Saturday, February 28, 2009

Propaganda: Language is a Key Mechanism of Control

One of the most revealing developments lately in the English language, is the conversion of the word "Liberal" to a nasty word that nobody wants to be labelled by.

Back in the 50's this is what Liberal meant:

Showing or characterized by broad-mindedness;
Having political or social views favoring reform and progress;
Tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition;
A person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties;

So what changed? Today, at least in the USA (and Alberta), Liberals will not come out of the closet unless they are being water-boarded into a confession. Somebody is more likely to admit to being gay than being a liberal.

The new definition of Liberal is

lazy, a baby-killer, a homosexual, someone living off the backs of hard working conservatives.
pompous; intellectual; elitist.
Full of cowardice (fear of guns and war), lack of moral compass.

Is it any wonder that Liberals are ducking the whole issue, calling themselves "Progressives" instead?

There is indeed a history to the conversion of this word's meaning. Although liberals long ago were responsible for abolishing slavery, the meaning of the word liberal began to get a new twist after the Civil Rights movement in the sixties. Here, Liberals tried to end segregation in the southern USA. (A system of separating the blacks and whites.)

The Southern Whites, favoured keeping their old racial system, but were forced by the US army reserves, under orders from Washington, to give up segregation. Several people were killed, things got very violent. Some southerners, particularly Governor George Wallace, started a campaign of rhetoric against what he called "Liberals", who caused this problem. It was understood by southern whites that northern white liberals were pushing for desegregation, and were more to blame than the blacks.

This was the beginning of a campaign by southern whites to regain political control in Washington. The campaign grew over the next few decades, finally culminating southern conservatives taking over the Republican party, with the support of the southern Christian Baptists.

By the early nineties, the only thing that stood between the southern white coalition and total power was Bill Clinton. Newt Gingrich, a southern conservative Republican representative, began a campaign of slander against Bill Clinton and all liberals, accusing them of treason, in his famous 1996 GOPAC memo, which is a study in the meaning of words:

link to the memo here

Finally, with the ascension of George W. Bush as President of the USA, the southern conservative coalition had completed their climb to power. It was payback time for the bad things the Liberals did back in the sixties. Fox TV revelled in labelling its detractors "Liberal". Books came out by the likes of Ann Coulter - one of hers was "Godless: The Church of Liberalism". Even if George Bush himself did not feel it, millions of his most rabid supporters in the southern USA certainly did.

I'm not trying to defend Liberals here, just noting the use of language in furthering a campaign of propaganda. You may think you have freedom of speech, but what if the very words you need to use have been taken away from you? What you are allowed to say is in the hands of those who can control the meaning of the words.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Keeping it Forever

"I'm keeping it forever!" It was back in 1976, I was driving around North America for the first time, and I was in LA. Next to me a young woman parked her Toyota mini-camper pickup. I never saw one before so I was looking a bit closer (at the camper, not the woman), and she started telling me how much she liked her new Toyota mini camper. I guess it was a bit of over exuberance, but the idea was surprising to this guy from Canada. Was it even possible to keep a vehicle forever? After all, in the snow belt cars simply fell apart from the salt, sometimes after only 5 years.

Today, I can more realistically evaluate the idea. You will find in Google web pages full of help in making a vehicle last forever, a whole bunch of commentary to the effect of "Make sure you do all the maintenance" etc. etc. I'm sure that's all fine, but in the long run not important.

Here are the problems in keeping a car forever, as I see them.
1. You get bored, you don't care any more. It is always more mental than mechanical.
2. You lifestyle, family, health, interests, location/climate, transportation needs change, the vehicle is no longer suitable. Also, things like gas prices, your financial health etc. The problem is, when you are talking about forever, these things can really change.
3. Insurance can be difficult to get on an old vehicle.
4. The manufacturer stops stocking parts after a while, now you're busy looking for mechanics willing to work on old stuff, or do it yourself. You need to buy parts on eBay or in a wreckers yard.
5. Accidents happen too, vehicle can get wrecked, stolen, burned. The longer you keep it, the higher the probability.
6. New features appear that eventually prove irresistible (safety, convenience, efficiency, comfort) Not too bad if you end up getting more than one vehicle of course.
7. You are vulnerable to legal hurdles, if not next year, maybe later. You exist at the whim of the legislators.
8. Still with the salt. Vehicles last longer now, but still have problems with it. One day maybe they'll be made entirely of plastic.

I have a 1970 Honda CD175. It's not the actual bike I bought in 1969, but it's identical and just as old, has the same problems the original would have had. Would I consider having it as my only vehicle any more? Of course not.

First, I live in Canada now, I need a car for the winter. The total weight of me + passenger has almost doubled, now well over the bike's designed limit. We have freeways here, with higher speeds and winter, since I no longer live in Africa. Now I only use it for fun runs alone in the summer.

Yes, the bike still runs. I have enough spare parts to take this bike well past the end of my own lifespan. Heck, I have a whole spare running bike, and another half once just in case. So the bike itself is obviously not the problem. Especially since I don't actually drive it as my sole form of transportation any more.

The reality of "Keeping it forever" can happen, but be careful what you wish for.

Not my pics, I found them at this web page, so here's the link, I liked reading it. And who knows? It could actually be the very same camper I saw in 1976.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Public Service Bulletin #4 Streamlining

This picture is from the movie "World's Fastest Indian" (the motorcycle not the people who fought the cowboys in the movies). It is a motorcycle which has been shaped for moving at high speed, which is called "streamlining". I recommend the movie, I don't recommend streamlining your bike unless your only interest is a speed record. However although full streamlining is rarely used in motorcycles, streamlining does help in saving gas at normal highway speeds.

Given the amount of controversy on the Internet and on TV on the topic of wind resistance in cars and trucks (not so much with motorcycles). I thought it would be good to clear up a few misconceptions and apply some basic physics.

Simply put, to calculate the horsepower lost in punching through air, use this formula

power wasted  = cross sectional area X coefficient of drag X speed X speed X speed

I don't know how to write 3 (cubed) on this blog, so I thought what the heck, do it another way that emphasises how important speed is in the equation. If your goal is to beat a world speed record, then you cannot slow down to save gas, and you have to work with area and CD. But if you want to save gas in normal transportation, your best bet is always to slow down, as speed is factored in the equation not once, but  three times.

The cross sectional area is the area viewed from the front (or back) - in case of a rectangle it would be height multiplied by width. For more complicated shapes, its the sum of a lot of little rectangles. Note that anything that hangs out the side (Like mirrors) or sticks up at the top (like roof rack luggage) adds to the area. Anything hanging off the front (like a battering ram) or the back (like a trailer hitch) does not add to the area. The tires add to the area also, as seen from the front. Wider tires = more area.

The coefficient of drag is the most difficult part to understand. It is also the hardest to improve for you home tinkerers, but easiest to screw up. It is measured by wind tunnel testing of the shape of the vehicle, and it is very hard to apply some formula to calculate the coefficient theoretically from any given shape. The lower the number, the better. The number 1 represents the worst possible shape, which is basically a brick. Usually the shapes with the lowest CD would be like the streamliner above, although without the fins on the tail. If you are going over the speed of sound, the front would be better as a sharp point, but most cars are well under that speed.

