Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Propaganda: Biker Gangs?

Speaking as an actual motorcycle rider, I find it annoying that gangs of criminals are always called "Biker Gangs" in the press. Yes, I realize that these gangs actually call themselves "Biker Gangs", and I will admit that they also probably own, and sometimes ride, motorcycles. But in the muddled collective mind of the public, there is a connection between riding a motorcycle and being a criminal.

Let's take, for example the recent Sydney "Biker" gang fight. One gang got there by airplane. I can't say for sure how the other gang got to the airport, but the odds are it was by car. It happens again and again, "biker gang" violence, no bikes anywhere in sight. Drive-by shootings obviously from a car, and it's blamed on "Biker gangs". Once I saw a picture of a "Biker gang" van with a machine gun mounted in the back. The van had four wheels and three doors and a roof. How close is that to a bike?

When this "Biker gang" reputation started back in the early fifties, there were actually biker gangs, although they could also have been called WW2 veteran gangs. But at least they rode their motorcycles to get somewhere, and they went to motorcycle events. Then they got drunk and got into fights. Not good for the biker image, but there was some connection to motorcycles.

The questionable connection between motorcycles and fighting has been getting weaker ever since, and today these gangs are no more than criminal drug syndicates who operate under the pretense of being "biker clubs". The Hell's Angels have now just about come full circle by admitting real motorcycle clubs to their officially branded organization in order to further throw the police off their scent.

But still, the mere fact that I am riding a motorcycle means I may get stopped by the police to check for weapons, or I may get refused entrance to a campground. Admittedly these are very rare occurrences, but would never happen when I'm driving my car, even if there was a machine gun nest mounted on the roof.

Why don't they just call themselves a gun club, or a tattoo club, or a beer tasters club?

Biker gangs brawl during German murder trial Dec 17, 2007, 17:42 GMT

Muenster, Germany - An estimated 600 members of two rival German motorcycle gangs converged on a peaceful city Monday for a murder trial and tried to settle scores on the street.

Riot police intervened to stop a brawl at nightfall involving about 40 bikers on the edge of town after a Hell's Angel rammed his mini-bus into a Bandido on the street, police said.

These criminal gangs are least likely to be violent when they are riding motorcycles.

Some born-again Christian missionaries love to dress up as "Biker Gang" members. I suppose they enjoy the shock value of bringing Jesus to people while riding a Harley. One of them was murdered a while back in Britain. But the murderers were driving a Rover, not a motorcycle.

Murdered biker was a devout Christian

Steve Bird

The Hell’s Angel biker shot dead on the M40 last Sunday had been a Christian who used to hold Bible classes and prayer meetings and dreamt of being a missionary.

As his girlfriend, Rebecca Smith, 25, spoke of the void left in her life by his murder, it emerged that he had been a born-again Christian when he lived in Canada. Gerry Tobin, 35, was killed with a shot to the back of the head as he drove his Harley-Davidson in Warwickshire. It remains unclear whether he was killed after angering someone from a rival gang or was targeted because he was wearing the Hell’s Angels insignia.

Born in Britain, he moved to Canada with his family at a young age and married a school sweetheart who shared his religious convictions. Mr Tobin and his wife, Kara, would raise eyebrows as they drove to church in Calgary on a Harley-Davidson.

“He was definitely unashamed of his faith in Jesus,” said Chris Stevenson, a missionary who attended the same church. Mr Tobin had been brought up in Alberta and moved to Calgary after marrying Kara. There the couple were known as born-again Christians.

Tim Pogue, who worked with Mr Tobin in a carpet-cleaning business in the town, said: “He was as close to the Bible as anyone I’ve ever known.”

The shooter was driving a Rover, which is a car. The victim was riding a motorcycle.

Back on the fifties and sixties there were a large number of motorcycle movies that showed young men riding motorcycles and fighting and intimidating the public. It was those movies, more than anything that created the perception that motorcyclists were to be feared. While actually these clubs today are only remotely connected with motorcycling, and the actual criminal activity almost never involves riding a motorcycle.

