Friday, April 30, 2010

The Transition from Liberal to Conservative Made Easy

Another in my "made easy series", how a person transforms from a liberal to a conservative.

Winston Churchill once remarked that a young person who was a conservative had no heart and an older person who was a liberal had no intelligence.

I think, for the most part, that people do start out their lives as liberals, and with time gradually turn to being conservative. If so, that is going to mean conservative politics will dominate for a while as the baby boomers become older and one by one, turn conservative.

My own conservative "awakening" has not happened yet, but already I can begin to see the pressure mounting that would normally push me over the edge, if I only had a brain.

Let's go back to the time when people just start to form their own political point of view, possibly after high school. That's about when you get to vote for the first time, but as a young person you don't really care that much. A young person at that age accepts the world as a place that has never changed and never will. That is because, during their own short experience, the world has not changed, and by logical extension, never will. So politics has no meaning, no matter who gets in power.

Now maybe I was particularly isolated as a child, living in the remote paper mill town of Baie Comeau. I did not have the opportunity to observe poverty, or wealth, as it was a strictly middle class town with both ends of the wealth spectrum missing. We had no visible minorities, our main concerns were around French vs. English or to a much lesser degree, Catholic vs. Protestant. I did not even get to see any old people. There was no senior citizens' home, and 50% of the population was under 16 years old. I first saw large numbers of old people when I moved to Sherbrooke, and took a city bus.

During a person's twenties, observations take place. You begin to notice such things as poverty, for example. During this period of time, there are a lot of major concerns that come up. My first one was a strong desire to see the world. That seemed more important than getting a car or a job.

Seeing the world as a young person is something that is likely to turn you liberal. You get to see the inequalities in life, and learn about social justice. Because you are young, you are not likely to blame third world poverty on "laziness", the way an older person might. Older people have put in thousands of days of hard work already in their lives, and often have a high opinion of themselves as a "hard worker" who earned everything they got, whether that view is justified or not. Young people are not yet thinking that way.

A younger person travelling in the world is likely to have a good opinion of foreigners, as young travellers often make friends in places that they go, and are treated well by locals. On the other hand, young people travelling abroad are often treated badly and hassled by the authorities, leading to a negative view of "THE MAN". This also undermines the typical conservative law and order bias.

Now moving ahead, to marriage, kids, and settling down. All of this usually takes place close to home. Having kids arouses protective instincts, and often this is the time that owning a house becomes an issue. At this stage, things begin to change rapidly toward conservatism. No longer do you have nothing to lose, like most liberals. You are becoming a land owner, and so you have much to lose. Now you can worry about theft, about the neighbourhood becoming a slum. That worry is the beginning of the conservative mindset. Suddenly you are concerned for the first time about how nice the lawns are, about how many and what type of weeds are springing up, not only on your own lawn, but your neighbour's lawn too. You don't fear police protection any more, you want more of it. And you are now not too far away from fearing that visible minorities might move in to your neighbourhood. This is the time that you might finally become one of those bigots that you mocked as a young person. I'm not saying it is sure to happen, but you are exposed to the pressures, and you may have neighbours around you to heighten your fears. Not only is this happening to you, but to most of your friends of the same age.

Let's go forward another decade or so. Your kids are going to school, you have a "good" job. You are worried now about how your kids are going to make out in life. They do not seem to have the same priorities as you do, about work, and money. They just want to goof off and have fun. They don't listen to your music, or dress the way you want them to dress. They don't hang out with kids that you want them to hang out with. They don't care about money, which is actually yours anyway. Now for the first time, you become aware that there is a generational gap, and now there is a generation younger than yours, and they have disturbing ideas. One of those disturbing ideas is that welfare is a viable career path. Now you begin to question for the first time the need for welfare, unemployment insurance, and any government benefit at all (except the Canada Pension Plan, that you might need in the not too distant future)

You are now paying a fair amount in taxes. You may start reading more, and listening to the news, to find out what is being done with all the tax money you are paying. What you want to hear is that it is being used to hire cops and throw people in jail. Also, that it is being used to beat down foreign countries that are trying to steal the wealth of rich countries like Canada. You do not really want to hear that it is being used to help immigrants flood into Canada, or to help equalize trade with poorer countries. All these developments are now seen as threats, if not to you, to your children who still seem unconcerned about getting a job.

So, you start reading the National Post. You find the writings of Mark Steyn in MacLeans' magazine, and they are a revelation to you. When Mark says "it's the end of our white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant way of life" you finally understand him, and a bond is formed. Now you are nearing the end of your transition from liberal to conservative. But there is still more.

Now that you trust Fox News, The National Post, Mark Steyn, Ann Coulter, and Pat Robertson as the true source of all knowledge, you begin to distrust science itself. After all, your own death is approaching now, and this is not the time to be mocking Christianity. You begin to turn to God and the supernatural. And since the end is approaching, you have no time for Al Gore and his scaremongering about the "future" global warming that you will never live to see anyway. You want, and need, to keep burning those fossil fuels. Drill anywhere you can for the last bit of oil if you have to, to keep gas under a buck a litre, even if it means more oil spills (unless it is on your own cottage waterfront of course). And for heaven's sake, we don't want to see those horrible three bladed wind turbines rearing their oh-so-ugly heads somewhere on the horizon, causing cancer and doing nothing but wasting taxpayers' money.

OK now I have laid out the entire transition from naive innocent young liberal to wise, rich, old conservative. According to the demographics of the baby boom, we are going to have a lot more old people than young people for about 40 more years. I think it's going to get very conservative out there.

Picture: How conservatives imagine a liberal brain would look, if they actually had one. This image is from Conservapedia, the conservative answer to all the lies and distortions of truth in Wikipedia.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Axes and Vise Grips

Yesterday, I was helping remove a dead battery from a Yamaha Majesty scooter belonging to a friend. Once the battery is dead in a scooter, you can't drive or push-start it, and the Majesty has no kick start either, so I drove to the dead scooter with my set of tools. My Allen key wrenches were not up to the job, and before long I found myself asking if he had an axe and vice grips in his tool shed.

In case some of you are very young, by "Axe", I don't mean a sexy deodorant. It is a sharp bladed tool with a wooden handle.

That takes me back to when I was a teenager. Then I knew very little about working on cars and bikes, but I did notice that my father would often be out repairing the family car with nothing more than an axe and vise grips. Being a kind of wise-ass back then, I managed to concoct a fair number of side splittingly funny comments on this. But here I was, in the year 2010, working with an axe and vise grips like he did.

I never intended to become exactly like my father. When I got my first motorcycle, my initial tool kit consisted of a shiny metric ratchet set, in addition to the specialized tool kit that came with the bike. With time, I added more and more tools, including vise grips. But it took at least twenty years before, I finally decided to buy an axe.

The main reason my father used an axe for almost everything was multi-faceted. Number one, he had a lot of axes. Wherever you were around our house, there was always an axe somewhere near at hand, except in the vicinity of the TV, as that would have been extremely dangerous during the Saturday hockey game. Anyhow, by the fourth law of auto mechanics, the axe got used a lot simply because one was always the object closest at hand. Furthermore, my Dad was a forester, also known as "lumberjack". He didn't like to use the term lumberjack, although he started out as one, but progressed to many other jobs such as mapping, surveying, fighting forest fires, and doing logging inspections. But until he retired he was basically working in the forest, and around lumberjacks, and carrying an axe was not considered weird. Third, and by no means the least important, he was extremely skilled at using an axe. By that, I mean the axe head went where it was intended to go, with the amount of force necessary to get whatever job done, and no horrible accidents ever happened resulting from deflections or flying shrapnel There were stories of lumberjacks shaving with their axes, but I never saw my father do this. For recreation, it can be thrown at targets. But whatever you do, do not use an axe like a Frisbee, because that is dangerous.

The only other profession to use axes as much as foresters, are firefighters. Firefighting a job where you are not sure exactly what you will need to do, but whatever you bring better be damned useful and get the job done quickly. Hence, the axe.

