Thursday, December 31, 2009

No More Broken Promises Ever Again

Last year I set up a new major religion. For 2010, I will start up a new political party for the United States of America, one that brings guaranteed results. No more disappointments ever.

It has often been commented that both Democrats and Republicans are hoping for the other guy's President to fail. For example, the Democrats were hoping for Bush to fail, meaning America would lose the war in Iraq. And the economy would crash and everybody lose their jobs. And how about another terrorist attack just for good measure? Then Republicans were hoping for Obama to fail. Meaning no health care, no bailing out the auto industry or the banks, no stimulus package, losing the war in Afghanistan, and having the economy crash and everybody lose their jobs. It would be the icing on the cake to have another terrorist attack and many Americans killed.

Am I understanding that right so far? Because if so, I have a candidate and a slogan everybody could get behind. I would call it the Party of Failure, and the campaign slogan would be "Guaranteed to F****n Fail". For Prez, I would nominate Borat, and I would like Sarah Palin as the VP. Best of all, Borat is not even qualified to be President, as he was born in Kazakhstan, and is an illegal alien. Now there's a change you can believe in, and nobody who voted for him would ever be disappointed once he got in the White House. Next time don't vote for change and be disappointed, instead, vote for failure and get exactly what you voted for.

Don't sweat the details of the PoF platform, because as president of the USA you are pretty much going to fail no matter what you do. So I am not going to worry about the details of what is being promised. Put 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan? You lose. Put 200,000 more? Still lose. Take out all the troops next year? America is still the most hated country on the planet.

Spend one trillion dollars of stimulus money? No new jobs, no improvement of infrastructure either. Money disappears, economy continues death spiral. Don't spend any stimulus money? Same happens, except this time you do not understand why the debt still increased by one trillion dollars.

Health care? Sure, it sucks, so go ahead and create those death panels. Insure 30,000,000 extra people that aren't even sick. People are still going to die of sickness, and the debt will still increase.

Guantanamo? Turn them all loose, or give them all a fair trial, or waterboard them till the cows come home. I'm pretty sure all those options lead to a major failure. You're going to meet voter expectations no matter what you do.

Bail out the banks that crashed the economy, and then sit back and watch as the top executives take 25 billion dollars of the bailout money as performance bonuses. What greater failure could you ever aspire to?

Send President Borat overseas, and you can be sure that he would not only be touching the Queen of England's tushie, he would be mud wrestling with her. And of course losing. And not just bowing to the Japanese Emperor, but bowing while puking on him. The Borat administration is guaranteed by the campaign slogan to be a foreign relations fiasco beyond compare. While back at home the economy tanks. And instead of all the voters wailing and gnashing their teeth in frustration, everybody can be smugly satisfied and say "I knew this would happen."


The Myth of Limitless High Priced Oil

Here is a comment off the Internet about why we should not invest in alternate energy right now.
"Crude oil, next to water, is the most plentiful liquid in our globe. We are not in danger of running out of crude for at least 100 years — probably much longer. The supply during this period would be limited by the price, not by any metaphysical limit of the amount of crude oil. A higher price will produce massive amounts of crude. There is no reason, at this point, to impoverish our nation with a new system of expensive, unproven “sustainable energy.” Does anyone have any doubt that by 2100 we will have found new ways of tapping nature for our energy needs?"
by derekcrane
To me it does not matter whether we have more or less oil than water, or whether oil is second or tenth on the list of earth liquids, or even if oil is a liquid, gas or solid. However, an estimate of the number of years left is worth knowing, and although 100 years seems to have been picked out of the air, I'm going to go with it, as I have nothing better to offer.

Derek is quite right in stating that the price will dictate the amount of oil available. But is he aware that there are two sides to the price issue? Side 1. How much it costs. Side 2. How much you can afford to pay. Derek seems to ignore the affordability, probably thinking that America will always have enough money to pay for the oil no matter how much it costs.

It is very complicated calculating the real cost of oil. It's not just the cost per barrel on the market alone. It's how much more money was wasted, either in trying to obtain oil (whether successful or not), transporting and extracting the oil, in protecting your oil supplies, defending supply routes, or in trying to deny other people access to oil that you want for yourself. Also in trying to fight an evil dictator who happens to be sitting on top of the world's richest oil reserves. All these problems get worse as the oil gets more scarce, and more valuable. For example, the more an oil tanker is worth, the harder pirates will try to capture it.

Was the war in Iraq priced into the cost of oil in the US? Then oil would cost a lot more, but instead the cost of the war was largely assigned to a military budget, and paid for out of the general tax pool. Which means basically money was borrowed from China, because the US tax pool does not want to pay for anything. If an unlimited supply of oil was available in the US, maybe the war would not have taken place. If oil was cheap, Saddam would be no threat.

Another cost that is not being calculated is the cost of global warming. Maybe that cost will turn out to be zero, but it would be prudent to budget for it anyway, starting now. Lets say the US military is right in it's estimate that global warming is going to cause a big (and expensive) security threat. That cost is not being assigned to oil right now, but it probably should be.

As oil gets harder to find, it takes more oil to produce the oil, so the price does not go up linearly, it goes up exponentially. In Canada's tar sands, we may already be operating at less than 50% efficiency, where two barrels of crude are burned to extract one barrel.

Not only is the price of oil going up, but your buying power is decreasing. In fact, already America does not have enough money to pay cash any imports, including oil, imports are financed by borrowing. It takes years to build up a debt but the lender (mostly China) can pull the plug in minutes when they think they no longer need you. At the point where your loans are called in, you no longer have enough credit to continue importing oil. When that happens, do you really care whether or not there is any oil left?

The world used to have lots of alternate sources of energy, but the exploitation of oil has just about eliminated any competing energy source. That's because oil has more bang for the buck than anything but atomic energy. Other energy sources, such as hydroelectric, solar, wind power are at least ten times as dilute, which makes them expensive and non-competitive. Especially so when so much of the secondary cost of oil is being hidden in military budgets and government subsidies.

Why should we invest in alternate energy starting right now? Because if we do nothing now, we are wasting time we will need to develop new technologies. Waiting till the last minute (even if it is more than a hundred years from now) and hoping for the best is not a good plan. Right now we can afford to do the research, and we have unemployment since all our manufacturing process has gone to China. We would not really miss the money invested in developing alternate energy sources, or in reducing our energy consumption. Using a word like "impoverish" is quite an overstatement for a country that spends billions of dollars a year in useless doodads from China, that get tossed in the landfill within weeks for some new toy.

Picture: from

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bank Bonuses Again

So an AIG executive has resigned over a pay issue.

All the bank executives want pay in the millions of dollars. Back in the eighties, air traffic controllers wanted a pay hike too. But Ronald Reagan fired all of them, and hired any back on at a reduced rate, and the skies have not been full of falling planes. It took guts, we need the same medicine for these morons running the banks.

One difference in the analogy is that the banking fat cats actually did crash the economy. Also, the bankers are asking for millions of dollars a year each do keep on doing what they did so well. The air traffic controllers only wanted a little more pay and a 32 hour work week.

I wrote about this before, and the same still is true.

Zen and the Art of Scientific Inquiry

One of my favourite books is "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig. I have already written one blog about that book, and several others mentioning it in passing. Now I'm coming back to it again, but this time in the context of science.

One thing that was obvious to me on reading the book was that the title could just as well have been "The Scientific Method of Motorcycle Maintenance". Although it might lack the punchiness, it would have been more accurate.

This sets up my question of the day. Does the title of the book reflect the fact that Americans are afraid of science?

Although he was an intellectual, Robert Pirsig was not a scientist, he was more into literature and philosophy. These intellectual activities had begun early in his life, at a time when he was sliding into a mental disorder. During his recovery, he discovered motorcycling. As part of motorcycling, he first became frustrated at trying to get his motorcycle maintained properly by professional mechanics. Then he decided to fix it himself, and almost accidentally stumbled across philosophical questions while troubleshooting and repairing his bike. One of these questions was about the usefulness of "scientific method" in dealing with motorcycle repair and maintenance.