The most interesting thing about CD is that the shape of the back is far more important than the front. Which is the exact opposite of what most of the public thinks. Especially if you check out the rooftop ski carriers that are shaped to a point at the front and squared at the back. Turn it backwards, you'll get better gas mileage.

And finally, speed. Basically, the slower you go in top gear, the better your gas mileage. I know a lot of propaganda out there says you shouldn't go any slower than x kph, or you will start wasting gas. Shhhhh! That's just to stop people from holding up traffic.  But generally, slower is better as long as you don't shift down and the engine still runs smoothly. Remember drag is mostly the speed cubed. And pedal a bicycle at 20 kph, you will know that measurable wind drag is starting to build already at that speed.

So now let's deal with some of the practical aspects. For example, you can almost never get better gas mileage by sticking something on to the the vehicle that adds to the area, no matter how nice the shape. The worst example of this is the huge wind deflectors put on the roof of transport trucks. If the truck is pulling a trailer taller than the deflector, no harm done. Unfortunately it's not doing much good either, because as I said it's the back end that's critical, not the front. But no harm done - until you take off the trailer and drive your truck down the freeway at 100 kph. Then that little gas saving gizmo becomes an air brake. In the last ten years, I have seen a decrease in this type of gas wasting, maybe people are starting to understand - especially when gas was more expensive.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Air Conditioners Save Fuel?

No they don't. Here is another debate pitting science and reason against vested interests and wishful thinking. The science is simple enough for me to understand, and can be proved wrong without an advanced engineering degree. The debate is about using air conditioners in cars to save fuel. If you are not aware of this debate, just keep an eye out this summer, when it starts to appear on TV newscasts, and in newspapers and various other places. In every case, the fact is stated that rolling down the windows wastes more gas than turning on the air conditioner. The "expert" advice is "turn on the air conditioning to save gas", nobody speaks up for the other side.

Here is a link to one of many debates.

I love the AC debate, because it is actually possible to understand the science in it without dumbing it down. Unlike the Global Warming debate. I have not been able to nail down any sponsors of the AC propaganda, so it may be spontaneously generated because the motoring population simply wants to believe it.

The point of the argument is to justify the use of air conditioners in cars even in times of high gas prices. So the idea is put forward that cars use less gas with the windows up and air conditioner on than they do the other way round. Reports to this effect often appear on TV news, delivered as simple truth with no counter argument.

Unfortunately most people don't measure their gas mileage accurately enough to know the difference. That takes a fairly disciplined and rigorous test lab such as Consumer Reports. It's pretty obvious using scientific theory that even running the ventilator fan or the dome light will use more gas, but is it large enough to be measured when you take into account all the variables?

Look at the side of a car and notice there are two round openings on each side, each could be equivalent in wind drag to an open window. They are the wheel cutouts (around the tires). Back in the fifties, car makers experimented with covering the back ones for streamlining, but the gas it saved was so minuscule that it was not worth the effort, and the idea almost disappeared.

The fuel efficiency test methods I thought were most accurate were by Consumer Reports in 2005, where they found a 1 mpg difference in fuel mileage with air conditioner on or turned off, and no measurable difference windows open or closed. The 1 mpg, I assume would be greater if you had a car with no air conditioner installed - no drive belts to the engine, no weight or maintenance issues. And of course, eventually no wasting gas driving the car around to get the AC fixed. You may even be be tempted to drive a car a bit less if it had no air conditioning. Also you save money in the cost of the car.

Cars are now being designed to need air conditioning. They have inadequate air circulation, and sloped windshields that trap heat like a greenhouse. Cars of the fifties sometimes had peaks over the windshields, and all had really effective air circulation.

I was also wondering what goes on with race cars. The beauty of racing is that it tends to put a stop to a lot of this type of scientific distortion. But my research was inconclusive, as NASCAR racers often run with the side window open and with an AC unit on. I guess it gets really hot in there.

At least motorcycles don't need air conditioners yet, I'm guessing it's coming.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Propaganda: Symbolism of the Moon Landing

Yes, this picture is Photoshopped of my motorcycle on the moon. My blog entry is about the symbolism of the first humans landing on the moon in 1969. In an earlier blog, I commented on the symbolic value of building the pyramids. The moon landing was in many ways a similar project to the pyramids, in that there was almost no direct practical value. But there was enormous symbolic value in the hope for the future. Of course, like the pyramids I'm sure there were spin-off technologies developed, that in themselves proved useful. With the pyramids, Egyptians learned stonework, learned to manage large engineering projects, lots more I'm sure. And of course with the moon landing we got Tang (and some other stuff).

The true symbolism of the moon landing turned out to be the very opposite of what was first intended. The intended symbolism was that with technology, we could travel into space and eventually colonize distant planets. Our future was to be limitless. We would not have to worry any more about overpopulation and environmental destruction.

However, the moon landing made it abundantly clear that we were nowhere near ready to deal with the limitless expanse of space. It might take another thousand years, and even then it may be theoretically impossible. And furthermore it emphasised how small our planet was and how hostile outer space would be. And so the moon landing helped kick off the environmental movement, and the moon landing became a symbol of how necessary the Earth's environment was to our future.

The propaganda value to the USA vs. the USSR was still quite impressive, though. I remember at the time, being a teacher in a school in Sierra Leone West Africa. The cold war was raging, Americans and Russians were both trying to win over the people of Sierra Leone to their side. I was given the job of organizing a weekly outdoor movie night for the students, and I got practically all my films from either the US Information Service or the USSR embassy. It was not just my opinion, but the students also thought the US propaganda films were way more entertaining. Just an example, every time an American movie showed girls with short skirts (like football cheerleaders) the students would yell "Legs, Legs!". After a few nights of puzzling about this, someone explained to me that although girls typically went topless in Sierra Leone, they were very modest about covering their legs right down to the ankles. I didn't understand that at first, because a lot of Sierra Leonian girls I saw were dressed Western style, i.e. miniskirts and NOT topless. But in the villages it was the opposite.

I'm going to get sidetracked a little here, because this reminds me of one particular night, when we got the visit of the Soviet Ambassador himself, and I was supposed to show his very thinly disguised propaganda flick. Well wouldn't you know, but the power failed. We hooked up a spare generator, and brought the Russian vehicles in to shine their headlights just so we could see enough to thread the film. We got the film running OK, though a bit boring, but that was expected. Then the sheet we tied between two trees and used for showing the films on fell down. I got a bit of a dirty look from the Russian crew, but that was before the 1972 Canada vs. USSR hockey series, so they didn't hate Canadians too much back then. But they suspected that the Americans might have had something to do with it. It was the only time I ever had a problem with the movies.

Propaganda: Just War Theory

One case recently was the Iraq War to depose Saddam Hussein. Was it a "Just War", or was it a war of religious intolerance, greed, or irrational fear?

There are ways to fight a war justly, and reasons for a just war. In this blog entry I'm ignoring how to fight a just war, and examining only the reasons for starting a just war.

Here are four commonly agreed principles of a just war based on logic and reason.

1 Legitimate Authority: Requiring that only legitimate officials may decide to resort to force is one way to protect against arbitrariness.

2 Just Cause: The three standard acceptable causes are self-defense, recovery of stolen assets, and punishment for wrongdoing.

