Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bikers' Guide to Porta Potties

Things are obviously changing in the world of Portapotties. This is a subject dear to my heart, being a male over 50, who likes to go for motorcycle rides.

I just heard from the Conservative grapevine that Chelsea Clinton's wedding has portapotties so luxurious it may mean the end of civilization as we know it. The idea that the Clintons are going to rent fancy portapotties with piped in music and ceramic bowls is getting conservatives boiling mad.

"Unlike everyone else on the planet, Chelsea Clinton's wedding guests won't need gas masks to do their business in a porta-potty -- because Bill's daughter is renting the swankiest outhouses in town. The portable latrines have actual porcelain toilets that flush, stereo music and hot running water -- oh yeah, and they're HUGE."

I don't know about everyone else on the planet, but just visit Port Dover, the biker capital of Ontario, and check out the portapotties across the street from the BB Gas Bar. The only difference I can see between the Clinton's rented johns and Port Dover is the piped in stereo music and the colour of the walls.

There may be another reason that conservatives are out of touch with the latest technology in portable toilets. Because they are driving around in half million dollar motor homes with self contained toilets, and they never have to search for a place to go.

A word to conservatives: The world is changing outside your motorhomes, and you are missing it. We poor people with no motor homes of our own no longer need gas masks to go to the bathroom. You should turn off Rush Limbaugh and get outside for a bit. The "luxury" portapotties in Port Dover are free, so drop by for a visit, although they are especially welcome if you have ridden a motorcycle over 2 hours to get there. There is also a permanent washroom building on the next road over, in front of Willie's Foot Long Hot Dogs. It's also free, but note that these facilities are seasonal. If you are in Port Dover out of season, and don't have a motorhome to pee in, you can always grab a coffee at Tim Hortons. No gas mask required.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Where I Find Out About Police Tires

I finally got my new front tire installed on my Vulcan 900 Classic today, the Bridgestone Exedra G703 tire. It had "S" speed rating, and was the tube type (TT). It took about an hour to install while I waited, and I got to watch, so the time passed quickly. I also learned a new trick. The installer put the tube on before the tire. I usually put the tire on first, get one bead on the rim, then put in the tube. It's difficult my way to install the valve through the rim. But the way he did it, he installed the valve first (obviously very easy) then put the tire over the tube near the valve. Then he installed the first bead of the tire, and stuffed the rest of the tube in. I'm going to try that myself next time I change a tire.

After the usual warnings to take it easy on a new tire, I paid up and got out on the freeway to see how it ran. No wobbles or vibration, so it was installed right. It feels lighter at low speed than the worn out tire. Then I took a run to Port Dover.

I parked near a Suzuki 1500 cruiser and started talking to the owner about front tires. He does not like the noise his tire makes. Noise? I never hear my tires make noise. He said it's not actually him who is so bothered, but his son. His son just came out of Tim Hortons, and rides the bike next to his. Yes, his son agrees that he can hear the sound of his Dad's tire over the sound of his own exhaust. As he revs up his bike, his straight pipes are actually very loud. Dad says "You can imagine how loud my tire is, if he can hear it over that." I agree, and furthermore, it seems that if loud pipes save lives, we can probably all benefit even more from such tires.

After they left, a guy on a big Harley with a fairing and top box pulled in and asked if he could share my parking spot. Sure, I said, I was just leaving anyway. He introduced himself, and I looked over his bike for anything interesting to comment on. He had a US flag under the licence plate, so I ducked down under the top box to see by the plate if he was a foreign visitor. Well, it looked to me like an Ontario plate, so I stood up and asked "Are you from Ontario?" If he said yes, I was ready to ask, then why do you have a US flag on your back fender? But I didn't get a chance to ask the second question, when he said "Yes, I'm from Ontario, but not this one. The one in California.". I ducked my head back down to take another look at his licence plate, and noticed in the top right corner the letters CAL.

We started talking further about his trip from Ontario to Ontario, and somehow I brought the conversation around to the mundane topic of front tires. I asked him why he still had those Dunlop tires, and he said he liked them because they were "Police Tires", which means that there is a shoulder on the sidewall all around the rim, so in case the tire goes flat, the safety shoulder will help keep the bead from separating from the rim. He also claimed to have experienced a back tire blowout, and rode it for about ten miles at under 50 mph after losing pressure. I told him I never heard of these police tires before, but sure would want them for myself, as I am afraid of flat tires. He was surprised that I never heard of them.

All the way home, I enjoyed a game of running down the lengthwise cracks in the road (Blue Line Road has lots), and feeling how stable the bike was. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Anyway, who cares, it was fun.

When I got home, I (of course) Googled up "Police Tire". There is a conversation here, explaining that Dunlop insists that the PT's be removed when Police bikes are sold, and will not sell them to individuals because they are not recommended for use with a passenger. They also must be mounted on matching police rims. That is a bummer, because I want them.

Picture: some useful info from

Snookigate for Dummies

While Americans fret that their guns are being taken away and the economy is in the crapper, there is always enough time for another Obama related scandal: this time Snooki-gate.

If you heard about this anywhere else, here are his actual words, because many people make up their own words to heighten the scandal:

In response to a question about whether Snooki would be a good mayor of Wasilla Alaska.

Obama "I gotta admit, I don't know who Snooki is."

Of course nobody says it is a scandal to not know who Snooki is, as she is a TV reality show character. And it is not a scandal to say you don't know whether she would be a good mayor of Wasilla.

The real scandal was the fact that Obama was lying about his knowledge of Snooki, or at the very least, engaging in a cover-up of this knowledge. Earlier this year, at the press dinner, he actually told a joke that specifically mentioned Snooki once by name. Of course, it may be that he didn't know who Snooki was even when he told the joke. But at this point, it has become a full blown scandal, as you can tell from the "-gate" added at the end of the word "Snooki". So we want to know what he knew, and when he knew it, about Snooki. Was he really so smug and arrogant that he told a joke about Snooki without even being briefed on (and memorizing) who she was? Does he hire speechwriters for his gags, or does he sit down in front of a TV for several weeks to catch the flavour of the current TV shows and then write his own humorous pop-culture material?