During my teenage years, he built a log cabin during his spare time. Axes are incredibly useful for building log cabins. Actually, not so much for the new kind of prefabricated log cabins, delivered by truck with each log preshaped and numbered for assembly. But yes, for the type of log cabin where you walk into the woods for about an hour carrying an axe, stop in some random spot, and start cutting down trees and building a cabin. When he was finished, the cabin looked quite beautiful. I would be lying to say no other tools were used. However, the axe was used to chop trees, shave off the bark, flatten two sides of the logs, notch the ends, drive nails, split wood for the fire, and many other odd jobs.

Although he didn't have much of a formal education (he said grade four, but many in his family seemed to remember most of that was playing hooky.) Anyway, it didn't matter too much, as the stuff he missed probably would have been mostly religious stuff anyway. Instead, he was keen on learning about the rest of the world outside his isolated fishing community in Quebec. That would explain why he voluntarily joined the Canadian Army as soon as WW2 broke out. He was later transferred to the British Royal Engineers, which I used to think meant he was an engineer, but actually the Royal Engineers was a place that lots of non-engineers ended up, because a lot of it was unappealing work like digging foxholes, latrines, building bridges and clearing mines. And some of that is also done under fire.

I can not remember him ever without an axe, but he didn't always have vise grips. I see from Wikipedia, that, they were invented way back in 1924. But they became very popular during my youth, when my father acquired some. I guess he was finding an ever increasing need to do and undo nuts and bolts, which was difficult with an axe. And vise grips were starting to be put to many new ingenious uses as more and more people bought them.

So that brings me up to present day. The Yamaha Majesty had a couple of Allen screws that were on too tight, and the Allen key had rounded the hole. So I started with vise grips, which just slipped off. Then I got a chisel and hammer to notch the side of the bolt and turn it by hammer blows. It also didn't work, so I simply asked if there was a bigger hammer. That's when the axe made its appearance, and with a few axe taps, the screw surrendered.

Picture: I don't need to show vise grips or locking pliers, but many people do not know what a "real" axe looks like, at least judging by how long it took me to find a decent picture on the Internet.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Invisible Hand that Cleaned Up the Environment

I had not been made aware of the body of work by Pierre Desrochers, until I was sent this "Earth Day" article by a friend. According to the article, Pierre Desrochers is professor of geography at the University of Toronto and associate researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute.

I looked it up, just to be sure, and his own web page says he is "associate" professor of geography at the University of Toronto (in Mississauga), but on sabbatical leave this year. I will not get into a discussion of the difference between associate professor and professor, but I had a friend who went through this process, and it is quite a big difference. You can find Pierre's article here in the National Post.

This article has many "hot button" statements, so I am not surprised, from the tone of it, that Pierre is regularly attacked by scientists and "greenies". Not physically, or course, I mean like what I am doing here, which is to try to point out what is wrong with his statement. I'm just trying to do my bit in the cause of truth and fairness.

The statement I picked out for my own response is this one by Pierre Desrochers:
"It was not heavy regulation or green activism that was primarily responsible for improved environmental quality over the last few decades but rather a process inherent in the market economy, leading to ever more efficient innovations and an ever more economical use of resources. When will we see an Earth Day where it is finally recognized that the market’s “invisible hand” also has a green thumb?"
With that type of statement, it is not surprising to find that Pierre is getting a lot of his work published in the conservative Canadian newspaper "The National Post", or that he is working for the Montreal Economics Institute, which has been getting a reputation as a pro-free market think tank.

This statement directly contradicts self evident truth. So apparently it was not the environmentalists who pushed for a clean environment, it was "the invisible hand of the free market"?  This is, in my opinion, a bald faced lie. An attempt to not only revise, but actually "erase" the public perception of what went on in the last 40 or so years.

There were countless initiatives by grass roots activists, some of which led to big changes, for example Greenpeace fighting against nuclear testing, including the death of a Greenpeace activist and the bombing, and sinking of their ship "Rainbow Warrior" by the French Special Forces. But let me focus on something different, in one area only, one that I had personal involvement with, although not as an activist, but as a regular Joe car driver. Probably similar to everybody else who might read this blog. I am referring to the 40 year struggle to clean up automobile tailpipe emissions.

In the struggle to clean up tailpipe emissions, I don't need to look up anything in Wikipedia, because I practically lived it, as did anyone who ever lifted the hood of a car in anger since 1969. The result of the struggle is that today, car tailpipes are ten times cleaner than 40 years ago. I don't need an emissions test on my Matrix to tell me that. (although I do have to get an emissions test to renew my stickers). I can just wipe my finger inside the tailpipe and it comes out practically clean after over 100,000 km. of driving. On the other hand, I only need to ride my 1970 Honda CD175 around the city once to come home "smelling of motorcycle" as Mary Ann puts it.

The clean tailpipe movement started in California, as an answer to the smog which was choking the city and suburbs. It was not started by "The invisible hand of the Free market", but by grass roots activists and government legislation in California. It was fought every step of the way by the automobile manufacturers, and many regular car drivers like me, who objected to all these controls being placed on our cars and tried to defeat them. Did we ever blame the car companies for inventing these "clean tailpipe" technologies, as we regularly ripped them out of the cars? No, we blamed the extremists in the environmental movement. Everybody knew the car companies were against the controls. To be fair, some car companies were hard at work researching the problem to produce cleaner cars, but those were the Japanese companies, especially Honda and Toyota. GM, Ford and Chrysler, on the other hand tried every trick in the book to get around the controls, and one of the best was to get their cars classified as "trucks" to take advantage of a loophole in the laws. We all know where that went, as today more than half the "cars" stuck in traffic jams are SUVs and pickup trucks. Partly resulting from their over-emphasis on trucks and SUV's rather than research and development, both GM and Chrysler declared bankruptcy last year, while Toyota became the world's biggest automaker. Now that result might have had something to do with the "invisible hand of the free market", if it ever existed.

For at least 40 years, friends, relatives, car magazine articles, were all telling me that those crazy environazis were "ramming pollution controls down our throats". Frankly, I believed it myself. So now, with clean exhaust pipes pretty much a reality, the corporate spin machine is rewriting history. The new "reality" is that it wasn't the environazis after all who forced us to clean up the tailpipes. Now we are to forget everything we knew, and blindly believe that it was the invisible hand of the free market that brought us clean cars. This kind of blatant propaganda could only work if the public at large had an exceedingly bad memory, or were actually sheep. I don't think it will work, because so many of us actually were poking around under the hoods of cars. But just to make sure, I will ask the car mechanic a question, the next time I go for my "Clean Air" emissions test. I'll ask "Who is responsible for us having to get our tailpipes checked every 2 years?". Unless he or she is a regular reader of the National Post, and just bought their first car this year, I'm pretty sure I know what the answer will be.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Sudden Unintended Acceleration Death Not Blamed on Toyota

As I read this story, involving sudden unintended acceleration, I immediately thought that it could not have been a Toyota. I'm going to assume it was not a Toyota, as there was no mention of the make of car in the story. Instead, Tim Horton's is wondering if then need to revise the design of their Drive-Thrus.

But the simple and sad fact is, that the driver made a mistake. I don't know if they teach this in driver ed classes any more, but surely there must be a rule you do not open a door and lean your head out of a car that is running and in gear with no parking brake on. The fact that the car moved unexpectedly while the driver was reaching the ground to pick up something would not normally be blamed on the car. Nor should it be blamed on the design of the drive-thru, no matter how much I dislike Tim Horton's drive-thrus.

Picture: This is a scale model Tim Horton's, in case you were wondering. And no, we never see that many police cars in the parking lot unless there is a death in the drive-thru lane.

Buying New Car Tires

Last week I had to order a new set of tires for my car, which got me thinking about the history of car tires.

What I noticed first, when researching which tires to get, was that the selection process seems to be getting more complicated all the time. When I first started buying tires, you got to choose bias ply or radial. There was no Google to confuse the issue. No Tirerack.com with thousands of tests, graphs, owner surveys, or reviews.