There are huge motorcycle events all over Canada and the USA, and they are generally about as peaceful or more peaceful than your own neighbourhood (Well, my neighbourhood any way.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fuel Economy is Mental

Our fuel efficiency problem is 90% mental. This weekend, the White house asked Rick Wagoner, the CEO of General Motors to step down. I don't know all the reasons why, but I am going to assume it has a lot to do with needing fresh thoughts in General Motors. And apparently Rick Wagoner does not symbolize fresh thinking. In fact the new GM muscle car, the Camaro is just now hitting the dealers lots. And Rick Wagoner was one of the CEOs flying their private jets to Washington to ask for taxpayer money, to build more muscle cars. But Rick Wagoner's worst moment had to be the killing of the electric car in 1999. Not just stopping production, but sending perfectly good cars off to be crushed, arresting the people who were trying to buy back their electric cars, and then turning GM's resources toward producing the Hummer. This was timed to coincide with the beginning of the George W. Bush years, with their pro-oil agenda. So far, there is no proof any of this history is connected to Rick stepping down. But apparently Rick is very popular with "car enthusiasts" i.e. not the environmentalists.

It's not just the mentality of one person that needs to be changed. The entire American car-consuming public is riddled through and through with a fuel wasting mindset.

Here are just a few of the many beliefs and attitudes that true or not, block the way to saving fuel. I think these ideas are mostly North American.

Some of the ideas are: To be safe on the road, you need to drive a bigger vehicle than anyone else on the road. Small cars are dangerous. Walking or riding a bicycle makes you sweat so you need a shower after doing it. Creeps and unemployed people ride buses. Trains are never on time. Vehicles need a lot of power to be safe, because you need acceleration to get out of a dangerous situation. Running the car air conditioner saves gas. The bigger the air conditioner, the more you save. If you don't have four wheel drive, you will get stuck. Wider tires have the best traction. Motorcycles are even more dangerous than small cars. Scooters are not manly.

There are also delusions and wishful thinking being spread about uncritically. Is it actually possible to have a 100 mpg Hummer that weighs as much as an armoured vehicle and also can smoke it's rear tire? Such cars are apparently being built by back yard inventors and get shown on TV news programs as if their claims were true. I use the word news loosely, but that's what infotainment is called these days.

The ability to drive without wasting too much fuel is almost entirely mental. Obviously, being able to maintain a slower speed is all in your head, it has to do with starting earlier, not being in a rush. Deciding when it is more appropriate to walk, or carpool. Then things like choice of car, and being able to drive a smaller car safely. Lots of people today in America have never driven a small car or a low powered vehicle, and believe it is more or less impossible. A friend of mine was helping his elderly mother buy a new car, to replace her old gas guzzling V8 station wagon that she no longer needed. They were looking at a Ford Taurus, and she was genuinely worried that she would not be able to drive a car with only six cylinders. How many other people are like that? And that was Canada, not the USA, where the mentality of bigger cars is even more prevalent.

When I learned to drive it was with a 1963 25 horsepower 4 cylinder Envoy. This car is long forgotten, it was a Canadian market version of the British Vauxhall. I learned to drive this car on mountain roads at a time when all other cars were V-8 monsters. The Envoy had three manual gears on the column, and had to be shifted down to second and then to first to climb most of the hills in and around the town. This is a tricky and kind of scary proposition for a beginning driver. In first gear, it was screaming along at 25 mph. I'm not saying we should go back to that vehicle, as it also had poor gas mileage (nobody I knew cared back then about gas mileage). But learning how to drive a low powered car would not be a bad idea, as it could shake up a lot of the ingrained beliefs that have been promoted for decades in our culture.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fundamental Religions and Science

Ever wonder why the Islamic fundamentalists do not have weaponry equivalent to American firepower? If your answer is that Arabs just have no mental capacity for technology, you are wrong. Have you ever thought about where our numbering system came from? It was the Arabs that invented it. Christianity used to be based on the Roman numeral system. Compute ten plus ten = twenty in both systems. Roman system, X + X = XX Arabic system 10 + 10 = 20. Note the childish simplicity of Roman numerals, compared to the sophistication of the Arabic calculation. The problem with the Roman system is that it starts out super simple, but for more complicated math it is a nightmare, while the Arabic system handles complexity and easily scales up to very large numbers.