A guy who was blasted for putting mustard (not ketchup) on his hamburger a year ago, should be a lot more careful about what he says on national TV!

OK Ok, so I am being facetious. I must also be getting less tolerant in my old age. My real opinion is that the people who talk about this as though it was an example of Obama lying are idiots. I'm sorry there's just no other word to adequately describe it unless you allow me to also call them racist idiots.

And one more thing, for you guys who claim that Obama should have better things to do when the country is in the crapper: Your country is not really in the crapper just yet, but it is not far from it due to the unusually high percentage of complete idiots in the population. Unless all those Internet comments are by the same person.

Picture: Snooki. So President Obama, in case you're reading this, you can get an idea of who she is. She is a girl who says she is from New Jersey (the dumbest state in the union according to some) but she is not. So she says she is from New Jersey I guess to make it funnier when she acts like an idiot. And most of the rest of the "reality" show cast do the same except one girl who really is from New Jersey. The show is called "Jersey Shore" I think. Check it out. I'm not sure of the time or the channel, so have a secret service guy look it up for you. Then you can figure out for yourself if she would be a good mayor of Wasilla. Stay safe, thanks for reading my blog.

Cruiser Style is Not Just Another Word for Harley

A low seat height is the central, probably most important element of the cruiser style and many other elements of the cruiser style were developed because of the low seat height. For example, the narrow engine, the foot forward riding position, the speedometer on the gas tank, and the small diameter rear wheel all work well with the low seat height.

Many people get really confused about "Cruiser style" and "Harley Davidson style", thinking that we only use the word cruiser because we are not allowed to call it Harley Davidson due to trade mark infringements. Kind of like the situation where you can't call a photocopier a "Xerox machine" any more.

OK let's stop that idea here and now. Cruiser style is not merely a politically correct way of saying Harley Davidson style. However, I will admit that Harley Davidson may have pushed the cruiser style more than most. And many, if not most cruiser style bikes, do mimic the appearance of a Harley Davidson.

Some people also think that cruiser style is another word for "Retro American" style. Also not true. The cruiser style is a design that has emerged since the mid seventies. Harley Davidson style has existed since the twenties and thirties if not more. The cruiser does not go back to the pre-war era in America. If you will take a closer look at the old 1930 motorcycles, they were set up with higher seats, and the foot positions were relatively further back.

The importance of the cruiser style is that it has made motorcycles accessible to shorter people, just the way that the electric start has made motorcycles available to people who have trouble in kick starting an engine over. The two trends kind of worked together and emerged at about the same time. Today, more women ride motorcycles, and more older people ride motorcycles because they are not as intimidating as they used to be in the thirties.

Just take a look at Harley Davidson from the sixties and compare them to recent models, and you will see there a general lowering of seat heights and a moving forward of the foot controls.

So even if we didn't use the word "cruiser" for lower seat heights and more forward foot positions, we should make up a word for it, and keep it distinct from Harley Davidson style. It is a trend in motorcycle style, and exists for real reasons that have nothing to do with any particular brand.

Another (contrary) view of cruiser style:

Check out this web page with the history of the sportster. Notice the gradual lowering of the seat, the moving forward of the foot pegs and the fattening of the ever smaller diameter rear tires.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Potato, Potahto

My shortest blog so far. I watched "When Harry Met Sally" on TV tonight, and the song "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" was playing in the background. Well, the famous line is "I say potato and you say potahto", which gives rise to the expression "Potato, potahto", that I've heard recently. This expression means "It sounds different, but really it's the same". Used in a sentence, it might go like this. "You say it's a bailout, I say it's a rescue. Potato, potahto."

But the weird thing is this, I have known the lyrics to that song for at least 50 years. And for at least the same amount of time I have heard my mother say "have some potatoes" or "eat your potatoes", and she never, ever says "potahto". She speaks with an English accent, (I don't) and yes, she does say "tomahto".

Tonight, for the first time ever, while watching "When Harry Met Sally" it suddenly occurred to me that my mother does not say potahto. I quickly Googled it and found out that no country says potahto. How could it have taken me 50 years to figure that out? So the song really should be "I say potato and you say potato."

Picture, taken from

The joke is that Sarah Palin thinks that North Korea and South Korea are basically the the same thing with different pronunciation. (or did my explaining it spoil the joke?)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Buying a New Front Tire for the Vulcan 900

Motorcycle tires are a great disappointment compared to car tires. One of the worst tires I ever had came on the rear of my new 1972 Yamaha 250, and lasted only 2000 miles before I needed a new one. Today, they last longer, but are still far behind cars for tire technology. My Vulcan 900 Classic is still using bias ply tires with tubes inside. Car tires can give me almost 100,000 km of use. Typical touring motorcycle tires last about 20,000 km on the rear, and 30,000 or so on the front. Of course, there are great variations in these figures, depending on the type of tire and motorcycle, and how it is ridden. I am talking about my own usage, where I drive pretty moderately, and I go for the longer lasting types of tire.

One reason motorcycle tires wear out so fast is the round profile that they must have to be able to balance and steer properly. Car tires can have a rectangular profile with a big flat part of the tire against the road. This would never work with a two-wheeled motorcycle, as they must be able to lean over and that means you must have a rounded cross section tread. With a round cross section, only a thin strip in the middle touches the road, and that strip gradually flattens out as it wears, until the tire is unusable. With a motorcycle, the tire usually becomes dangerous as much because of the flattened (or square profile) as it is because of lack of tread.

The rear tire almost always wears out faster than the front, not because of the extra weight, but because that is where the propulsion takes place. Some studies have indicated that adding more weight at the rear actually reduces the wear on the tire. As the rear tire pushes the bike forward, it slips a little against the road, which tears off a small amount of rubber on each rotation. After 15 - 20 thousand km., you usually need a new rear tire.

Front tires also wear out, mostly because of braking. Front tires have an additional problem, in that braking only works in one direction, and the resulting unidirectional forces may eventually produce uneven wear called cupping. This is almost like a series of scoops taken out of the tire, each about 8 cm. long. The rear tire is not affected as much, because it has force applied in two opposite directions, by braking or acceleration, which evens out the wear.