3 Peaceful Intention: The intention is to use force to achieve peace, using force to restrain and minimize force.

4 Last Resort: Before turning to war, all reasonable approaches to a peaceful resolution need to be employed.

5 Reasonable Hope of Success: In going to war, there must exist the reasonable expectation of successfully obtaining peace and reconciliation between the warring parties.

Notice that nowhere does it say that having God on your side is a just cause for war. And there is also a similar absence of the words good and evil, as those are circular arguments that anybody can use to justify their case. The wording is intentionally stated to try to prevent needless wars, not to encourage them. War are often, if not always, based on irrational fears of one side against the other. Above all else, a just war theory must justify the war without resorting to irrational fear and hatred.

I want to go over each point in relation to the Iraq war.

1. Legitimate Authority: The problem here was the US President's claim that he alone had the right to decide. Although the rhetoric ducked and weaved quite a bit, I think it still came down to the fundamental belief that the US president could arbitrarily decide when and where to declare war. And it didn't help at all referring to God as higher authority in making the decision.

2. Just Cause: There were no stolen goods (maybe other than money), so this comes down mostly to self defence or punishment. To be just, you have to know Iraq had the means of hurting the USA and the intention to do it. Or that Iraq was doing something that required punishment, where I guess the gassing of it's own people, the torture and rape comes in. It turns out, after the war, that Iraq did not have weapons to harm the USA, so that was a major blunder in the Just war theory, and was admitted by president Bush. And to make things worse for the Just war theory, the USA engaged in torture too, also admitted, but with the explanation that it was not official policy.

A just war theory does not allow for one side to invent a non-existent threat, or to ascribe evil motives to the other side. In fact the whole idea of a just war theory is to take irrational fear and lying out of the equation for war.

And about the punishment, well the Just War theory does assume (or should assume) if you are punishing somebody, that you should not be engaged in the same practice yourself.

3. Peaceful Intention. I'm going to give this one to George Bush. I am pretty sure his intention was peaceful, in other words he would like to have seen a nice peaceful capitulation by Iraq, and almost did, in fact. He came pretty close at the time "Mission Accomplished" was declared. But then came a series of mistakes (I call them mistakes to give the benefit of the doubt), such as firing the Iraqi army that had stepped aside as requested by the US to allow Saddam to be deposed. Then the firing of all Baath party officials (including all teachers, lawyers, bureaucrats etc.) Then not being able or willing to stop the looting and crime spree. I'm giving this one to Bush based on what I hope was his intention.

4. Last Resort. Before going to war, all peaceful means have been exhausted. This one is a tossup as far as I'm concerned. Of course, as president Bush has said, you could go on forever with this game of trying to find weapons of mass destruction. At some point you need to say enough, let's start the war. On the other hand, discussions were going on in the UN, and the inspectors were hard at work looking for weapons. I'm split on this one.

5. I almost forgot: Reasonable Hope of Success. Yes, actually there was. In fact at first it was more successful than even hoped for, as the Iraqi army virtually disappeared, as requested by US leaflets that were dropped on them. Which gave the US mostly a clear and quick victory. My feeling is that if the motivation of the US were pure and honest, the victory might have stood. The Iraqi army would have been reconstituted, the police would have been back on the streets within weeks and Saddam Hussein would have been replaced along with his two sons. That would have been the best case scenario, and not a bad one either.

So I would say two and a half stars out of five for a just war. That is a half-just war. Which I guess is better than a total war of aggression, but not really a just war either.

And on the other side, the peaceniks have a lot of evidence that the real motive for war was for oil. And that a lot of the justification for war was intentionally fabricated.

So in my opinion, this would go down half and half as a war of aggression by the USA. Half motivated by greed for oil, half motivated by desire for peace and justice. Not good enough in my book to justify all the killing and torturing that went on.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Propaganda: Muslims

One group being subjected to some nasty propaganda these days is the Muslims. So I feel the need to say something in their defence.

I am not nor have I ever been a Muslim, although I taught for three years in a Madrassa. Of course, I'm kidding. Barack Obama was accused of attending a madrassa from kindergarten through grade 2. Well, if he attended a madrassa, then I taught in a madrassa from 1969 to 1972 (starting the same year that Obama entered Kindergarten half a world away.) My school was also a government run school in a Muslim country. I taught high school physics, math, and a bit of French. There was also one teacher on staff who taught Arabic. The language of the school was English, and the curriculum was similar to the U.K. Although our school was all boys (at first) there was an equivalent girls' school about 4 miles away. The most common name in the boys' school was probably Mohammed, except I never kept count, so I could be wrong on that. Apparently one of the more popular names in the country today would be Barack or Obama or both.

In the USA the anti-Muslim propaganda comes from so many sources that it's not worth counting. In Canada, it comes primarily from MacLean's magazine, the National Post, the TV show "24", movies, "Reader's Digest" and possibly from the most extreme Jewish or Christian groups. All these sources put out a stereotype of Muslims that is pretty frightening. I would mention in particular the columnist Mark Steyn as an anti-Muslim propagandist who used to write for the National Post, and now writes most of the anti-Muslim articles in MacLean's magazine. Plus he writes his own books like "America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It". Hey Mark, lovely title! In his book he mentions culling Muslims. There is an entry in Wikipedia for Mark Steyn.

The picture at the top is me riding my motorcycle in Sierra Leone. Yes, that's the Muslim country I was referring to. So now to get on with debunking the propaganda. Unfortunately, Sierra Leone may not even count as Muslim, because it's in Africa, and the people are black. Well, if by Muslim, you mean "an Arab or somebody from the same part of the world", then the prejudice is not really about Muslims, it is more about race. "Same part of the world" is the key propaganda phrase needed to shape a racist stereotype.

So I don't know if my argument is going to hold up any more, if Muslim really means "Arab and Muslim". A lot of people also get confused between "Black" and "African". Egyptians are also African, but they are not generally black. I can assure you, in Sierra Leone nobody got confused about black vs. African vs. Muslim vs. Arab. Not the way people in Canada and the USA get it all mixed up. There are also some other countries that are mostly black and Muslim: Somalia, Mauretania, and Sudan, and several more which I can't think of right now. Sorry if this is so confusing, it's just the facts. Ever notice how propaganda is usually so simple and exciting while facts are so complicated and boring?

When I was teaching at that school I was never once deported for naming my teddy bear Mohammed. I was never arrested for drinking alcohol, no girls had acid thrown in their face. There was no reward of going to heaven for any Muslim who killed a Christian. I was never called an infidel, never heard anyone say "Death to America". Israel was on the school maps (though, strangely these countries were not: South Africa, Angola, Rhodesia, and a couple of other I can't remember.) Apparently it is a pretty common Muslim thing to not mark countries if there are human rights issues between the races. - this was back in 1971 when South Africa had Apartheid. So when Ahmedinajad says "wipe Israel off the map" he could be referring to school maps, and not nuclear warfare. If that is even what he actually said.