Back when Europe was going through the "Dark Ages", the Muslim world was far ahead of Christian countries in science and technology. You can check this website for some idea of their superiority, not only in mathematics, but in astronomy and celestial navigation.

The Muslims were not ahead of the Christians because of a difference in brain capacity. During the Dark Ages, a powerful religion that was suppressing freedom of thought and scientific inquiry in Europe. That religion was Christianity.

Soon after the Dark Ages in Europe ended, the tables began to turn. The Islamic religion became more fundamentalist, while Christianity was losing it's grip on Europe.

Think of the Soviet Union. Say what you will about the fatal flaws their economic system, they were able to match the USA weapon for weapon within 50 years. Not bad for a country that at the time of the Russian Revolution was as backward as any on earth. They did it by suppressing religion and promoting science. And it tells you something about the relationship between fundamentalist religions and advancements in technology.

Now you wonder why educated people are horrified at the Christian fundamentalists' attack on modern science. Forty years ago, the Christian fundamentalists were weak, and could safely be ignored/tolerated. It was not long before we found out that they were attracting millions of converts with TV ministries and building a powerful political machine. And finally, in 2000, they were able to take over control of the US government. It is only through the inertia of the system that they were not able to clean out all scientists and public education in eight years.

How long is the technological superiority going to stay? And does anyone care? Scientists sure do. The Christian Fundamentalists are oblivious of the source of their weaponry advantage over the Muslim's. Do they think it is because God loves America more that He makes sure they have the F16's and nuclear bombs, and the Muslim's have nothing?

Here is a link to a video defending science against the propaganda attacks by the Fundamental Christians. Ben Stein may not be a Christian, but he is representing the position of the Christian Fundamentalists. The narrator keeps calling Ben Stein "You Fool" but not out of rudeness, it is just what Ben Stein asked him to do (you hear it later in the video). I know it's not really funny or polite, but it does make sense after you watch the video. Note that this video is only part 22 of the series!

Cell Phone Dangerous to Motorcycles

I think the evidence is that telephone conversations by a person driving a car lead to more accidents than conversations with other passengers. The question now is why? The answer may be psychological.

Not all conversations are the same. Some, depending on the topic and the relationship to the other person can be far more distracting. It is also possible to have a conversation where one party is not paying any attention at all to the conversation. Come, on now, doesn't everybody do this or is it just me?

If you are sitting in the passenger seat, talking to the driver, do you ever get annoyed because they are not looking at you, or because they are paying attention to something else while conversing with you? I didn't think so. Certainly not the same as talking to someone playing a video game at home. You, along with almost every other passenger (other than an infant for example) will make allowances for the driver doing that job of driving, which you realize is all that is standing between you and instant death. But many cell phone conversations take place without the other party being aware they are talking to someone driving a car. And there is no rule where you must let the other person know you are driving a car, though a few people have apparently taken up the habit. This also helps explain why a CB radio is not as much of a problem, as the receiver assumes you may be driving.

When you are talking to a passenger sitting in the car, the passenger will not spend all their time gazing adoringly into your ear, they will look at the road a lot too. And they can kind of sense when things are slack, and when they are challenging. People are good at picking up both subtle cues from your white knuckles on the steering wheel, to the sight of single digits being waved by passing drivers. So they tone down, if not pause the conversation to let you handle it, and sometimes even help by screaming "we're all gonna die!!" at the appropriate time after noticing a truck bearing down on you from the side.

Not so when you are discussing something with an unwary cell phone conversationalist. Who may be your ex-wife discussing the latest problem regarding your child support payments or custody arrangement. Or may be a customer explaining why the last delivery needs to be returned for full credit. During these demanding conversations, you may be missing certain cues on the road, road signs, forks in the road, or dead stopped traffic up ahead. Your conversational partners are sitting safe at home or work, engaged in an emotional conversation with you, and are highly aware of any slight rudeness on your part. Which you are trying to avoid to the point of putting the driving in second place in your attention queue.