Another thing you may notice about tire wear (if you take it that far) is that the first part to wear out completely is not directly in the centre, but just off a little to the left (about 1-2 cm. in most cases.) This is because we ride on roads crowned in the centre, and we always ride to the right of the crown. Well, not always, but 90% of the time. Riders that drive on the left (like the UK) have this bald spot usually appear on the right of their tires.

Although many riders like to get two new tires at the same time, I prefer to get a new front tire only every second time I get a rear tire. Usually this works out well, but right now I have a new bike, and I made a miscalculation. I replaced the rear tire at 18,500 km, with a Metzeler ME880 tire. But by the time I got to 36,000 km and the front tire obviously needed replacing, the Metzeler was still looking almost new. After 21,000 km of riding, it still has deep treads, so I have bitten the bullet and ordered just a new front tire. This time I'm going with a Bridgestone Exedra G703.

The new rear Metzeler ME880 was a surprisingly long wearing tire, possibly the longest life of any motorcycle tire I have ever had. And in fact I might have preferred a tire with slightly more traction at the expense of shorter life. I have noticed several times, that this rear tire broke traction on me. One time when it was raining, and I accelerated from a stop sign onto a high speed road. Another time, the road was dry, but it was cold and I was going around a traffic circle. (actually that happened twice.) Then, a lot of times when I was braking only with the rear tire, even on a dry road, but maybe that was my fault. At the time I was trying to speed up the wear on the back one, so I could replace both together.

I would not want a tire like this ME880 on a sport-touring bike for three reasons. Stronger brakes, more powerful engine, and greater lean angles.

So, without much research I ordered the Bridgestone Exedra G703, which is a front tire. Even when I started motorcycling, tires were designed specifically for the front or the back. But today, it seems tires of one given size and type are also designed for the model of motorcycle.

Just like in the business of buying car tires, there are more complications. According to Bridgestone, the tire is available in tube type or tubeless, and I'm not sure why there needs to be a difference. It is also available in an H (210 kph) or S (180 kph) speed rating, and I will have to learn what these two unknowns are when it arrives. I probably should have done the research first, but then I actually ordered an S11 Spitfire, and I was called back to say it's on backorder and I could try a different (and more expensive) model. So I made a snap decision anyway.

This is what Bridgestone has to say about them "Designed primarily for American-type motorcycles, Exedra series provides long mileage, good straightway stability, easy handling and riding comfort."

Because this is "adspeak" you need a translation. "American-type"=Slow riding but carrying a lot of weight, "Long mileage"=about 30,000 km on front, "staightaway stability"=you can forget about taking corners at speed, "easy handling"=way better than hard handling, "riding comfort"=this tire is round.

Picture: I photoshopped a G703 tire on to My Vulcan (It has not arrived yet, but I want to see what it will look like.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What is "Language of Appearance"

"Language of appearance" is a concept developed by fundamentalist Christians to explain some of the language in the bible.

For example, if the Bible says "The sun rose in the east" that should not be taken as literally that the sun was rising while the earth stood still. It simply "appears" to the average onlooker that the sun is rising, while we should know (assuming we went to school) that the earth is rotating and that the sun has simply come into view over the horizon from our moving spherical platform.

Obviously, nobody wants to get rid of "Language of appearance", as it would be clumsy to refer to every sunrise as a "sunstandingstillwhilewearespinninginacircleanditcomesintoview".

But how many other examples of "Language of appearance" do we have in our common speech? In checking Google, I cannot find any. Also, there is no entry in Wikipedia to explain "Language of appearance", which is why I decided to write this blog to fill in the knowledge gap.

For example, why would the comment "Up in heaven" not be "language of appearance"? After all, we know the Earth is spinning and that Heaven cannot be up any more than down. The reason it is not "language of appearance" is that there is no appearance of heaven being up. We only think heaven is up because the Bible tells us so.

Let's try another example. Why is the phrase "Snowflakes falling" not an example of "language of appearance", because we can really see that happening. The answer is simple, if something works pretty much as we describe it, then we are describing what we see is happening. To be proper "language of appearance", the appearance would have to be radically different in some way from what really is happening.

Here are a some real of examples of "language of appearance" that I didn't see on any Christian website. "Centrifugal force", is the force that appears to be pulling at us off a merry-go-round, while the reality is that there is no force pulling us off, it is only by hanging on that we are forcing ourselves to go around in a circle. Another example of language of appearanceis saying an apple falls from a tree. The reality is that the apple and the planet Earth are attracted to each other, and each one is moving towards the other, in proportion to their mass. But it's easier to say "the apple is falling". We say the astronauts are weightless in low orbit. In fact, if they stopped circling the Earth, they would drop like a stone. Because there is almost as much gravity in low orbit as there is on the surface of the Earth, but they appear to be weightless, or in zero gravity.

"Columbus discovered America" is another case of language of appearance, if you are a European. Actually, humans had discovered America long before Columbus. Columbus was not even the first European to find America. But it's easier to say than "Columbus ran into an America that other people discovered by mistake as he was trying to find a route to India".

Now what about Revelation 7:1, which refers to angels standing at the “four corners” of the earth, as if we were to believe the Earth is flat (and square).

This could be "language of appearance", as argued on the website, only if people have actually seen these angels standing on the corners of the Earth. I would call it "verbal imagery" rather than "language of appearance". On a spherical Earth, there is no place four angels could stand to represent the four corners. You could maybe put one at the north pole, and one at the south, but there is no East or West angel standing place.

Language of appearance would apply also to the time that God "made the sun stand still". But in fact, God would have had to make the Earth stand still, not the sun. It is not the motion of the sun that makes it rise and set and helps tell time, it is the rotational movement of the Earth.

This Baptist website has a lot of other examples, some of which are flat wrong.

"Relative humidity is 95 percent" is claimed by this website to be another case of "language of appearance". Actually, no, it is not. We cannot see humidity, and we are not breathing water. It simply means that the air is carrying 95% of the water vapour it is able to, and if it takes 5% more, you will start to see drops of water forming into dew, or fog.