Now a quick history. Most, if not all, car tires today are radial tires. The radial tire apparently was patented in 1915 by Arthur W. Savage, who was most famous for inventing and manufacturing the removable box magazine in firearms. Although apparently Savage also founded a tire company, I could not find any evidence that they successfully produced or sold a radial tire.

http://www.design-engine.com/feature.php?feature=84

The actual mass manufacturing and marketing of radial tires got started with Michelin in France after WW2. I never heard of radial tires until Michelin got into the business of exporting them to America and Canada in the mid 1960's. American companies were slow to adapt, as a radial tire requires a completely different manufacturing process. At first, the big American companies such as Goodyear and Firestone, tried a hybrid tire. Partly radial, partly biased ply, this tire was called the "Bias belted" tire. When the big auto companies started equipping their new cars with radials, Firestone did a rushed conversion which screwed up big time and resulted in the largest consumer recall in US history, as the belts separated inside the tires at speed.

Today we have winter, summer and all season tires to choose from. We also have extremely long life tires compared to the good old days. The tires I am replacing still have a little tread left at over 80,000 km. (I don't know exactly because I also have winter tires.) Tires come in different profiles. Years ago, the tires only profile was 100%, meaning the height was equal to the width. Now we have tires that are flatter and wider than before. My Matrix came with 55% profile, which is a surprisingly low, wide tire for a car that does not compete in Formula 1 races.

Low profile tires are possible with the technology of today, and are very popular on custom cars. The look of wide tires appeals to many men. Surprisingly few women care one way or another, according to informal surveys I have conducted. Another reason the low profile tires are popular is that they allow for a larger diameter wheel. Large diameter wheels can have a dramatic appearance when they are made of sculpted alloy.

Those of us who prefer skinny, tall tires are pretty much out of luck. I am also not too fond of the imprecise straight-line tracking of the low profile wide tires, or the way they tend to aquaplane more easily, especially on slushy roads. But they do grip well otherwise, and the car doesn't feel like you are riding on jelly filled doughnuts when rounding corners.

It took me quite a long time to come up with the tire I wanted to buy, finally picking the Michelin Primacy MXV4. But I didn't come to my decision based on research. I finally decided when I saw the MXV4 installed on a friend's car, a Pontiac Pursuit. Then I found out that last year Consumer Reports rated the tire as the best H rated all-season tire.

Strangely, I bought all-season tires despite having specialized winter tires in the garage. That's because "all season" refers to Florida, not Canada. I could not find any reasonable summer tire other than ultra-high performance types that are stiff and wear out quickly.

The one thing that really bugs me about tires is not the handling or grip, it is how they can start to vibrate after a while. The vibration on the highway is not only annoying, but it stresses the various suspension parts and causes them to need replacement too. And apparently, vibration is not caused just by imbalance (which can be easily corrected), but by suspension wear, and by uneven construction of the tire, or even by belts slipping within the tire during use.

So in the end I decided against getting a cheap tire and worrying about vibration and balancing difficulties, and I just went with a top rated tire from a well known manufacturer. Although even among the bewildering variety of Michelin tires it was hard to pick which one was best for me.

Picture: Not my tire, although you can maybe tell by the US penny. Those penny tire testing gauges are much more affordable now in Canada with our money at par. Also, my old Goodyear RSA's are much more worn than the tire in the picture.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Connection Between Abolitionists and the War of 1812

The War of 1812 might not have happened without the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

In 1807, the British Parliament passed a law against the slave trade, although not against slavery itself.

This law came after many years of a campaign for the abolition of slavery that had been fought in England, led by William Wilberforce. The abolitionists really wanted the end of slavery, but their motions were defeated year after year.

In 1807, Britain was at war with France, and no British ships were allowed to trade with the French. Many British slave ships had converted to the US flag in order to continue selling slaves to French colonies. The slave trade was particularly important to the French Colonies, because the slave ships that sold the slaves also transported the sugar that the colonies produced.

The abolitionists backed an anti-slave trade law that was promoted as a way to cripple France's trade. The Slave Trade Law of 1807 said (among other things) that it was illegal for any British subject to be involved with the slave trade.

While researching this aspect of history, I was confused about the actual enforcement. On the internet, I found references to slave captains being fined a fixed amount for each slave aboard their ship, which apparently led to slave ship captains throwing slaves overboard to avoid fines. On the other hand, the Slave Trade Act of 1807 clearly states that any slave ship shall be forfeit.

http://www.pdavis.nl/Legis_06.htm

Also confusing was the fact that the Americans passed their own law against the slave trade the same year. But they were not in a position to vigorously enforce their law, like the Royal Navy was. Also, the war between Britain and France encouraged the enforcement of the anti slave trade law by Britain.

In any case, it resulted in increased searches and seizures of ships flying the American flag, by the British navy.

There is also a connection with Sierra Leone, as the city of Freetown was the place that slaves on seized ships were set free by the Royal Navy.

Royal Navy ships continued to stop and search American ships for several more years, and became one of the well-known causes of the US government declaring war on Britain in 1812. What is not so well known is that there was a connection between the war of 1812, and the campaign to abolish the slave trade.

The abolitionists' campaign carried on, and eventually, the actual practice of slavery would be declared illegal.

Update on Obama's Accomplishments

Time for another review of Obama's accomplishments. My previous blog Aug 29, 2009, was comparing Bush and Obama to Hitler to see who wins. But this time I'm not joking, and there is more history to look at.

Obama's reign, according to the pro-Obama and con-Obama sides shape up in these web pages.

- Accomplishments in tyranny and socialism

- Accomplishments in undoing the damage of the Bush years (facebook page)

When it comes to accomplishments, it is not the longest list that wins. Some items are obviously more important than the others. Some "accomplishments" are things that any President might have done. So I would like to just go over the major issues.

The Economy

The Bush administration had been dedicated deregulators, and proud of it. But even they conceded that intervention was needed when the economy crashed at the end of their eight years. Their kind of intervention was to simply give the taxpayer's money, no strings attached, to the banks and let them bail themselves out. The banks eventually took obscene bonuses from the bailout, and are still fighting tooth and nail for more.

Obama's first accomplishment was to get the crashing economy turned around by passing the stimulus bill and by insisting on some changes, such as a new CEO at General Motors, and the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler. Now, the stock market has recovered, job losses seem to have stopped, the economy looks set for some modest growth. It could have been much worse without Obama's intervention. I call it an accomplishment.

Now Obama seems set to tackle the financial industry, to re-impose regulations to keep them from crashing the economy again. The fight has only just begun, but it seems like he is willing to go head-to-head, and a small number of Republicans may be willing to side with him.



Foreign Affairs

Obama has not withdrawn US troops from the middle East, and in fact decided to increase numbers in Afghanistan, while drawing them down in Iraq. This cannot be considered an accomplishment, unless of course they capture Bin Laden or emerge victorious from their fight with the Taliban. But victory in Afghanistan is not the only measure of success in foreign affairs. And if the fight in Afghanistan helps to ensure world security, that itself could be a measure of success.

Obama's priority is actually securing loose nuclear weapons and material. To that end, he needs to get the cooperation of Russia and China in preventing Iran from achieving nuclear capability. And he needs Pakistan to remain secure from takover by the Taliban. So everything he does, including the fight in Afghanistan, should be judged in whether it is helping on the nuclear weapons issue world-wide.

Lately, Russia and China have both come on board with the USA in trying to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And Pakistan is waging a fight against the Taliban inside their own borders. All three countries believe they benefit from the USA taking on the terrorists inside Afghanistan.

What really helped most in getting the Russians on board was scrapping the anti ballistic missile defence that Bush tried to set up in Eastern Europe. In my opinion Obama made a smart move, but to many Republicans this was a surrender.

Obama's accomplishments in creating world peace and security are always going to be viewed negatively by the Republicans, because their only definition of success is US domination over the world. Obama has never ascribed to their theory of world domination, and so he is taking the cooperative road to world peace.

Another political problem at home is that many peace activists are upset with him over troop levels in Afghanistan. My own feeling is that keeping the troops in Afghanistan has helped in the larger goal of nuclear containment. His decision was a wise one judged by the standard of total world peace, although not particularly useful so far in creating victory in Afghanistan.