When an emergency situation comes up, ideally you would throw the phone down and focus on avoiding the accident. But when the situation comes up, you do not know what your reaction will be. Would you first blurt out "Got to let you go for a second, there Bill, there's a car that just missed the red light and is heading my way!" and then put the phone down in a secure spot. Of course, you have now just wasted 2 seconds of valuable reaction time where you should have already started coming up with a plan to avoid the accident and putting it into effect.

All this has nothing to do with "hands free", or whether you are looking at the road or not. Drivers who are distracted may look directly at, but still not "see", a motorcycle for example. This can happen because their brain is programmed to look for a typical car and respond appropriately, but the sight of a motorcycle triggers a second verification cycle that the brain must perform before it accepts that this is a motorcycle, which should be treated as a car. Just like the cashier at the store needs to do a price check on an unfamiliar item. But if the key part of the brain is temporarily busy with a cell phone call, the request for the motorcycle verification goes on hold for a few seconds, and that's actually all the time it takes for the driver to intersect the motorcycle's path.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Advice for a Young Motorcyclist

I have seen a lot of posts similar to this on the internet, so I'm just going to blend them all into one question and answer it.

"Hey, guys. I need your input. I am seventeen y. o. and I have no motorcycling experience at all, except for riding on the back of my friends' bikes. They have Ninja a 600 and a GSXR600. What should I get for my first bike? Don't tell me about the crappy small learner bikes, I can't do it. If I'm going to spend my money I'm going to get what I like which is a Honda CBR600RR."

Answer. I'm just going to put on my Sherlock Holmes hat here, since I don't know you personally. OK, let's see. You probably have a lot of self confidence, you are brave to the point of daring and maybe beyond. You have never experienced a friend or loved one dying or being permanently maimed in an accident. You are certain that with just a little practice you will be able to accelerate faster, stop faster, wheelie longer and higher than them. And you can't wait to see the look of awe and admiration on their faces when they see you handling that bike and making them look like dorks. Financially, you probably have started a job recently. You figure you can get the bike with no money down and low payments, and you probably have not yet looked into insurance costs.

Am I right so far? If so, here's my advice.

When you earn enough money (it may take longer than you think), use some of it to enroll in racing school. They are all over the place, and you will get a chance to learn from some professional racers, on a real track, with a real fast bike. It will cost less than a bike and it will impress your friends more than whatever you will realistically be able to do with your own bike. And you stand a much better chance to live to tell about it.

If you really have your heart set on a street bike, save up some more, or use the money that's left over to get a cheap used one that still runs. This will give you experience fixing a bike, as it is sure to need all kinds of fine tuning to keep going. This bike will help you learn to ride on the street more safely than a new hyper sport bike, and you will impress your friends with your ability to keep it running. Eventually you will have enough money and experience to get any bike you want.

If you do start with a new CBR600RR and then show off your skills with it, you will soon find out that your friends are way ahead of you, and your pathetic, albeit spectacular, beginner efforts are going to turn them off, not impress them. And as they have enough experience to know you are heading for something tragic, they may simple stop hanging out with you at all.

The Cowboy: Myth, Reality, or just Propaganda?

During the reign of George W. Bush, we heard a lot about "cowboys". Europeans called George Bush a cowboy, this means somebody who acts without following due procedure. At least that's how it was meant by the Europeans when applied to W. and his war in Iraq.

The fact is that the symbolism of Cowboys and the Wild West is everywhere in America today, and somewhat in Canada too (mainly in Alberta). Particularly so in Texas, which considers itself as the heart of cowboy mythology. And particularly among the Republicans and Libertarians, which appeal to the cowboy myth. The cowboy myth penetrates every area of human endeavour including motorcycling by the way. The Harley Davidson subtly (or not so subtly) bases its marketing on American cowboy image.