I did not like everything about the Muslims, in case you are thinking "he is nothing but a Muslim-lover". One issue was the multiple wives. Another was the call-to-prayer which if you lived near a mosque, you would know what I mean. And those Fatwas, I have objected to ever since Salman Rushdie. I even boycotted Cat Steven's music when he joined that Fatwa to kill Rushdie. Also the Muslim religious music sucked, although I'll admit my preference is for guitars and rock and roll, so maybe that's just me. Anyhow they never played Muslim music at parties, dances or concerts that I attended. I could not imagine a Black country without music and dance. Yes, I'm using the word Black not African, because there is a distinct difference in attitudes toward music and dance once you get north of the Sahara in Africa.

My last point, once again from Sierra Leone, is the civil war that was fought during the 1990's, which had as it's main horrific feature the chopping off of hands of innocent civilians - men, women, children, even toddlers. You may think "Of course - they are Muslims, that's what they always do". But it turns out it was not a Muslim thing. Here is my case.

1. The rebels in that war carried out the amputations.
2. The rebels were funded by Charles Taylor, the president of neighboring Liberia.
3. Taylor was a self-proclaimed "Born Again Christian", and claimed to be doing the Lord's work in fighting Muslims.
4. Charles Taylor is currently being tried for war crimes in the Hague.
5. Charles Taylor was supported publicly by well know Christian TV evangelist Pat Robertson. First a seven million dollar partnership with Pat Robertson personally in a joint venture. And a public appeal by Pat that Charles Taylor should be allowed to continue as President even after the US government had called for him to step down based on mounting evidence of his atrocities.

You can refer to this CBS news web page. Note that Sierra Leone and Liberia are neighbouring countries, Sierra Leone is majority Muslim, with rebels supported by Charles Taylor. And the rebels in Liberia are mostly Muslim and were originally ousted by Charles Taylor's rebellion.

And for more facts, you can also look up Liberia in Wikipedia for the story of Charles Taylor, and find out Taylor was also supported by Ghaddafi from Lybia. So just to make everything more complicated, it turns out Muslims were also involved in the amputations after all.

The people of Sierra Leone were about as friendly and happy as you could find anywhere on earth. And just so you don't think I'm prejudiced against Christians, I support a Catholic-run war amputee centre. And to show goodwill, I would encourage you to read a blog by a recent CAUSE volunteer in Sierra Leone. (Christian Aid for Under-assisted Societies Everywhere) (link below)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

National Post Watch "Quebec separatist army claims victory"

There is a great title in today's National Post. In my propaganda series I have pointed out the difference between a headline that is merely "attention grabbing" and one that sets an article spinning even before you get a chance to read it.

This title is "Quebec separatist army claims victory"

I think almost any Canadian would understand this is somewhat inflammatory, similar to a previous the title I mentioned "Shut up and pay for your windmill". And any non Canadian would be surprised to find out after reading the article, that there was no military action involving the Separatists.

Suppose a small British Colony in Quebec city had been beaten by French forces 250 years ago. Exactly like Canada today but English and French roles reversed. Do you see the point that some English Canadians would not be too thrilled about a reenactment of this historic battle?

If you would like to read an interesting update on the significance of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, you can go to an article in the Ottawa Citizen.

I suppose it's unfair of me to compare an informative article in the Ottawa Citizen to an opinion piece in the National Post, but I would be really happy if the NP just started upping its journalistic standards.

I hope I can use the picture of the reenactment, which belongs to the National Post, as "fair use" since I am including a link to the National Post article here.

The reason I call this blog entry "National Post Watch" is a play on the National Post's "CBC Watch" where they often reported on alleged bias in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's news programs. Kettle calling the pot black? No, more like kettle calling the TV black.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Why Ride a Motorcycle

I know a lot of people don't like motorcycles, and they sometimes wonder why anyone would ride one. Here is my answer, it's pretty short. All you need to do is watch this video from 1969 starring Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, and Dennis Hopper. It's called "If you Want to be a Bird". The year 1969 was also the year I started motorcycling.

Which is most like a motorcycle - riding inside a stagecoach or riding a horse? From a practical point of view, it would be an improvement if the Lone Ranger hitched up his horse to a stagecoach and rode inside. He could carry more stuff, and also stay warm and dry in the rain. But I'm guessing the Lone Ranger would go for the motorcycle.

For those of you too young to know, here is a short video to help you imagine the impact of trading in the horse on a stagecoach

The Importance of Symbols

Yesterday, the Premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty announced that there would be steps to limit the wrangling about where to place construction projects, because nobody seems to want anything near their back yard. There was an article about it in the Toronto Star here

One of the latest arguments is about wind turbines. I would like to give a long-term historical perspective on construction projects like this. It can be easily argued that the wind turbines will not save the planet from global warming, and that they won't even provide a steady plentiful supply of electricity. It can even be argued that they will destroy the environment, kill birds, cause headaches and of course reduce property values. And that they are eyesores.

But the advance of civilization has always been done with symbolic constructions that served little or no purpose. What really was the use of building the Egyptian pyramids? I would argue that not one positive, useful thing was accomplished. But symbolically, they gave the people what all symbols give: hope, common purpose, and pride. I bet that back in 4000 BC, there were the people in the local neighbourhoods, complaining about the cost, the noise and smell of all the slaves, the waste of resources that could be better spent growing food or building roads or defensive walls against the enemy. People complaining about the ugly pyramids blocking their view of the Sahara desert. But the pyramids won out, and the Egyptian civilization flourished in spite of this massive waste of energy, time, and treasure.

Later on, we have the Cathedrals of Europe in the middle ages. Same thing. Naysayers on one side, the true believers on the other. The believers won, the naysayers were burned to death at the stake, and civilization moved on.

As we get to the Industrial age, the age of reason, and enlightenment and science, you might say that all symbolism disappeared and all the new constructions from that time on were of practical value only. Were they?

The railroads were a symbol of the future back in the 1800's, and I'm sure they carried people and goods. But first you have to lay a lot of track, build a lot of infrastructure, borrow a lot of money, build a lot of confidence before you carry the first thing. The track has to go through or near to somebody's property, or some ecologically sensitive area. There was a lot of cheating, fraud, bribery, and corruption involved with building the railways. Not all railways were profitable and useful in the end, many went bankrupt. There were also a lot of people killed in building the railway, and in railroad accidents. Many Chinese labourers had to be brought in, and they never went back home when the railroads were done. In the USA they used railways to completely wipe out the great buffalo herds. And a lot of money was diverted that could have been much better used in other ways. Canada, for example was almost bankrupted building a railway to Victoria, BC. But lots of greedy middlemen got rich on the project. And in the end the Canadian railway never did reach Victoria, it was just too hard to do. And not too many years later, here we are with highways, trucks, airplanes, and pipelines instead. We hardly need the railway anymore in fact we are ripping up many tracks. But the Canadian Pacific Railway was a symbolic project that after all brought the country together and we owe our current existence to it.

In the 1900's, people were building skyscrapers. I'm sure we could have done without them too, but symbolically they were important, and represented the new corporations that dominated world. I guess every symbolic construction has some ostensible use, but the historical importance to goes beyond that. It rallies people together in common pride and hope for the future. And a big enough project actually changes the future.

This new symbol we are starting to see is the giant wind turbine, which represent the hope for a clean green future. Whether wind turbines work or not, they give hope to people who conserve, who recycle, who think about the environment. They represent our independence from middle eastern oil and war, a sustainable future, free of fear from nuclear meltdowns and radioactive waste or other kinds of toxic waste.