Israel-Palestine

I'm going to make this a separate heading from Foreign Affairs, because it is an anomaly. There is a religious fundamentalist aspect to this that comes from within the USA. Obama already faces disguised racist outrage at home, and I'm guessing he thinks that the Israeli issue is best managed by leaving it alone. Not like Bush did, which was to encourage the Israelis to attack the Palestinians, and undermine his Secretary of State's attempts at fairness (Both Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice). Obama is treading the middle line by issuing strongly worded statements about freezing the settlements, and simultaneously strongly worded statements about US support for Israel. The best Obama might be able to do is to let Hilary the deal with it, to stop it from getting worse for the next four years. No solution in sight yet for this one.


Health Care

This is a separate category, because it was a major campaign promise, and the US was the only country without public health care. I call this an accomplishment so far. Obama did it by making health care insurance mandatory, instead of setting up a government run system. A private insurance health care system was the best route for Obama, because more government intervention was very unpopular in the USA, especially after the economy crashed and needed to be bailed out. Essentially, private insurance helps keep government expenses and taxes lower, while still making health care universal. By making enrollment (and payment of premiums) compulsory, Obama reduced the need to raise taxes. His opponents were not able to stop the momentum of universal health care, when it was introduced as private sector insurance reform. You may call this trickery, but it is very similar to trickery that was needed over a hundred years ago to abolish slavery.

The Environment

It's an important category, and Obama is basically on the side of green. But it's pretty obvious to me he has turned his attention to other things for the time being.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Media Coverage of Lexus Stability Control Recall

Here is a typical report in the press.

"The company, based in Toyota City, Japan, last week halted production and sales of the SUV after Consumer Reports issued a “don’t buy” recommendation, saying the GX 460 may be prone to rolling over in emergency driving conditions. The magazine, published by the non-profit Consumers Union in Yonkers, New York, issued its rating on April 13."

Here is a more complete story.

The fault I see with most reporting about the Lexus is this. There seems to be some kind of underlying assumption that "Stability Control Software" will stop a vehicle from rolling over, which is not true. It is designed to stop a vehicle from losing control going through a turn, by applying brakes on one side of the vehicle to straighten it out in case it begins to slide sideways.

But in no way does the software improve the resistance to rollover, which is a function of height of the centre of gravity and width of the wheel track. And in no way does it improve traction, which depends on the road surface and tire design.

Where stability control is useful is in preventing the car from beginning to slide sideways, which is more complicated than you might think.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stability_control

"When ESC detects loss of steering control, ESC automatically applies the brakes to help "steer" the vehicle where the driver intends to go. Braking is automatically applied to individual wheels, such as the outer front wheel to counter oversteer, or the inner rear wheel to counter understeer. Some ESC systems also reduce engine power until control is regained. Electronic stability control does not improve a vehicle's cornering performance; rather it helps to minimize a loss of control."


So the car, when skidding is detected, will attempt to straighten it out and send it "where you intended it to go", and if you think about it for a second, how does the software know where you intended to go when skidding around a curve? ESC works reasoably well if you are rounding a curve and hit a smallish patch of ice, then end up back on pavement. In that case, the software will do a better job than the human in deciding where you wanted to go, as the loss of control is very sudden, so is the regaining of traction, and the ESC will simply try to get you back on course once traction is re-established. The recovery is very fast, and it is based on where were you going before the skid, and once the skid is recovered, the steering is back in the driver's hands.

Some stability control systems are more "controlling" than others. Some drivers prefer a less intrusive control, these would be the better drivers, with more experience and sharp reflexes. Some drivers would prefer to give more control to the computer, those would be typified by my mother.

When a driver is deliberately provoking a skid, I'm guessing that the ESC would have a harder time telling where the driver intends to go. In some cases, admittedly rare, it may send you straight into a dangerous situation.

Consumer Reports managed provoked a sideways skid in one of their tests. The obvious solution would be to ratchet up the control a bit in the software. I personally would like to see this under driver control rather than pre-set at the factory or the dealers' anyway. Put a knob on the dashboard and let me dial it in myself from 0 (no ESC) to 10 (Max ESC).

The connection between stability control and rollovers is simply this: If you manage to provoke a sideways skid, and the wheels hit a curb while sliding sideways, the car will possibly roll over. This will not be as likely to happen if you hit a curb head on. But the ESC does not actually improve the car's rollover resistance or the traction of the tires, it simply tries to keep the front of the car ahead of the back of the car while skidding. That may keep the car from rolling over, but may not prevent it from going somewhere that you didn't want to go.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Two More Pet Peeves with the Media

Some of my most frequent pet peeves are people in the media "explaining" an issue in a completely ass-backwards way. So part of the fun of writing a blog is to put out my own take on an issue that has been poorly explained to the public by the TV and newspaper media. Two such stories come to mind today.

First is Canada's new rules for mortgages, tightening up the requirements for obtaining and keeping a mortgage. I didn't keep track of which news person said this, but I'll bet she was not alone. She was talking to an expert, and asked "This probably means that the average home buyer will have to be paying more for their house. How much more will we have to pay?". If you spotted the error already, good for you! The error is this: By tightening up the credit rules, home buyers will pay LESS for their homes, not more. You heard that right. Most people buy homes on credit, that's what a mortgage is all about. They usually buy the most expensive house that they can afford. The person who tells them what they can afford is the banker who approves the mortgage, and the bankers do the calculation according to set rules, based on the buyer's financial position. When you tighten up the rules, you are effectively saying "You cannot afford this $500,000 house, therefore we reject your mortgage request. However, we would be able to approve of a mortgage for $350,000". The numbers here are just an example, but it gives you the idea that people will be spending less. Even for people who buy a smaller house than their limit, they will pay less because they will not be extended as much credit, therefore less interest to pay.

My second complaint was stirred up by a comment by one or more meteorologists, that they are better able to predict global warming than climatologists. (March 29, 2010 New York Times). I know this story is almost a month old, but I'm actually focusing on a problem with the entire meteorological business, that has been going on for a while. The weathermen and women on TV keep pounding us with the message that "warm is good" and "sunshine is good". It sounds something like this "We have some good news for the weekend, sunny and warm with no chance of rain." Listen to the weather forecasts yourself, and in about 99% of them, the meteorologist attaches the words "good news" to any report of sunny and warm, and some variation of "bad news" to any rain, snow or cold.

The one exception is when a forest fire is destroying million dollar homes in California. Then they switch around the good to bad.

This attitude is not scientific, which confirms my opinion that most of these weather girls and men are more announcers than scientists. But for heaven's sake, do not make your pretty faces even redder by claiming to have greater scientific knowledge of climate change than climatologists. Meteorologists have a hard time predicting 5 days ahead, and have been totally brainwashed into thinking warmer is better. These are not the people to be deciding if it is good or bad that the climate gets 5 degrees warmer in the next hundred years.

Picture: It looks like a Spanish language station, so just to be clear, I didn't choose the picture because their forecasts are worse, but because their forecasters are better looking.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Biker's Guide to Dutton, Ontario

It was a perfect day for motorcycling, 25c and sunny. I spent the day visiting my mother in Dutton, Ontario. I don't think anybody has ever done a tourist guide to Dutton, so I will be the first. When I tell people my mother lives in Dutton, they assume I grew up there, but that's not true. My mother moved to Dutton from Quebec, 30 years ago, after my Dad retired. So I am an impartial observer of goings on in Dutton.

Dutton's biggest event in the 21st century happened on April 8, 2006, when 8 members of the Bandidos motorcycle gang were slaughtered, in the biggest one-day biker killing in Ontario's history. Records were set for how many people were killed by a motorcycle club, and how many members of a club died. Since only the Bandidos were involved, both records are now held by the Bandidos Motorcycle Club.

What annoys my Mother the most is not that this blood was spilled in Dutton, but that the spinmeisters of the nearby town of Shedden have managed to dupe the Canadian media into reporting it as the Shedden Massacre, while she rightly points out that the killing was in Dutton, and Shedden is implicated only because the bodies were found there.