"Airspeed" is not a really good example of language of appearance either, because everybody knows the air is not moving at that speed, it is the plane that is moving. The word was originally coined to mean "the relative speed of wing through the air". But if you close your eyes and stick your head out the window of the plane, it will feel like fast moving air.

When we refer to an airplane's Head or nose, it is not an example of "language of appearance". It is "verbal imagery", because nobody thinks there is a real head or nose on a plane. An example of my own might be "The foot of the mountain" where we know mountains do not have feet. This is a simple form of anthropomorphism, which means human qualities, thoughts and emotions to inanimate objects or animals.

Furthermore, "wind shear" is simply a description of something that has nothing to do with shears, and "pushing the envelope" is verbal imagery.

"Moon rise", and "Star rise" again are valid "language of appearance". But it is the same example as sunrise, all about looking at the sky from the rotating platform of the Earth, so I would hardly call this "pure emotional bias against the Creator."

It seems to me that the main reason that Fundamentalists promote the concept of "Language of appearance" is to selectively choose which bits of the Bible are literal truth and which they can ignore. The most famous examples are the denial of evolution, and the acceptance of the round Earth. I would call both of those "Language of appearance" but Evangelists call one the literal truth, and the other "Language of appearance". Creation is just as much "Language of appearance" as "sunrise", because it appears to us that animals do not evolve, as it happens too slowly for us to observe.

Most modern religions use the concept of "verbal imagery" rather than "language of appearance" to understand the Bible, and I think it makes a lot more sense. Especially when you consider how their concept of "language of appearance" seems to be misunderstood by the fundamentalists who invented the term and put together these websites.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Helmets and Helmet Laws

A motorcycle journalist was fired for writing a story critical of Snell helmet standards. Unfortunately this tells you as much about journalistic standards as it does about helmet standards.

Helmets have become more than just a physical protection against head injury. They are at the centre of the controversy about laws requiring riders to wear helmets. And, in the minds of some people, they have become a sort of magic talisman to ward off accidents.

According to accident statistics, helmets prevent death from head injury in about a third of the cases. They work best in a collision where the speed and impact is small enough to be absorbed by the helmet, but large enough to cause death if the helmet was not worn. Also, helmets are pretty good at spreading the impact from a sharp corner (like a curb) to prevent it from cracking the skull. In case you didn't know, you can die from brain impact on the inside of the skull without the skull being broken. Helmets are also very good at preventing abrasion injuries (road rash) on the head, and with full face helmets, that includes the face as well. I don't know what the statistics are for brain damage on survivors, I suspect that is a lot harder to determine statistically.

The helmet industry is big business now, with helmets selling for up to a thousand dollars, and people replacing them more frequently. I notice some people have quite large collections of helmets. I do myself, but that's partly because I hate throwing things away, and there's not much market for 10 year old used helmets.

At various times there have been controversies about helmets causing deaths, that might have been avoided with no helmet.

I suspect that the helmet business would prefer to not be examined too closely, and as a result I think many journalists are intimidated away from the subject. The outspoken criticism comes mainly from people who don't want the helmets at all, not from people who question how well the helmets work.

In a perfect world, we would not need helmet laws, people would be smart enough to wear helmets almost all the time. And we would not be afraid of getting fined for not wearing our helmets while driving our motorcycle from the gas pumps to a parking spot at the service centre. Or riding at 10 kph through a campground to find our tent site. And in a perfect world, we could have frank and open discussions about how good helmets are, and whether they could be better. And no journalist would be fired for asking some questions about how they are tested.

Picture: From the South African website entry There is also a store bought helmet in the picture, strapped to the headlight.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Oil Spill Done, Hysteria Shifts Back to Toyota

By The Lost Motorcyclist

Now that the oil spill is over, time to focus the hysteria back where it really belongs: Toyota.

July 13, the "Wall Street Journal" put out a story titled "Early Tests Pin Toyota Accidents on Drivers"

The link to the article is here.

Here is a partial quote:

"One case studied by U.S. regulators involves Myrna Marseille of Kohler, Wis., who reported in March that her 2009 Toyota Camry accelerated out of control and crashed into a building.

Ms. Marseille said in an interview Tuesday that she was entering a parking space near a library when she heard the engine roar. "I looked down and my foot was still on the brake, so I did not have my foot on the gas pedal," she said.

Police in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., investigated and believe driver error was to blame, Chief Steven Riffel said Tuesday. He said surveillance video showed that the brake lights didn't illuminate until after the crash. But Mr. Riffel said that determination is preliminary and that his agency has turned over the investigation to NHTSA.

Based on the black box data, NHTSA investigators found that the brake was not engaged and the throttle was wide open, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Ms. Marseille sticks by her story. "It makes me very angry when someone tells me, 'She probably hit the gas pedal instead,' because I think it's a sexist comment, an ageist comment," she said."

Apparently, in the thousands of different cases to sift through, it takes a while to get the truth, if it's even possible. In the case of Myrna Marseille, although she swore she was pressing the brake, a video surveillance camera showed that she was not, the car's brake light came on after the crash. The car's internal data recorder is consistent with the surveillance camera.

This story in the WSJ got plenty of reaction. For example, Autoguide's title is "Report: Toyota ‘Planted’ Driver Error Story Claims NHTSA Insider"

You can read the original story yourself, (I hope) and see that Toyota and the NHTSA sources are actually credited right in the Wall Street Journal story, so "planted" is a misuse of the word in this context.

for example:

"A NHTSA spokeswoman declined to comment on the findings, which haven't been released by the agency."

"Daniel Smith, NHTSA's associate administrator for enforcement, told a panel of the National Academy of Sciences last month that the agency's sudden-acceleration probe had yet to find any car defects beyond those identified by the company: pedals entrapped by floor mats, and accelerator pedals that are slow to return to idle.

"In spite of our investigations, we have not actually been able yet to find a defect" in electronic throttle-control systems, Mr. Smith told the scientific panel, which is looking into potential causes of sudden acceleration.