We could probably do more to reduce greenhouse gasses by the simple act of banning clothes driers. But compare the symbolic effect of hanging out laundry. Practical, yes, inspirational no.

Most civilizations progress when millions of people in one nation, or many nations work together for a common cause. When people are not inspired to work together, civilizations collapse and die in debauchery and selfishness. Symbols help us promote where we want to go together in the future. That's pretty much how civilization progresses and always has.

Come back next week for a discussion on the importance of human sacrifice.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Driving Adventures

In car advertisements it seems that there are never any other cars on the road. I can tell you right now, that is a fantasy. At least where I live, you are pretty much surrounded by cars. It was not always like that. In 1903, the first car crossed the entire USA, driven by Dr. Horatio Jackson. That trip is closer to my idea of fun than sitting still in the morning commute on the 401 going in to Toronto surrounded by other cars and trucks doing the same speed (0).

A hundred years ago, you had to be tough to drive a car. And I don't mean that you had to have enough strength to crank down a window of a car, you had to have enough strength to crank the engine of the car. In the early days, on a trip of over a hundred miles, you would normally bring along 4 spare tires and be lucky if you didn't use them all.

So enough reminiscing about the good old days that I actually didn't live through. Today I rebel against all this traffic by driving a stick shift with no air conditioning, and crank windows.

There are not many places you can go any more, if you don't like traffic. But a couple of years ago I managed to find one pretty lonely road. It was the middle of February, and I had persuaded Mary Ann we should do a winter getaway to Labrador City by car. She was unimpressed at first, but when she stopped laughing, she started to worry. "What if we get stuck?". I assured her I would bring along some granola bars so we wouldn't starve. And we could eat snow so we wouldn't die of thirst. I assembled such a large stock of emergency items that there was not enough room in our Toyota Matrix for the both of us. So I had to leave the extra gas container behind, and the full size spare tire. But we had flares, bandaids, all the usual stuff you find in a Canadian Tire emergency kit. Plus an axe, hammer and nails to build a log cabin. And new winter parkas, hats and gloves.

All this preparation was a bit counter productive in making Mary Ann relax. The more stuff I packed, the more stuff she could think of. Just days before the big departure, she decided we had to have some variety in our emergency ration menu. I reminded her that being stranded in the bush for a week was not a scheduled item on our itinerary. Her one final question was "Does the car have a block heater?" I asked myself how does a girl from London Ontario even know what a block heater is? So I said no, but she was still worried. I explained that to use a block heater, you would need an electric outlet close by, and the chance of finding one when we are stuck far from civilization is pretty remote. And if our car would not start in the motel parking lot, we could always go back in to the motel. She still was not completely convinced, but we took off for our trip anyway.

As I predicted, we did not need the Granola bars or the block heater. It's hard to put into words the feeling you get on a really remote stretch of road, but just turn on the car radio and push the seek button and get nothing at all. Is that spooky? On the way up to Labrador, even I was starting to wish for a little more traffic, if just to reassure me the road had not been closed.

Most of the road surface was ice, which reduced our speed to about 70 kph. It wasn't glare ice or black ice like we get in southern Ontario, it was thick, grooved and very cold. Cold ice actually has more traction than the warmer ice we have down south in Canada, because what makes the ice slippery is the water film on top of it. With good winter tires, you actually can drive reasonably well on unsalted and unsanded ice. Also, whenever there was an uphill stretch or a bend in the road, it seemed that a road crew had scattered some sand. They just didn't waste it on the straight bits.

As we got really close to Labrador City, the road became very twisty, and occasionally we would see the imprint of the front of a pickup truck in the snowbank on a curve. The imprints were so perfect that you could actually tell what type of pickup truck went off the road, a Ford, Dodge or Chevy.

The year after, I read an account of a motorcyclist that drove to Labrador in January. I followed his journey with great amazement on the Internet. It reminded me that, no matter how crazy I may be, there is always someone else who can make me appear normal. Click here for the web page.

Click here for a few pictures and videos of our trip.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Is it Spring Yet? Riding in Winter.

It's beginning to thaw outside, just enough to get me out chopping the ice in the driveway and hoping I can drive to Port Dover on Friday 13th.

It's conventional wisdom that you don't ride a motorcycle in winter. But there are some ways to cheat, and I don't mean driving the car.

Everyone who cheats old man winter has their own sense of fair play. Some may use a sidecar to stay upright, yet think that an electric vest makes it too easy. Others may think the very opposite. I generally don't ride in the winter much now. My first three winters of motorcycling were spent in Africa, and when I came home I guess I just wasn't thinking about winter when I bought a motorcycle. Then I moved up to northern Quebec, just to make things worse. For about six more long winters I worked on various schemes to get me out riding the bike, and though nothing was perfect, I gained experience. And I found out that to ride in the winter you are best off if you take every advantage you can. Except I draw the line at sidecars, which I consider to be the first step on the slippery slope to four wheels.

When riding in winter, I sweat the details: the motorcycle, the riding gear, the road surface, the weather, the route. A ride in the winter can range anywhere from taking my Honda 175 out to bust a few snowbanks in the back yard, to taking off on a trip to California. Every type of trip has its own optimum setup.

My favourite was the early Spring southern getaway - Florida for example. The basic strategy was to watch the weather channel and make a break for it when it looked like I had a few days of warm dry weather. Then coming back, it would be hopefully be a bit easier as spring was coming soon.

The gear: Warm boots, a variety of gloves and mitts, long johns and warm over pants, a neck warmer, full face helmet, electric vest were all critical.

The motorcycle: A windshield, leg shields that go all the way down to my toes, something to shield the hands too.

The route and the weather: Most people think weather forecasting is crap, and it was, when I started riding in winter. Today it's hundreds of times better. The accuracy up to four days ahead of time is mind boggling to me when I think of how bad it used to be. And on the same day, you can often pinpoint to the minute and within twenty miles where you will hit rain, if you have a current weather radar such as an Apple iTouch or a Blackberry (which actually I don't.) I use the weather forecasts to judge whether the roads will be dry, and the temperature warm enough. Usually if it has not snowed for a few days, the freeways will be dry, so that's easy to figure out. When travelling, I don't use Motel 6 simply because they don't have the Weather Channel.

When I set out on a longer trip, I make an effort to figure out what the weather will be where I am going each day. No good leaving home in sunny weather then run into a blizzard five hours later in Detroit. I try to anticipate the direction and speed of the weather systems, then time my trip to zip through between them. With a little experience it's possible to avoid 90% of bad weather by adjusting either the route or the timing. It's actually more difficult near home because the route is fixed. But if I'm in the middle of the USA, I can easily deviate 500 km off my route just to miss a weather system, and still get where I'm going.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Propaganda: Moral Obligations

To all the religious people who claim that liberals are Godless and therefore without morals. Here is a moral obligation that liberals have that didn't make it onto the ten commandments.

There is a moral obligation to resist propaganda when it demonizes or dehumanizes people. It is not just a matter of intellectual honesty, or academic truth. I believe it is a matter of right or wrong. I also include propaganda to invade and destroy a foreign country, whether by collateral damage, or by deliberately destroying houses, roads, or the environment. And if I might stretch the concept a bit, how about propaganda that supports destroying our own environment or resources that we should be passing on to future generations. I believe it is morally wrong if the propaganda of hate and greed is not challenged.