The top two Cowboy characteristics that come to mind, a cowboy carries a gun and rides a horse. But there is much more to it than that in the cowboy's character and beliefs. The cowboy is self reliant, would never think of using welfare or unemployment insurance. The cowboy is free, and doesn't want any Government telling him what to do especially when it comes to choice of guns. The cowboy lives free in a lawless land, because his gun is the law. A cowboy is never a union worker, they work hard and get paid a fair wage by their bosses. Cowboys are not socialists, they are true free market capitalists. Cowboys never have to be unemployed, if you're a hard working cowboy you can always get a job. Cowboys don't need medical coverage, they mostly die from gunfights rather than cancer or heart attack. Cowboys eat meat, and they are not gay (until Brokeback Mountain anyway). Cowboys hide their money in their saddlebags and don't trust those newfangled bank institutions. Cowboys don't have mortgages or credit cards maxed out.

Cowboys don't have much edyumacation, but they more than make up for it with real world common sense. They don't talk much, and if they do talk, it's backed up with gunfire. Cowboys believe in God and in "An eye for an eye". Cowboys do not believe in Environmentalism and they do not "Recycle".

Cowboys drink whiskey and beer. They rarely walk anywhere, always ride. They are bachelors but they are attracted to women. They never accept handouts.

The reality of cowboys is quite different from the mythology. They did have unions for example. But I'm not here to rain on anyone's parade if they believe in cowboys and model their lives on it, well go for it.

But I personally would not trust a cowboy to run the financial system of the richest country in the world. Before too long, the entire financial system would be full of gamblers, cheats and drunken snake oil salesmen.

Still remembering Ron Paul's ideas for solving the economic crisis, and of course he is still from Texas. He was saying that to fix the economy, we need to go back to the time of America's maximum amount of wealth production, which was the latter part of the nineteenth century. Coincidentally, that was the golden age of cowboys. Ron Paul says that was the best example of a free society, the prices actually went down, and people were much richer. It was the opposite of a socialist fascist type of system.

Why don't we just call all the Republican and Libertarian economic theories "Cowboyism". Cowboyism is based on the myth of the cowboy. But even if the economy was great in the 1800's (which I kind of doubt, given all the crazy gold rushes of the time) I doubt whether that type of wishing for the past would work today.

If the Economy Broke Down in Texas

I was just listening to an interview with Congressman Ron Paul about fixing the economy. Ron Paul was a presidential candidate for the Republicans, and he is from Texas (just for background).

I immediately started getting a headache listening to him talk about how banks should have to keep cash on hand to cover 100% of their deposits, I thought "I have felt headaches like this before, where was that?" Then I remembered. When your motorcycle engine breaks down and you take it to a mechanic in a strange town that you have never gone to before. Then he starts to explain to you what is wrong, and it goes against everything I know about motorcycle engines.

The water pump is broken somewhere in Texas, the engine has overheated, steam all over the place, almost seized solid (like the economy). The mechanic, let's call him Ron Paul, says "I see you got one of them there Jap junk watercooled bikes."

I say, "Actually, it's German, but can you fix it?"

He says, "You should have bought an air cooled bike like a Harley and you wouldn't have those problems."

I say, "Watercooling is much better than air cooling because I can run at high speed all day long without seizing the engine, and it produces a lot more power and runs more efficiently."

He say "You shouldn't be running at high speed, and you should stay off the dagnab interstate. And you should stop every hour and let it cool off. Anyhow air cooling is better than watercooling, that's why airplanes have air cooling. All our world war 2 airplanes had air cooling."

I say "But airplanes never have to idle in traffic and they always have a steady supply of high speed air. And anyway, there were lots of airplanes in WW2 that had water cooling, for example the P51. Maybe you're thinking of WW1."

He says "NO you're completely wrong, the P51 was garbage because of it's water cooling. It would have been a much better airplane if it had an air cooled engine. The mechanics just couldn't work on that thing, all the pilots were afraid of them."

I say "Maybe I better take my bike someplace else, it seems to have cooled off a little."