"We're bound and determined that if it exists, we're going to find it," he added. "But as yet, we haven't found it."

"Some Toyota officials say they are informally aware of the NHTSA data-recorder results. Toyota officials haven't been briefed on the findings, but they corroborate its own tests, said Mike Michels, the chief spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales."

Toyota's biggest mistake was its early decision to not lay the blame on driver error. It's like sticking a bleeding hand into the Amazon river to check for Piranhas. I think Toyota is quite aware now that there are more bad drivers out there than they originally thought. Not just bad drivers, but people who don't have access to unbiased information in the news. And I haven't even got to the pathological liars yet.

Picture: Graph shows the complaints spiked after the news stories got out, and not when Toyota installed fly by wire throttles, as the Class action lawsuit lawyers alleged.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sons of Anarchy TV Show

In our culture, we have criminal "Biker gangs", and somehow the blame for this is placed on the motorcycles themselves. What is overlooked is the influence that war and war veterans have had on creating this culture.

Last week, while riding around I noticed a biker go by with a large patch on the back of his jacket with the words "Sons of Anarchy". I wondered briefly if this was either a new motorcycle gang, or maybe the anarchists were getting into the hobby of motorcycling. But then this morning I came across another mention of "Sons of Anarchy" in the news, in a story where the SOA had apparently been snubbed by the Emmy Awards. Now my interest was piqued, so I started Googling and found out that "Sons of Anarchy" is a regular weekly show on the FX Cable Channel. I don't have this channel, so I didn't know anything about the show, even though it has been on for a couple of years at least.

I was disappointed to find out that is is a show about a classical "Hell's Angels" type biker gang. As if we need to perpetuate these criminal stereotypes even more than they have been in the past fifty years. Furthermore, it does appear to be a product placement opportunity for the Harley Davidson Motor Company. This type of PR does not make me want to buy a Harley Davidson, in fact the very opposite. But then I wasn't shopping for a Harley anyway, so my puny boycott isn't going to hurt them one bit.

Katy Segal has one of the starring roles. She previously had the role of "Peg Bundy" in "Married With Children". Peg was a big-haired, not too bright, lazy wife of the even crazier shoe salesman and ex-high school football star, Al Bundy. Now I guess Katy is starting to find roles that are breaking away from that stereotype, which is good for her. But not so good for motorcycling.

From a basic rundown on the plot that I was reading on the Internet, it almost seems like a soap opera crossed with a '60s biker movie. It takes place in a small and fictitious northern California town named Charming. But in spite of the small town setting, the Real IRA are involved, so are white supremacists, and a rival motorcycle gang. Drugs, porn, crime, rape, guns, prison terms abound of course. But so do good family values such as loyalty, helping one another, and I can't think of any others.

So this show joins a list of TV shows such as "The Sopranos" and "24" that I also dislike, because they portray violence as the norm, not the exception. They also promote violence as necessary. Too bad we can't ever go back to the "Lone Ranger" who only shot the gun out of bad guy's hands without killing or injuring him.

Speaking of Biker movies, this is the fortieth anniversary of "Easy Rider", a movie that you could argue was also about biker gangs and violence. But I did like Easy Rider, and I don't think it was the same as "Sons of Anarchy". Easy Rider's main characters might have made money selling or smuggling drugs, but this was done either before the movie, or in the first minute of the movie, and it was not portrayed as a violent crime. In the entire movie, I don't think they engaged in a single act of violence. Maybe a little crime, if you consider smoking a joint a crime. The only violence in the movie was actually committed against them not by them. I consider Easy Rider to be a "liberal" biker movie.

Now we apparently have people riding motorcycles with the names of fictitious TV motorcycle gangs on the backs of their jackets. I suppose next we can expect bikers to start getting tattoos of TV shows.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bikers Guide: Port Stanley to Port Dover at Sunset

Port Stanley to Port Dover, Ontario is a good motorcycle road, despite some "problems". The first one being, there is no road. Instead, you need to navigate a confusing series of interconnecting roads, following the coastline. And even then you are not usually close to the lake. The problem with this coastline is that in many places it is eroding inland at a rate of about a metre a year, so it is impossible to build a road along the coast, and in places, where old roads have been abandoned, you must detour even further inland. People do not often attempt to build cottages along this stretch, because first the erosion problem, and next, the high clay cliff that overlooks lake Erie makes access to the beach difficult.

Considering the difficult geography, and complicated road layout, the route itself is very good motorcycling. Much of the rest of southern Ontario is fairly flat, and many of the roads are laid out in a square grid through farmland.

So, to us motorcyclists in southern Ontario, the route from Port Stanley to Port Dover has a few very welcome hills and curves. Unfortunately, most of them are in 50 kph zones, due to the geography. Some creeks run out to lake Erie along this shoreline, and each one has eroded a fairly deep valley as it approaches the lake. This is what creates opportunities for the road builders to get creative and throw in a few curves, with rapid changes of elevation. But these creeks are also the places where the various towns and villages are located, because these are also the just about the only places that it is worth while building on the shore of the lake. So most of the curves are in villages and towns. It's a bit frustrating, but the towns are also picturesque, and have beaches, outdoor cafes, and facilities. However, gas stations and Tim Horton's are sparse. But if you can hold on till Port Dover, you can get both.

I suppose a GPS might be useful here, but I don't have one. Although I have done this route many times, it still occasionally has thrown me off. But if I was doing it the first time, and had no GPS, I might just check Google maps first and write up a note card to slip in a map pocket.

This was a sunset ride. I started out from Port Stanley at about 8:00 PM, but because it was July 12th, the sun was still up, and better still, was behind me. With this angle of the sun, the scenery is also more dramatic, and it's a little cooler. Actually this is better than mid-day in many ways, but you end up in Port Dover when a lot of places are closed and people are going home.