Here is the moral dilemma in terms of the Nazis. Are ordinary Germans excused because they didn't know for sure about the genocide of Jews? How much of a crime is it to not speak out against the propaganda being spread in your country, to not engage in resistance against the powers that be? Because of wall-to-wall propaganda, it's truly difficult to know when your own side is doing evil.

When you are looking for justice, sometimes it is worth while to put the shoe on the other foot. I personally would not want to be involved in an immoral cause such as the Holocaust, or for that matter any genocide. I cannot tell you how I would have acted if I were a German during WW2. I would probably have been afraid of being killed by the SS myself, as I am somewhat of a coward. So very likely I would have shut up and stayed out of the limelight for as long as possible. And then, likely I would have felt guilty after the war, when I found out all the atrocities committed by my fellow countrymen during the war. But at the same time I would not want to be locked up or deported later because I did not speak out against the Nazis. Because I didn't live there, I don't know how hard it would be to avoid helping the Nazis.

But no matter how I acted, I hope to God I would not have been one of those fanatics screaming to kill the Jews, or worse yet, volunteering to be part of the death squads. Like I said, I do not know how I would have acted. But given my natural skepticism and aversion to volunteering for anything , I am assuming that I would have been trying to make myself scarce for the most part.

I didn't live during WW2, and furthermore I have the distinct luck of being a Canadian citizen, which probably more than any country in the world, protects me for speaking out in support of justice, peace and human rights. And often when I feel like it and get the chance, I speak out without fear of any retaliation.

I try to keep my conscience clear by continuing to question any propaganda that calls for punishing people for their race, religion, place of origin or the colour of their skin.

As a footnote: Ironically we now have the situation where Jews in Israel are killing Palestinian civilians in order to defend themselves. But it is agreed by both sides that about a hundred Palestinians died for every Israeli. A red flag goes up for me, and I question the justifications the Israelis have of continuing this high level of collateral damage with no apparent limit or end goal.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The picture is me in 1973, two years before I found the book, I was on one of my two trips out west on a Yamaha 250, which like the author, Robert Pirsig, I insisted doing all my own maintenance. Just a coincidence?

I'm not going to call this a book review, because it was such a strange experience reading this book. It was like somebody had written the book that I should have written, then planted the book where I would find it. I also found it incredible that anyone but me would ever want to read it. I did not know at the time it was already a bestseller, or that 20 years later my children would come to read it as part of their high school literature program. And that 40 years later (today) people are retracing his route on their motorcycles in a kind of religious pilgrimage.

The author admits that he knows little about Zen or about motorcycles. But more importantly, to me, he took a motorcycle trip out west through Bozeman Montana. Just like I had, the previous summer of 1974. And I had already come to the same conclusion that I was going to do all the maintenance on my own bike by myself. It gave me the same feeling of freedom as it gave him.

Like him, I was a teacher. But I had assumed (incorrectly) that anyone interested in motorcycles would not read this book because of all the philosophical content. And vice versa for the philosophy crowd. Remember back in 1974 there was general hostility to motorcycle culture, and it was shockingly controversial to feature a biker on a TV show like “Happy Days”.

The coincidences with my life were more than enough to get me to read it even if the entire book had been garbage, but it wasn't. In relation to the motorcycle I understood perfectly what Robert Pirsig was putting into words.

When I first picked up this book in 1975, I had never even heard of it before. I was looking through a rack of paperbacks in a variety store in Northern Quebec, so I was surprised to find a book in English, let alone about motorcycle maintenance. I bought it immediately and couldn't wait to start reading.

I will confess to skipping heavier sections on philosophy the first time through. Later, I came back to read it again, determined to understand all of it if possible.

I would like to do an analysis, not of the content of the book, but of Pirsig's motivation in writing it. I doubt that he started with the desire to write a philosophy book sugar coated with a motorcycle narrative. It seems to me the motorcycle was what inspired Pirsig to write this book. Zen and the inquiry into quality came later and is there to support the motorcycle narrative. Although in his real life, he may have been interested in philosophy before he discovered the fun of motorcycling.

It was the joy and freedom of being able to do his own maintenance that inspire Pirsig to begin writing the book. After all, a previous trip by motorcycle had ended badly for Robert Pirsig because he lacked the experience to diagnose a dead engine. Then he bought a newer, bigger bike, which in turn developed what seemed to be a terminal problem. At the point where he was almost ready to give up on motorcycling, which he enjoyed immensely (and I can relate to that), he discovered that he could get the bike working all by himself. Pirsig's epiphany came watching a mechanic botch up a valve job on his bike for the umpteenth time. After that, he took the bike home determined that he would figure out how to do it properly himself and succeeded. A very similar experience happened to me and I know the feeling of repairing the bike is even more overwhelming than merely riding. That's why I see motorcycle maintenance as the key to Pirsig's state of mind in writing this book. The scattered philosophical discussions of quality and Zen all grew from the moment when he declared his independence from relying on others to do the work for him. And he discovered he could do better quality work because he cared about it.

Another similarity between Pirsig and me is that both of us think about things a little too much. So instead of just putting the wrenches away after doing a valve job, Pirsig keeps on thinking about it until he has to write a book to get all those ideas out. Well I didn't write a book (not yet) but I have written a lot of stuff on my website.

Here is a link if you want to take a look.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Propaganda: 24

Is there any propaganda more important than on the subject of torture? If by using propaganda, you can convince people that torture is acceptable, then you have probably gone about as far as you can in stripping off the thin veneer of civilization of most societies. When you can dismantle common decency at the same time as common sense, you have the ultimate mastery of propaganda.

If your interest is the effectiveness/or lack thereof of torture, you may just want to bail out here because I am not going to go into that long and well known debate. The rest of this blog entry simply is about the propaganda that promoted acceptance of torture in the USA.

There is a TV show called 24 that has done more to promote the use of torture than any other single source. It has been referred to by presidential hopefuls during debates, by Supreme Court Justice Scalia, by Fox news commentators to support torture in real life, and probably others. I do not know if it is what inspired Michael Ignatieff to temporarily lose his mind about torture, but it is reported to have inspired actual techniques used on US prisoners. And I would guess due to its popularity and long run on TV that it has significantly boosted the public approval of torture in America.

The reason I am calling 24 propaganda, is that it is a fictionalized account of a hero who uses torture to save America from terrorists. The hero is made to look intelligent, brave, and patriotic. Those characters in the show who oppose the hero's use of torture are made to look weak, cowardly, traitorous and stupid. Because this type of propaganda is in a medium of pure fantasy, it is extraordinarily easy to make up supportive situations. Not only can you make up any story line you want, you can actually alter the laws of nature, physics, whatever. Basically nothing stands in the way of the propagandist except the requirement to make it look exciting and real to the public, an easy task for a TV production studio with a big budget.

The reason I first became interested in 24 was when I read in a review that Ford Motor Company, in supplying vehicles to the show had insisted that the Ford vehicles not be used by the bad guys. I found this to be such a shocking development that I tuned in to see the show itself. If you believe as I do, that people absorb unquestioningly stuff they see on TV, then the implications are enormous. You can tell a terrorist by the type of vehicle they drive! In the future, how would I ever be able to drive my Toyota Matrix across the border to the USA?