The view on approaching Dutton from any direction not spectacular. The countryside is flat, but if you know the town well, you can spot it's landmark sticking out above the trees all the way from the 401. That would be the green water tower. Not too many people from Dutton are excited by the sight of a water tower, but in Dutton the water tower is right next door to the beer/liquor store, so that gives it a bit more significance. There is no reason why you would not be able to find the liquor store, because if you can't see the water tower, you could ask anybody. Anyway if you get there, you can look down the street and see my mother's house. You can tell it by the flowers out the side, and the fact that the carport is dented where a car ran into the post.

So getting back to biker gangs, I would like to point out that the Bandidos are a motorcycle gang in name only. I think they actually like the biker image more than they like riding motorcycles. So they buy the Harley T-shirts, and drink and fight, but you don't see them riding bikes very much. But the Ontario Provincial Police (the OPP) are apparently still on the lookout for bikers, from what I saw on the main street of Dutton today.

First I must explain that the 401 service centre near Dutton is closed for reconstruction, and that lots of people now drive into Dutton for gas because of this. Well I saw a couple on a Harley stop at one of the gas pumps, and immediately behind them came an OPP cruiser with a female police officer. She stopped and walked briskly over to the biker and put her arms around him and gave him a big hug. I watched this occurrence with my jaw hanging out and then asked my mother what was going on. She never saw anything like this before either, but I'm guessing it is some kind of reward program for bikers who don't kill anybody while passing through Dutton.

One more event of importance was the erection of a four-way stop near the school last year. As this was the first change in traffic signage in the last 97 years, it took a while for the people of Dutton to catch on. There were so many violations, that the OPP posted a permanent officer in a cruiser next to the stop, and handed out fines for anyone who didn't pay attention. Although my mother, by the grace of God alone, didn't get a ticket, just about everybody else in town did within about 4 days. Finally, the cruiser went away, and now people stop for the signs.

OK so what else is there to say about Dutton? If you want to eat a pizza there is Mancari's on Currie road (i.e. main street). It's pretty good, but whatever you do, do not order extra cheese, unless you really like cheese.

picture from: http://www.ddchamber.ca/ddintro.htm

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Riding in the Rain

The first time you get caught in the rain riding a motorcycle without face protection, you realize that normal rain does not fall at 100 kilometers per hour. How fast does it fall? Drizzle falls at 8 kph, and big raindrops fall at 16 kph. So here are the differences, summarized, between a walk in the rain and a motorcycle ride in the rain. The rain hits you at ten times the speed. Ten times as much water hits you per second, I won't go into a mathematical proof here, but think about it. Finally, the rain is hitting you horizontally, not vertically.

Raincoats that are made for walking, are not really adequate for riding. To test a raincoat for riding, even a garden hose is probably putting out water at less than 25 kph. This commercial grade high pressure washer puts out water at 786 kph. That may be a lot more than you need to test rain gear on an average motorcycle.

Some of these numbers may explain why many motorcyclists refuse to go out in the rain. Unfortunately, that will prevent you from going on long rides, unless you have a trailer to pull the bike with. On a long ride, rain is almost impossible to avoid, although I have been getting much better at avoiding rain lately.

There is almost no situation where it is pleasant getting caught in the rain on a motorcycle. Even if it is over 100F outside (or over 40c), and you think you might welcome a rain shower, you won't like it. First the air gets cold, then you get hit with a wall of water at 100 kph, then you can't see where you are going as your face shield fogs up. Then you stop and a truck drives by and tosses up another wall of water over you. If you keep going, even though blind, you may find the roads a bit greasy, as the sudden shower lifts the oil off the road and smears it around.

Rather than a sudden thunderstorm, I may prefer an all day rain, at least it's a bit safer, and the road is kept clean.

I almost always ride with a full face helmet with face shield now. The next defence against rain has to be a waterproof jacket. Many textile motorcycle jackets today are advertised as water-resistant and breathable, made of fabrics such as Gore-Tex.

In my experience, these claims are somewhat exaggerated. What you will often find is that there are warnings about their use, such as method of cleaning etc. They may be good when new, but seem to lose their effectiveness after a while. If they are strongly supported by the manufacturer, they may replace the jacket, and give you information about what went wrong with it, whether it was a defective batch of fabric, or whether you accidentally punctured it, or some seams came apart, or it was improperly cleaned. Actually there are lots of other reasons why they might fail. On the other hand, a good old non-breathable plastic raincoat over your jacket will mostly work, but water will condense on the inside and get you a bit wet anyway under certain circumstances.

Even when you are fairly well dressed for the rain, an annoying problem is water collecting in your crotch and eventually seeping through. This is because the rain hitting you from the front is running down the outside of the front of your jacket (and sometimes the inside), and will pool up in the area between your legs, seat and crotch. Eventually it will penetrate, feeling a bit like somebody poured ice water down your underwear. You will notice.

Depending on the air currents, streams of water form to get you wet under waterproof material. You can get your hands wet if water runs down the sleeves of your coat, and your feet can get wet from water dripping down inside your pants, even if you are wearing waterproof boots.

There are a few other defences against rain. A windshield is usually good. The first really impressive windshield I experienced was on my BMW K1100LT. It was raised and lowered electrically. The first year they came out, you were warned to not try to adjust it while riding. That is pure BS. I was riding on a freeway in Florida, with a t-shirt, in very hot weather. I got hit with an extremely small and sudden rain shower. I raised the windshield while riding, and rode through the storm in about 5 minutes. The only part of me that got noticeably wet was the outer edges of my sleeves. BMW had obviously tested this windshield for rain during the design phase, and they included the only rain gutters I had ever seen on a motorcycle. When the water ran up the fairing, at the top lip there was a gutter to collect the water, that led to twin tubes that carried the water down to the street and drained it out down there. This feature was not advertised or mentioned at any time in BMW magazine tests, but it was there if you looked for it and could figure out what it was for. If the water is not drained away, it is all driven the the top or sides of the windshield, then around the edge, where it forms large drops which fly off randomly and may hit you anyway.

When you are riding, you actually encounter two separate situations, both are kind of bad. One is rain falling, even though the road might be dry. The other one is no rain falling presently, but the road is soaked from a recent downpour.

Sometimes the road is actually flooded. It is quite dangerous to venture across a flooded road, as you don't know what might be underneath. I encountered a flooded section in Baja Mexico once, that was about 200 metres of road under water. It was probably no more than 35 cm deep. I was warned about it by another motorcyclist who attempted to cross it after observing cars for about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, he didn't notice a truck coming the other way that buried him under a wall of spray plus the tsunami front wave. When I reached the same spot the next day (coming the other way), I observed it for about 10 minutes when a gang of teenage Mexican boys in a car approached me and waved me to follow. Maybe I'm too trusting, but they led me around the flooded section on some back roads, then waved me off when we rejoined the highway.

This is my earlier posting about rain:

Picture: Copied off the internet. I simply cannot endorse the use of an umbrella on a motorcycle.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Tale of Two CDs

The Honda CD175 came out of the garage for its first ride of the year yesterday. I actually bought two Honda CD175s in 2001. The first one was red, with only about 2000 miles on it. It had been shipped to Canada by a Canadian teacher who rode the bike in Kenya. And I assume he (or she) could not bear to part with it. It was different for me. After I spent three years teaching in Sierra Leone and riding my blue Honda CD175, I regretfully sold the bike before I returned to Canada. When I saw a red CD175 from Kenya on ebay, in 2001, I had to have it, and I might have even paid a little too much in the excitement of the auction bidding.

I began restoring the red Honda, because even though it had very few miles, time had created some problems. Before the year was out, I had located another CD175 for parts. This one was blue and from the USA and severely abused. But I ended up restoring that one also, so nine years later I still have a red and a blue CD175 in the garage.

