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Archive for the ‘Unenlightened Self Interest’ Category

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

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.

Stephen Harper is not Governing for You.

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Stephen Harper is not governing for you. He is thinking of you, in a way, the same way one would think of a troublesome but potentially valuable resource, like tar sands. He wants to get your useful byproducts, like approval, votes and labour, but those benefits are tarnished by the necessity of providing things in return. He’s working very hard on changing that. Like anyone involved in exploiting a resource with negative side-effects, he is willing to make all sorts of promises, dribble out skewed examples and arguments, and produce wholly-owned experts who spout opinions that back up his actions. Like the propaganda surrounding a negative impact industry, all of this hot air causes you, the listener (and resource in this case), to hesitate and feel doubt/belief long enough for him to inch his agenda forward. he is depending on our desire and willingness to believe in a happy ending where we all win to get our cooperation.

Harper is not governing for you if you have to work for a living, have children, are a member of a minority, work for the government, believe in art, music, or culture of any sort, expect to be helped out or cared for when old, sick or unemployed, have a safe and rational place to live and work, appreciate the environment, or would like any sort of personal autonomy. He is very willing, and indeed depends on your being made to believe you are, or soon will be, one of the people he is governing for. His cause has a large role for fanatical nonmembers who believe their devotion will grant them entry, as this, in a way, is what he is.

He is governing for you, and thinking of you, if you’re one of the very rich. He’s governing for you if you’re capable of protecting your own interests with large quantities of money under all circumstances. He’s governing for you if you’re a member of any of the clubs that sit on the boards of large corporations and can expect favours from each other. He’s trying to create for you a place where the production of wealth is the only important criteria. All other considerations pale before this one.

A perfect society to Harper would be one where the government exists to give legitimacy to the actions of the very rich and their business interests, to encourage business activity, and to control the human resources. Pastimes and other pursuits (i.e., spirituality, fulfilment) need to be simplified to a basic set – a default religion, wealth, and demonstrating wealth.

Currently, our government and society is tooled out to many functions which doesn’t suit him at all. Currently, it provides for the needs of a broad range of human conditions, allows for many points of view, encourages many sorts of pastimes and behaviours, and provides jobs and sources of income which in turn fuel a large civilian economy. It generally doesn’t do any of these things in a spectacular manner, but that is the side-effect of having such a large mandate.

To retool our government, and society, Harper is doing a number of things. Firstly, he is destroying accountability in all levels of the federal government and concentrating decision-making into his immediate area of effect. This undertaking causes a certain amount of squawking, but it is worth it as it will ultimately allow even more outrageous changes to be made, unnoticed. The most obvious example of this is the census rumble. The census is an obvious target for Harper, as it legitimizes and identifies facts about the country that are outside of his concern, annoying minutiae that enables and encourages levels of government intervention he’s seeking to do away with.

He is also attempting (and succeeding) in turning views on governance exclusively into an argument about money. He is telling us that all other political parties want to take your money, in a way that makes us believe that we are a member of the very wealthy and this is truly a concern to us. He has boiled it down to his criteria, the production of wealth, and we’re buying it, forgetting the value of taxes paid, of the safety and security that gets us. he is making us forget about the larger society that we live in and depend upon that is enabled by our government. He is making us believe that a society that shows compassion towards all its members is hampering us, we’d all be doing spectacularly well if we just didn’t have this albatross around our necks.

Of course, He is willing to admit there will be losers in such a perfect world. Thus all the new prisons.

Written by balloonhed

March 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Once Again in the Realm of the Most Ruthless and Self-Absorbed of Humans

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car pros and cons

Once again, I find myself working and trapped in one of the ass-ends of the city, which always means a place where the needs of pedestrians are not well considered. Sidewalks randomly swerve into high-velocity roads and peter out or don’t exist at all, bus stops are few and far between, and crossings rare and ignored. The winter makes all of this worse. There’s nothing like walking on a snow-narrowed shoulder in the half-dark as cellphone-yakking bobbleheads zoom by with the typical Canadian regard for speed limits (i.e., none), splashing slush and snow all over the hapless walker.

I was able to discern a pedestrian crossover the nearby highway that led to a transit station in the distance, but it took a lot of random walking and backtracking to figure out how to get to it through the tangle of curvy little streets and fenced-off parking lots.

Regular readers will be familiar with my views on habitual car users. Places like this, where car use is assumed and transit is provided as lip service to the young and very old reinforce that low view.

I’m not optimistic on the likelihood of mass car use ending at any point in the near future. The car is really the apex accessory of the navel-gazing lifestyle we North Americans have spent so much time building for ourselves and are now making other parts of the world covet. We have spent decades starving off old-style downtowns where small businesses served walking-distance customers, moving to far-flung suburbanoid developments where a car is a necessity, and concentrating all our commerce into economy-of-scale, corporate “big box” malls on the fringes of our cities. We’ve smeared the landscape with roads and vast expanses of parking lots so everyone can park their personalized transport device. It’s difficult to walk away from all this when car use is so darn convenient, and so many monied players have an interested stake in their continued use (Would Walmart survive in a world where people walked, biked, or transited  everywhere, thereby reducing its customer range/count/carrying capacity and ability to offer “low low prices?” ).