Robert Pirsig started to understand that there is no black magic in a motorcycle, it can be completely understood in terms of science and engineering. So he learned something about the scientific method, and began applying it to solving the motorcycles' many problems. Soon his motorcycle was working like a charm, and he was then able to embark on a long ride far from his local mechanic, without fear of a breakdown.

Along the way, in Pirsig's voyage of discovery, he noticed that not everybody shared his enthusiasm for science. His travelling companion, a musician named John, riding a BMW motorcycle, hated technology. Every time something went wrong with John's bike, he had to find a professional mechanic. During the trip, John was reluctant even to understand the function of the choke. Later, the handlebars of his BMW began slipping. In this case an argument ensued because Pirsig suggested a way to solve the problem scientifically, and John refused to consider it. Robert Pirsig's suggestion was to take a square of aluminum from a beer can and use it as a shim to tighten the handlebar clamp. John had to find a BMW dealer, which wasted time and ended up with the same solution. Except that they used an expensive BMW shim made of aluminum instead of a cheap (free actually) shim from an aluminum beer can. Scientifically, there was no difference, as a shim only needs to resist compression on its thickness, so stiffness and tensile strength of the alloy are unimportant. Also, with a shim of this type, thickness and size do not need to be precise. Only the softness of the metal is, and any aluminum alloy is going to be soft enough to conform to the shape of the handlebar without scratching it, and strong enough to not be compressed by the adjusting bolts. But John regarded all such arguments with skepticism as if this science was some strange new religious cult.

So Robert Pirsig had embraced science and saw its usefulness particularly as it applied to motorcycle maintenance. But he learned that not all his countrymen do. Starting with the mechanics who destroyed his bike instead of repairing it, continuing with his friend John. In publishing the book, I don't know who decided that "art" rather than "science" would appear in the title, but I'll bet the decision had something to do with the American public's willingness to buy the book. In other words, no matter who thought of that title, the publisher apparently agreed that leaving "science" out of the title, but including "art" would not hurt sales. So we have the strange title with "Zen" and "Art", but no "science", that quite likely helped make the book the huge success it was.

There are plenty of well known examples showing that mainstream Americans are a bit leery of science. Russians, who do embrace science, were the first to put a satellite in space and a man in space, not the Americans. When the Americans needed to build up their space program to compete, they used Germans, notably Werner Von Braun, who they captured from the Nazis after WW2. While thinking about WW2, it was Germans escaping from the Nazis before the war, who developed the atomic bomb for America.

Coming forward to the present day, the most highly paid specialists in America are not engineers or scientists. They are bankers, who are not scientifically trained and have very little understanding of scientific method. If they did, the economy would not be crashing repeatedly. Also highly paid are musicians, actors, writers, sports heroes, doctors, lawyers, and TV evangelists. Scientists struggle in obscurity and at relatively low wages. And when they do make discoveries that are important to the world, Americans generally heap scorn on them. (I'm thinking of global warming).
Right wing Christian fundamentalists are formidable opponents of science in the US. They are still engaged in an epic struggle against the Theory of Evolution. And now they seem equally prepared to oppose global warming, and even stem cell research.

Some of the hostility for science seems to come from a dislike for the Nazis and the Communists, both were seen by Americans as scientists or engineers gone wild. So now science is somehow connected in the average Americans' mind as not only foreign, but Godless, the enemy, and totally lacking in morality.

On the other hand, Americans do seem to love technology, especially pickup trucks and guns. But they keep telling themselves that their technology was invented by God fearing religious people such as Thomas Edison, not atheists such as Darwin. The reality is that Edison was actually an atheist and Darwin was religious, but you would have to be kind of scientific, to even want to look that up.

As far as I'm concerned, the truth is that science is no less moral than religion, and maybe even more moral. And science is not inherently opposed to religion either, although there is a certain skepticism in science that could severely limit the wealth potential of some charismatic evangelical leaders. You know the ones I mean, the ones who sell valuable "miracles" on TV and live in palaces in gated communities.

Picture: The motorcycle riding robot. This is an English robot, they affectionately call her "Flossie". But the label of this web page from "Popular Science", an American Magazine, is "robot rides more efficiently probably kills more efficiently", in my opinion, another indicator of the ambivalence of Americans toward science.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Motorcycling in other Countries: Attitudes

I am re-reading a book by Ed Culberson titled "Obsessions Die Hard" about motorcycling the Pan American Highway's Jungle Gap. Just to explain, the Pan American highway has a notorious gap in it, between Panama and Columbia known as the Darien Gap. Ed's obsession was to not only drive a motorcycle through, on the planned route of the road, but to do it as part of a full length trip on the Pan Am highway that reaches from Alaska to near the tip of South America at Ushuaia. As far as I know, this gap still exists.

I own a copy of this book, which I bought personally from Ed at a BMW rally in North Carolina, USA in 1993. I am now in the process of re-reading the book. Probably the most important difference between Ed and I in our motorcycling is that he is from a military background, which I will characterize as traditional conservative. I am from a more liberal background, and my overseas experience has been as a CUSO volunteer, which is more analogous the the US Peace Corps, rather than the Marine Corps.

When I met Ed we did talk a little about motorcycling at this rally, and I remember specifically he was chiding me for not shaving. Yes, back then I didn't bother shaving when I was on a motorcycle trip. My attitude was that shaving was a waste of time that could be better spent riding. I didn't even carry a razor or an electric shaver with me. But I did consider Ed's words, and thought maybe he did have a point about presenting a cleaner image to others. So a few days later when I reached Florida for the "Sun Your Buns" rally, I went to a barber shop in Venice. I was not really a frequent patron of barber shops, so I didn't know what to expect, but I had seen movies, and I thought it was normal to ask for a haircut and a shave. There was an immediate reaction to this. I was told "No, a shave is impossible". When I inquired innocently why not, I found out that apparently everyone was afraid of catching aids, so barbers were no longer allowed to shave people. Well there went the main reason why I was in the shop in the first place, which again was mainly because of Ed. But I decided since I was there anyway, to go ahead with a hair cut. "How do you you want it?" he said. "Bush, Perot, or Clinton?" Apparently, between these three Presidential candidates, you just about covered 99.9% of hairstyles men asked for in a barber shop in 1993. Check out the pictures. I chose Bush, because I am always middle of the road in everything.

So getting back to Ed and his book, the more I thought about it, the more I noticed that we had a completely different viewpoint not only on motorcycling, but on our view of local inhabitants. One aspect of motorcycling I liked was that local people were more friendly to motorcyclists than they are to car drivers. Each time I approached a military road block in Sierra Leone, somebody always came to meet me and wave me around all the cars that were lined up being searched. To this day I can't explain why that always happened, but it was part of an overall friendlier attitude to motorcycles than to cars. I got the same treatment over and over again in different ways. It's quite different in the USA where bikers are seen as more threatening than car drivers. I got the feeling in Africa of being trusted more because I was on a bike, and it also fit in with my CUSO philosophy that I tried to respect local culture, and I was in Sierra Leone trying to help the people. Ed, from a military intelligence background, instead used his motorcycle as a cover for his intelligence gathering operations. He had noticed the same attitude that I did, and took advantage of it. I saw that as being not only an opposite attitude, but that Ed was actually undermining the trust people had for motorcyclists. These days we have kidnappings of health workers and so on in various countries, with the pretext that they could be spies. Well, if real spies are using motorcycles for cover, I suppose that could be true.