In each coastal community, I drive right down to the middle of town, as this is the most interesting part, even though in most places, you need to double back to get on the road to the next place. The road rarely forces you to go through the beach/shopping/cafe areas of these towns. I start off with Port Stanley, driving right down to the beach where there is beach volleyball going on in about four courts, and people sitting around eating hot dogs or sitting at outdoor cafes. A lot of people are still in the water, even at 8:00 PM because of the heat. To get out of Port Stanley, I cross the lift bridge, and go up the hill across from the main traffic light. At the top of the hill is a confusing three-way stop, where I have to figure out that I need to turn left (the road ahead is marked "NO EXIT"), and that I am the only vehicle without a stop sign. There are three stops signs, with a car waiting for me at each one. Then I drive to the base of the Port Stanley water tower and turn right to follow the coast road to the next place, Port Bruce.

In Port Bruce, if you turn right, you can get to the waterfront park, surrounded by beach, canal, and some outdoor eating places. Just make a complete loop counter clockwise around the park and you will return to the main road, where you can take the bridge across the creek, and head for Copenhagen, where you can turn right toward Port Burwell.

The road to Port Burwell has many wind turbines. If you hate the sight of wind turbines, you might find this part of the trip painful. However I think they are about as beautiful as any other man-made structure I have ever seen, and a lot more appealing than some. So it's a plus for me, might be a deal breaker for you.

In Port Burwell after the bridge, I always go straight down to the beach, where there is a turnaround and a hot dog stand (closed at this hour). Then back up the road and turn right on 42, also Wellington Road, at the Lighthouse restaurant. Soon I end up on Lakeshore Road, heading for Long Point.

Long Point is 40 km long, and I do not usually attempt to travel down it. Instead I pass through the towns of Port Royal, and Port Rowan on the mainland. In the shopping section of Port Rowan, if I remember, (but I didn't this time) I make a right turn on Wolven Street, which will keep me near the lake. This time I just keep following 42 to the end, turn right, and I end up right back on Lakeshore Road anyway. Port Rowan does not have a bridge, being built near a sandspit instead of on a creek.

Next is Turkey Point, which is very easy to miss and is far off the road. But for me it's worth while and I do have a shortcut. Turn right at Turkey Point Road, turn left at the beach, and follow the road past the beaches and concessions until it says "No exit". Turn left and follow the road up the hill to the stop sign, turn right, and you are back on Lakeshore Road toward Port Dover again.

The road now goes through Normandale, Fisher's Glen, and Port Ryerse. I don't take any dead end loops in these towns, as the shortest way through is scenic enough for me. But coming out of Normandale, on Spooky Hollow Road after you are back on top of the cliff in farmland, don't forget to make a right on Front Road or you will end up back on 24 and miss the last bits of excitement before Port Dover.

Front Street takes you through Fisher's Glen, and once again, coming out of the village, you need to make a right on Front Road, or it's back to Highway 24. If you have a GPS, you will figure it out even though it seems unmarked by any signs. Otherwise, it's the first right after the top of the hill.

Now the same trick happens a third time at Port Ryerse, which is starting to get tiresome. I suppose that the road builders just don't like to encourage through traffic, but enough is enough. Anyway, leaving Port Ryerse, at the top of the hill, you need to make a right on to Port Ryerse Road, or you will end up back on highway 24. Once on Port Ryerse Road, continue to the stop sign, and turn right on Radical Road, which takes you into Port Dover.

Now it should be 9:30 PM and dark, but Tim Horton's and the nearby BB Gas Bar are both open. If you do get lost, there's always highway 24 to Simcoe. It's easy to find.

Picture: I forgot my camera, so Sunset at Port Stanley is from this website

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Subliminal Message of "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Several news programs mentioned the 50th anniversary of the book "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, on July 11. I was pretty sure I had read the book and seen the movie, and from what I remembered it was a liberal point of view, pushing tolerance and justice.

I did a little research, and found out some interesting facts that I did not know when I first saw the movie.

Surprisingly, British librarians ranked the book ahead of the Bible as one "every adult should read before they die". Apparently American librarians are not so sure, in fact there have been many campaigns to get the book banned. I assume the campaigns are mounted by conservatives.

We are fed a steady diet of slick conservative propaganda today. For example "The Hurt Locker" won the Oscar for best picture. So I wanted to dredge up some old liberal propaganda to counteract it. I reread most of the book, which is available in .pdf here. I had to rent the movie (because it is not on youtube).

My own observation about the movie is that Gregory Peck seemed perfect for it, and later I found out from the DVD that he personally pushed the movie into production, the studios considered it too controversial. To see what I mean about Gregory Peck himself being a "liberal", check out "The Big Country" (1958) on youtube where he stars as an eastern sea captain visiting cowboy country and refuses to carry a gun.

The timing of "To Kill a Mockingbird" was just before the peak of the Civil Rights movement, and you could argue that this book had a propaganda influence similar to the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in its time before the end of slavery.

The author, Harper Lee, wrote the book based on her personal experiences. For example, her father was a lawyer who in real life defended a black man, and this incident is the basis for the centre piece of the plot. Harper Lee, as a child, was Scout Finch, who narrates, and is in the centre of the story. Scout is a young tomboy despite the criticism of relatives and neighbours. This give the opportunity for some discussion of gender roles in the book.

Her little friend, Dill, from the book and movie, in real life was Truman Capote, who later on also became a famous author.

What makes this book propaganda? There are a lot of subliminal ideas in here, that you may not even notice until pointed out. Atticus Finch (the father and lawyer) is obviously a liberal. He is educated, kind, tolerant, polite and wise. He always seems to do the right thing, which sometimes takes a lot of courage. You may notice in the movie that his kids call him "Atticus" instead of father, which is shocking to a lot of people, especially conservatives. You may not notice that he never beats his kids. His kids respect him, but at times they also defy him, another shock to conservative parents. Basically, the kids grow up fine (though liberal) in the end, and you may be tempted to believe that it is not necessary to beat your children. All radical liberal ideas.

But the biggest part of the book is propaganda about white people vs. black people. In the book (even more in the movie), all the black people are kind, modest, generous, polite, intelligent, hard working, sympathetic. While some of the white people are mean, nasty, stupid, ignorant, violent, lying, and in need of a bath. Of course it would be more realistic to have a little balance here, but the point of the story is to destroy some of the racist attitudes that still prevailed in the nineteen fifties, and still exist today. That's where propaganda like this was actually needed and useful. (and still is needed today).

