Guidelines for living

  • Make the most out of life take part
  • Have fun life is short
  • Be kind don’t be a dick

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Phillip K. Dick’s afterword for A Scanner Darkly

This has been a novel about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did. They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed—run over, maimed, destroyed—but they continued to play anyhow. We really all were very happy for a while, sitting around not toiling but just bullshitting and playing, but it was for such a terrible brief time, and then the punishment was beyond belief: even when we could see it, we could not believe it…. For a while I myself was one of these children playing in the street; I was, like the rest of them, trying to play instead of being grown up, and I was punished. I am on the list below, which is a list of those to whom this novel is dedicated, and what became of each.

Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error in judgment. When a bunch of people begin to do it, it is a social error, a life-style. In this particular life-style the motto is “Be happy now because tomorrow you are dying.” But the dying begins almost at once, and the happiness is a memory. It is, then, only a speeding up, an intensifying, of the ordinary human existence. It is not different from your life-style, it is only faster. It all takes place in days or weeks or months instead of years. “Take the cash and let the credit go,” as Villon said in 1460. But that is a mistake if the cash is a penny and the credit a whole lifetime.

There is no moral in this novel; it is not bourgeois; it does not say they were wrong to play when they should have toiled; it just tells what the consequences were. In Greek drama they were beginning, as a society, to discover science, which means causal law. Here in this novel there is Nemesis: not fate, because any one of us could have chosen to stop playing in the street, but, as I narrate from the deepest part of my life and heart, a dreadful Nemesis for those who kept on playing. So, though, was our entire nation at this time. This novel is about more people than I knew personally. Some we all read about in the newspapers. It was, this sitting around with our buddies and bullshitting while making tape-recordings, the bad decision of the decade, the sixties, both in and out of the establishment. And nature cracked down on us. We were forced to stop by things dreadful.

If there was any ‘sin’, it was that these people wanted to keep on having a good time forever, and were punished for that, but, as I say, I feel that, if so, the punishment was far too great, and I prefer to think of it only in a Greek or morally neutral way, as mere science, as deterministic impartial cause-and-effect. I loved them all. Here is the list, to whom I dedicate my love:

To Gaylene deceased
To Ray deceased
To Francy permanent psychosis
To Kathy permanent brain damage
To Jim deceased
To Val massive permanent brain damage
To Nancy permanent psychosis
To Joanne permanent brain damage
To Maren deceased
To Nick deceased
To Terry deceased
To Dennis deceased
To Phil permanent pancreatic damage
To Sue permanent vascular damage
To Jerri permanent psychosis and vascular damage
…and so forth.

In Memoriam. These were comrades whom I had; there are no better. They remain in my mind, and the enemy will never be forgiven. The ‘enemy’ was their mistake in playing. Let them all play again, in some other way, and let them be happy.


(For more context I recommend reading the ‘Autobiographical nature’ section of the A Scanner Darkly Wikipedia page:

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The Good Friend

Do any of us really actually care for each other? Or is everything we do ultimately in our own self-interest?

Isn’t looking out for the interests of my family & children in a way acting to guarantee the continuation of my genes? And is that in my self-interest?

How often is altruism really selfless? If you derive an improved sense of internal self-worth from the anonymous altruism you carry out, can you really call that truly selfless?

And can we fault anyone for putting themselves first? If the first tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is physiological, isn’t that just another way of saying survival? And who can fault anyone for wanting to survive? After all, if we don’t exist then we don’t even have the opportunity to argue about what self-interest is.

This image of a giant drug spoon has been lodged in my brain for the past month or so:


Built by artist Domenic Esposito, it was originally installed outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceuticals manufacturer, to protest that company’s role in the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States. What particularly fascinates me about this photo is the people walking past it. For the purposes of this post let’s assume they are employees of Purdue. I’m fascinated by the idea of what might have gone through these people’s heads as they passed the spoon: did they know what it was referring to? Did they feel any guilt? When they sat down at their desks and were still thinking about it, were they dismissive of the spoon & what was trying to be said by the people who placed it there?