From reading his book, Ed also seemed to have a suspicious attitude toward locals. For example, he writes that he got offered a boat ride to a place he needed to go. When he asked "How much?" he was told, no charge, just pay for the gas. I would call that a friendly offer and would say thanks. But Ed wrote that he thought it was a scam, because the boat owner also insisted once the trip started, that he needed more gas to return to his home. Which again to my unsuspicious mind would be fair, as the guy has to get home. Then Ed complained that the gas was 4 dollars a gallon. Well, again, he is in a place with no roads in or out. Anyhow, I was just reading this in the book, and I didn't get a chance to ask Ed about it or I might have mentioned that gas even in the UK is four times the price of the USA. But once again, I think Ed and I had different attitudes, could it be military vs. liberal? Because for sure it was all about appearances vs. sincerity, if you consider the spying and the shaving.

Nowhere is it more obvious, though than in the task Ed took on for himself of carving a path through the Darien Gap. Although I sometimes got off the beaten path myself in Sierra Leone, I never took on this kind of "conquest" you might call it. One time I went into a military restricted area with a letter of permission from my school principal. On other adventures I found back roads that hardly anybody knew about, that were great shortcuts for getting around the country. One place I crossed a small river that had no bridge. And that was about it. I suppose some CUSO volunteers were more adventuresome than I on motorcycles. But Ed was taking on a life threatening 100 mile trip where the motorcycle had to be carried as much as driven. That is starting to resemble a military campaign more than a ride in the park.

I read this part again with greater interest than last time:
"some observers claim that the myth of the Darien may have been transformed into something more sinister - the Curse of the Darien."
Then Ed gives many examples of people who challenged the Darien and died, mysteriously or not. He writes further:
"These stories did not overly concern me in 1985 as I was preparing to make my first attempt at the gap. Not being superstitious, I did not really care whether the myth had been destroyed or transformed into some sort of curse, or even if it existed at all. I could not afford to worry over vague tales of how Darien Gappers had struck down in retribution for their trespassing."
Here at least, about superstition, Ed and I are in agreement. However two years after I met him, four years after he printed the book with those words, Ed Culberson died of ALS.

The Subliminal Message of Avatar 3D

Now that Avatar 3D has taken in over 600 million in ten days, it looks set to be the first movie to break a billion dollars. And Mary Ann and I have not even had a chance to see it the second time yet. When we did go, the theatre was so full we had to sit dead centre of a row with over 50 seats. Then I had to leave before the movie for a pit stop, or I would not have made it through the movie without a major interruption. Then when I came back, I accidentally came in one row below my seat, and when I finally fought my way back to the middle of the wrong row, Mary Ann sympathetically had her biggest laugh of the day. So I was kind of hoping the crowds would thin out a bit, but it doesn't look like it's going to be happening soon. Anyway, I will prepare next time by not going for coffee just before the movie.

I just read in the New York Times, an editorial by Adam Cohen who said both the technology and the message of Avatar are about "seeing". The 3D technology of the movie allows you to "see" the movie in depth. There are also several points in the movie that reinforce the subliminal message, for example the movie begins and ends with eyes opening, and later on you discover the Na'vi have a saying "I see you" which is explained carefully in the movie. It means not just "seeing" superficially, but seeing into, and understanding the other.

I didn't get the hidden message of "seeing" and how it fit in with the 3D technology the first time I saw the movie. For me, it was a subliminal message, which I probably did get at a subconscious level. But this hidden message is relevant to propaganda, which I have written over 60 blogs about, and is one of my favourite subjects. (along with motorcycling)

Two complementary aims of propaganda are to either open peoples' eyes to what is going on, or to help keep people from seeing what is going on. One typical reaction people have, when they get involved unknowingly in a propagandized debate, is frustration with the other side. Often you hear something like "Why can't you wake up and see what's going on?". It is a clue to the fact that this issue is propagandized. Once you understand that, you know that the debate is not really taking place in the conscious world of logic, but in the psychological world of propaganda, where what you "see" is controlled behind the scenes.

To some people, Avatar is propaganda to support environmentalism, and anti-military. If so, the military and mining interests must have really dropped the ball to let this enormous piece of propaganda get out where millions of people will see it, and it could very well degrade their ability to either wage war or to make money in destroying places like the Amazon.

I have a link to a clip from Avatar, where the new recruits arrive at the moon of Pandora and are greeted by Colonel Quaritch, who gives them a military briefing and, I think, a superficial view of this moon and its indigenous people. But the rest of the movie makes it pretty clear that when you live among other people, you see them as more than just cardboard cutouts to be used for target practice. That's why 3D technology is vital to this movie's message, especially given the problem that the Na'vi cannot be filmed live (they are not real), but need to be done in animated drawings.

(UPDATE: Jan 7, 2010 I have seen Avatar a second time and have written another blog called "Judge for Yourself if Avatar is Simplistic." )

Picture: From the military briefing "You're not in Kansas any more", video clip

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Some Titanic Delusions

I have a theory to explain why so many people are easily duped by ideas that have gaping holes in their logic. I think much of it has to do with watching too many fictional movies. If movies were logical, or realistic, maybe we would not be so gullible, but most movies are based impossible assumptions that apparently are accepted as absolute truth.

Many movie plots contain coincidences that would rarely if ever happen in real life. Movie characters behave in ways that real people almost never would. Even technology, which you might think would be easy to judge on it's realism, is not realistic. In every case, the movie's plot, and the success of the hero depends on these unrealistic assumptions. And millions of people continue to watch the movies and are satisfied with how they turn out, and do not question the impossibility of the whole thing.

In real life, there are people who cannot figure out that movies like "Die Hard", and TV shows like "24", could never happen, and the very same people are making up their own minds about such things as going to war in Iraq, whether global warming is real, and how the economy should be rebuilt after a crash.

Sometimes the errors are hard to spot, and that's because we don't all have the experience to spot the errors right away. But just ask a real policeman to look at an average movie about police work. Ask a real teacher to look at a movie like "To Sir With Love", ask a real mental hospital worker to look at a movie like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". You will find out that all of these are impossible, yet people walk out of those movies wondering why we still have problems of mental health, when all it takes is a bit of plain talk and all those psychos would be cured.

For people who have never been to war you have movies like "The Great Escape". It is based on a true war, and true events, but had to be so changed to make it believable to people who had never been in a war. I think this is true of most war movies even when based on real events. The war movies that are pure fiction are even worse. They glorify pretend war to the point that people can no longer begin to comprehend real war.

Out of all the thousands of fictional movies that have been made I want to pick one example, because I happen to have a bit of experience that most people do not have. Titanic, by James Cameron, who just released "Avatar". I'm not going to comment on Avatar because I have never been off planet Earth. And of course I was not on the Titanic either. But when I was 10 years old, I did go on two transatlantic crossings on one of the last of the classic ocean liners. I mean ships that carried people across the Atlantic before airplanes made them obsolete.

What are some of the images of Titanic that come to mind? Jack and Rose standing on the bow of the ship. That would not happen. The entire plot seemed to revolve around Jack Dawson having access to every part of the ship. Also would not happen. Here is why. When I did my trip, the ship was divided into first class and second class sections. Only two classes compared to four or more classes on earlier ocean liners like the Titanic. The back of the ship was for second class, the front of the ship (roughly) was for first class. Now I was only ten years old, but I had fourteen days with not much else to do but run around the ship exploring every nook and cranny. Plus, there were other kids my age exploring, and telling each other what we had found. My best shot at getting into the first class (or front) of the ship was to climb into the balcony at the movie theatre, which was nearly impossible anyway. But is was much easier than cutting through steel bulwarks, or diving into the ocean, swimming faster than the ship, and climbing four stories to the deck at the front. For some reason, the Cunard line had cheaped out and used the same movies for first and second class passengers. But each class had their own entrance, and could barely see each other because first class was in the balcony, and second class was below. By the way, I also never managed to get into the engine room, the captain's cabin, the bridge, or the front of the ship. So how did Jack (from steerage class) ever see Rose (from first class) on the Titanic, much less talk to her? It was never explained in the movie.