Although I call this story propaganda, you should remember that there is good propaganda, and bad propaganda. In this story, good propaganda helps people become more racially tolerant, less fearful of black people, and more understanding of their problems. The other type of propaganda is bad, the type that increases fear of minorities, increases hatred, and by spreading lies, make it harder to understand the problems of oppressed people. The Nazis used bad propaganda against Jews. Gregory Peck and Harper Lee use good propaganda to spread tolerance and justice for African Americans.

Picture: Atticus Finch and Scout (Gregory Peck and Mary Badham), with Scout in boys' overalls and wearing a sort of boyish moptop before the Beatles made it famous in America, but after they started wearing it in Britain.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Scientific Limits to Errors

This quote about science setting a limit to infinite error caught my interest.

“The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set a limit to infinite error.” Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht was a leftist, Marxist, probably socialist, German poet who fled Nazi Germany, got to the USA and was hounded by the anti-communists in the McCarthy era, and left the USA, ending up in communist East Germany.

Every time you get a debate between scientists and anti-scientists, a pattern emerges. The evidence and proofs from anti scientists are endless, you might say infinite. For example, I once was given a set of nine videotapes, two hours long each, packed with "proofs" that evolution was a hoax. Although it was possible to refute the proofs one by one, it was apparent that someone could create these proofs in less time than it took to refute them. And because religious fundamentalists are working constantly on proving evolution is false, the mountain of "evidence" against Darwinian evolution is actually growing day by day.

Scientific people dislike false arguments. They are generally capable of recognising many of the tricks that can be used to cheat, dupe, brainwash, and hoodwink people into believing something. And scientists do not like to be duped. (of course nobody does, do they?)

On the other hand, many non-scientific people, who are not able to judge truth scientifically, see only the sheer number of arguments presented by each side. If the Religious fundamentalists have 10,000 arguments against 20 arguments as to why evolution is not a hoax, the fundamentalists appear to win. Apparently only a scientist cares that none of the fundamentalists arguments make sense, while each of the pro-evolution arguments are solid.

A non scientific person will never admit that their only concern is the sheer number of arguments. Of course not, as that would be stupid. They will say that each one of the 10,000 arguments against evolution can and must be debated on its own, with both sides presenting their arguments.

Unfortunately, what happens when you debate Evolution, happens again on the next level when you debate, say the jawbone of Neanderthal man. Once again, fundamentalists can create more than 10,000 arguments that prove their side of the jawbone argument, while scientists can only come up with a handful of reasons why this argument is wrong.

By the principle of recursion, you can now take just one of the 10,000 jawbone arguments, and come up with 10,000 more phony arguments, at the next lower level and this can go on to infinity.

The concept of infinity is very powerful. If you wish to take just one of the 10,000 arguments against evolution, and prove it is wrong, you will get into an infinite spiral of nonsense.

To combat this infinity of errors, scientists have developed written and unwritten rules. The main one being if even one of your arguments is shaky and unsound, you are out, removed, in the penalty box, red-carded, until you remove it, apologise for it, and come back with a sound argument.

So we come back to the insight by Bertolt Brecht. Science does not try for infinite wisdom. Science does not try to answer speculative questions "what does God look like" unless there is a way to verify the answer with evidence. By not engaging in baseless and boundless speculative reasoning, science limits error. On the other hand, religious fundamentalists may argue that by simply following the bible as the word of God, they are the ones who have limited errors.

Once you eliminate the spiral of nonsense, you are left with some basic differences in philosophy. For example, the typical endgame argument between religion and science is this:

Religious: "Science has no answer for who created the universe."

Scientific: "We don't have a problem with not knowing, we do have a problem with people making s**t up"

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Message is More Important Than the Miracle

I had this thought twenty years ago. The miracles performed by Jesus were not actually a suspension of the laws of science, they were a transformation of the human spirit. Let's go over a few of them

Jesus transformed water to wine. Why? So that a wedding ceremony could be performed. In my opinion it is more believable, and actually more miraculous, and more convincing, that Jesus worked the magic in the minds of the wedding party, so that they would not spoil the wedding by complaining that there was no wine. I know it sounds a bit like a Jedi mind trick, but let's not underestimate the power of a mind trick. Is Jesus more interested performing parlour tricks to impress the locals, or is he more concerned about altering people's spirits, and making them more open minded towards using water instead of wine?

Jesus fed the multitude with loaves and fishes. Why? So that they would not be hungry during his sermon. They passed around a small basket of bread and fish, not enough for everyone. But everyone ate, and some was left over. Was it because bread and fish materialized inside the basket? Or was it because some people who brought a lunch for themselves, put some of it into the basket to share with others. I think Jesus would be more pleased with people sharing than he would be with the trick of materializing more food. Sharing is part of his message. Creating more food is not the point he was trying to make.

Now we come to the greatest miracle of all, and one that we are called to share in. Jesus said "Love your enemy". What he means, I think, is that by loving your enemy, you will find peace and security. It may not be obvious to some who trust only in weapons and brutal repression for their safety. But according to Jesus, love wins out in the end. It is a miracle, but only if we believe it and do it.

Jesus came to Earth with only one message, it was love. All the rest is froth and fluff. Today, we have some Christians who believe that praying to Jesus can heal their body's ailments, defeat their enemies, and even make them rich, with fine jewelry, and new cars.

Fundamentalist Christians say they believe every word of the bible is true, except for the part about "love your enemy". They are fine with believing that snakes can talk, that Noah's ark held all the animals in the world, that the world is going to end soon, that Jesus is coming to take them and only them to heaven, that devils and evil spirits are everywhere, that God created every man to be evil, and that God created the entire universe only to provide a little illumination in the sky of planet Earth.

But if Jesus says "love your enemy", "Judge not lest ye be judged", "If they slap you turn the other cheek", well that's where they think Jesus is just a bit naive. And so it's not possible that Jesus really mean it, he really meant get every weapon you can and fight for land that is not legally yours, and utterly destroy those that oppose you and hate you.