What if you weren’t a chemist at Purdue but you worked in the maintenance department at the headquarters, fixing squeaky hinges and blown lightbulbs? By working for Purdue Pharma, are you in some way complicit? Do we all have a responsibility as humans to think about the consequences of our actions on other people? Or is our first responsibility to our self-interest i.e. survival? And is this why appeals to “family” are so powerful in advertising? Because when advertisers say “family”, what they are really saying is ‘Your survival and the survival of your family is paramount, we get that, and we’re in the business of prioritising your survival. Buy our products.’ So maybe the Purdue Pharma maintenance man says to himself “I’m not a bad person. I just fix squeaky hinges. I’m not getting people hooked on painkillers. The doctors who prescribe them are. And…” – perhaps most importantly – “I have a family to feed/mortgage to pay/etc”.

According to Wikipedia, Purdue Pharma has 5000 employees worldwide, and in 2017 made revenue of US$3 billion. How many of those 5000 people think about whether they are complicit or not in an opioid crisis? How many of those people think they are complicit but justify their job? How many of those people think that Purdue Pharma is complicit in the opioid crisis but they, a person working at Purdue Pharma, are not complicit because they “do not support Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid crisis and are actively working to change the company for the better from the inside”. And how many of those people actually believe that change from the inside can really happen inside a giant for-profit global pharmaceutical company?

And what about the suppliers to Purdue Pharma? And the logistics companies that transport their drugs? And the public health systems that buy their products using taxpayers’ dollars? Obviously you don’t have to look very far to find other examples of the same sort of thing: people working for Uber after it became public in 2017 the company carried out the Greyball program, people working for HSBC in 2012 after it became public the company was to be fined US$1.9 billion by US authorities over its involvement in money laundering including providing banking services to Saudi Arabian banks linked to terrorist financing. And on and on.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine chose to start working for an online gambling company. I never called him out on it. I was afraid it would hurt the friendship and I wanted to keep being friends. He has now quit that job but I have still never asked him why he decided to work there. Now I justify not asking by saying to myself “He doesn’t work there now so what would be the point?”. I don’t want to hurt his feelings and it seems like, at the end of the day, that’s what is most important to me.

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I made a playlist: Best Of Radiohead

Link to the playlist in the Spotify:

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Practical life tips for my son

  • Never be afraid to doublecheck if you have locked the door when you are using the toilet
  • Always wear a helmet on a bike
  • Always be careful around roads, water, weights, heights, fast things, hot things, and sharp things. Remember: scratches and bruises on skin heal, if you lose an eye or a finger, those don’t grow back.
  • Never drink alcohol & drive a vehicle
  • Always where your seatbelt
  • As much as possible, own your mistakes
  • The keys to self-improvement are: to listen well, to learn from experience, and to read good books
  • Remember to floss
  • Wear earplugs to loud concerts (tinnitus later on in life sucks)
  • Note down the dates of when you started and left jobs, and when you moved house. You always seem to need these things for filling out forms.
  • Don’t let fear of non-conforming put you off being into the things you are into
  • Don’t live to please your parents
  • If you are feeling stuck on a problem, try going for a walk in the fresh air
  • Make your bed in the morning when you get up, it sets you up for the day
  • Unless absolutely necessary, be anonymous online and use an alias
  • Clean around the toilet after you use it and put the seat back down
  • If you don’t feel safe somewhere, just leave. No matter what anyone says, if you want to leave then leave.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t ask, you don’t know.
  • Be kind
  • Respect & look after your body
  • Learn to swim well
  • You are not a tree, you can leave a job if you want and that isn’t a defeat – sometimes walking away is the strongest thing
  • Make a triple effort to remember the names of people when you meet them. It’s hard to do but worth it. It matters to people.
  • Look after your teeth. See a dentist regularly.
  • Wash your hands & wrists before you eat
  • Don’t leave leftover tuna in the tin in the fridge, the tin can leach into the tuna and cause it to become poisonous. Don’t eat leftover rice after it has been in the fridge for more than two days, it becomes unsafe to eat. Also, you can only reheat leftover rice once, after that it is unsafe to eat & you need to throw it away.

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My letter to the House of Lords asking for support for a public vote on the final Brexit deal

I am contacting you in advance of the “Parliamentary motions on a referendum” amendment expected to be voted on in the House of Lords around April 30th.

I am a British citizen who came to the United Kingdom 7 years ago. I met my wife here, got married, had our first child and call this great island nation my home.

