positively recognized.


 The Standard: Children are taught we need to be nice to each other. Old people need to be visited and helped across streets, the handicapped assisted, younger kids offered support, people in difficulties accorded sympathy and leeway.

 The Adult World: People who don’t look like me are using up resources I could be using. I’m all for helping people out, but those lazy welfare recipients, unemployed people and old people are eating up all the taxes that get sucked out of me. And the freakin’ Immigrants! Don’t get me started. What’s in it for me? My political candidates and news sources of choice tell me this, too – it’s us against them and them and them, so why am I helping them out?

 Conclusion: Children should be taught the value of a “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” view of life. Do nothing unless your interests will be well-covered in the results


 The Standard: Schools have emphasized for decades now the importance of being aware of the earth’s needs. Schools have been adorned with poster-painted images of the globe in green and blue, with rainbow-lettered slogans about loving the earth as long as I can remember. Don’t litter, recycle, go with your class on spring cleaning trips through the neighbourhood, yahoo!

 The Adult World: While environmentalism has become a massive and popular fad, it’s still only truly given any time when it’s convenient or politically expedient. I’ll be nice to the earth as long as I don’t have to give up my next smart phone upgrade, can still buy a terrible plastic water bottle at the corner store when I forget to bring a reusable one, or give up my first-world consumer habits. Likewise, windmill farms and hydrogen fuel cells sound great! But, given the prices and all, don’t we have all sorts of coal power and oil infrastructure lying around? Shame to waste it.

Conclusion: That’s very nice you’re making sleeping mats for poor people in Africa out of old pop bottles, kids, but to really make a difference you’d also have to stop asking for new video game consoles, trips to Disneyland, over-packaged fast food, and  new clothes every new school year. Don’t wanna do that? That’s OK – the third world will suffer the negative impacts of environmental degradation first, due to the fact it’s the place we’re making all the crap before we do, thereby functioning as an early-warning system. Focus your later educational efforts on engineering and bureaucracy or law enforcement so you can benefit from all the jobs building giant domes over cities and riot control.


 The Standard: Honesty is the best policy. Even if you’ve done something bad, it’s better to fess up and avoid further consequences derived from the fact you lied, too. Keep your promises, tell the truth.

 The Adult World: Modification of truth, leaving out key details, or liberally interpreting questions and thoughts of others are tried-and-true tools for getting stuff done. Promises are great in theory.

Conclusion: Kids should be given lessons in complicating/variegating  the facts of a situation to help them develop important life skills.  Really good modification-of-truth efforts should be applauded.

Place du Portage and the Civil Service

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Spiffys Hull

Place du Portage I to III – the grand, butt-littered and otherwise unused entry staircases, panoramic weed-cracked roof gardens, planters filled with old Tim cups – a grand vision in Federal office space that apparently didn’t take into account everyone will be entering from the bus-stop and parking garage entrances, or that only exiled smokers will actually use the outdoor areas regularly and everyone else will be sitting around the Tim’s. Our very own crumbling historical Parthenon, with smokers instead of grazing goats.

For those of you that are unfamiliar, Place du Portage phase I to III is part of a series of monolithic GoC office buildings built in the late 60’s and early 70’s on the Hull side of the Ottawa river. They stand like impassive monsters amongst the quaint working-class small-townish row houses and aged beat down commercial buildings that largely make up Hull. Huge tracts of these little natives were torn up to build the monsters, and the survivors, including the post-apocalyptic EB Eddy paper mill, now get to sit around them and mock. Building the monsters was necessary from the standpoint of the government, to house the huge numbers of civil servants scattered through the Ottawa area. It also conveniently allowed the crushing of dozens of little eyesores in Hull and the once-shantytown of LeBreton Flats on the Ottawa side. The Peace Tower could now been seen surrounded by towers of bureaucracy and vistas of green grass instead of factory chimneys and ugly brick row houses. A Utilitarian decision flavoured with vanity.

Each of the building types in this story reflect an economic and government background that saw their development. The row houses and shantytowns represent an earlier time, when government didn’t take much interest in the conditions of the working classes and the poor, who were expected to make due as best they could under conditions imposed by their employers, primarily the lumber and railway industries. By the 70’s, the federal government had taken an active role in the affairs of common people and the employers they worked for, and required places to put all the people managing this participation – the buildings of the working poor were bulldozed to make way for offices.