Fortunately, the reality of producing a dramatic show trumped the stupidity of the Ford demand. It seems that in the show, to produce drama and suspense, sometimes you were not supposed to know who the terrorist was until the last minute. After all, why would Jack Bauer be torturing people to tell him who the terrorists were if he could just check to see if they were driving a Ford truck? The demand was dropped.

I guess people are really smart in some ways, but stupid in others. In the old cowboy westerns you could put any kind of unrealistic nonsense in the show, but never could the cowboy fire seven shots before reloading, or the audience would erupt in boos and hisses.

Same for the TV show 24. The glorification of torture is absorbed unquestioningly by the audience, but put the good guys in Fords and bad guys in Toyotas, and they would be howling in disbelief.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Propaganda: Red Flags for Well Informed People

Everyone should be aware of the red flags of propaganda. For example if you have just watched a Shamwow commercial, and you rush out to buy a Shamwow - shouldn't that be a red flag? I know what you're thinking (a)Nobody's that stupid (b)See (a).

But I think there are a lot of examples of well informed people falling into the propaganda trap - sometimes they know it sometimes they don't. Let me pick two examples, and just to avoid personal problems, I will pick public figures, not my family or friends. First Canada's leader of the opposition Michael Ignatieff. He is now a strong opponent of the use of torture, and presumably from his background, he also felt that way at a younger age attending university. But when he was exposed to pro-torture propaganda, working in the USA after 9/11, he published a work arguing pro-torture. Later on returning to Canada, he has recanted, though without admitting that he fell for the pro-torture propaganda. I submit that as exhibit A that well informed people can fall for propaganda, as long as they are exposed to it. He is an intellectual by all accounts, and argued publicly for something that was apparently against his own deeply held personal values. Of course you could take it the other way - that his values do include torture, and he has fallen for Canadian anti-torture propaganda. I guess either way it makes my point.

Second example, John Moe, a liberal American writer from the liberal city of Seattle, decided to expose himself to right wing propaganda for a month to see if it could the affect him. Then wrote the book "Conservatize Me". So what happened in just one month? The book appears to be inconclusive. During Moe's journey to this enlightenment, he spent a while living in "the most republican" place in the USA, in a part of Idaho that voted 92% for Bush. Texas or Alabama or South Carolina would have been closer to the real Republican heartland. If it wasn't for the southern USA and racist issues, the Republican Party would not have elected very many presidents over the last 40 years. Anyhow this book may not really make my point, in that John Moe seems to emerge pretty well unscathed - it's debatable whether he was affected by the propaganda or not. But he certainly appeared to miss the racial issues, and one of propaganda's main goals is to take your attention off the ugly side of the sponsor's story.

John Moe did all the things that should have raised red flags, and when he was finished a month of ignoring red flags, was he conservatized or not? Hard to say, as propaganda often works like a time bomb - planting stereotypes and ideas that don't kick in until a stressful situation presents itself later (like a robbery, or terrorist attack). So thinking at the end of the month "I'm not affected by propaganda" means you are underestimating it once again. Let's see what John Moe thinks in about 20 years.

The Battle of Creation vs. Evolution

Statistics certainly back up the effectiveness of propaganda. The propaganda war over evolution vs. creation has been going on for a while, and at least in the USA over the last 30 years, the creation side has been staging a huge comeback through the use of propaganda funded by fundamentalists churches.

But are educated people more vulnerable to this particular propaganda than uninformed people? It seems that people with an education are less affected than people with high school or less. Is there a reason for that? Well, it sort of matches up to the statistic that educated people understand science better, and go to church less. But if you believe as I do that Adam and Eve is just a story, and that dinosaurs did exist before that - look at how many people with college education now believe in Adam and Eve- 25%. As far as I'm concerned that tells you loads about how easily taken in even educated people can be. That's one in four!!! Of course it proves nothing if we accept that Adam and Eve is about equally likely as evolution, or if we assume that all 25% are attending bible colleges. But if not, that's a staggering number.

This is a web page, percent of people believing in evolution vs. creation.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Propaganda: Lies and Headlines

Hitler Lies

In my ongoing series of propaganda, I have turned up a couple of instances of Nazis lying. First would be the invasion of Poland where Hitler is quoted as saying to his Generals (privately, I presume)

"I will provide a propagandistic casus belli. Its credibility doesn't matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth."

I got that quote off Wikipedia "Nazi Propaganda" page. A key component of Nazi pro-war propaganda was to fake a small Polish attack on Germany, then respond with a full scale invasion. This propaganda was aimed mainly at Germans, who (as all people do) wanted to feel they were defending their homeland, and not being the aggressors. Interesting note, that even today militaries like to refer to themselves as defence forces, or ministry of defence, or Donald Rumsfeld "Secretary of Defence". Apparently nobody will admit to being the offensive side.

One other Nazi lie from the same web page, a Nazi propaganda paper claimed Jews kidnapped Christian babies to eat them in ritual sacrifices. Does that even count as a lie? It's so outrageous that surely it must fall in some other category altogether, and I'm pretty sure this propaganda was aimed at ignorant people inside Germany.

Anyhow, those two together assuming both are accurate, would tend to prove the Nazis were not role model truth tellers in their propaganda. Did the propaganda backfire in the end? Not soon enough apparently.

More Propaganda Techniques - The Phony Agitators

So getting back to the types of propaganda that even well informed people can fall prey to. Last week in the University of Waterloo student newspaper "The Imprint" was an opinion piece titled "Israel not Hawkish Enough with Gaza Policy". The opinion piece advocated all kinds of inhumane treatment of Palestinians and made (what I would call) many ignorant and enraging assertions. Thankfully, it was not authored by somebody with a Jewish sounding name. Predictably there were a lot of rebuttals printed in the next edition of the paper, from students seemingly shocked that their paper would print such a piece of warmongering crap.

So far so good, I'm glad that the paper got some response to the article, I would be horrified if all they got was further extreme pro-war anti-Palestinian comments. The final effect however was this. Just by looking at those two editions of the paper you would get the impression that pro-Israelis are ignorant warmongers, and the vast majority of students are well educated and sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. Is that correct? Or was that a brilliant piece of propaganda managed by someone who was anti-Israeli?

Much as I would like to look into the background of all this an come up with a story, I don't really have the time to track down the author of the original piece and interview him as to his real motives. But it does fall into a pattern of propaganda that was used by the Nazis.

There was a Jewish book printed in New York during WW II title "Germany Must Perish" by Theodore Kaufman that called for the sterilization of all Germans after the war. It was proposed as a way to end all wars, as the Germans by that time were being seen as a major obstacle to peace. However the book itself became more famous in Germany than anywhere else, as it was an excellent piece of anti-Jewish propaganda, and helped fire up the German people to even greater fury.

The same pattern is used today on the Sean Hannity program in the USA, where Sean Hannity allows "liberals" to phone in and criticise him. Somehow the phone-ins during this segment are uniformly profane and ignorant. Which gives the impression -you guessed it- that all liberals are profane and ignorant. Yet somehow Sean Hannity basks in the glow of being fair minded by allowing detractors to call in and lambaste him.