A few years back, I thought that Mary Ann might be able to learn to ride on the CD175. She tried riding it in a parking lot, and was doing OK, but she decided ultimately that the Suzuki Burgman 400 was more her style. The Burgman has exactly the same controls as a bicycle, no awkward foot pedals, lots of wind protection and storage, is faster on the highway, with better brakes, and best of all, she can tell other people she has a "scooter" not a "motorcycle" as if that is somehow more responsible.

The CD175 has not been entirely decorative, as one of my sons learned to ride on it, and commuted ten miles to work on it one summer. During this time, it held up very well for a 35 year old motorcycle. Heck, since nothing went wrong with it, you might as well say it held up very well for any motorcycle, regardless of age.

Both my CD175s run equally well, although as you can imagine, they are not the same especially after all these years. Each one has taken on a different personality. The blue one needed a lot of work to restore, including an engine teardown. Red, the bike from Africa, only needed some TLC. The one thing they have in common is the quality of running forever. Sure they have the occasional glitch, if you call breaking a cam chain a glitch.

Right now I have the blue bike insured, and yesterday I drove it about 15 miles around city streets. I had to hit 70 mph on University Ave, (according to the speedo) just to keep up with traffic flow for a short stretch. I often had it at full throttle climbing hills. The fun of a small bike should be obvious, but I will explain again. On a really small lightweight bike, just going to Waterloo is an adventure like going across Mongolia. Keeping up with traffic down University make you feel like you are in a Grand Prix race. You cannot get those feelings of speed and adventure on a big powerful bike without actually going to Mongolia or entering the GP. And I think if you had a pocket bike, you would not even need to get out of your driveway.

When I got home, Mary Ann made the comment "You smell like motorcycle". Exactly.

My Honda CD175 website is here: http://www.microverse.on.ca/cd175/

My Honda CD175 blog is here: http://motorcycleqa.blogspot.com/2009/05/honda-cd175-q.html

Picture: Mary Ann is going to kill me for putting up a picture of her in her gardening clothes on the blue CD175, but she deserved it after that comment.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cold Saturday Ride With a Purpose

We just had a weather relapse of about 5 days. Yesterday I had to wear a toque and a parka to go for a walk. Today the sun came out and we had a high of 11c. And because it's Saturday, I had a chance to meet some friends at Tim Horton's for lunch. It's also the first day of the big Spring Motorcycle Show, but I was thinking why pay $15 to see the new Honda Shadow RS 750 when I could see it for free at a Honda dealer? And there is another motorcycle I want to see, it's the Konker KSM200. But I can see that at Sirius Motorsports in Kitchener. So I started out early and searched for the new location of Sirius at 44 Saltzman Street. You really have to know the number, because it's around the back of a building in the new industrial park.

Sirius was open when I got there, and I really did like the look of the Konker 200. It's basically an enduro bike, but comes with street wheels and tires. It costs $3000, and for $600 more you can get an extra front and rear wheel with knobbies, and a bigger diameter for the dirt. I'm told they come with a sprocket and brake rotor, so all you need to do is unbolt the wheels and switch them for street or dirt performance. That's the type of messing about I just love. Also, this bike comes with a kick start as well as the electric start. And upside down front forks. When I was sitting on it, I bounced the suspension, and it seems to have a lot of travel, and should be able to float over some big bumps.

On my way to Timmy's, I noticed my vision was blurred, wonder if it's my Flo-max drug side effect kicking in? Actually, no, because when I sat down in the coffee shop, I tried cleaning my glasses and found one lens had dropped out. Luckily it was still in the bottom of my "fanny pack".

After a leisurely two hour lunch at Tim's, I decided instead of going to the show, I would go to the Honda dealer in London. I have never been there before, but now that Hully Gully lost the Honda franchise, there is a dealer on Oxford Street near Wolf BMW, called Mid-City Honda. So I headed for London from Cambridge following some unfamiliar roads. That always happens when I start out from any place other than home. I have lived for 30 years in the same place, and I know all the road to anywhere from my house. But put me down 20 kilometers from home, and I don't know how to get anywhere. Sometimes I just drive home first to get my bearings.

When I got to London I decided to do a loop through Wortley Village, that has been in the news lately. It's a cute little part of the city, kind of like Belmont Village in Kitchener, but Wortley street is much narrower, and has more people on the sidewalks. Then I found my way (no GPS!) up to Oxford Street and all the way to Mid-City Honda. Damn! It closed at 2 PM. I peeked inside and they didn't have the 750 RS anyway. So then I went to Wolf BMW, which was also closed. London seems to be not at all like Kitchener. In Kitchener, staying open and making money takes precedence over shutting the shop to go for a ride.

Next I headed for Stratford to get something to eat. When I arrived in Stratford, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Flomax was working, so I stopped at the Erie Drive-In, which I have never been to before, because they have no bathroom facilities. With Flomax, I don't need no stinkin bathroom. Erie Drive In is famous for their foot long hot dogs. The reason I love foot long hot dogs is because when I order them, I get a big yuk out of asking "How long are your foot longs?". Not funny you say? That's because you have not heard some of the answers. Anyway, today I decided that I was not in the right mood to be funny, and ordered a bacon cheeseburger with the works instead. It was really cold, even with my two sweaters, two jacket liners, and leather overalls over my jeans. The wind was howling so that I couldn't let go of my napkin. (Did I mention that you can't go inside at the Erie drive in?) Most people were sitting in their cars with the heaters on, but a couple of little girls arrived on bicycles wearing t-shirts and ordering ice cream. Actually most people were ordering ice cream. Did they need to cool off? That's Canada, eh?

Picture: The Konker KSM200. The graphics are kind of lame, but nothing a can of flat black spray paint can't cure.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why Old Riders Need to be More Careful

Last year I did a first blog on "Old Age and Motorcycling". It was mostly about how aging could make motorcycling more difficult or uncomfortable. But I did briefly touch on slow reflexes and poor eyesight, which are safety considerations.

This story from Media Newswire is about something I had not considered, which is how much more damage an older person will sustain in an actual crash, and how much longer recovery takes. Apparently bones are weaker and more brittle, the immune system is not as strong, and there are many more complicating conditions, on average, for the emergency room doctors to worry about. Many older people also take daily pill cocktails, and that has to be considered in the emergency treatment.

This article also mentions that contributing to the risk of an accident is "decreased brain size".

So I'm 61 years old, I guess I better use what's left of my smaller brain to be extra cautious about accidents. At the very top of the list of things that can be done with a smaller brain, is to avoid buying a motorcycle that is way too much to handle. That means I should not be saving my money up for a BMW 6 cylinder 155 horsepower sport touring motorcycle. Second on the list is to stay off rocket bikes (the picture), as most rides tend to be short and end in the emergency room without even the memory of the ride as compensation for all the pain.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Travels With Harley

I just read an excellent opinion piece by someone who bought a Honda and wished he bought a Harley.

I myself have written one on why I have a Kawasaki, not a Harley.

I have seen friends struggling with the choice of buying a motorcycle, whether to get a Harley or something else. I sympathise with them, because I know it's kind of bad if you make the wrong choice, and it sometimes takes a big mistake before you know what you really want. Also, buying a Harley is based on some irrational feelings that are not easily measured.

John Kovach, in the first article, had owned several Harleys, and traded his current one in on a Honda ST1300. The decision made him feel bad, and after one long trip, sold the bike and went back to Harleys.

I noticed several things about his purchase that might have been warning flags. First, maybe most important, is that he made the decision impulsively, without even telling his wife, and when she saw the Honda, she was shocked and refused to ever ride with him on it. Can we call that mistake number one? And it has nothing to do with the relative merits of Honda vs. Harley (I don't think)

Second, John overestimated his power requirements on choosing the ST1300. It is vastly more capable than the Harley, and John had no need for this extra capability. He needed the Honda for a long tour with a friend, but the friend was still riding a Harley. That means John will not be able to appreciate the Honda's capabilities, as he waits for his friend's Harley. Forget the Honda's extra power, speed, passing capability, fuel range, ability to go 1000 miles a day, and even the ability to go out in colder or wetter weather if necessary. That is because you are travelling with a Harley, and you will have to wait for it. Even when he was not on that long tour with his friend, he ran into trouble on the Honda, collecting a batch of speeding tickets. Apparently, he was not accustomed to avoiding radar traps, I think the reason is obvious. Ticket-free speeding is something that comes with experience.