There are people who study movies very closely for errors and goofs, and here is a page on the Titanic, with hundreds of goofs from the coins used, to the type of pistol, to the type of engines used on the ship. One of the errors refers to the fact that steerage passengers "would not have been allowed on the promenade deck". Another goof mentions "Passengers were not allowed at the forecastle head". This is quite an understatement, in reality it was more than just "not allowed", I would say "not remotely possible".

Friday, December 25, 2009

Putting the Christ Back in Christmas?

At our Christmas family gathering, my mother was telling me that she had just bought a new bumper sticker for her car, "Put the 'Christ' Back in Christmas". This of course is the same woman who started a chain of events that eliminated religion from all the public schools in the province of Quebec* and I am very proud of her for it. And now she is upset that Walmart hangs up signs that say only "Season's Greetings", and not "Merry Christmas".

I said, but Mom, the heathens had Christmas first. "How could that be?" she asked. Well, they celebrated the day that the sun started coming back up. The Christians, not wanting to appear "different", started celebrating that day too, or they might be thrown to the lions. So the early Christians wondered, what could they celebrate on December 25th? Some genius suggested, why not make it Jesus's birthday. Nobody knows when Jesus was born, it could be December 25th as easily as any other day. But later, once people were used to having Christmas on December 25th, somebody noticed it was written right in the bible that Jesus could not have been born on December 25th. Because in the bible it says "When the shepherds watched their flocks by night", and any shepherd in the holy land could have told them that could not be winter.

Now here is a link to a Christmas song by Tim Minchin. This song might be called a pro-reason Christmas song. Maybe even atheistic.

* If you didn't see the story of my mother and public schools, it is in this blog "What Do Canadians Really Believe", starting at fifth paragraph from the end.

Picture: My mother's brothers and sisters, with her on the far right about 1937 in Leicester, England. Two Rudge motorcycles.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Solving the Gun Problem Just in Time for Christmas

I feel bad that yesterday I was not able to give a solution to the problem of the shooting sprees, although I had just finished bursting the bubble of one of the most cherished solutions. To make up for it, today I am going to give an even better and cheaper solution than arming every schoolroom in the country, and I'm going to wrap this one up for you to open tomorrow, which is Christmas day. I know it's last minute, but that's the way I roll.

Here is how the solution goes. Ever notice how, in almost every case the psycho could have been stopped beforehand? I think every one of the psychos made threats well ahead of time. Yet no one ever did anything, because psycho behaviour is actually considered pretty normal. Here's your solution. If normal people toned down the rhetoric a little, the real psychos would be much easier to pick out ahead of time. It might not be 100 percent, but some lives could be saved, and at very little cost, too.

One example is a Canadian who was reading a British website and noticed psychotic behaviour. He immediately placed a phone call to the local police in Britain who picked up the psycho and averted a disaster. And yes, they found physical evidence that this psycho had all the equipment needed to carry out his threats.

It might even be possible to turn down the rhetoric with just half the effort that has been made to arm every classroom and workplace. To start with, it would be easy to insist that national TV networks stop calling for assassinations. I believe Fox News strongly hinted that a certain doctor who performed abortions deserved to die, and then some psycho obliged. Then, the Christian Broadcasting Network has called for the assassination of a democratically elected head of state whose only crime was to insist on a bigger share of his country's oil revenue, which he subsequently used to raise social benefits for the poor. And not only that, also offered to use some of that money to help poor Americans. In another event, a Christian minister hinted publicly in his sermon that Obama should be done away with, and next day one of his flock took a loaded gun to welcome Obama to town. Then you also have books, for example, "America Alone" by Mark Steyn, that "predicts" genocide for Muslims. This same book proudly proclaims on its cover "Soon to be banned in Canada". For obvious reasons.

It is realistic, and possible to tone down the rhetoric. We have done it in Canada to a large degree. While Obama gets 30 death threats a day, Prime Minister Harper's "Death Threat" inbox is empty. Try Googling "Barack Obama" and "Death Threat", you get 300,000 hits. The same search on "Stephen Harper" will get only 17,900. And half of those pages refer to threats made by Stephen Harper.

Start with the responsible people, the public figures and celebrities first. Let's all get together on the logical side of this topic instead of the usual emotion based left vs. right. Let's agree that guns and killing does not solve every problem. Wasn't it Jesus who said "God rest ye merry gentlemen and put those guns away. Remember I, your saviour was born on Christmas day!"? A Christian nation should be able to live up to those simple words.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why Santa Feels Safer in Canada

Another of my jolly Christmas specials concerns Santa's safety. I'm not saying that Santa was ever shot at in the USA, but there is a different attitude towards guns in Canada and the US. I started to figure this out at a motorcycle rally in North Carolina, and I guess I was about the only Canadian there. I was conversing with a group of Americans around the campfire. They were apparently interested in some of the differences between our two countries, including our colourful monopoly money. Then we got onto the subject of guns, and I decided to tell this little joke to illustrate the difference in attitudes.

"In 1990, there were 3225 gun related deaths in Chicago. In the same year Toronto had 4. Because apparently, Americans don't tolerate as much bullshit!"

In Canada this would have been a joke. But none of the people around the fire were laughing, they were nodding sagely, "so true, so true".

The same debate starts every time an armed maniac enters a building in the US and shoots and kills a lot of people. Was this incident caused by too many guns, or not enough guns? Although we have incidents like this in Canada, I've never yet heard people seriously suggesting we need more guns to put an end to the problem.

One argument in favour of more guns is that these shootings never take place at gun shows or other places that people carry guns, only in gun-free zones like schools etc. Therefore, if you could make every place like a gun show, there would be no more killing sprees, or to be more accurate, the killing sprees would be shorter.

Now I'm being completely serious, this is how we would argue the point in Canada.

1. Gun shows are not the target of these killers because usually the psychos don't lose their jobs, or have arguments at gun shows. They don't even spend much time there, compared to school, for example. Furthermore, it is a mistake to think a massacre could never take place at a gun show.

Update: recently several armed policemen were killed in Washington state, in a surprise attack in a coffee shop by an armed psycho. This could be considered a real live test of the "let everybody carry guns" idea, and apparently it didn't work, not in this case anyway.

2. Let's think the situation through before we decide to bring loaded, easily accessible guns into every classroom, and every office space in the country. To stop a lunatic shooter we need somebody with a quick, accurate, shot to kill a fellow student who has just turned psycho. We are actually assuming a lot more skill and judgment from the armed students than we have any right to expect. We would at least need some guidelines for deciding when your co-worker or fellow student has flipped out in a dangerous way, or is just a harmless idiot. Do we have to allow them to actually kill somebody first, or can we shoot them as soon as they pull out a gun? If everybody in Canada is armed, you just know that at some point, people are going to be pulling out those guns without actually intending to kill anyone.

Let's assume we are really cautious about this, and first let the psycho kill somebody before you shoot them dead. This might happen: You hear a bang and somebody falls to the floor with blood spilling out, lots of people are already pulling out their guns. Who do you shoot? They are all co-workers or fellow students, including the actual psycho. Did you actually see the first shot fired? Are you sure who it is? And if you fire and miss, killing an innocent student, are you guilty of murder or what? And is this whole scene just a prank or is it real?

This infusion of guns will not only be increasing the number of unpremeditated shootings, also the number of tragic accidents, as loaded guns tend to go off for practically no reason.

3. And even if everybody, at every school in Canada has a loaded gun, then the psycho's plan "B" is to bring a bomb. Psychotic people have already bombed buildings, killing hundreds at a time. And not just foreign terrorists, Timothy McVeigh was an American army veteran. It has happened already, in Canada too, and guns are no defense against this tactic.