I am writing to ask you for your support for the amendment proposed by Lord Newby, Viscount Hailsham and Lord Wigley. I think that the British public has a right to vote on the exit from the European Union that they are getting. I think that the lack of information about the ramifications of leaving the European Union (e.g. risks to the Good Friday Agreement) and misinformation & collusion by pro-Leave campaigners (e.g. false information about how much money the NHS would get if the UK left the European Union, reported use of discredited consulting firm Cambridge Analytica) means the British public are now more informed about what leaving the European Union really means.

I am also concerned about the rise of power-grabbing leadership in places like Hungary, Poland and Turkey. In Hungary the last newspaper that isn’t owned by the state has had to close down. I think the European Union has a crucial role in promoting unity & peace and guarding against international conflicts much in the same way the United Nations does. I think in a time when anti-immigration nativist movements are emerging across Europe, now is the time to bolster unity not to pull up the drawbridge.

Thank you for your time and thank you for reading my email. Thank you for your service to this country.

Yours faithfully,
Dave Underwood

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Please help support the release of ‘Unrest’

As someone with M.E. it has been frustrating wrestling with a disease that is hard to understand, destroys the lives of people suffering with it and seems to be underrepresented in terms of research funding despite the millions of people affected by it.

The film ‘Unrest’ is an important step towards awareness and funding. The makers of the film are asking people to support a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a publicity effort so as many people as possible see the film. The hope for people like me is that awareness will drive research funding and one day we will see drugs and cures for this disease.

So please consider supporting the Kickstarter with your money, and sharing about the campaign with your friends and family:

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Quitting the Paint Factory – By Mark Slouka

It is this willingness to hand over our lives that fascinates and appalls me. There’s such a lovely perversity to it; it’s so wonderfully counterintuitive, so very Christian: You must empty your pockets, turn them inside out, and spill out your wife and your son, the pets you hardly knew, and the days you simply missed altogether watching the sunlight fade on the bricks across the way. You must hand over the rainy afternoons, the light on the grass, the moments of play and of simply being. You must give it up, all of it, and by your example teach your children to do the same, and then – because even this is not enough – you must train yourself to believe that this outsourcing of your life is both natural and good. But even so, your soul will not be saved.


The new man, Marinetti wrote – and this deserves my italics – would communicate by “brutally destroying the syntax of his speech. He wastes no time in building sentences. Punctuation and the right adjectives will mean nothing to him. He will despise subtleties and nuances of language.” All of his thinking, moreover, would be marked by a “dread of slowness, pettiness, analysis, and detailed explanations. Love of speed, abbreviation, and the summary. ‘Quick, give me the whole thing in two words!’“


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That Time Obama Dropped The Mic


About once a month my brain will ask me “Hey, remember that time Obama dropped the mic?”. And it’s not like he did it just once, I saw him do it twice: on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and at his last White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

The first time I saw Obama drop the mic on Jimmy Fallon I remember thinking that it was a pretty cool thing for the leader of the most powerful nation in the world to do. It worked on me, at least. If you watch the clip Obama looks and sounds like a politician trying to do a bit on a late-night talk show, but that seems to make it more credible. And in the skit, there is a small jab at Donald Trump.

Looking back on this video now, it takes me back to a time when Donald Trump wasn’t a presidential contender but a punchline and we were fondly watching Obama take his bows as his presidency wound down.

The second time I saw Obama drop the mic was at the end of his speech at the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. In his speech, Obama chastises the national media for the out-sized amount of attention they have given to Trump (here’s the link to the specific part of the speech) and then he goes on to poke fun at Trump himself (here’s the link to the specific part of the speech). I find this choice puzzling because, in the light of Trump’s election, this decision to mock Trump seems glib, almost irresponsible. But maybe that was the perceived wisdom at the time for the best way to puncture Trump’s credibility. I don’t know, but I do know that Obama has been mocking Trump publicly going right back to the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (here’s the link to the specific part of the speech).