Propaganda Techniques - Newspaper Headlines and Titles

A newspaper I am going to pick for this example is Canada's "National Post", an admittedly conservative paper. However they do try to present themselves as balanced and allow opposing points of view (I guess).

But this is the technique I am referring to: Setting up headlines to present one side of the story and the body to be more balanced. It's a subtle technique, which works this way. You present your side of the story in the headline, then follow up with a fairly accurate article which may not even really support the headline you printed. In fact the author of the article may be under the impression that they are writing something with journalistic balance and integrity, but the title is written later by somebody else, and puts a spin on the article that the author may not have intended. They obviously don't do this all the time, but there are plenty of examples.

May 19, 2006 the front page headline was "IRAN EYES BADGES FOR JEWS". I don't know exactly what the body of the article was, but the entire piece was later retracted in an apology of sorts. But propagandists count on the headline to leave the impression. No matter what is written underneath. No matter what retraction is issued later. You can remember the title, it sticks in your head like glue, the rest fades away with time. In many cases people don't even read the article, but they still read the title. Does that surprise you?

I remember another title of an article "THEY'RE ALL COMING HOME" This was an article announcing not that Canadian troops were coming home from Afghanistan, but that the new Conservative government had reassigned them from peacekeeping to a combat role. My eye of course was drawn to the headline, the article seemed to say the opposite. Unless you assume that "coming home" means in a coffin - or that we're not going to leave any of our dead to rot where they fall.

The latest one brought to my attention was titled "SHUT UP AND PAY FOR YOUR WINDMILL", an article January 3, 2009 about how the Ontario government was subsidising wind power. The title stood out to me as the hidden propaganda. Apparently, those environmentalists are telling the rest of us to shut up! The rest of the article is what I would call an obvious one-sided argument. The hidden propaganda that lodges in your head comes from the title, and creates an image more powerful than article itself.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Toyota Matrix Review

This is an owners review of the standard 2005 Toyota Matrix after 90,000 km. Absolutely no extra cost options, no air conditioning, it even has wind-up windows with manual door locks.

The final decision was between the Mazda3 Sport and the Matrix. Why not the Mazda? Well the Mazda was a nice hatchback/wagon but I was looking for better gas mileage. The Mazda hatch was not available with the smaller engine, that makes no sense to me. Also, the Matrix was taller which a dimension I am very fond of. I also like some ground clearance for snow and rocky roads. I don't drive off road very far, but I do sometimes go on bad roads. The Matrix has 5.9 inches only about 0.2 inches more than the Mazda. I don't want much more because high cars have roll over problems. In a couple of hair raising situations our Matrix has remained upright.

Any car has to be judged on how it is to be used, and by the owners priorities. Maybe I'm different from most people, but things that for some are so important are of little consequence to me.

Me? I keep a car until it dies - usually about 13 years these days (used to be 9 years back in the seventies, better quality build I guess). I don't commute to work, and I walk most places in town. I don't use the car much as an in-town grocery cart or dog hauler, but I'm sure it could do in a pinch. But my wife does like to buy bags and bags of manure, so I guess the Matrix plastic cargo area is about perfect for me in that it doesn't smell after you hose it out.

My reasons for buying a car include towing a utility motorcycle trailer, towing my small sailboat, road trips off the beaten path but not usually off the road, driving in winter, picking up and dropping off friends and relatives at the airport. When I buy a car, I am thinking how it will perform each one of those tasks. It's like a shopping list, and macho image is nowhere on the list. My trailers are light enough, under 1000 lbs. and the Matrix has no problem with them. As for power - that's a real issue for a lot of people who do not understand that you need to rev an engine to make power, but not for me as I am quite familiar with small Japanese motorcycle engines that rev to 10,000 rpm routinely. I do not get scared when I hear the engine wail like an F1 racer. That's part of the fun when driving a well made car, something you hardly ever hear about anymore today. I just gear down and floor it, but I keep my eye on the tach. Ever wonder what that was for???? OOPS forgot myself for a minute, anyway go read my various blogs on Torque vs. Horsepower to get the full story.

Most testers are pretty dismissive of reliable cars, mentioning that of course you get a reliable car ...if that's what you want. Well I sure as hell want a reliable car more than I want a car with "character", and for you people who invented the word fugly - first it's not a word. Second I don't give a crap what you think about the looks of my car. Because of the way I use a car, reliability is more important than looks. It's some assurance I will not be freezing to death in Labrador in January, or dying of dehydration on the Baja peninsula in July. Cars are not just for going to the local drive in to impress your teenage friends anymore. And by the way, as an owner who has been there, done that, after 95,000 km, here is a list of my problems with the Matrix. .... crickets chirping in the background .... I can't think of one.

Although the Matrix has optional all wheel drive, I don't need it. I got stuck, once in Baja in sand, once nearer home in snow (with the original tires). With some experience you would not get stuck at all, but sometimes I push the envelope a little. How else do you learn? Beside, 4wd just gets you stuck further from help. For snow, the Matrix should have the narrow 195/65x15 inch winter tires that you can buy from the Toyota dealer. The Matrix actually needs them because of the original Goodyear wide rubber.

As an unbiased owner I can go over some of the negative aspects of the car as well as the positive. Driver comfort is moderate. But I really like the headroom in the car, both front and back seats. Also the higher seating position allows me to get a view of various rivers while driving over bridges. My old Honda Civic was just low enough that I saw nothing but retaining wall most of the time. The Toyota's steering is an electric assisted power unit that feels very stiff driving in a straight line - steering effort does get tiring after a while as those wide 210 tires are prone to wandering more than old fashioned narrow tires. The gearbox does not like to be slammed into gear - it always seems to hang up for a second in the middle of a shift, you have to be a bit patient or it feels like you might break off the lever. I forgot to mention the clutch. The clutch itself is smooth, but the throttle has an annoying lag to it which makes it difficult coordinating the clutch on take-off and on shifts. At first it was disconcerting, but I have mostly adapted my driving style now. I would have to agree that probably most Toyota's do not have the sports car like feel of my old Honda Civic.

The back view is very restricted, making it hard to back up safely. So far it has not been a real problem, but I had a few close calls while getting used to it. It's easy to miss low lying objects, and most objects are low lying.

I like the basic no frills cars. I roll down the windows a bit when it's hot, and don't fall for that bull about air conditioners saving gas because you don't need to roll down the windows. That is a classic hoax and getting to be something of a popular delusion. My Matrix is fuel efficient, not as good as a VW diesel, but gas is cheaper and easier to find, and burns cleaner (well it did in 2005 anyway). I also like the crank down windows. I have never had a window crank fail on any car ever, and it doesn't cost $500 to fix every 5 years.

Toyota has not had an overwhelming success with the Matrix, and I'm guessing it was a miscalculation in the marketing department. Apparently they wanted to appeal to 20 somethings, but ended up attracting baby boomers. Yeah, I can see that. I'm a baby boomer who thinks the Matrix is pretty much the perfect minimalist all round vehicle- yet every time I look at the car I just wonder why the radical styling touches. Hey, Toyota, baby boomers don't like funky styling. So Toyota accidentally ended up with one foot in each camp, and nobody's perfectly satisfied. But that styling eventually grows on you.