We don't have a final answer to this problem in Canada, but until we hear some logical arguments, or see something that proves guns actually help, we are betting that more guns is not the solution. So come on down that chimney, Santa, we won't shoot.

Motorcycling: The Friendly Wave

I can remember my surprise the first time another motorcyclist waved at me. I was in Africa at the time, and many pedestrians waved at me as I rode my new Honda 175. But I had been riding for a few months, and had never met another motorcycle on the road. He waved as he approached, and I waved back.

Since that time I have probably waved at thousands of riders, and not waved at hundreds. Recently I have talked to some new riders who don't get all this waving stuff and it makes them feel kind of uncomfortable to have to decide whether to wave or not, or if people will take offence if they don't. When I started riding, it used to be so simple. Now it's a little complicated with so many bikes on the road, and we need some new rules.

First rule, don't take offense if somebody does not wave back. There are lots of reasons why someone may not be able to wave. For example, they might have their hand holding the clutch, or they may be braking because the car in front of them is stopping. Or you might be the tenth person in less than a minute, and their arm is getting tired, or they didn't see you because you are in the right hand lane of a 12 lane freeway and they are on the complete opposite side. I can think of hundreds more, but I will just leave that to your imagination. Just take it easy.

Second rule. You don't have to wave if you don't want to. But please let's not flip off the other motorcyclist. I don't care if you don't like the bike he or she is riding, or you don't like that they are wearing a helmet (or not wearing a helmet). Either wave, or nod, or neither, but no flipping the bird, OK?

As a rule, I stop waving when I am at a rally with hundreds, thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of bikes all over the place. And for the bigger rallies, like Bike Week at Daytona, or Sturgis, I stop waving about a hundred miles from the centre, as there are already too many bikes to keep track of.

On a normal ride (which is near my home in southern Ontario), on a nice day, there are enough bikes that I usually wave back, but don't always initiate a wave. But when there are very few bikes on the road, I will wave first. Those are days when it's raining, freezing, or I'm far out in the hinterlands, where there are not a lot of bikes. It's kind of like the old days again.

Just last year I remember being out on my bike when it was below freezing. I was surprised to see a motorcyclist and his female passenger waiting at a stop sign as I drove by. She waved and smiled brightly. He didn't, but obviously had his hand on the clutch, but I waved back anyway. When I got home I told Mary Ann about this smiling person in the cold, on a motorcycle. She said "That smile's probably just frozen on there."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How To Drive in Snow

There are lots of YouTube videos to help you drive better, like the one in the picture. I put a 28 second video on YouTube myself a year ago with the title "How to Drive in Snow", which now has over 6000 hits. Obviously the title has attracted some viewers, because some of my other videos like "Walking on the Beach -20 Degrees C." got only 115 in the same amount of time. YouTube has a geographic hit counter, that lets you see when and where most of the hits are from. And it's pretty obvious, comparing that to world weather reports, that every time there is a major blizzard in the USA or Europe, in a place that does not often see snow, I get a spike from that region on "how to drive in snow".

It seems that as people get more familiar with the Internet, they often use it to solve problems. I know I use Google or YouTube when I get stuck at anything from post hole digging to medical symptoms. So I just wonder how useful my 28 second video could be, as it merely suggests that you do not spin your tires if the car is at a standstill. It may be good advice, but it's not really what they want to know, if they are looking at white stuff outside the window for the first time in their lives, and they have a 45 minute commute to work.

Let's say you just woke up, you're inside your house, and there is about 6 inches of heavy wet snow, and this is the first time your area has had a snowfall like this for 25 years. Of course, you have no snow shovel, and no ice scraper, and you were not even born the last time this happened. You car has "all season tires", which are really summer tires, as none of those seasons include winter.

My advice is, first to consider alternate transport. Now that might take care of .0001% of you. Second, look at the weather report on TV. See that guy standing there with the microphone freezing his ass off? Now see the cars behind him, spinning in circles, piled in ditches, stuck in long lines of traffic? That's not special effects done by the graphics department. If you go out there in your car, that's going to be you. You might as well call in sick (or whatever term you can use), or try working from home. If you can Google "how to drive in snow", then you can do some work from home on the computer.

So you're still going to go out? Tip number 4: Dress warm. (including boots, gloves, hat, coat) I know your car has a heater, but after you plow into another car, somebody has to get out to exchange insurance information, and wait for the police, and then wait for the tow truck. It will be cold out there. Even if you can't get out of the car because the door is crushed shut, the engine will likely stop running and then the heater gets cold. If the engine keeps running, and you can still reach the key with your good arm (if you have one), shut it off anyway to avoid starting a fire. Cold is better than burning alive. If you freeze, you may lose your feet, but it takes hours and hours to happen. You are wearing those clothes I said to bring, right? Another tip: Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean a fire can't start.

Tip 5: Take a cell phone or iPhone or whatever you have got. But under no circumstances should you be using it to Google "how to drive in snow" while sliding down the road at 100 kph. Wait until your car has come to a safe stop in a ditch first.

Those are some of my best tips for people who are really new at driving in snow. For more experienced drivers, I would say get winter tires for the winter, as they work well, and they're not like the snow tires from the sixties. And slow down because I don't care how good you are, things can happen. But experienced drivers don't usually Google "How to drive in snow" anyway.

There are plenty of YouTube videos about driving in snow. There is one by "Joe Average" that is obviously a joke. But I just don't know what to think of the the one by a young woman who calls herself "Frequent Driver" (pictured above). I can't tell if it's a satire, but either way, it is kind of funny while also being somewhat serious. She mounts the video camera on the dashboard to show her face then drives while giving tips or complaining about something, such as being ticketed for 25 mph over the speed limit. Also the camera may fall off the dashboard and needs to be picked up while she says "I'm sorry, the camera just fell over". Some of these problems may be unique to women, like guys who see her and then try to drive beside her on the freeway because she looks hot. I actually think Ontario's stunt driving law has a provision that you could lose your licence and vehicle immediately for that!

(Driving in snow and staring)

(secret radar guns) + camera falling down

(Rain and Jesus)

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Xenophobia Stole Christmas

Nothing like some good old xenophobic humbug to get me in the mood for Christmas. And of course by saying "Christ"mas I do not mean to start a fight about which religions are excluded etc. I just mean a multicultural Christmas in the true sense that Jesus might have expressed "Love your neighbours", nothing else. Whew, hope I dodged that Fox News artificial controversy for now at least.

From Mark Steyn on multiculturalism and its application to Christmas concerts:
"Take multiculturalism. The great thing about multiculturalism is that it doesn't involve knowing anything about other cultures–the capital of Bhutan, the principal exports of Malawi, who cares? All it requires is feeling good about other cultures. It’s fundamentally a fraud, and I would argue was subliminally accepted on that basis. Most adherents to the idea that all cultures are equal don’t want to live in anything but an advanced Western society. Multiculturalism means your kid has to learn some wretched native dirge for the school holiday concert instead of getting to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or that your holistic masseuse uses techniques developed from Native American spirituality, but not that you or anyone you care about should have to live in an African or Native American society. It’s a quintessential piece of progressive humbug."
This piece of writing is missing the spirit of Christmas so let's see if I can turn it around in time for Santa to come down our chimney again.
"Multiculturalism means your kid has to learn some wretched native dirge for the school holiday concert instead of getting to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
My grandkids, actually. Eight year old Emily has no problem singing some "wretched dirge" about Hanukkah, and some other little Muslim girls sing happily right along with her while their parents proudly pop flashbulbs in the audience. By the way, they also sing "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer", only the Grinch himself would think one excludes the other. And this year, anyway nobody "has to" do anything. My grandson opted out of the performance and observed the goings on while sitting in the audience with his Mom and Dad, but most kids still wanted to be in the concert. Mark really should attend the next Christmas concert at Abraham Erb Public School, and just watch his grinchy heart grow three sizes this year.