It’s a shame that such a change back is unlikely, for a lot of the ills of modern society can be traced to this car-fed change: the loss of small businesses to poor quality giant corporate stores, the death of downtowns and communities at large due to the loss of commerce and local activity,  the disruption of traditional community configurations, such as small towns and “village” neighbourhoods. In other words, many of the things conservative politicians and voters pine for while they support the rights of the corporations paving everything and building the big stores.

Written by balloonhed

March 2, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Nails in the Coffin

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So the Republican-dominated U.S. congress has decided to cut massive amounts of funding to various sex education and sexual health initiatives, heavily crushing female-oriented programs, all in the name of balancing a budget crippled by wonky priorities  and satisfying some knee-jerk reactions on the parts of their looking-for-someone-to-blame constituents. At the same time, various states are trying to crush unions representing public sector workers, again in an effort to save money and impress scapegoat-hungry voters.

In a time where there are active concerns about whether the U.S. will be able to maintain its status as one of the world’s leading countries, these are all excellent, decisive moves.  These actions will seriously degrade the quality of life of current and future workers, open up the possibility of public services being fulfilled by corporations with questionable goals and hiring practices (OK, not questionable: “Profit Margin”), and ensure a generations of uninformed and clueless teenage moms and STD victims.  All wondering about the State’s future status is erased: Third-World status is assured.

This troubles me, because, despite American inclination to view their issues as their own and no one else’s business, the health and mental stability of such a large and pushy nation/economy very directly effects the outcomes for every other nation and being on the Earth.

The Future

One of my biggest concerns is that the knee-jerkers will not remember that it was their instant-gratification-serving political candidates that put them in this situation.  The mitigating possibility is that eventually in the distant future they’ll get over the finger pointing, or the economy will improve to the point they’ll decide it would be nice if the government would take care of educating people on sex, improving the quality of health care, and dealing with the crappy  services provided by understaffed or corporately-run fire, police, and city departments by making them attractive places for appropriately trained workers to work.

My biggest concern is that this right-wing,  unthinkingly-culturally-retro-romanticist, selfish-rich-guy and corporately sponsored sideshow will continue to poison the Canadian political process through our unavoidable shadowing under the American media bubble.

Everyday Alphabet – Ff – Factory Farm

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Factory Farm

Larger version (for detail nuts)

Trouble at the Heavenly Rest Home

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god's dotage

You said you spoke to God and asked a question
You were wonderin’ what’s the use of it all
He said everybody does what they want to
Provided that it’s true, that’s all

You said, hey Big G there’s my problem
I’m not so sure ’bout what’s true
He said I’ll let you in on my big secret, Ray
The final truth is – there is no truth, and

Na-na-na-na, bop shoo wop shoo wop
Na-na-na-na, Oh-hey-yeah
Na-na-na-na, bop shoo wop shoo wop-ac

-Boomtown Rats, “Nice and Neat”

When you forget that Christianity is the “state religion” of most many modern nations (and even more in the recent empire-building past, where many of the problems we face were first created) and therefore the default moral reference for the behaviour of anyone with the nerve to invoke it, God’s behaviour is puzzling, to say the least. His apparent willingness to put up with Schisms (Two (or more) Catholic Popes claiming their rival is a plant by the Devil), abuse of power, sexual misconduct, and obvious political expediency is amazing.  His later attitude towards human affairs is in stark contrast to the angry interventionist approach he takes in the old testament. This leads me to two possible conclusions:

1) He is nothing more than a convenient plot device based on old stories and built up and invested in by interested parties over the years, or,

2) He’s gone senile and all sorts of crap is going down while he smiles and nods  vacantly and talks about the old days.

The second possibility is way more fun to think about. God’s been around a long time, after all, and, having created everyone around himself, possibly thinks of himself as alone, which is not conducive to long-term mental health. Picture all the sleazy business people, preachers, and crazy people gaining admission to heaven by virtue of the certainty of their case, the blind devotion of their unthinking followers, and Saint Peter having given up trying to enforce anything because God just stares out the window and talks about his newest nice friend during their weekly status meetings.   Heaven would be a lot like a corrupt banana republic or kingdom ruled by a clueless leader – the creeps getting in would coax important roles out of God, then use their influence to get friends and like-minded Departed into similar positions. The angels would be like honest cops in action movies, bitter about a corrupt system they are honour-bound to protect. The rank-and-file genuinely “good” Departed would be horrified to see all sorts of people they assumed would be going to the Other Place,  strolling around decked with wings and halos – “What? How did creepy Father Jones get here after what he was found guilty of?”  Simple devout souls would themselves facing reclassification and a possible downward demotion for not going along with the whims of the leadership.

Similarly, Hell would not live up to its reputation. It would largely filled with simple true believers who were sincerely convinced of their own sin. They would be dismayed by the absence of  the hordes of individuals their faith told them also deserved an eternity of punishment.  A born-again reform movement would start in Hell, fundamentally changing the whole Heaven/Hell war thing. Since the management in Hell would find it hysterically funny and the management in heaven corrupt, eventually a horde of fallen missionaries would be permitted to descend (ascend?) on Heaven and tear apart its compromised bureaucracy with the thrilled support of the angels. Of course, in the spirit of most Earthly revolutions, after the furor of the revolution had passed, the habits and surviving members of Heaven’s Old Regime would worm their way into the confidence of the reformers, and dissent would appear.  Devoted departed and angels who threw themselves into the cause would suddenly find themselves on trial for counter-revolutionary activities and conspiracy with Hell.

Sounds like an underground comic book.

Written by balloonhed

January 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm