Sunday, May 31, 2009

Obama's Changes

Some people on the left are criticising Obama for not making faster and more radical changes in US policy and the economy. I'm going to ignore for the moment, the extremists on the right who say he has done too much, as their credibility is nearing zero and their main spokesperson and idea generator is none other than Rush Limbaugh.

So has Obama done enough? It's pretty disappointing, if you look at it objectively. And yet he still has high approval ratings, and most people are willing to give him time to get things moving in the right directions. Most people understand that America is a big ship and can't turn on a dime.

But yet there is this nagging feeling that Bush managed to get his things done with plenty of speed. But I'm not sure this is fair. First of all, not much happened with the Bush administration until September 11. And most importantly, it is easier to make a mess than it is to clean it up. For example, you can wreck a car in a second, and it takes a month to rebuild it at a body shop. I expect it to take longer to set America back on track.

Actually, my only question is why do Americans, with such regularity, vote in the Republicans? Every time it's a disaster in the making. With the Republicans in power, the environment is destroyed, the rich make out like bandits, people lose jobs, the economy eventually tanks, wars are escalated, and so on. Finally Americans get so worn down they vote the Democrats back in to fix it up, which always takes more time than you would like.

American politics reminds me of a binge personality. Somebody who works all week to make a little money - that's like the Democrats in office. Then on the weekend, the Republican side of the personality comes out. It's party time, get drunk, break all the rules, get in a bar fight, pick up some prostitutes and get the clap, gamble away all the money, and get sick and hung over. Come Monday, the Democrats get back in and have to cure the hangover, then earn some money for the next weekend.

Old Age and Motorcycles

Here is an unpopular topic if there ever was one. I know that it would be easier to drive my car to an older age. But I do not want to give up riding my motorcycle, although I am starting to notice the beginning of age related problems. So if you don't like this topic stop now, because it's not going to be pretty.

I remember not taking aging seriously when I was younger. I was probably about 40 years old when I attended a rally where a prize was awarded to the oldest motorcyclist. No, I don't have anything against awarding a prize to the oldest motorcyclist, but I started to get silly when they announced that he had died of old age on the way to the rally, and this would be awarded posthumously. I was remarking quietly to the people around me that this seemed a little unfair to the older people who were still living, and when one of my friends remarked that there was a lot of stiff competition in that category, I cracked up. Now I'm sixty and I am starting to take this aging stuff seriously.

A motorcycle made more sense when I was young because it was cheaper, and easier to maintain by myself, and got better gas mileage. Most of these benefits were related to cheapness, and I didn't have much money when I was young. Money is not in such short supply any more, but now I have other reasons for motorcycling. Nostalgia is one, and I also appreciate the challenge to keep me mentally sharp, and the motivation to stay in shape. I guess instead of cheapness, the advantage of motorcycling in retirement has more to do with quality of life.

So what are some of these problems? My main problem right now is occasional pain sitting on the motorcycle related to an enlarged prostate and/or a bladder stone. I first noticed it last year with the frightening appearance of blood in my urine, and my doctor is suggesting it was caused by a bladder stone, which I think I will get removed next winter. Until then I'm making do with an old air mattress folded and strapped to the motorcycle seat.

Pain while riding is also coming from my back, which is not as resilient as it used to be. But this problem is far more predictable, and there's not much I can do about it through medical intervention. It's more to do with ergonomics and the motorcycle's suspension characteristics. I have mentioned BMW's new adjustable spring rate in an earlier blog, which I think may become widespread, maybe in a different form.

My eyesight is changing for the worse. It's not just a question of getting new eyeglasses, because I seem to have problem adjusting my focus. When I was younger I could read a book for an hour and then put it down and within seconds be able to focus on distant objects. Now I find that it sometimes takes me an hour to comfortable change my focus distance, and this makes the eyeglass prescription more critical, and also harder to determine.

It's hard to tell if my mental abilities are changing. Maybe because I'm thinking of the pain in my bladder, I make mistakes like shifting down instead of up going around a corner. My reaction times are probably slowing down - or is it because the foot brake on the Vulcan is a long reach from the floorboards?

I cannot maintain my bikes as easily as I used to. I'm not as flexible, not as strong. I make as many mistakes, but now I also have less self confidence, so I tend to give up more easily than I used to.

What can be done? I would think that the choice of motorcycle could help. For instance a Burgman scooter is much easier to ride than my Vulcan. Lighter, and with a step through design. No shifting gears, no foot pedals, low seat. I don't need to give up the Vulcan in favour of the Burgman yet, but I'm thinking of the future. I am not interested in the three wheelers, I would probably opt for a car if it came to that, for example a Miata convertible - or maybe one automaker will figure out what I want and make it, like they did with the minivan when I had three young children.

This is just the first blog on aging and riding a motorcycling. If this is typical of everything in my life, being a baby boomer, as I get older I will start to notice more and more attention in the media being paid to my situation. I mean that because of our numbers, at each stage of life we come to, our concerns become fads or fashions, or major disasters.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Who is Really Trying to Reduce Abortions?

Recently I have been looking into how Obama is trying to reduce the number of abortions performed in the USA. It looks like about 800,000 per year according to government sources. The Democrats are trying to get some cooperation from the Republicans to get this number down, which has stayed fairly constant since 1992.

Unfortunately, the Republicans are not cooperating, and I decided to investigate why. First, the Republicans use this issue to drum up support from many Catholics and Christian Baptists and Evangelicals. It is a "vote cow" for them, and they have no real interest in making the issue disappear.

But other than the fact that it is a vote cow, I find several interesting contradictions in the Republican support for anti-abortionists. First is that they call themselves "Pro-Life" rather than "anti-abortion", which contradicts their pro-death penalty stance and pro-war stance. Second, that in spite of all their posturing, there has not been a decrease in the number of abortions in eight years Bush was in office. Third, the Republican policies are the most likely to increase the number of women seeking abortions, by taking away funding for single mothers, and reducing the social safety net for poor families.

Even though we can plainly see that many babies in poor countries die from starvation within a few years of their birth, the Republicans seem to ignore this plight which could be completely eliminated with just a fraction of their military budget. And yet, they are unwilling to fund clinics in poor countries that allow or even speak of abortion or birth control.

I am coming to the conclusion that in spite of all the nasty rhetoric coming from the conservatives about "baby killing Democrats", that it is the Democrats who are trying to reduce the number of abortions. Conservatives are not really interested in preserving life, as is apparent from every other issue they deal with. Other than getting votes, their interest in abortion is only because they want to punish the women for having sex. And when it comes to punishing people, conservatives are always up for it.

In spite of the fact that Obama is calling for help in reducing abortions, the conservatives are not cooperating. They paraded baby carriages with bloody doll babies at a recent address by Obama. And now they are falsely accusing* him of firing doctors who refuse to perform abortions.

If the Christian conservatives really wanted to save hundreds of thousands of abortions per year, they would simply drop the constant mindless propaganda and begin to cooperate. If they are just going to stick to this propaganda campaign, they might as well start call themselves baby killers.

False accusation: here is a quote from this page

"In 2008, the Bush administration issued a rule that prohibited recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and health care aides who refuse to take part in medical procedures to which they have religious or moral objections.

The rule implemented existing conscience protection laws that ensure medical professionals cannot be denied employment because they do not want to provide abortions.

Although federal law has long forbidden discrimination against health care professionals who refuse to perform abortions or provide referrals for them, the regulation required institutions that get federal funding to certify their compliance with laws protecting conscience rights.

It also promoted education within the medical community regarding their rights and provided an avenue of recourse in the event of discrimination through the Office of Civil Rights within HHS.

At the end of February, the Obama administration announced it began “reviewing” the regulations implementing conscience laws, the first step toward rescinding the rule altogether."

By the way there is one quote I put here "Reviewing the law is the first step towards rescinding it" is an outright propaganda statement - it is true, of course, but so is this: reviewing a law might be the first step toward rescinding it, or might be the first step in improving it, might lead to no change at all.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Republican Southern Strategy

You ask the question "How could anybody vote for Palin?" And how could anyone be stupid enough to think that Barack Obama is just like Hitler? This can't be about capitalism vs. socialism, as most voters don't even understand the difference. I think it's more about culture than it is about economic theories.

Just a little warning here, this blog contains references that may be offensive to people who hate Obama, who approve of torture, who want to kill all Muslims and liberals, who think the educational system and the media have a liberal bias, and believe that Hitler was a loony lefty.

Now here are my observations.

1. Barack Obama is black according to slave state definitions
2. In the southern USA, black people were kept as slaves
3. The people who voted against Barack Obama were concentrated in the slave owning states, as can bee seen from electoral maps.

Based on these observations I think there was some psychological trauma to the white people of the slave states, that has been handed down generation after generation. I believe the Republican party was able to tap into that dysfunction to gain fanatical core following, and win some big elections.

The slavery that evolved in the southern USA was on a scale that had never before been seen in the history of the world. This type of slavery was made possible with sailing ships and the "discovery" of America. It's possible that the long sea voyage also was a critical ingredient in slavery's final perverted form. The extreme racism and slavery in the southern USA created a massive breakdown of the normal taboos against torture, mutilation, whipping, and rape. The white people even turned their own mixed race children into slaves. Anyone who thinks this can be done with no mental damage has not studied the psychology of parenthood.

You can't see outward signs of this trauma, you need time to study the behaviour patterns, as the Republican strategists did.

Southerners sincerely believed in their own goodness, even while torturing, lynching, and raping slaves. Obviously you would need to shut down part of your brain to swallow that contradiction. Knowing that, a Republican political strategist could take advantage of these weaknesses:
- Plain and simple ignorance - denial of science, reason, and education.
- People who are easily brainwashed by religion, fairy tale history and fake news

When slavery needs to be maintained by terror and violence, you live in constant state of fear, fear not only of black people but even fear of white people who do not share your racist views. This can lead to obsessions with guns and the military, and with theories of racial superiority. The Republican party has used the fear, hate, and love of guns and war to their advantage.

What happens when rape of slaves by the white owners becomes widespread? A breakdown of normal sexuality and family values, to be replaced by worries about homosexuality, incest, and bestiality. The southern obsession with Family Values, God and Honour is an overcompensation for their perverted history. Republicans have taken advantage of the southern sexual obsessions.

Southern conservatives also harbour a distrust of tolerant, educated people i.e. liberals. And they have a fear of the free press. The Republicans discovered that this was the perfect audience for fake TV news channel, and radio talk shows to feed the delusions, to spread their party propaganda of fear and hate.

That's why there are so many angry gun toting conservatives in the USA, and the endless propaganda also explains why the conservatives think the liberals are crazy, brainwashed, Godless socialist baby killing, homosexual traitors voting for Obama.

Giving Slavery a Bad Name

Right now, a battle is going on in the Swat Valley of Pakistan that has important ramifications for the rest of the world. Pakistan is a democratic country which contains within it a large Islamic fundamentalist faction. Both are struggling for control of the country, and as Pakistan now has a nuclear arsenal, the stakes are high not only within Pakistan, but for the rest of the world.

But Pakistan is not the only country to worry about. Very few commentators on US affairs spend much time analyzing the racist/fundamentalists in the USA, or wondering what is going on in between the former confederate slave states that support the Republican party, and the former free states of the union that support the Democratic Party. Is there a battle for control similar to Pakistan? Maybe not outright fighting yet, but politically, the US is boiling.

I am going to try to explain how the legacy of slavery still has an influence on policy in the USA. And why that is important to the fate of not only the USA but the rest of the world.

Slavery in the USA was violent and perverted. I know you might think violent slavery is redundant, but it is not. Racism existed before slavery in the USA, and slavery existed before the slave states of America. However, there was something about the southern USA that brought racism and slavery together and produced something that had not been seen before, and it's unfortunate that we don't really have a word for it.

The old definition of slavery is simply a person being forced to work without wages, and that person's labour can be bought or sold as economic conditions change. Although not necessarily part of the definition, physical coercion is often required. Hence the stereotypical galley slave and the guy with the whip walking up and down the gangplank making sure nobody is getting a free ride.

Slavery existed all over the world, often involving prisoners of war. The Bible accepts slavery as a fact of life. Almost every race on earth did some of it.

But there were some subtle and not so subtle changes that occurred in the southern USA where slavery mutated to a new and perverted level.

What were some of the mitigating factors of old style Biblical slavery? For one thing, there was a way out. Usually there was a time limit, or a generational limit. If you were a slave, you, or your children could be free one day. Although you had to work as a slave, you could go home and plant a vegetable garden. If you had life long slavery, you were still permitted to marry and have children and raise those children. You still had the possibility of human interaction where you could earn the respect of your master. Say, for example that a slave saved his master's life through some act of bravery. Although still a slave, you could see there might be some human gratitude and respect. These things are important. And if conditions became too unbearable you could run away or commit suicide or abort your babies.

What types of things happened in the Southern USA that turned nice Biblical slavery into sick and perverted slavery. Well there were a few simple things. First we need to remember that southern slavery evolved into a combination of racism and slavery. While it was theoretically possible for blacks to own whites, in practice this did not happen.

Here is one seemingly little thing. Slave owners in the south were required by law to punish their slaves for certain offences, and I don't mean a fine of a few dollars, which they didn't have anyway. Mandated punishments included mutilation and whipping. If you think about the ramifications of this for a few minutes, you will realize that no matter what kind of rapport might be built up on a human level between master and slave, it was utterly destroyed by this external requirement of brutality. Not only was mercy rare, it was not even permitted.

Here is another seemingly little thing, which was degrading both to the slave and the slave owner. The child of a female slave had to also be a slave. Two things here. First, it meant slavery was unending, even to the children of the children. But far worse, it allowed slave masters to breed with their female slaves without concern about illegitimate offspring. Rape was common. And contributing to the inhumanity, was that the slave master's own children were born into perpetual slavery.

The people in the southern USA justified their sick and twisted form of slavery by pointing to the Bible, and reminding people that the Bible condoned slavery. Yes, it did, you sick perverts, but not that kind of slavery.

Also, the slave states of the southern USA also pointed the finger at Africa, where they said the black people were involved in slavery themselves. Yes, they did have slavery, but not your kind of slavery.

Unfortunately there has never been a real distinction made between different types of slavery. And Douglas Blackmon argued that the "neoslavery" following the Civil War was even worse than the "slavery" before emancipation. And this carried on until the civil rights era, where northern liberals finally put an end to segregation in the south.

What made this all the more devastating to the world was the context of this perversion of classic slavery took place in the first important democratic country of modern times, and was done on such a devastatingly large scale.

This problem has not gone away, we still have the United States of America approximately divided along slave states/free states lines, with the corresponding different world view with respect to violence and to people of other skin colour. One example of this is the controversy about torture, and treatment of prisoners. Also a major difference on the idea of war - JFK, a northern liberal, said "America will never start a war", but the conservative former slave owners add "unless we feel threatened". And at this point, everyone needs to understand there are two very different ideas of civilization still competing for control of a military machine that can lay waste to the rest of the world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Motorcycling Propaganda

I am going to do a persuasive essay. The objective is to persuade you the reader that I have experienced the most fun ride ever in the history of motorcycling. To do that, I will assemble only true facts, and maybe leave out a couple of details here and there that are not relevant to my enjoyment of this trip. Then I am going to let you consider whether you could even imagine a ride that could top it.

To set the scene, which is always important to the mood of every trip, I was 21 years old, it was December 31, 1969 and I had just taken possession of my first motorcycle. Actually my first motorized vehicle. The last time I had ridden a motorcycle was once before in Canada, for a few seconds before wheelying it onto somebody's lawn and falling off, then handing back to the owner.

My bike was a brand new candy blue Honda CD175 I bought at Michal's motors in Freetown Sierra Leone, West Africa. I needed to get this motorcycle home, and so the salesman pointed the bike "up country", and handed it over for me to sit on. I had a 135 mile trip ahead of me.

Obviously, I was going to need first gear, which the salesman explained was down. Yeah, I knew that from last time I rode a bike. But where was second gear? Up. OK I got it. Let's go. I put on my helmet. The mechanic looked at me in disbelief. "What's that for?" "In case I crash it protects my head." He thought this was the funniest thing he ever heard, either that or he rolls on the ground laughing for every joke he hears. This debut was going to be a triumph or a debacle, either way there were quite a few people standing around for the free show no matter how brief it would be.

I pushed the start button, clicked into first, let out the clutch and I was off. This part of the road was paved, but there was traffic and I had to remember "stay on the left", because that's how they all drove. There were only four gears, and soon I was in the top gear, moving at about 40 mph. Which was the fastest I had ever gone on two wheels. It was very hot that day, as usual, and once the adrenaline subsided, I noticed a benefit of riding a motorcycle, which was I was cooled by an incredible blast of air. Normally, I could not spend much time outdoors in Africa because the sun was so hot, and so I had no sun tan at all even after 4 months of living there.

So now I'm moving and I'm seeing scenery. What's so great about that you may ask? Well I had not seen this scenery before because my usual transportation was in the back of a closed in truck sitting on a wooden bench. So I didn't even know the way home, and I had no map. And no, I could not stop at a gas station to buy one. I would be lucky if I could stop at a gas station and buy gas. The scenery was beautiful actually. Mountains, blue sky, elephant grass, palm trees overhanging the road, thatched roof huts with mud walls, lots of people walking beside the road waving to me. Goats and chickens crossing the road in front. As I got out in the open country, I tried opening the throttle more, and found myself flying along at 60 mph. And it really did feel like flying. A Honda 175 is so small you forget it's there, there's almost no bike in front of you, but you're still sitting higher than in a car.

OK so the rest of the trip was pretty much more of the same, so in case you're not persuaded that this was more fun than any ride you have ever had - have you ever had a ride where the roads were lined with topless teenage girls waving to you? I didn't think so.

Motorcycles: Adjustable Rear Spring Rate

Motorcycles need adjustable spring rates on their rear suspensions much more than a car would. This was not likely to happen because most people still think (wrongly) that the usual preload adjustment actually was "stiffening" or "softening" the rear spring. So I was very happy to see that a motorcycle with a true adjustable spring rate has been introduced.

Not surprisingly, this technical innovation appeared on the German BMW K1300GT/S models. Since the late 80's BMW motorcycles have shown a remarkable no-nonsense approach to motorcycling innovations. Harley Davidson has resolutely stuck to it's old V-twin designs, and it's greatest suspension changes have come in the form imitating the look of an old fashioned hard tail suspension or of the old springer forks. The engineers at BMW have more often erred on the side of doing something really new, which nobody ever expected, and which nobody even knew they needed until BMW produced it. One example would be BMW's adjustable windshield, which was at first mocked, and then furiously imitated, because it really works, and we really need it.

A word about the K1300 models first. When BMW motorcycles first went to water cooling in the eighties, there was a strong backlash against this heretical form of keeping cylinders at a constant temperature. In order to keep their faithful customer base happy, BMW had to backtrack and come up with a new two cylinder motorcycle that did not use water based coolant. In other words, like they used to be, for customers who were not ready to move into the modern world. From that time forward, BMW has kept two roughly equivalent models, one for the traditionalists, and the other for the technologically inclined. The K1300 is the bike that carries the technology banner for BMW. And if there were such a person as "The most interesting man in the world" I'm pretty sure he would ride this bike, and not the air cooled R1200 which is the traditionalist model. Here is a link to a video of what it's like to ride the water cooled K1200GT model with about 150 horsepower.

OK enough BMW insiders propaganda for now, and back to the actual suspension.

The adjustable spring rate was accomplished by adding a cushion ring on top of the spring, which is actually the only adjustable part. This cushion absorbs the smaller bumps, and when it is fully compressed, then the main steel coil spring begins to to its job. Here is a link to show the details. It is called ESA 2 for electrically adjusted suspension 2. The first ESA did not adjust spring rate.

I was hoping for a rear suspension using a crank lever similar to my Vulcan 900, except with an electrically adjustable extra link. But I don't know how much more expensive it would be, or even if it can be done at all. The only disadvantage would be you could only put it on the back, while this BMW cushion system can work on any coil spring.

Until I become the most interesting man in the world, I can approximate the BMW adjustable spring rate, and save my rear end, by strapping an old air mattress to the top of my motorcycle seat.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Jobs for Jesus

In a recent opinion in the KW Record about the ethics of torture I came across this thought provoking quote. In my response, I am using a pseudo debating technique known as "Reductio ad Absurdum" only to make the point that I actually think this is absurd.

"Gary Bauer, a former Republican presidential candidate affiliated with several Christian right groups over the years, said the discussion should not come down to "Would Jesus torture?''

"There are a lot of things Jesus wouldn't do because he's the son of God,'' he said. "I can't imagine Jesus being a marine or a policeman or a bank president, for that matter. The more appropriate question is, 'What is a follower of Jesus permitted to do?"'

This is an excellent question. Obviously my previous posts have had no effect on the Evangelical Christians support for torture and for starting wars. So I must have missed some important debating point which fundamentalists are clinging to as justification for supporting war crimes. [yes, waterboarding is a war crime, as the U.S. has executed foreign soldiers for doing it.]

According to Gary, Jesus, as "Son of God" would not be a marine and obviously we need these people in a functioning society, don't we? (as long as there is no compulsory military service, where Jesus would probably move to Canada.)

And obviously also from Gary Bauer's point of view, we need torturers, too, which he forgot to mention I guess. Before continuing with my point, can I think of any other jobs our civilization needs that Jesus would not do? Day trader, Chemical industry CEO, telemarketer, Fox news commentator, right wing radio show host, MacLean's magazine writer, T.V. evangelist selling "miracles", any job at a cigarette company, armaments company or soft drink company, barman, postal worker, male nurse, professional hockey player, and NHL Commissioner.

Wow, quite a list of jobs that Jesus is not going to be sending in his resume for. What could he apply for? He could be a carpenter I guess, if he's not bored with that already. Or a tattoo artist. That's about it.

So according to Gary Bauer, the more appropriate question would be "what is a follower of Jesus allowed to do, that Jesus would not do himself because He is the "Son of God"?

Assuming Jesus has his reasons for staying out of the Marines, what can a devout Christian "Follower of Jesus" do assuming he or she has no other job options other than the Military? (first of all I think the expression "Follower of Jesus", when Jesus Himself would no go there, is a misnomer. Maybe we should call them "Praisers of Jesus" instead of "Followers".)

So what would this Praiser of Jesus be allowed to do. Other than praising Jesus at every opportunity, when not busy actually killing Moslems? One thing that comes to mind is converting Moslems to Christianity. Also permitted is handing out candies to kids in the street. I think Jesus might like to see no shooting of innocent civilians, too, but there's a problem. They all look the same. So maybe Jesus could stick to His job of "Sorting them out" after they have been killed, and sending the good Moslems to Heaven and the bad ones to hell. Oh wait, I forgot. All Moslems go to hell. I guess that makes the job of sorting them out a lot easier.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Safety vs Fuel Efficiency

With Obama's new fuel economy standards, I suppose it was predictable that a certain political party would try to make it look like this was the end of the world as we know it again. The issue is safety. Of course in a perfect world, we could all be driving around perfectly safe in our 4 ton armoured mobile offices/shopping carts, and getting 150 miles per gallon. But in our imperfect reality, apparently the trade off is safety vs. fuel economy. According to Republicans, and a fair number of Democrats too.

It always strikes me, as I ride around on my motorcycle, that car drivers, especially SUV drivers put a lot of faith in the fact that they have several tons of steel around them. So much faith in fact that they pick up the cell phone to text a few messages to their friends about how safe they feel, while hurtling along at a speed well over the limit. So safe that they feel they can stretch out with the newspaper while the cruise control keeps the speed at 120.

Now I do not have so much faith in the steel cocoon surrounding me, as I have none while riding my motorcycle. I do have a helmet and heavy clothing that may or may not do the job in case of an accident, so I focus on paying attention. It would not be wise for me to say any more, for though I am not a superstitious person by nature, I do know when I have pushed the Gods far enough.

But it seems to me that this thing about the bigger the car the safer, is a false argument, and possibly even linked to oil company propaganda. Because SUV's had a higher injury rate due to rollovers, which is more common than head on collisions these days.

Our Toyota Matrix, quite a small car by American standards, has never rolled over yet, even though it was practically demolished in an accident where I was struck from the side and the Matrix spun 90 degrees to the direction of travel before coming to a stop. Neither of us was injured in the crash.

Size matters only if you ram another vehicle. The bigger vehicle will transfer some of its momentum to the smaller vehicle, so the smaller vehicle will theoretically have a greater change in velocity. For example, in the case of a head on accident, the bigger vehicle could drive the smaller vehicle backwards some distance. But this is a stupid and dangerous game to play, if you are assuming you are going to be safe because you are planning to hit a smaller vehicle. Especially when the smaller vehicle is me on my motorcycle and the bigger vehicle is you on a cell phone.

The most dangerous part of the collision has been known for years, it is the occupant of the car against an interior part of the car. In which case the mass of the car has nothing to do with it. Or alternately it is the mass of the car crushing the occupant who was thrown from the car, in which case the mass of the car is working against you.

There are so many other ways to be safe. Air bags, careful driving, winter tires, seat belts, careful driving, better roads, no cell phones, staying sober, and these are just some of the tips.

Now let's get serious about fuel economy standards. Get a smaller, more fuel efficient car and save the environment, cut down on wars, save some money too. five tons of steel won't make you safe.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Propaganda: Spotting the Fake Scientists

Fake authorities are essential in creating believable propaganda. In a dictatorship, you can create a fake democratic election, or a fake justice system, or a fake "free press", to help convince ordinary people of your authority. Most people know how to tell a fake democracy, and I have written a blog about it already, and maybe soon I will explain the difference between a real and a fake justice system. But this time I want to take on fake science.

In the last 50 years at least, fake scientists have been used in propaganda. There is no strict qualification for calling yourself a scientist. The image of a scientist is very powerful subliminally, because of connections to authority figures such as doctors and teachers. And because scientists generally also have a good reputation for telling the truth, fake scientists are useful in giving authority to certain types of propaganda, for example the battles over tobacco smoke, global warming, wind power, pesticide use, genetically modified foods and seeds, automobile pollution, and other scientifically based arguments.

Many people seem to think that a real scientist is anybody with a white lab coat, glasses, messy hair and a pocket protector. Sponsors of propaganda take advantage of this and trot out an endless array of fake scientists to "prove" their points of view.

A real scientist may look the same as a fake scientist, but there are ways to tell the difference.

Some obvious tricks are fake or obsolete or irrelevant credentials. Even if a self-proclaimed scientist is currently engaged in teaching at a university, it does not mean they are engaged in scientific research, and is no guarantee they are objective in their presentations.

One way that I use to separate true scientists from the fake is finding one dishonest argument, as dishonest arguments go against a scientists unwritten code of conduct. And all it takes is one, I don't need to go through a hundred fake arguments to get the point. I'm not saying a wrong argument, that's different from dishonest. Just like an addition mistake on your taxes is different from creating fake receipts. Fake scientists will often be motivated (usually by money from sponsors) to fake research to prove their point.

Another test I use for distinguishing a real scientist is peer review. Scientists generally abide by a code of ethics that are based on impartiality. In other words, no falsifying results. If anything is ever found in their work that even resembles a falsified result, a real scientist will correct it as quickly as possible. Because denial results in real scientists refusing further cooperation, even in reviewing their work. Real scientists rely on each other to independently review their work, this is called "peer review". Any self-proclaimed scientist who is not involved in peer review is a fake scientist. Unfortunately there are so many fake scientists around (the money is good) that they can engage in fake peer review with each other, another propaganda trick to watch out for.

Real scientists do not present a thousand poorly screened arguments (I call the dumpster proof) and let the hapless opponent sift through them all for a grain of truth. Any one of the arguments being false, dishonest, or misleading is grounds for being excluded from further peer review.

On the other hand, the true scientists are honour bound to investigate an honest challenge to their theory.

Science is not opinion. Real science is not accepted through debating tactics - the acceptance is according to evidence and calculation, and repeatability. Not by shouting, interrupting, personal attacks, straw man arguments etc.

Nothing is taken on blind faith, nothing attributed to superstition or the supernatural. If a cause is not known, it does not mean that it is magic.

A true scientist will admit they are wrong when presented with a sound counter argument.

Will not take money to prove a given result. Funding must be independent of the outcome of the research, or it is not science. Must disclose any conflict of interest, for example taking money from tobacco companies and saying smoking is not harmful the the health.

Does not make controversial statements outside his field of expertise, claiming the authority that "he is a scientist".

Is David Suzuki a scientist? He is a zoologist turned environmental activist. He is not a current scientist as much as he is a spokesman for scientists. Any statements made by David Suzuki that I have seen are based on real scientific work. I think there is a place for scientists who move to educating the public, and as long as they retain the respect of real scientists, then I consider them as an authoritative source of information. However, you will often see spokesmen like David Suzuki engaged in debates, and giving opinions, which I do not consider actual science, but necessary at times when you need to make non scientists or the public aware of scientific developments.

Some critics have likened science to another new type of religion. I don't think so. While it's true I have faith in the scientific method, this is different from "Religious faith"

Religious faith or "Belief in God"
- The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another
- a principle, etc., accepted as true, often without proof

Scientific faith, quoted from Wikipedia article "Faith".
"It is sometimes argued that even scientific knowledge is dependent on 'faith' - for example, faith that the researcher responsible for an empirical conclusion is competent, and honest. Indeed, distinguished chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi argued that scientific discovery begins with a scientist's faith that an unknown discovery is possible. Scientific discovery thus requires a passionate commitment to a result that is unknowable at the outset. Polanyi argued that the scientific method is not an objective method removed from man's passion. On the contrary, scientific progress depends primarily on the unique capability of free man to notice and investigate patterns and connections, and on the individual scientist's willingness to commit time and resources to such investigation, which usually must begin before the truth is known or the benefits of the discovery are imagined, let alone understood fully. It could then be argued that even in science, until one possesses all knowledge in totality, one will need faith in order to believe an understanding to be correct or incorrect in total affirmation.

Again, scientific faith does not see itself as dogmatic. While the scientist must make presuppositions in order to get the enterprise under way, almost everything (according to some thinkers, such as Quine, literally everything) is revisable and discardable."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Quebec and Labrador Dispute

The issue of Quebec and Labrador helps to explain the acrimonious relations between Quebec and Newfoundland. Or maybe I should start by stating that relations between Quebec and Newfoundland have been acrimonious, although recently the boundary dispute has finally been settled. Back in the eighties, there was an attempt at constitutional reform which would have granted Quebec special status in Canada, and it was certainly noted by Quebec that Newfoundland officially nailed the coffin on the accord, when it cancelled its planned vote in the provincial assembly.

This blog is about the Labrador dispute, involving conflicting claims by Newfoundland and Quebec. When the dispute started, Newfoundland was a sovereign country, although part of the British Empire, as was Canada, including Quebec. Newfoundland claimed the inland area of Labrador marked by the height of land or the watershed of the rivers emptying at the coast of Labrador. Quebec only conceded the coast of Labrador to Newfoundland but claimed the inland areas. In 1927 the Privy council in London set the boundary in such a way that seemed to deliberately provoke Quebec. Not only did they grant the entire watershed to Newfoundland, but inexplicably they cut off the watershed from the only part of the coast belonging to Quebec, and handed that to Newfoundland also. When Newfoundland joined Canada as the tenth province in 1949, this boundary was ratified by the Canadian government as part of the deal. The southern boundary however was still disputed by Quebec, and often maps and diagrams of Quebec were drawn showing the whole of Labrador as part of Quebec. Meanwhile Newfoundland cemented its claim by officially changing the name of the province in 2001 to "Newfoundland and Labrador".

The territory of Labrador, at 270,000 km2 is actually larger than the island of Newfoundland, 135,000 km2. But it only has a population of about 27,000 compared to Newfoundland at nearly half a million.

Originally, Labrador was not of much monetary value to anyone, but shortly after Newfoundland joined Canada, huge iron ore deposits were found there, and two railways were built from Quebec into Labrador. Neither railway was connected to the continental grid, and instead went to a seaport to load ore onto ships.

Then with the development of hydroelectric energy on the (relatively) nearby Manicouagan river, Newfoundland set about planning it's own power station at Churchill Falls a remote location in Labrador, even more remote than Manic 5. (Actually, remote location in Labrador is a redundant expression)

The sticking point was getting the power out to the North American grid. Even the usually impartial Wikipedia covers only the Newfoundland side of the issue "The division of profits from the sale of electricity generated at the plant have proven to be a very sensitive political issue in Newfoundland and Labrador, with many considering the share accorded to Hydro-Qu├ębec "an immense and unconscionable windfall."" So of course I will mention that there was another side to the story.

By checking a map, you can see that only way out was through Quebec, and the only technology available was the untested 735 kv power lines that were being constructed to Manic 5. The federal government helped negotiate a deal that gave Hydro Quebec the rights to buy the electricity at a fixed price from Newfoundland. This price was set low, as there was a the expense building the power line, and risk that the line would not work, and a very real threat that energy prices would go down as soon as the (then new) nuclear power plants began to come online. When nuclear power started to unravel, and oil prices unexpectedly started to climb, this long term deal didn't look as good for Newfoundland, and they challenged the contract in court several times with no success. Luckily for them, the deal is going to be ended in about 2040.

Recently Quebec has decided to go ahead with a new power plant and dam on the Romaine river, which is a river that had its watershed cut off by the 1927 agreement. In order to go ahead with the dam, which will of course flood a part of Labrador, Quebec has worked out an agreement with Newfoundland not only about the Romaine river, but about the sale of electricity from a proposed expansion of the Churchill Falls project. So I guess the boundary dispute between Quebec and Labrador is finally over. And as far as I can tell, without any bloodshed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hydro Quebec and the Quiet Revolution

At the start of the sixties, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec began. By the end of the decade, the Liberal government of Quebec had taken on quite a bit more power, at the expense of the Catholic church, and the opposition "Union Nationale" party that had held sway for much of the twentieth century, and even at the expense of the English elite that had controlled the province for 200 years.

A central feature of the Quiet Revolution was Hydro Quebec. Living in Baie Comeau, I got to see close up the first mega construction project undertaken by Hydro Quebec, the Manic 5 dam. Baie Comeau is a seaport situated at the mouth of the Manicouagan river. With a 214 metre high dam, people in town wondered what would happen if it ever broke, but I guess being 200 km upstream it didn't exactly keep us awake at night. All the cement and supplies landed at Baie Comeau and were trucked up to the dam during the construction.

In 1963, Hydro Quebec, a government utility, had completed the takeover of all the remaining electric power companies in Quebec, which had been started in 1944. They also insisted that the language of work in the company be French, a key symbolic move that was the beginning of the end of the English elite in Quebec. Just to explain for people who did not live there, up to that time, the language of work for anything above a foreman was generally English. Engineers, managers, accountants etc. were all English speaking in Quebec, although the majority of the population spoke French. Even in hospitals, the doctors were mostly English speaking and the nurses too. A friend of ours was a nurse in the local hospital, and spoke no French at all, regardless of the fact that most patients were French and many spoke no English. All this was starting to change, with Hydro Quebec in the lead. Because they hired so many engineers, the government could also build Universities and colleges to teach engineering (and other subjects of course) to French speaking students. In 1965 I went to the all-English Bishop's University, but the new Universite de Sherbrooke, right nearby was starting to teach for the first time, engineering courses in French. I can remember some discussions about this at Bishop's where the students found this development went against all common sense. "They don't even have any French engineering textbooks. They're all in English!".

This move that was the first of many which eventually led to most of the English elite of Quebec leaving for Ontario during the late seventies. Apparently about 800,000 people left and they took with them many of the biggest businesses in Quebec, including Sun Life Assurance, and the headquarters of the Bank of Montreal. I was also part of that move, leaving with my family in 1979 for Ontario.

Getting back to the Manic 5 dam, one of the difficult problems with this dam was it's remoteness. Not only was Baie Comeau pretty remote already from population centres, but the dam was even further. All the electricity had to be transmitted somehow to the main grid which at the time, Baie Comeau was not on. Hydro Quebec had already started a project under the direction of Jean-Jacques Archambault, to install a 735 kv transmission line between Montreal and the Manicouagan-Outardes complex. In 1962, many American specialists believed 735 kv unrealistic, as the highest voltage lines at the time were standardized to 315 kv. This voltage had the potential to throw a lightning-like spark through the air about 2 meters to anything that is grounded. As a university science student I took some interest in these unprecedented transmission lines. I remember one day in a University class the topic of those lines came up and I actually knew their voltage rating, which shocked the rest of the class. "Why would anybody want to know that?" Hey, it seemed important to me.

As with any pioneering projects, I guess there were some setbacks. In 1998, many of the towers came down in an unprecedented ice storm and there was a lot of criticism and I-told-you-so's. Tom Adams of the watchdog group Energy Probe in Ontario, a supporter of utility privatization, said the outages in Quebec "are the bitter fruits of an overly centralized system." Columnist Henry Aubin in the English language Montreal Gazette said that Hydro Quebec has enjoyed a long run as the "symbol of our engineering know-how and the flagship of Quebec's economy." But following the ice storm, "Hydro-Quebec will become an ex-icon, humbled, no longer entitled to a widespread assumption that it knows what is best for the people." But as far as I know, changes were made, the towers were rebuilt, and are still transmitting power.

One of the biggest gambles made by Hydro Quebec was on building dams while Ontario was building Nuclear generating plants. At this point in time, it seems like the bet on renewable water power paid off, and now Hydro Quebec is starting a new mega project, the Riviere Romaine dam, just south of Labrador.

Propaganda: Adam and Eve and Von Braun

Highly educated people are not immune from propaganda, and here is a short case study.

The famous rocket scientist Werhner Von Braun has often been cited as a scientist who opposed the teaching of evolution.

In a letter to the California State Board of Education, Werhner Von Braun stated:

"There are those who argue that the universe evolved out of a random process, but what random process could produce the brain of man or the system of the human eye? ...To be forced to believe one conclusion – that everything in the universe happened by chance – would violate the very objectivity of science itself."

This case is very interesting, because unlike some of the earlier scientists such as Kepler, Von Braun actually had a chance to live in an age where the works of Charles Darwin had become accepted by the scientific community. Also, Von Braun is a genuine scientist, at least by my standards.

And yet he wrote that letter and is cited by the creationists as a person who opposed teaching Darwinian style evolution. There is obviously a need to look at this closer.

Just a quick background, in case you were not aware: Von Braun was the German rocket scientist who developed the V2 bomb that was used to bomb London and at the end of WW2, chose to surrender to the Americans rather than the Russians. Later rose within NASA to become the head of the USA's manned moon program. Note that Von Braun was not involved in any science that had to do with evolution, such as biology.

Now let's get back to the debate on Adam and Eve. Von Braun did fall under the influence of fundamental Christians after he moved to the USA, and was "saved" by Jesus. Actually this is quite understandable, as Von Braun was somewhat upset with the idea that his rockets had been used by Hitler to kill people rather than travel to the moon. He was already starting to think that one advantage to working for the Americans was that they followed the Bible rather than purely nationalistic warmongering like Stalin or Hitler.

Secondly, he was a seriously compromised person, being an ex-Nazi SS officer, who had not spoken out against the horrors of the Nazis. Since he had obviously already converted to Nazism (apparently against his will) in order to carry on his work, it's not too surprising that he could have converted to a US religion if he thought that might help him carry on rocket work in the USA.

And finally, the statement "that everything in the universe happened by chance" is simply illustrating that Von Braun himself fell for the Christian propaganda - scientists do not claim the world evolved by chance. Natural selection is not "chance", and this is a very common and thoroughly discredited argument often used by creationists. Von Braun simply did not understand the issues clearly, although he may have believed he did. He was simply duped by the Christians into supporting their propaganda.

By combining an agonized personal past with an unchallenged logical fallacy, in a field where a person is not an expert, anyone can be duped by propaganda, no matter how smart and educated they might be.

Propaganda: Quebec vs. the Promised Land

Here is a propaganda related news story I cannot pass up, involving Radio-Canada, which is the French version of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and usually has different (i.e. more liberal) programming than the English language CBC.

A documentary aired on Radio Canada by Sut Jhally called "Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land" about the propaganda war between Israel and the Palestinians. In it, comments were made on the pressure tactics used by Pro-Israeli government lobby groups to pressure TV networks to air only their side of the story. You can probably guess what happened to this documentary as soon as it aired.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Door to Door Missionaries in Quebec

In the last 20 years, churches have made many advances in America. They have gained converts, established private schools, and become a political force to be reckoned with. At the same time, they are rooted in the past, opposing sciences including medical, geological, environmental, and the science of evolution. And even more frightening, they support apocalyptic religious wars, spying on fellow citizens and torture.

But it is important to remember that backward religions are not inevitable. An example of the advance of liberalism against conservative religion occurred in Quebec in the sixties.

Between 1961 and 1971, the rate of religious practice in the highly urbanized diocese of Montreal fell from 61% to 30%. By 1971, Quebec Province as a whole had dropped to between 37 and 45% religious attendance. I don't know what the average attendance in the province was in 1961, but from my own personal observation it might have been as high as 95% among French Canadians.

The Dumont Commission of 1971 concluded "Religious practice is abandoned without drama, as one would throw off an old, ill-fitting garment ... more often, people leave the church without making a sound, sneaking out by the back door."

These were my high school and university years in Quebec. Thinking back, it was an unprecedented historical change in Quebec. In 1961, the Catholic church was all-controlling, and to my mind, backward thinking. There was a lot of religious observance and ritual, but very little in the way of understanding of the message. You probably know what I mean. People piously sitting and kneeling in church, but rushing the door at the end to be the first out of the parking lot, and the resulting traffic jam was always rude and aggressive.

I can remember the actual occurrence when the Catholics in Baie Comeau stopped attending church. There was a strike at the aluminium plant, and during the strike, many people stopped going to church on the rather flimsy excuse that they didn't have the money to put in the collection plate. When the strike was over, they simply didn't bother to go back to church.

This all took place during the "Quiet Revolution", when French Canadians took over the province of Quebec. The province had been run by a small English speaking elite for two hundred years, ever since Quebec was ceded to Britain by France.

For 200 years, the Catholic church had held a dominant position in French Canadian society. Before 1960, most people, both English and French believed that there was some kind of genetic predisposition of French Canadians toward a fundamental Catholicism. However, studying the history of New France before 1760 you would have noticed that the French were not particularly devout Catholics. After the British took over, a deal was struck with the Catholic church where the British governor would ensure payment of tithes by all French Canadians to the church, and the church would have full control of the educational system for the French colonists. In return, it was assumed the church would not incite the French to revolt against the English. The deal held up well until about 1961. By then, the church was rich and had a stranglehold on Quebec. For example, no religious missionaries were allowed to go door to door, particularly the Jehovah's Witnesses. No movies could be shown (in French anyway) that the church did not approve of. Books that were banned by the church could not be found in libraries, or bookstores.

During the time I was in Sierra Leone (1969-72), these Catholic laws had all been repealed. And already, Quebec had become the destination for more missionaries than the entire continent of Africa. Every fundamental church in America tried to fill the spiritual vacuum and was equipping missionaries with French lessons and sending them up to Quebec. I remember just a few weeks after arriving at my apartment in Sherbrooke in 1972, some Mormons appeared at my door. This was the first time I had ever seen religious door-to-door missionaries. I naively invited them in. I had heard of the Mormon church, but only as a kind of joke - like they have a lot of wives. I thought they were just going to come in and chat, then leave. Instead they came in, set up a felt board, and started with a bizarre audiovisual presentation. Then gave me some homework reading and left. When they came back to check up on my studies, I returned their book, and sent them on their way, with them grumbling about me not having the courtesy to read the book they had so kindly left for me.

From then on, I never engaged in any more doorstep "debates" with religious missionaries. And in the Quebec of the seventies, they came by frequently. After a while, the missionary fever subsided, as the various fundamental churches came to the conclusion that French Canadians were not such a fertile ground for the salvation of the Lord. French Canadians in fact started to gain a reputation of being hedonistic. That's how fast things can change when the conditions are right. But honestly, I cannot figure out why people were ready for this change in Quebec during the sixties, except that maybe it went together with throwing off the English ruling minority.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Propaganda: Talk Radio Demagoguery

It is often difficult to tell the difference between truth and fiction in politics, to tell who is the brainwashed sheep and who is the free thinker. But one truth has to stand out above all debate: Nobody has all the answers. The average citizen of any country has learned in their lifetime only an infinitesimal part of the complexity of any civilization. Even the leading "experts" in their fields - economists, politicians, military generals, or scientists, can only do their best. While this may be a thousand times as good as the average person-in-the-street who doesn't even remember one percent of the stuff they learned in high school, which would already be a dumbed down version of an already obsolete textbook, it is still no guarantee of having the right answers.

But in times of stress, where wars and jobs are being lost, security is degraded, and people are on the edge of panic, the average Joe still wants the answers. A responsible leader would tell something close to the truth - that we're doing our best, we're consulting with experts, that stuff like this has worked before. An irresponsible leader will play on the fears and uncertainties, will blame certain people, will claim they alone have all the answers. This irresponsible leader is referred to as a demagogue.

Demagogues, if they manage to gain a majority following are actually dangerous to a democracy. But it is almost impossible to make a law against demagoguery, it's impossible to define. But sometimes you can know it when you hear it.

Rush Limbaugh has a radio show with millions of devoted listeners, who look to him for the truth that they apparently cannot get from anywhere else, as they don't trust the mass media, or the educational system. Here is a conversation from a caller to the show ( I am paraphrasing, but trust me the basic elements of demagoguery are here. If you want the original video, here's a link)

Caller: Rush, what do those Democrats want? Why are they destroying our wonderful Nation?

Rush: It's because they are addicted to power. They can't fight the addiction. An addict can only think of one thing - where is my next fix coming from? They are entirely irrational, and can't help themselves. These people are addicted to power because they think it is their birthright.

Caller: But after they destroy our country, where's their power?

Rush: That's what addicts do, they destroy themselves. And they destroy the things that are most important to them.

Caller: Well, they're doing a good job!

Now unless this is a joke call and I'm not getting it, this "power addiction" explanation could only exist in the very active imagination of somebody who was himself an addict. On the other hand, it is no more fantastic than believing in "The Rapture" and according to a Newsweek poll in 2004, 55% of Americans believe in that!

If Rush Limbaugh himself really believed this alleged addiction to power by Democrats, then why waste time on all the entirely trivial but entertaining issues such as Obama putting mustard on his hamburger, bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia, or not wearing his suit in the Oval Office? All of which according to Rush mean the end of the world as we know it.

The thing is I really do detect the note of panic and desperation in many callers to Rush Limbaugh - or the people yelling "Kill Him" at Sara Palin rallies. If ever, by some horrible stroke of bad luck, this type of mindless panic infects more than half the country, democracy may very well be on its last legs. And as you can plainly hear in the video, this is what Rush is encouraging.

Playing with Words: Black or White

Recently, Paulo Serodio, a naturalized American citizen claimed the right to be called "African American." And subsequently was suspended from college.

Paulo was born in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, which is in fact located in Africa, right next to South Africa. He was white, not black. Which would technically give him the right to call himself a "Mozambican American" or a "Portuguese American", or actually I believe he also has the right to call himself plain "American".

Now "African American" is another story. This is one of the terms which has been used by the US census since 1997 to refer to black people who are Americans. It does not necessarily mean they must be born in Africa, in fact almost zero percent are born in Africa, or have ever seen Africa. It generally means born in America (The United States of America), but having a racial heritage originating from the black people of Africa.

"African" when used to describe people, refers to a racial group, not a place of birth, very similar to the common usage of the terms "Asian" and "European". These terms are for people who, regardless of their birth place, have racial characteristics originating on that continent. Anyone who was actually born in either of those continents would not refer to themselves as European Americans, or Asian Americans if they were not of that race. For example, a black person born in England, emigrated to America and became an American citizen would not call themselves "European American". I suppose they might get away with calling themselves "English American", or "British American", but more likely, "African American".

"African American" is a name which evolved in the eighties by black people to describe themselves. I think Jesse Jackson may have coined the term or popularized it. It is now accepted by a large majority of White Americans, and you hardly ever hear the term negro used any more. This is simply a part of the ever evolving race relations in America.

Paulo is a immigrant who is from the privileged side of a colonial regime in Mozambique. While he was a child he was in a situation probably less enlightened than the segregationist southern USA of the fifties. Now he shows a most singular lack of respect for the more progressive race relations in his adopted country. If he could not figure out for himself that he was not "African American" according to his adopted country's definition, his professor took the time to explain the situation to him. He disregarded the advice to stop calling himself African American. He was not officially suspended for his use of the term African American, but for “conduct unbecoming” a student. I can't say any more about it because I have not seen any reports of what this conduct might have been. But Paulo is obviously not a sensitive guy culturally speaking, and he is in New Jersey. You do the math. I'm pretty sure the answer is not "because he called himself African American".

In any case, I'm sure Paulo would know enough to not put African American on an employment application or resume.

By the way, none of these racial/ethnic terms are factual, all are based on accepted usage. Canadians and Mexicans are both in fact "Americans", as we live in North America. For some reason the USA has grabbed the moniker and we let them have it. Even the South Americans and Central Americans tacitly agree to give up the name American. Canadians are not stupid enough to go to the USA and start fights about whether or not we are American. OK maybe we are stupid enough, but I have never heard about it on the news.

The racial terms "White" and "Black" are obviously also made up. Try googling an image of an albino African. Are they white or black? When I was in Sierra Leone, I never heard them called "white", although I know a black Peace Corps volunteer who was routinely called "white man" by the people in his village. Actually nobody is white according to accepted colour charts - it would be more like beige/pink. Even the shade of colour changes when exposed to the sun. This is not about facts, it's about the meaning of the words. And you would have to be very pig headed indeed to start picking fights with southerners in Alabama about whether or not they were white or pink.

I'm not going to make any suggestions to Paulo, as he has ignored good advice already. But I'm sure the African Americans are not going to let Paulo choose their name for them even if he pretends to need the term African American for himself.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Propaganda: It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp

From September 10, 2004 Erik Rush (A conservative writer wondering why people vote democrat, and proposes the theory that democrat supporters are like prostitutes supporting their pimp - the Democrat politicians.)

Here is an extract from Erik Rush's pro-Republican propaganda piece entitled "Pimp psychology", comparing Democrat supporters to prostitutes supporting the pimp-like Democrat party.

"Something that used to puzzle me – and which I know puzzles a lot of people – is the attitude these women almost universally hold for the men who exploit, abuse and drug (and occasionally even knife) them, all the while taking the lion's share of their income.

Upon closer study, the rationale for these women enduring such treatment becomes apparent: They really believe their pimps care for them. Many are ferociously protective of these guys, routinely covering for them, and even fighting for them – physically, if necessary.

"How could this be?" you may say. Ah, but that's where frame of reference comes in. Granted that all of these unfortunate women start out with severe emotional and self-esteem problems, generated by a wide variety of circumstances. It's these circumstances that lead them to a lifestyle that the average American might find bizarre, but which is often simply a trade-off of one bizarre lifestyle for another.

In other words, it's all they know.

Which brings us back to the Democrat Party."

It's child's play to reverse this analogy to show the Republicans are actually the Pimps.

"Pimps taking the lion's share of the income"???? Pretty obvious: The rich, not the poor, are taking the lion's share of the income, this is actually so much of a no-brainer that you almost wonder how Erik Rush himself can hold such conflicted viewpoints simultaneously. The real pimps are the CEO's of the deregulated corporations such as Enron. Certainly not the ordinary middle class guy who lost his union job and is now greeting people at Wal-Mart. The rich are the hard core of the Republican party, and yes, I know some Republican supporters (e.g. Ann Coulter) claim that the Republicans are really the party of the poor. Well that comes under the definition of delusion which is another characteristic of the whores working for the pimps. It's the Republicans not the Democrats taking the lion's share of the income.

"Prostitutes fighting for their pimps"??? - If so, it's not the Democrats who like to fight for their pimps, it's the Republicans supporters signing up for the military, to secure oil supplies for Exxon Mobil. Blowing up the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma to protest Democrat President Clinton.

"Women start out with severe emotional and self-esteem problems"??? Who has more emotional and self esteem problems: a conservative who carries a loaded gun around with him all the time, or liberal who walks fearlessly down a public street with no weapon. Somebody who lives in a guarded, gated community, or somebody who lives in a public, open neighborhood. Somebody who thinks we should torture prisoners, or somebody who would rather sacrifice security rather than their human morals.

"the men who exploit, abuse and drug" ???? Not sure how the Democrat pimps abuse the Democrat Hoes, maybe with universal health care, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and pensions? No, of course not. It's more like the Republicans to abuse the military vets by cutting VA hospital budgets. And as a drug, America as a country is addicted to oil. The Republican CEO's are trying to make sure that addiction never stops.

I'm sure there are lots more examples. It was so easy to turn around this bit of propaganda, I'm not surprised it was dropped right away from the right wing media. The only grain of truth I could find, that a conservative might be tempted to spin into a full blown delusional fantasy, is based on Black pimps and promiscuous whores. According to Republicans, pimps and whores vote Democrat. In every other way except for these stereotypes, the Pimp psychology is a better fit for the Republicans than the Democrats.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Gullibility Paradox

Back in 1974, I was looking for a way to improve the weak ignition of my Yamaha 250. I was tempted by an ad that ran every month in Cycle magazine, for a product called Cycle See/Dee. It was around the time that the new capacitor discharge ignitions were replacing the conventional points and coil ignitions, and I guess that to me "See/Dee" meant the same as "C.D.". I ordered it and installed it on the bike. I was a little surprised at how it connected into the circuit, basically replacing a two wire into one connector. I did some testing and found no change at all in my ignition performance. Then I got suspicious of the See/Dee versus CD moniker. I decided to take it apart and after chipping away the Bakelite insulator, I found no electronic or electrical components inside. It was nothing but three terminals connected together by ordinary wire inside the insulator.

I felt like I had been duped, and rather than ask for my money back, I sent a letter to Cycle telling them what I had found. My letter was never printed. But I never saw another ad for Cycle See/Dee again. Maybe it was a coincidence? And on later reflection, I wonder if I had even been fair in my testing, and if I was really justified in my letter to Cycle magazine. I tend to have a lot of self doubts due to the numerous mistakes I have made in the course of my life, which I seem to have a hard time forgetting. But at the time, I was pretty sure of myself. And I hate thinking that I'm gullible.

Gullibility is a factor in propaganda, one might say the most important factor. Because not only do gullible people eat up the propaganda directed to them, but they will act on it, and they will only increase their ardour if the enemy attempts to reason with them.

So I went on the Internet looking for some way to detect the amount of gullibility in a particular person. What I found was that most gullibility tests seemed to be designed in particular to fish for gullible people, in order to push some dubious product, service or propaganda at them. And so I came up with the "Gullibility Paradox". Stated simply, a person trying to test their gullibility, is already gullible. And, the less gullible you feel, the more you are.

Notice in the link above, one of the questions will tell you it is true there is an almost infinite supply available of clean hydrogen fuel, which is actually false if you look it up. (Hydrocarbon is the word they were searching for) And that the sponsoring web site has a video touting a perpetual motion machine.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Not So Subliminal Message of Star Trek

The new movie Star Trek came out of Friday, and I would love to do a review, but I'm probably going to wait until I can see it on DVD. That's because Mary Ann and I have a kind of agreement to not drag each other to movies that don't rate at least three stars by Roger Ebert. He gave it two and a half. Close, but if I tried to drag Mary Ann to it, she could retaliate by dragging me to "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" (**) or "The Soloist" (**1/2).

So no review of the movie yet, but since I am not Roger Ebert, I don't need to see a movie to write something.

Star Trek came out the first year I went to university, and I was a fan right away. It didn't seem at all cheesy to me, and in addition to the visual effects, there was also social, and psychological commentary. But no real scientific interest. At the time I was also a fan of science fiction which usually has some interesting scientific "what if" observations. As far as I could see, Star Trek had no scientific observations. The sliding doors, the warp drives, the photon torpedoes, phasers, the teleporters were all just a way of projecting what was essentially a nineteenth century warship into the future. The nineteenth century just keeps coming back in our collective psyches - the era of cowboys, the new frontier, steamships, and Pax Britannica. It seems like everyone who has a solution for the ills of the modern world wants to go back to that time of alleged human perfection.

The main social commentaries in Gene Roddenberry's version of Star Trek were on the unity of all humankind (as we called it "mankind"), and the relationship of advanced civilizations to primitive in the Prime Directive. Psychologically, we were examining the thought process of a Vulcan, who was more logical and less emotional than a mere human. Spock, the Vulcan, was contrasted with the other more emotional members of the Crew, including Kirk, the captain. If things were really fair, Spock probably should have been captain - but then Kirk's crazy escapades always resulted in success. How are you going to beat luck like that?

I think we were always a little muddled on the social commentary. According to the Prime Directive, the Federation of Planets (i.e. the crew of the Enterprise) were not supposed to meddle in any way in the development of primitive planets. These were sometimes defined as planets who had not developed deep space travel - ironically kind of like Earth even now. And yet they often did meddle, and usually some justification was found in an obscure sub paragraph of the original directive that we never heard of before. You could certainly draw a parallel back in the sixties to the colonial system - and the Vietnam war.

Then what about the racial and national integration of the crew? Russian, Chinese, Black, even a half Vulcan from another planet. Also a woman - although she was just a communications officer (i.e. receptionist). But at the time it was breakthrough stuff, and it made us think. Notice there were no Canadians in the crew, which we in Canada found quite normal - although we could always remind ourselves that William Shatner was originally a Canadian. (And so was Scotty!! -update Dec 2012)

According to Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), Martin Luther King felt that Star Trek was the first show to portray a black person as an equal. And he asked to her to not quit the show after the first season.

What happened to the idealism of the baby boomers during the late sixties, with peace, love, protests, and drugs? We thought we were going to change the world. Here we are forty years later, and what have we accomplished? We started with a muddled view of protesting the "Establishment" then gradually we got absorbed by the consumer culture. Because people today prefer entertainment to preaching idealism, the same watering down had to happen to the Star Trek message.

Propaganda: The Subliminal Message of Hellburger

Recently, Barack Obama and Joe Biden went on a little road trip to Ray's Hellburger in Arlington Virginia with the supposed purpose of ordering a burger for lunch. This triggered a firestorm of criticism from the right wing media, everything from "why did he choose a place called Hellburger?" to "What kind of man orders a burger with Dijon mustard instead of ketchup?".

A message for right wing host Laura Ingraham: ordering Dijon mustard is not a sign that men love each other at Hellburgers. Maybe if Obama had ordered "an Au Poivre burger with a black peppercorn crust, aged Danish bleu cheese, cognac and sherry sauteed mushrooms, and grilled red onions." you could call that a fagburger. But at Ray's Hellburger it is called the B.I.G. Poppa.

Of course, any intelligent person, liberal or conservative understands this lunch break was what we call a photo-op. I'm not trying to be insulting about the "intelligent" but come on, nobody can think that driving 40 people and eight armoured SUV's out to Arlington would be less expensive than sending out a car with one guy to get the burgers. The whole event was obviously just to manipulate the public image of President Obama. The question is, what was Obama trying to accomplish, and did he succeed?

On the surface, you might think he failed, because the right wing press accused him of pretending to be a real guy "hangin out with his 'bro", and so they made him look like a phony instead of a real guy.

But propaganda works on a subconscious level. The real story is perception of security. Obama is the most threatened president ever. There are more Americans who could potentially try to assassinate him than any other president. We don't think about it all the time, as the security tries to be discreet. But it is not a pretty picture.

This photo-op shows us that Obama can mix in with ordinary people without a crowd of secret service people around him, without a bulletproof plexiglass shield, and order his own burger and even take his own sweet time about it. The "real guy" message is irrelevant. The most important message is Obama is not afraid to stand in line at a burger joint for fear of an assassin's bullet.

There are many ways that Obama is trapped by the security situation. I'm sure Obama would also like to send his kids to a public school but how long do you think that would last before some lunatic burst into the school with a dynamite corset and blew up a lot of innocent kids? Nobody is going to sacrifice their kids, or even their classmates to polish their image.

I have done a few blogs about motorcycling self defence. But it is based on the idea that nobody wants to kill me because nobody cares who I am. With the president of the USA security is a difficult job, and the secret service has lost a few over the years. But pushing the security envelope in a controlled situation has long term advantages. That's true for any kind of defence strategy. After this story hit the press, some one might decide to begin hanging out at Hellburger, waiting patiently with a gun for the next time the President needs a burger. If they do, they will be easily scooped up for questioning. I'm pretty sure the secret service likes to occasionally yank the chain of would be assassins and see what comes out from under the rock, instead of just waiting, hoping to be lucky enough to jump in front of a bullet.