John has a lot of other reasons why he likes the Harley, such as tradition, and bonding with the bike, and even vibration. And they may all be valid, but let's face it, there were problems with the Honda ST1300 decision that could have been avoided in hindsight. Also, sometimes you just need to make a "mistake" in order to gain experience. I know people who have done that too, like me for instance.

Two Honda 750s, 1969 and 2010

If the motorcycle world ever "entered a new era", when did that happen, and what was the event or the motorcycle that transformed it?

I would give that description to Honda's introduction of the first CB750 four cylinder bike, in 1969. I never owned one of those things, but just the very fact that they existed changed my view of motorcycling.

At that time, there were limited options for a beginning motorcyclist to move up. You could start out on an inexpensive, but clean and reliable Japanese bike under 350cc. But to go bigger you needed to move up to a 500 or 650cc British bike, or a 900cc Harley Davidson. Buying those bikes meant you needed to join a motorcycle gang, because if you wanted to go somewhere, you needed gang members to ride with in case parts fell off, or fell apart while riding. There was one other big bike option, the 500cc BMW touring bike, but that cost four times as much as your Japanese bike, and was not a lot faster or more reliable than the smaller Hondas.

Your choices came down to 1. Ride a small bike 2. Join a motorcycle gang 3. Spend wads of cash on a BMW.

The Honda CB750 blew the motorcycle market wide open. Suddenly, if you wanted to, you could ride a large, 120 mph motorcycle, that was so reliable you didn't need to join the Hell's Angels, and it cost a fraction of the other big bikes. I resisted buying the CB750 because I had a new Yamaha 250, but I knew that when I did become bored, I could move up to the four cylinder Honda.

The CB750 was more than just a big, affordable, reliable, bike that happened to be faster than anything else. It also introduced new technology to a previously sluggish motorcycle industry. Most obviously, the CB750 introduced the disk brake. But the boldness of Honda's design forced all the other manufacturers to aim higher or get out of the business. So for the next ten years at least, we had wave after wave of innovations, making motorcycling fun for the newcomers who enjoyed the technical advances, but not so much fun for traditionalists who wanted things to stay the same as they always were.

As it turned out, by the time I was ready to trade in my 250 Yamaha, the CB750 design was over ten years old, and there were many other choices on the market. I chose a 1982 Honda with even more technological advances than the 1969 CB750. It had a disk brake, of course, but also liquid cooling, shaft drive, and air suspension. I may have skipped the revolutionary CB750, but I benefited from the tidal wave of motorcycling technology that was unleashed a decade earlier.

The "new era" of rapid technological progress and big sales lost momentum during the eighties. Since the early nineties, motorcycling has hit a period of doldrums. Instead of breakthrough technology, we simply got faster and bigger bikes. There was also a striking reaction against new technology, led by Harley Davidson. They catered almost exclusively to the traditional bike market that existed years ago for gang members.

By the end of the eighties, Harley Davidson had again carved out the market niche, abandoned back in the eighties, for big tough old-fashioned bikes for big bad bikers. In the mean time, the biker gangs grew more mature, and many new motorcyclists were attracted by the tough gang image, as much as by the motorcycling itself. The average age of bikers went up, and so did their discretionary income. While the gangs were maturing with less boozing and fighting, the Harley Davidsons were also becoming more reliable, with internal improvements in their technology, updated manufacturing techniques and better materials.

Harley Davidson was so successful with it's marketing strategy that they now have over half the big bike market in the USA. Japanese companies were forced to follow suit and make their own bikes look like they would be at home in a Hell's Angels weekend ride.

This year, Honda has introduced a new 750, the Shadow 750 RS, in some ways exactly like the first, with a single front disk and rear drum brake, chain drive, and laced spoke wheels. It is upgraded for the twenty first century with digital fuel injection and liquid cooling. It only has two cylinders, not four, and is barely able to reach 100 mph, but costs  six times as much as the original CB750.  Its boldest breakthrough? It is priced higher than the equivalent new Harley Davidson, the Sportster.  Now it seems you will be moving up when you trade in a Harley on a Honda.

Picture: A 1969 CB750 ad, and I found a picture of a 2010 Shadow RS on the internet, also showing the difference in demographic.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Left NOT Angry with Obama's Nuclear Non-Proliferation


Last weekend at our family get-together, someone mentioned that Barack Obama was "A very controversial president". This is the equivalent of "Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" entry about the subject of planet Earth. All it said was "Mostly harmless".

Sometimes we are mislead by simplifications. Yes, Obama is a controversial president, but it is not because of his policies or anything he has done. The controversy comes because he is "black", and to millions of racist Americans, he is the AntiChrist. So the real controversy is not that Obama is radical, but that millions of Americans are racists and are looking for any excuse to stop him.

Obama's latest initiative proves that he has learned a lot from trying to debate health care with southern conservatives. The health care debate dragged on for over a year, and was nearly sunk by trying to discuss "Death Panels" and socialism. Now Obama realizes that trying to discuss anything with conservatives is like trying to discuss which end of the bus that African-Americans should sit in. i.e. no debate is possible, as too many of these people are nutters like Glenn Beck.

So this morning I heard that Obama had launched an anti-nuclear proliferation initiative. The way it was presented on TV was that "Obama has angered the right wing militarists and the left wing pacifists with this program". Wait a minute, that is pure propaganda. It seems like the news writer was trying to make it sound like left winger nut jobs will not be happy with anything less than total, unconditional, dismantling of all American nuclear weapons, without waiting for anyone else. This is absolutely not true. As a left wing nut job, I am very happy with Obama's initiative. It is the smart thing to do. It was the general approach to non-proliferation that has been around for at least fifty years. Basically, a pledge to not attack non-nuclear nations with atomic weapons.

So why is the TV station harping on about lefties being upset with it? Well actually, I guess the Toronto Star reported there was one guy who said that he didn't like the fact that Obama increased the budget for maintaining their existing nuclear arsenal. That is an entirely separate issue. The Los Alamos Study Group seems to be focused on keeping the budget for nuclear weapons low. They do not seem to be experts in foreign policy nor do they seem to be very knowledgeable about how to diplomatically persuade other countries to go the non-nuclear route.

So as far as I'm concerned, there are NO legitimate "lefties" who are angry at Obama about this. I say thumbs up to Barack Obama, and yet another reason why the Nobel committee was prescient in awarding the Peace prize to Obama. Too bad he couldn't win two in a row.

Picture: The Enola Gay, restored in 2003, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb in anger.

Spoiler for Bridge to Terabithia


This is one movie where you actually would benefit from a spoiler. I don't want to ruin anything for anyone who wants to watch the movie. However, because the movie is so different from your typical movie, two problems arise. First, without a "spoiler", you may not even want to watch a movie about two young kids going to school, and after school, creating an imaginary world in a forest. Secondly, if you really do want to watch that kind of movie, you are going to be disappointed to find out it is something else. So that's why you need a spoiler alert in this case.

So, now to "spoil" the movie: this is a movie about dealing with death. I like to watch movies that deal with death, because I have experienced it myself, so it's actually interesting for me to see it in a movie. But we don't often get good movies about death in our happy ending culture, and so many movies about death are based on  spirits, the afterlife etc. For example, the Demi Moore Patrick Swayze movie "Ghost" from 1990.  

But Bridge to Terabithia is a movie that deals with death in a real way that actually manages to come to grips with a senseless, random death. It didn't win any Oscars, and the book often comes up in discussions of which books should be banned from the classroom. Actually, the movie is based on a 1977 book, which Mary Ann has often used in her grade 5 and 6 curriculum. She didn't have any problems with parents trying to ban the book, so I guess this happens more often in the Bible belt, not Canada. There was concern that the young girl questioned the need for God to "damn people to hell" for not believing the bible. Also, given that death is involved, there is no portrayal of the afterlife, such as a ghost or an angel, to comfort people.