Another of his statements:
"Most adherents to the idea that all cultures are equal don’t want to live in anything but an advanced Western society"
Santa says let's stay away from the argument about which race is equal or superior to what race or culture. Can everyone agree on that? Or do you want to get on the naughty list?

Do all people want to live in an advanced western society? Yes, and to be more specific, probably Canada. Canada is the closest country to the North Pole, and it makes it easy for Santa to deliver all those presents. And another reason to live in Canada? Because of multiculturalism, and the working model that Canada has provided.
"Not that you should have to live in an African or Native American society".
Maybe not everybody wants to, but I have lived in an African society, and it was not the horrible thing Mark imagines. We even had a pretty nice Christmas. But why does he even bring up the point except to scare people and make them think that to be truly multicultural, you need to live in a mud hut or tepee with no running water and no chimney for Santa?
"[Multiculturalism] is fundamentally a fraud, and I would argue was subliminally accepted on that basis. It’s a quintessential piece of progressive humbug."
Multiculturalism is not humbug, and unlike xenophobia, it's good feelings are very much in the true spirit of Christmas. So merry Christmas to all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar 3D the Movie

Avatar was my first 3D dramatic movie. Actually I saw a 3D movie with the polarized glasses last summer, but it was a visual representation of the universe and the galaxy, strictly as a visual aid. After Avatar, when I got back home and turned on the TV it took me 5 minutes to adapt to a flat and two-dimensional picture screen. I suppose movies, and the visual trickery they present, affects different people in different ways, but I don't think I'm alone in getting a more immersive experience with 3D. Also, I should mention we were up pretty close to the front, about the sixth row or so. So it looked about as big as an Imax from our seat. This was not Imax, but Avatar is also available in Imax depending on the theater.

Normally I'm not a lover of weird looking aliens. A couple of pointy ears and funny eyebrows are about all I can deal with. But the blue catlike 10 foot tall aliens in this movie are OK with me. One thing I want to mention is the main female alien is played by Zoe Saldana, who also played Uhuru on the latest Star Trek movie. Maybe a difference for me in this new type of alien is a breakthough in technology with the detailed motion capture animation on the facial expressions. I only noticed consciously a few times, especially when the Aliens showed their extreme emotions such as joy, fear, or horror. But likely it was part of the appeal of these computer animated aliens especially when I was not aware of it.

So much for the technology. I got interested in Avatar originally when I saw an interview with Sigourney Weaver, who is in the movie. I think I have liked every movie I have seen her in, like Ghostbusters, Alien, Gorillas in the Mist, even Galaxy Quest. James Cameron is also a favourite of mine with movies such as Terminator, Aliens, and Titanic. Usually 3 and a half stars from Roger Ebert is a movie that both Mary Ann and I will really enjoy. This was 4 out of 4.

Near the beginning of the movie is the comment "You're not in Kansas any more". I recently did a blog about Kansas, and I see a double entendre in this statement. One meaning of course, is that the scenery is different and exotic. But the second might be that is that this is not a conservative right wing movie by any stretch of the imagination.

The movie Avatar itself tells a pretty simple story that you might have seen in Star Trek or Star Wars. Evil empire exploiting alien natives etc. But because it has the potential of becoming a cultural touchstone, I'm glad it is going in the right (actually "left") direction philosophically and politically. Meaning back to more liberal ideas of nature and peace. Putting corporate greed, racism, and unjust wars in a bad light. A really bad light.

Here is something I didn't see. At no time was torture used by either humans or aliens to obtain information. Thank God we are starting to get away from that type of film. A big part of this movie was using Avatars to obtain information by gaining the trust of the natives. Not really ethical, but I think actually more realistic than using torture. Maybe the pendulum will swing back from the Nazi mindset of racial superiority, power and domination, to a way of thinking that encourages people to be more tolerant and to make the world a better place. Like Star Trek did.

I am also glad that it was not a movie about angels, ghosts, devils, witches, miracles, or people going to heaven then coming back for a second chance. In that way it was kind of a secular movie. The native people had a spirituality, but it seemed to have a real or natural scientifically provable basis. That was kind of refreshing.

I wouldn't call the movie deep. The natives were a hundred percent good. Maybe they got mad from time to time, or were occasionally suspicious, but good through and through right to the end, which I am not revealing, but it's not really a surprise. The Humans were totally bad except for the ones that helped the aliens. Twice after the movie I overheard people say "That movie made me hate humans". One thing they do not show at all is why the humans hate the aliens so much. I guess it would be too confusing to give us reasons, and would make the movie even longer. I didn't mind the length, except that I can only go so long before I have to pee. There was no intermission, not even a slack time that I could walk out of the packed theater without missing something. My advice is don't get a coffee just before going in.

The natives (called Na'vi, I looked it up) are all about respecting nature. And their "nature" is both horrifying and staggeringly beautiful in equal measures. Of course it's all make believe, so to a real bird watcher like Mary Ann it might be cartoony. But she enjoyed the spectacular 3D scenery and imaginary flora and fauna as much as I did.

When we went to a restaurant after the movie, Mary Ann recommended Avatar to our waitress, and suggested to me we should go see it again (She said "I suppose the 9:00 show would be too soon") I believe those would both be firsts, and she normally hates science fiction movies.

I think I may end up ranking this movie as one of my all time best movie experiences. "Peter Pan" was the first movie I ever saw at about 5 or 6 years old. Not only the first movie, I had never seen a TV, or even a play. And the movie itself was pretty exciting, even if it had not been the very first time I experienced moving pictures. So of course that experience is hard to equal. Star Wars in 1977 also was a standout movie for me. I drove my motorcycle 600 km. (each way) just to see that movie. It had amazing special effects for the era, but nothing I had not seen in projector technology. Avatar is a great movie that also happens to be the first 3D movie I have seen, and I suspect I would have liked it even without the 3D. With my fear of heights, a few 3D scenes were a bit too much.

I'm looking forward to seeing Avatar again, which is pretty good for a movie with no motorcycles.

Fear and Ignorance are Barriers to Reasonable Debate

For a liberal, living in a liberal country, it is tempting to dismiss the entire conservative point of view as being based on greed and fear. But that is a mistake, because a valid conservative point is a vital part of our ongoing democratic debate.

When you look at the essential points of view of liberals and conservatives, you can see how each of these helps frame the choices we make. In a reasoned debate, almost all of our choices can be seen from a liberal or a conservative point of view, which helps us to make better decisions.

A conservative point of view has more respect for the old ways, questions the need for change. Liberals are eager to try new ideas that may look good in theory but are unproven.

Conservatives generally feel that we should respect and place our trust in the upper classes more, our traditional leaders in politics, in business and in religion. Liberals tend to place their trust in education, and science. Conservatives beat their kids, liberals let them run wild.

In politics, liberals tend to be in favour of democratic rule, and participation by everyone. Conservatives would prefer to restrict participation to those who are higher up in the social order. In practice, how this works out is that as democracy has progressed, conservatives have almost always opposed extending the vote to new groups, whether they are women, or African-Americans or indigenous people. And today, even though most conservatives have accepted those new voters, they might be more likely to oppose extending the vote to criminals or the insane. Or they might be highly critical of organizations whose only purpose is to help iffy voters to register and get to the polls (like Acorn in the US).

When it comes to social programs, liberals favour extending benefits such as medical care, employment insurance, pensions, and free education to the poor, while conservatives feel that this will eliminate all motivation to get out and work. Of course the social programs need to be paid by taxing the people who have money i.e. the rich. Conservatives have a big problem with this, as they do tend to be rich anyway, so you could put that one down to greed. But the conservatives have a legitimate problem, because with a democratic system, the conservative point of view is going to be defeated over and over by the sheer number of people who will benefit from the social programs. So greed is working on both sides.