Some self proclaimed Christians believe every childish fairy tale in the Bible, but cannot imagine for one second that if they stopped bombing innocent people, stopped torturing prisoners, stopped stealing land by military force, that Jesus could be right, and peace might occur. Call it a miracle if you wish, but I certainly think it's a bit more likely than the silly and still unscientifically proven "miracles" being presented to us ever day by some TV evangelists.

Picture: If you really must have this action figure, or others like it, go here

Biker's Guide to Penetanguishene

In this day trip, I visited Barrie, Midland, Penetanguishene and Awenda Provincial Park. But originally, I started out from Kitchener with the idea of taking a much longer day trip than my usual Port Dover run, by visiting Parry Sound instead. That didn't work out. The first plan hit a snag on the outskirts of Barrie. Car drivers like to celebrate reaching Barrie on highway 400 by all applying their brake lights at the same time. So I got off at exit 90, thinking I would go to the MacDonald's for lunch and wait for the brake light celebration to be over. However, the left lane leading to McDonald's was backed up all the way to the ramp, so I took the lane less travelled, and went right. I was sure I would find the city of Barrie, but I did not, and soon pulled over in a remote swampy area to check my 10 year old map of Ontario. A young man in a car stopped and offered advice on how to reach Barrie. Apparently the lane less travelled is less travelled for a good reason, it headed back to Toronto.

So I turned around and decided on french fries at the beach in Barrie. I found it without a GPS, using all the pre-computer reconnaissance tricks: Follow any streets named "Lakeshore" something. Note the direction of any young girls walking in bikinis, and that will point to the beach. Finally, keep heading downhill until you hit water, then park somewhere that you can smell french fries.

After filling up on fries, which by the way were excellent, I scrapped my plan to visit Parry Sound, and decided on a little end-of-the-road place called Sawlog Bay in Tiny Township. On the way, I could visit Midland and Penetanguishene. By the time I got to Midland, I could feel that I was ready for a nap. If I have a short nap when I'm feeling drowsy, I will be awake for the rest of the day, and if not it can be very dangerous. So at the harbourfront in Midland, I parked and found a nearby bench, in the shade, where I used my rolled up jacket for a pillow and fell asleep for maybe ten minutes. On waking up, I needed a coffee and donut, and wondered where I might find one. But this being Canada, I decided to simply stand in one place and turn in a circle, scanning the distance for a Tim Horton's sign. I found one on a heading East by South East.

Back on the road, I was using my sense of direction to find Penetanguishene, which I did but somehow I also ended up in the middle of the compound of the Institute for the Criminally Insane. I was not sure how to get back out, and I wanted to ask someone, but how could I tell the difference between the psychos and the doctors? In a normal asylum, sure, it's easy, the Doctors wear the lab coats and the inmates have strait jackets. But in this place, the inmates are also fiendishly clever criminals, who might pretend to be a doctor. So I just drove around without asking directions until I found a way out.

For my next destination, I wanted to get to Sawlog Bay, but missed Champlain Road and got lost again. This time, while I had the map out, a couple on a three wheeled Bombardier Spyder stopped to help. He got me pointed in the right direction, and I made it to Sawlog Bay. I stopped at a little park with a view of Giant's Tomb Island. Then I discovered that Sawlog Bay was not the end of the road, it kept going and got even more interesting as it wound through Awenda Provincial Park. It's free to ride through if you don't stop and use the facilities, which I didn't.

Then I headed back to Penetanguishene and parked at the dock, where there is also a Tourist Information office. I got a little map of town, and asked about the restaurant on the dock called "Dock Lunch" . The information guy recommended the Greek Salad, but suggested that I get the small, which could feed two normal people. The large would need to be shared among three to four. He was right.

I parked right outside "Dock Lunch" and walked in to place my order. I spotted a group of young men watching a tiny TV with excitement. It was Ghana vs. Uruguay in the world cup, I was firmly rooting for Ghana, after living three years in West Africa. The ending of that game has got to go down in World Cup history. The World Cup is popular in Canada, because almost everybody has some country to root for, (or against, in some cases).

I am one of those people becoming concerned about all the warning labels on everything, but up till now I had never seen one like this in a restaurant or bar. The warning sign said "Use the stools at your own risk".

Once the game was over, I managed to finish most of the Greek Salad, which was my "healthy" food for the day, but also tastes good. I noticed two guys on motorcycles, a Kawasaki "Mean Streak" and a BMW K1200GT, and I spent a few minutes talking to them, but apparently I wasn't listening too good, because as usual I forgot their names, although for some reason I always remember the bikes. But this conversation brought up an interesting point. Some motorcyclists these days do not know the engine configuration of their bikes. I think it is not only because they are covered with plastic and you can't see them, but also because they never break down any more and you don't need to look at them. This was unheard of up until the fifties and sixties, when bikes used to have tool kits, and owners manuals that told you important things like where the spark plugs were. Because you would need to know.

By this time it was 6:00 PM, and I had left home at 10:00 AM. Six hours on the road. I decided to take the direct route home, which from Penetanguishene is the highway 93 to 400 south, to 401 west, and Kitchener. By 8:15 I was in my driveway. Such a miracle, these freeways, like being transported through a time warp.

On this longer than usual trip, I went without the windshield or a backrest, and leaning into the wind seemed to reduce the back pain I normally feel after a couple of hours on the road.

One problem that is worse with motorcycles than cars, is riding with the sun in your eyes. Today at 8 PM I had a chance to try out a little trick that seems to work for riding directly into the sun. I put some black electrical tape on bottom edge of the helmet face shield, then flip up the face shield midway, so the tape blocks the sun from my eyes. You only have to move your head a little to cover the sun, and the Scorpion EXO1000 is perfect for this. The face shield holds its middle position well at highways speeds, and the flip down sun screen protects your eyes while the clear screen is up. One strip of tape is enough, you still need to be able to see if you flip down the face shield. When I don't need the black electrical tape, I put it on the chrome headlight shell, where it can help block the sun's reflection at other times.

I posted a picture album here,_Ontario