The civil service and the buildings it inhabits represent the standard of living Canadians have come to enjoy and expect. We can mock it for its “career loafers” with union-protected rights, and I am personally jealous of them, but they manifest our standard of living. They also contribute significantly to the economy – the thousands of rock-solid secure careers in the Ottawa area are reflected in ever-rising house prices and quality of services in the region. The civil service also has many needs that must be fulfilled by external sources, a huge contribution to the livelihood of many companies and individuals, nationally and internationally.

It is easy to forgot what one is getting from something that’s a fixture with obvious and huge appetites and an effect on the world that isn’t always positive. It’s also likely that something as gigantic as the civil service may not be adapting to the times as well as it should, which is kind of a given seeing it’s a Bureaucracy. We to remember its root purpose and not go hacking away at it without thought, especially under the influence of people who may not see the purpose of a government as providing stability and safety to all citizens. If we forget the value and succumb to a passing notion, we may find ourselves once again building shanties for the working poor who survive as best they can under uncaring and unregulated governments and employers.

Written by balloonhed

April 17, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Conservative Thought (Again)

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This is the main part of a posting I made in November 2010. I re-post it now as I think it pertains to Canada’s current federal election.

It constantly troubles me that conservative parties in Canada and the United States generally get strong support from those at the lower end of the economic scale, people who really have the least in common with the forces directing these parties. They are able to do this, I think, by beating the drum of protecting Sameness – traditional cultural values that are often highly valued by working class people. This blog article examines this.

(It was also one of my most well-received and read postings, and only a fool would resist such an obvious opportunity to repost. )

Political or cultural conservatism is, by definition, the desire to keep “things” as they are, or return to an earlier time, where “things” were generally perceived as “better.”  “Better” in this case meaning “easier for me to understand (i.e., “simpler”) and succeed within the confines of,” the “me” in this case generally being someone from a group that would’ve benefited from said earlier, better times.

In Canada and the USA, this is usually a desire to return to a nice Christian, gun-totin’ heterosexual male-dominated past (say the 50’s or 60’s) which are generally portrayed as “good.”  Please remember that in collective and cultural memories like anything else, history (and memories) that are generally widely available were created by the victors. The past that’s being invoked in conservatism is that of its beneficiaries, which were typically speaking were white males with some money, and their immediate associates.

An exercise . . .

The “good past” invoked by North American conservative thinking actually was good if you were (effects from multiple qualifications provide cumulative benefits)

  • White
  • Male
  • Wealthy
  • Christian
  • Adult

This same “good past” was not so hot if you were (again, multiple qualifications give cumulative negative results)

  • Non-white
  • Non-Christian
  • Non-male
  • Non-Adult
  • Non-WASP
  • Non-Dominant-Christian-Sect-of-Your-Location
  • Black
  • Hispanic
  • Asian
  • Handicapped
  • Not heterosexual
  • Not married
  • Poor

Based on this breakdown, of course things were “better” and “simpler”, because, assuming you score well (i.e., only from the first list) the odds were stacked in your favour, and society happily allowed the wide-open slagging of anyone that scored on the second list. People with their heads stuck in the “past is better” equation who would’ve scored well naturally will see the world’s current parameters as confusing and difficult, and naturally will seek to prevent any further changes that make it more difficult for their narrow slice of humanity to succeed and understand.

The “good past” is an easy bell to ring when you’re trying to drum up a following.  That’s why it’s so commonly used by less than unscrupulous individuals or groups seeking something. Corporations and business interests like it, for instance, especially in the ‘states – A corporation can draw upon its long-ago claim that it was started by an individual using only good old American values, blah blah blah, or that it provides old-fashioned value, employs people or traditional ethics, you know the drill.

Which brings me back to my favourite definition of Right-wing vs Left-wing thinking.

When addressing societal problems, Right-Wing (Conservative) thinking thinks of the answer first, then develops the question to go with it. Left Wing thinking (tries) to develop a question that includes the interests of everyone involved, and never gets an answer.

The macro-answer Conservative thinkers are working with, whether the question focuses on justice, economics, human rights, or whatever, is “apply the standards of yesterday to the problems of today.”

I suppose I can understand why the “good past” is so seductive to many – it appears to be such a clean and understandable story, with lots of firmly closed plotlines and happy(ish) endings, compared to what they find themselves embroiled in now. But it’s old news, and old information can never truly apply to a new and evolving situation.

Written by balloonhed

April 11, 2011 at 10:29 am