Conservatives tend to use war as a bit of a money making scheme, (or money keeping) while liberals tend to shy away from any war that is not necessary for actual self defence. It's difficult to argue that war or weapons will never be needed, and it's impossible to have a war where some people don't get rich off the misery of others.

Although stupidity and dishonesty are present, neither side in the conservative vs. liberal debate is inherently stupid or dishonest. It's good to keep that in mind, because otherwise the chances of coming up with good compromise decisions is about zero.

If you do think that there is a lot of stupidity on one side or the other, it's a good idea to try and track that down to its source, and not to simply paint the entire other side with the same brush. I happen to notice some sources that are injecting more than their share of hypocrisy, lies, and propaganda into the public discourse. I would be extra careful in fact checking anything from Fox News, anything from Rush Limbaugh or any of the right wing talk radio programs. I would also be very suspicious of anything I get from a religious TV network, or a corporate PR firm, especially if it conflicts with "normal" science or independent news sources. Some newspapers and news magazines are getting reputations for letting opinions get in the way of accuracy. There is probably more. Anyway, I'm always on the lookout.

I am suspicious that there are some people in our society that benefit materially from spreading ignorance, fear and doubt, and from creating a situation where people cannot get good information. And unfortunately for the honest, reasonable conservatives, most of these intellectually dishonest sources are under the conservative banner.

In an old fashioned authoritarian (i.e. conservative by definition) country like China, the government would be able to simply cut off access to the Internet and control the news. But in a modern open society like Canada or the USA, this blocking of information has to be done by subtle means, such as flooding the airwaves and Internet with cult-like religious networks, by creating special news channels that play to our emotions and blocks all chance of reasoned debate.

Many blogs on the Internet are full of nonsense that seems to be either made up or comes from Fox News, or religious fundamentalists, and many seem to be redundant or falsely accredited. Although the bulk of the nonsense I see is on the right, I have already shown there are crazies on the left.

Padre Steve has a blog that you might think would be conservative (a pro-life US Army chaplain who gets the word of God through watching baseball) and yet shows no signs of paranoid delusion.

For an example of Padre Steve's writing that is remarkably free of paranoia about Muslims, look at this topic, followed by readers comments pro and con (this is where the paranoia creeps in, but not from Steve)

I can't leave it at just one, as there are many really good topics on his blog. Here is Steve about Hitler's "race" war against the Eastern Europeans. How German attitudes and propaganda pushed them to atrocities. Must have taken a long time to put this together because it looks like about 184 footnotes!

In conclusion, you cannot generalize where fear ignorance comes from. It would be a benefit to all if reasonable liberals and conservatives could disagree in a rational way.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Propaganda: This is How Nazis Promoted Genocide

It seems a lot of people wonder why the Germans went along with the genocide of the Jews. Well other than some inherent racism, which seems almost unavoidable even in multicultural societies, there was a lot of Nazi propaganda driving the hate. There was also the Nazi equivalent of 9/11, where a Jew was found guilty of burning down the German parliament buildings. And even worse, the Jews were said by the Nazis to be the ones who betrayed Germany in World War 1.

Here is an example of Nazi propaganda against Jews, saying if you projected into the future assuming a rate of 4 children per Jewish family vs. 2 children per white German family, that the Germans would be outnumbered and in fact become insignificant in a number of years. Here is a chart that was used by the Nazis to prove their point.

Roughly translated, it says that "lower" people, having 4 children per year, would multiply as represented by the growing Jew in 30, 60, 90, and 120 years in the future. (You can enlarge the picture by clicking on it) Thus they would outnumber the "higher" people by the amount illustrated by comparing the size of the Nasty Jew to the German Olympic athlete. To be honest, they did not pick a particularly attractive Jew either. And although there was no actual mention of Jews in the poster, it was not hard for most Germans to connect the dots. Possibly the Nazis were thinking of recycling the posters to some other cause once the Jews were eliminated, otherwise I'm not sure why they were so coy about naming the Jews in this propaganda piece, but that's often how propaganda is done. Very subtle in some ways, over the top in others. Anyway it's all quite scientific and mathematical. But also misleading. I will point out the propaganda trick of using a three dimensional picture in a one-dimensional chart, where height represents numbers. But psychologically, we see a three dimensional picture, where it's actually the comparative weight that we remember. And weight is the cube of the height. Whether you understand the subtle trick or not (most people don't, apparently), you do get influenced by it. These days, even if we still don't understand the tricks, we can at least understand the ultimate repercussions of this propaganda.

Do We Have the Same type of Nazi Propaganda in Canada?

Now let me hold up a mirror to look at some of the hate propaganda going around in Canada today about Muslims. Mark Steyn has written about the high reproductive rate of Muslims compared to the low reproductive rate of "white cultures". That's really about the only substitution you need to make to have exactly the same propaganda as the Nazis used on the German people. If we learned anything from history, we should learn that Nazi hate propaganda is wrong. Here I photoshopped the same Nazi era chart to depict a Muslim instead of a Jew, and I hardly had to change a thing. (You can enlarge the picture by clicking on it)

I actually hope that this picture does not give Mark any ideas about how to improve his propaganda.

I find it amazing that some of Mark Steyn's most ardent fans deny he has ever written anything about killing the Muslims, so here are two quotes and the references. By the way, it really does say something about the power of clever propaganda that people are reading this stuff avidly and are not consciously aware of what they have read. That probably explains a lot about how the propaganda worked in Germany too. Even today people still deny the holocaust. The propaganda apparently sneaks into your brain and lodges somewhere in your subconscious mind like a sleeper cell.
“In the thirty years before the meltdown, Bosnian Serbs had declined from 43 percent to 31 percent of the population, while Bosnian Muslims had increased from 26 percent to 44 percent. In a democratic age, you can’t buck demography—except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out—as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em.”
“America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It” by Mark Steyn (pages 4 – 6).

The above call to action is reasonably clear considering the genocidal implications, but Mark argues that he is not "advocating", which would be illegal, he is "predicting", which is legal. In Canada anyway.
"Even if you regard Islam as essentially incompatible with free societies, the slaughter required to end it as a force in the world would change America beyond recognition. That doesn't mean that, a few years down the line, if some kooks with nukes obliterate, say, Marseilles or Lyons that the French wouldn't give it a go in some fairly spectacular way. But they're unlikely to accomplish much by it, any more than the Russians have by their scorched earth strategy in Chechnya."
“America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It” by Mark Steyn (pages 204 - 207)

This one is written so ambiguously that I can't tell whether Mark thinks that the change to America brought about by slaughtering the Muslims (if they decide to do it) would be good or bad. If liberals disappeared entirely, that would also change America beyond recognition. Would Mark approve?

The Connection Between Justice and Education

Last night, Jay Leno had Glenn Beck on his program. Glenn is the fastest rising star in the constellation of right wing opinion makers. The conservatives need a new guiding light after losing the election. It seems that since Obama became president, they now identify better with Beck than with bullying self assured right wingers like Limbaugh, Hannity and OReilly. Glenn, on the other hand, is a persecuted wimp who had all his lunch money stolen by mean Democrats. At latest count, apparently 45 trillion dollars worth. So no wonder the Republicans now flock to him for comfort.

Glenn, like his earlier role models, has pride in not being overly educated. He proclaimed that he was the first in his family to go to college, but only stayed a couple of months. And furthermore that very lack of education is what makes him more qualified than Barack Obama to decide what level of national debt is best for the USA. As he says "You don't need a Harvard education to know that a debt of 45 trillion dollars is unsustainable."

Jay at one point tried to interject a little of his own "common sense", saying in effect, what's wrong with being smart and going to college? Wouldn't that make you even better prepared to run the economy? Glenn explained, no, the founding fathers of our nation placed more trust in a simple farmer than in an educated elite. Apparently Thomas Jefferson said he would rather be tried by a jury of farmers than a jury of intellectuals.