The movie gets some of its realism by going through the stages of grief as explained by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross in her 1969 book, "On Death and Dying".

So the book avoids the fairy tale stories of heaven and hell, ghosts and angels and grim reapers. But it still has magic, that comes from the imaginations of the children.

The only reason I missed it when it came out is because of this spoiler alert problem. Which actually is not much a real problem at all, because a spoiler will not spoil this movie. I watched it a few times, and I think it is better when you know what's coming, unlike most movies.

Driving on the 401


Last night I was coming home on the 401 in the car, it was dark, and there was scattered fog. Recently there have been some changes in Ontario that have made the 401 a safer place to be. The ban on hand held digital devices has given me some confidence, as I rarely if ever see anyone holding a phone and driving any more. And the speed limiter on trucks keeps them all at about 110 kph, and makes for a more orderly traffic flow.

But there is still a problem when we get into patchy fog, because most drivers will slow down to 90 to 100 kph, while the limiters are still set at 110. A few truck drivers will continue to drive at 110, causing a much more confused traffic pattern just at the time you need order the most - i.e. in reduced visibility. First I saw a large truck weaving in and out across all three lanes of traffic, trying to get by the slower moving cars and trucks. Yes, it was only 110, but it was in fog, and the other traffic had slowed down, so 110 was a dangerous speed in that context.

My second observation was right in front of me. After Woodstock, the road crews were painting the road, and had closed the road down to one lane. This happened right where the road normally goes from 3 to 2 lanes even without the painting crew. I guess this situation, which occurred in fog, caught the truck driver in front of me by surprise, and he hit the brakes and clipped one cone, as he tried to merge at the last minute, with another big truck beside him. The other truck also hit the brakes and there was a tense moment before everyone got back down to one lane. Trucks need a lot more planning than a car to merge lanes, because of the length and the inability to change speed quickly. (i.e. the opposite of a motorcycle). At the place where we were confined to one lane, there was a row of cones on the right, but on the left was a concrete barrier with no room to spare. The lesson learned from this is that when a hazard slows things down, the benefit of the speed restrictors is nullified, and it's back to the law of the jungle.

The day before that (Monday) I also rode down the 401, but on my motorcycle. That time it was in sunshine and it was a really good ride. Normally I get a bit tired driving a distance of 120 kilometers on the 401, but on Monday the trip was a little shorter because the traffic was moving quickly. Ever since I traded in my BMW K1100 on a Vulcan 900, I have kept my speed down to about 120 to match the middle lane. With the BMW, I could easily match the fast lane, so most often that was where I went. Now I sometimes find myself keeping up with the fast lane with the Vulcan, and it was actually quite comfortable.

One of the things that kept my speed down on the Vulcan was because of the harshness I felt in the suspension. Since this harsh feeling disappeared when I had my bladder stone removed, I have sometimes driven a little faster than before, and I have found that the rear suspension on the Vulcan actually seems to work better at higher speeds than at lower speeds.

In general, the faster you go, the stiffer a spring you need. I don't have any physics formulas to account for this, I just take it as a given truth. Some motorcycles are made with very soft springs that feel nice when you are driving around a parking lot, but get them out on the highway at 140 kph, and you will be in for some bone rattling surprises. The forces are much greater at higher speeds, and there is less time for the bike to respond to the bumps. There is probably another issue of the shock absorber damping oil heating up and losing effectiveness. Whatever the reason, the Vulcan suspension is actually surprisingly good when speeds pick up and the road is a bit choppy, I would rate it almost as good as the BMW. But at very low speeds, it is stiffer. When parked, you can feel stiffness just by trying to bounce the rear up and down. If you try the same thing with another bike, (like the comparable Suzuki C50) you will feel more movement in the rear suspension.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Picked up My New Flo-Max Yesterday, First Test Ride

If you thought Flo-Max was a new free-flowing exhaust system, you must be under 60 years old. It is actually a drug called Ratio-Tamsulosin, and it helps with urinating if you have an enlarged prostate. I found that my motorcycle riding was being inhibited by the need to pee about every 90 minutes. I know, in theory I should be able to figure it out, and just keep on motorcycling. But in practice, especially after five years or so, it was starting to be an aggravation I didn't need. Eventually, I found myself basically going to places where I knew there were bathrooms. e.g. my mother's house, or Port Dover in the summer time, or Tim Horton's any time.

When my doctor prescribed a month's worth of Flo-max after my operation in February, I rediscovered the joys of long distance motorcycling. (i.e. over 90 minutes). The prescription lapsed and I was back to short hop riding immediately. So Thursday I mentioned this to my doctor, who commented that since it worked for me, I should keep taking it indefinitely, and wrote another prescription with multiple renewals. This is a first for me, as I am not yet on any regular medication, which I guess is unusual for a person over 60. But the Flow max benefits are so appealing at this point, that it's worth the $22 a month just to be able to do things like ride a motorcycle for 3 hours without a break.

So today, after taking only my second pill of the new series, I rode my motorcycle to see my Mother, about 90 minutes away on the 401. Of course, I know exactly how many minutes to get there, and that is also the reason why I refuse to let Mary Ann drive when we go by car, and why I do considerable cursing at drivers who get in my way. Especially since they are shutting down the rest areas on the 401.

Mom had a few jobs for me to do: take out the garden gnome for the spring, that is made of pure concrete (why don't they just make them of extruded plastic?). Put up a plastic mesh to stop the stupid birds from making a nest in her rain gutter. And attach her outside hose. Normally all these things are done much later in the spring, but wow, what a warm day it was at 25c.

I decided to take the long and scenic way home, along the Lake Erie Shoreline, from Port Stanley to Port Dover. When I arrived in Port Stanley, I was shocked to find the traffic backed up solid both ways through the town. Aha! I thought, it must be the lift bridge that has been up for about ten minutes, causing this backup. But no, it was a combination of a day off (Good Friday), and a temperature 25c, that had been predicted accurately since Monday, giving lots of people ample time to set their sights on going to the beach. The beach was packed with people, many of them in bathing suits. Come on, it only April 2nd, and this is Canada after all. You can see why it might be difficult to motivate Canadians to combat global warming.

I continued on, meandering by Port Bruce, Port Burwell, Long Point, and then I realized my fuel warning light had come on. Wow! This kind of thing never happens to me, but it was because I had just been riding for about three hours without needing to find a bathroom, and hence I also neglected to look at the fuel gauge.

I saw a back road gas station closed for Good Friday. Good thing it was closed, I might have been tempted to try that gas, which had the unappealing name of "Shyte Gas". I headed over to highway 24, and I stopped for gas along with about five other motorcyclists. I guess we all had the same problem. As I was removing my helmet a young woman motorcyclist approached me to comment on my blinding high-visibility jacket. She said, it must help a little with the traffic safety, and I agreed, and she said she was going to buy one, but just the coloured vest, not the whole jacket. It would be a lot cheaper if I had done that, actually. But I do like the Scorpion jacket.

I hit the road once again for Port Dover, and fell in behind an almost equally brightly coloured couple. She had a pink helmet, pink jacket, and an all-pink motorcycle. I actually saw that bike at the motorcycle show, it's the Johnny Pag Spyder, and yes, it comes in pink. He was all in emerald green, with a green custom paint job on his bike. They headed in to Simcoe, and I turned off to Port Dover. Port Dover was full of motorcycles, not as bad as if it had been the 13th instead of the 2nd, but still quite full. The beach was almost as packed as the beach at Port Stanley, but the traffic was at least more reasonable.

After driving around for a while, I headed back toward Kitchener. I have a back road I often take, called Cockshutt road, which goes on for about half an hour before it rejoins highway 24 from Simcoe, and as I got back on the highway I noticed I was right behind the pink and green couple, and don't ask me how I know it wasn't another couple with the same colours.

I could have gone the entire four hour ride without stopping once, if I had enough gas. But my habits got the better of me and I stopped at Tim Horton's in Paris for a break. But next time I have learned my lesson, and I will watch the fuel gauge more closely.