(above) Donald Trump looking on as Obama mocks him at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner

So my first thought is to assume the mocking and positioning of Trump as a cartoonish character at the 2016 Dinner was highly strategic. And Obama was obviously committed to it, two days before the election he was still jeering at The Donald’s credentials rather than just flat-out seriously calling him unqualified for the job. And well, we all know how things turned out. And honestly? Retrospectively it just looks as though everyone, including Obama himself, underestimated Donald Trump’s appeal to the American voter. He treated Trump as a joke so we did too.

So there is something about the way he drops the mic that second time that frustrates me. It feels like here was this clever President, able to reference cultural memes while he, and presumably many others, misread the electorate and allowed Donald J. Trump to sneak in. And while the fault doesn’t lie solely with Obama, I think that some of it does.

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The time I almost joined a pyramid scheme

The title of this post should be “The time I almost joined a multilevel marketing scheme” but that wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.

Back in 2005 or 2006 during my mid-twenties my girlfriend at the time was interested in signing up to sell something called American Communication Networks (ACN for short). She explained it to me like this: ACN was a telecommunications organisation that let you sell on behalf of them to friends and family to make some money on the side. The best part (so to speak) was the opportunity for passive income, if you recruited friends to sell ACN you got a slice of your friend’s sales, and if your friends recruited their friends, you got a slice of your friend’s friend’s sales, and so on. The dream from what I could tell was to sit at the top of a pyramid of people selling ACN’s product and creaming off a passive income without having to do any work.

Eventually it would come to light that my girlfriend was going to have to shell out NZD$500 for the starter kit or selling strategy materials or whatever it was you needed to get started with them. For my girlfriend this was a lot of money at the time and I told her to pause on spending it before I had the chance to find out more. I did a quick google and it turned out ACN was an American company that sold VoIP telephone services. VoIP wasn’t as common back then as it is now but it was a real product from a real company so I had to admit on face value it seemed legit. Something fell off though, it was something about the way ACN presented itself as this multi-million dollar telecommunications company that no one online seem to be talking about except ACN themselves. And then there was the way they were using people in little old New Zealand to sell their product. It just seemed weird but the next time I saw her and told her not to spend the money she told me it was too late, she had signed up.

I remember from this point on every time I was hearing about ACN it was always a bit off. For starters my girlfriend never signed up for the ACN VoIP service herself. The focus was always on that passive money gravy train; how could she sign up other people to sell ACN. The instructional material for selling ACN talked about approaching people like family members and close friends because they would be more likely to sign up because of the personal connection with you. The material even said that people who were negative or skeptical of ACN were “bad apples” and that people selling ACN should move on as fast as possible from them. I remember reading this and thinking “Ok according to this I am a Bad Apple, but I know I’m not, so what’s going on?…”

The crowning moment came when my girlfriend and a couple of people further up the pyramid from her were organising a pitch night at my girlfriend’s apartment to get people to sign up to selling ACN. I was invited and I thought I would go to support my girlfriend and I figured I would just hang out at the back and watch proceedings. So I show up and it is just me, my girlfriend and these two ACN guys. I can’t remember if I twigged immediately but at some point I realised it was only ever going to be just the four of us so they could put the pressure on me to join. The moment that stands out in my memory is how after a bit of talking they said to me “so [girlfriend’s name] tells us that you would like to be a writer one day, is that right?” And I said something along the lines of “yeah, one day maybe, that would be cool”and then they said “well why aren’t you signing up to sell ACN then? Don’t you want to achieve your dreams?”. In retrospect it seems kind of hammy that that approach would even work but I do remember that evening stumbling a little bit saying “well, um, yeah I do want to achieve my dreams…” Eventually I committed to “think about it” and since I was only with her for three months I imagine I broke up with her pretty soon after that.

What’s weird is in retrospect I realise I don’t remember ever saying to my girlfriend “Hey, what was with telling those guys I want to be a writer so they could use that on me?”. I just wasn’t that alert to things like that back then, like I could only see 16 colours or something and it was like I just couldn’t even see some of the more complex workings of life. Writing this story now I feel a lot of sympathy for people that get sucked in by those sort of schemes. I can remember how my girlfriend had been signed up by a friend of hers and you got the feeling he was kind of using her and then I got to see my girlfriend sign up one of her friends. You could tell her friend was a lovely bloke but just not the sharpest guy and trusted my girlfriend and was open to persuasion and wanted to believe that easy money was just out there, and in the end she was using him a little bit too.

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