Jay Leno tried to counter with the argument that managing the economy was more like brain surgery than jury duty, so wouldn't you want to have somebody doing it with some knowledge? But Glenn would have none of Jay's trickery.

Well in my opinion, Jay was right. The fact is that a jury does not have to be highly educated, because they are not expected to discover clues, know the law, understand science, or math or even money. That's what the judge and lawyers and expert witnesses do. The jury is there to add impartiality and honesty, and to let ordinary people participate in the justice system. Everything is explained to them and they simply give their decision yes or no.

On the other hand, deciding what level of debt is sustainable in a given economy means you need to have a rudimentary knowledge of math at least, that goes beyond just knowing that 45 trillion is an awesomely ginormous number. You must also understand how big the economy is. And you need to be able to divide one into the other to know what a sustainable level of debt is. This last question might mean a study of economic history and the study of economies of different countries. And of course the knowledge of what to invest the money in so that it helps the country in the future and is not wasted. Glenn Beck thinks that with 2 months of college, most likely drunk or hung over for most of it, he is better to judge this than people educated at Harvard. And by the same logic, the country might be better off getting rid of all institutions of higher education. Of course we would keep all the Bible colleges so we can study how dinosaurs lived with Adam and Eve.

I am not saying you absolutely need an higher education to know what's going on in the world. But we do need some people like that, and we need to pay more attention to what they say. Unfortunately, Glenn Beck and most other right wing opinion makers are either light on education or pretend to be, which is about the same thing. Even more disturbing is that they are also missing what is possibly the most important quality of common sense, which is an open mind. Most of these right wing opinion givers would not even be fit for jury duty.

Picture: Honestly I was looking for a picture of a jury when I came across this picture of Ashcroft looking nervous in front of the statue of "Lady Justice". I remember the story that the Christian Fundamentalists had a problem with the statue a few years back, and not only because it is French, but what if a baby might see it? Anyway, too funny to not use, but not funny enough to do a whole blog on it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Things We Shouldn't Have Done

Two things we shouldn't have done in the twentieth century. Out of what could have been the worst hundred years of human existence, picking just two might have been hard, but it happens there are two standouts. Eugenics and atomic power.

Either one, in theory could have been a force for good, in the hands of intelligent governments.

The aim of eugenics, was to eliminate the unfit and improve the human race through selective breeding. But instead it brought on a mania for slaughtering anyone who was a bit "different".

The development of atomic power could have solved our energy needs, but instead it brought a world wide proliferation of atomic bombs, reactor meltdowns, and nuclear waste that will last 40,000 years. More, if we set the rest of those bombs off.

The Germans used eugenics as one of the excuses to eliminate Jews (and others). After they lost the war, eugenics fell into such disrepute that today we have some protection for the rights of the unborn, and taboos on the building of gas chambers for "non perfect" people. I just wish we could completely get rid of the fundamental racist ideas that drove the WW2 genocide.

Because the American side won the war, there does not seem to be the same aversion to building atomic bombs. Quite the contrary, atomic bombs seem to boost national pride.

There was an interesting, if not poetic, connection between eugenics and atomic power. Jews driven from Germany by threats of eugenics, were the ones who first unlocked the power of the atom for America instead of Germany.

My own conclusion is that humankind is not really ready to handle atomic power or eugenics. So we should try to stay away from them. It's not so much a matter of intelligence, because any one single human being, of normal intelligence, and without external pressure, could probably figure out how to use these things positively. But in large civilizations, we have politics, religion, greed, fear and hate clouding our collective judgment.

I like to think of it this way. It would be a bad idea to give a bunch of baboons machine guns and hand grenades, simply because they would not use them wisely. Lack of intelligence, you might say. Individually humans are pretty smart, but organized in large groups they sometimes make worse decisions than baboons. Sorry people, if you find that insulting. It's about the only logical conclusion I can come to. And in the case of any fundamentalists who do not believe in evolution, no offense was intended. I did not advance this argument to support the theory of evolution. (which happens to be at the root of eugenics)

OK people, what have we got for the twenty-first century?

Picture: Nazi eugenics propaganda, strangely similar to "Muslims will take over the world" propaganda being spread about today by Mark Steyn and MacLean's magazine. Except it was about Jews instead of Muslims. I found it in this blog.

Bike Carries Boat That Carries Bike?

One of the fun parts of motorcycling for me is to sometimes get off the beaten track, to go where cars can't go. There have been times I have done that, but in reality they are few and far between.

The route I take most often that a car could not go is not in the wilds of the Amazon rain forest, it is the route into my garage. To get into the garage, I must drive my motorcycle between the house and the car on a driveway so narrow that I often rub the saddlebags if the car has not been left in exactly the right spot. This situation comes up so often, for obvious reasons that I almost put it out of my mind. But when I think about buying a sidecar, I realize that I would also need to move to a new house.

A motorcycle can obviously park in a space much smaller than a car. But car drivers are an easily annoyed lot, and if you try to make use of a space that a car cannot fit into, they will find a way to make it illegal and ticket you. So very often, I must use up a full size parking space for just my motorcycle, when I would be inclined to be considerate, use a small spot, and let a car driver park in the regular spot. Strangely, car drivers never seem to get upset about a motorcycle taking a car spot, so I just go with the psychology, whether it makes sense or not.

Motorcycles have an advantage in taking taking ferries, in that the the crew can (and will) usually stick a motorcycle in a spot too irregular for a car. So it's normal for ferries to allow motorcycles to the front of the queue waiting to board. But I notice this practice is not universal any more, and I think that there have been arguments in the past with motorcyclists that did not understand that a motorcycle/sidecar pulling a camping trailer takes more space on the ferry than a Toyota Matrix. So it's easier in some cases for the ferry company to make everybody line up, no one goes to the front unless on a bicycle or on foot. If it was me, I would simply make a rule about overall size and never mind anything else, but it isn't me.

Now what about going off road? Most of the time, around southern Ontario, off road driving is illegal. When I lived in Northern Quebec the forest was generally impassible - the terrain was too rugged (cliffs etc) and the forest was impenetrable. Even on foot the best way to walk through an uncut forest would be to walk on the criss-crossed fallen trees. The undergrowth is usually a solid interlocking wall of branches. Apparently you can go off road in certain desert areas of the southwestern USA, but that's a long way from here.

There are also logging (or service roads) roads. If they are maintained, then you have two problems: deep gravel and the logging trucks. If they are not maintained, you may travel some distance and then find a certain part of the road impassable. In either case, you also have to consider whether you would be even allowed on the road.

When I was in Africa, there was one place I went that I had to cross a fair sized creek about 15 meters across by 20 cm. deep, with big round rocks on the bottom. I never did fall over, and it was great having a fairly light Honda CD175, so even if it did go down I could pick it up and drag it to shore (I so I imagined) If the river was too big, having a small bike allowed it to fit easily on a dugout canoe or small raft, another place a car couldn't go.

Over the years I have given some thought to many problems of where a motorcycle can go and can't go. Every time I did a lot of work customising the bike to go somewhere, some dealbreaker always came up at the very end of the process, often stranding me where I didn't want to be.

Recently I have taken to working out these problems on paper, as that is cheaper and less hazardous to my health.

Here is a logic problem. How to have a motorcycle that can carry a boat (on a public road), with the boat being able to also carry the motorcycle. If I solved the problem, I would put it in the Guinness book of records, except that the Guinness book of records has recently deleted all records that are of a stupid and ultimately suicidal nature.

In the picture, I show my Honda CD175 and my small inflatable outboard. I know theoretically the Honda fits in the boat (diagonally), and the boat is rated to carry the weight of the bike plus rider. I know that the Honda can carry the weight of the boat plus the 35 pound outboard motor, although it would make a heck of a big pile of stuff on the back seat. But I also know that there are a million pitfalls to this plan. I have a feeling that if I was younger (i.e. a lot crazier) I might actually try it.