He says "My brother Jethro Paul has a good garage just down the road about 2 miles."

I say "Is there a drug store with aspirins between here and there?"

The picture is of my BMW in Texas, the steam is photoshopped. I never have had a problem with watercooling on any of my bikes, the story is made up out of pieces of other incidents and some pure fabrication.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mother Teresa, Hell's Angel?

Once more at the intersection of propaganda and motorcycling: This time the topic is "Hells Angel" Mother Teresa. It was just an accidental find, the comment that someone was "Like f***n Mother Teresa", which obviously meant Mother Teresa was well known as bad person to at least a portion of the population.

So one segment of the population reveres Mother Teresa as a near saint, and apparently another regards her as a devil. Interesting, seems like a classic case of propaganda lurking here.

How was it done and why? For starters I had to investigate a little further, because I have already seen many examples of respected religious leaders being totally corrupt, like Pat Robertson, and many of the TV Evangelist crowd.

So when I looked into Mother Teresa, the first thing I wanted to know was about her lifestyle. Did she have large mansions, yachts, big cars, servants like Pat Robertson? No, she seemed pretty legit, unlike most of the thieving fraud artists out there. She was living a life of abject poverty. Who would even bother to steal millions of dollars to live on crusts of bread in a malaria infested slum with lepers all around. I think it's safe to say somebody was out to get her for some other reason.

So obviously whoever had successfully smeared the name of Mother Teresa would be required reading in Propaganda U. One of the names that came to the top of the search was Christopher Hitchens. He co-wrote and narrated a documentary "Hell's Angel" slamming her for the British Channel 4. That explains my photoshop job, because Mother Teresa never owned a Harley.

First I like to see some motive, because people rarely do a serious smear job without reason or money. Reason number one is simple. She's famous for being almost a saint, and therefore a challenge similar to Mount "because it's there" Everest, to take her down. Reason number two. She saved some Palestinian children from an Israeli massacre. That must have irked a few people. Reason number three: She accepted 1.2 million dollars from Charles Keating, and refused to return it when he was convicted of fraud. This has "redistribution of wealth" written all over it, and if there is anything that arouses the ire of "The best and the brightest" it is taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor.

My own attitude is that she was not legally (or morally) required to return the money. And as far as she was concerned, did she even understand all the legal mumbo jumbo that got Charles Keating in trouble. And furthermore, in light of the latest market meltdown it does appear as though almost every wealthy person the the USA has got some kind of legal or illegal fraud going. Also I'm pretty sure Mother Teresa would have had a hard time coming up with the $1.4 million after the fact anyway. Ask any poor person who won a lottery a few months later to return the money and see what answer you get. They don't have it.

Black marks? She re-used syringes, did not do thorough diagnostics of patients, did not set up a teaching hospital, ran her nuns like a cult, they were not allowed to read newspapers, she was beatified too soon by the pope, and some of her miracles were faked by her supporters (some???). Also, she opposed divorce and contraception (later disproved), when she got sick she was cared for in a California clinic, not one of her own clinics.

My own take on this? Most people have no idea what poverty in the third world is like. I have been in a government run hospital in Africa, staffed and funded by a world power that I will not name in order to protect the innocent. Not only did they re-use some syringes, they re-sharpened them by rubbing the point on the concrete wall. The people slamming Mother Teresa are smart enough to use this collective ignorance to make her out to be a danger to the health of slum dwellers. Please, why don't some of you people go visit a leprosarium in Sierra Leone? And then when you stop throwing up, then you can write about how unhealthy Mother Teresa's clinics were.

You can read a hit piece by Christopher Hitchens here to get a taste for a very clever propaganda story. "The fanatic, fraudulent Mother Teresa"

Hydrogen Powered Motorcycle

Some college students have built a hydrogen powered motorcycle.

This is a genuine effort, but I know there are a few scams out there involving Hydrogen as a fuel. I am going to write about Hydrogen as a source of energy.

I need to simplify this a little, so I will just say "energy" as defined by scientists, refers to the ability to move or lift things. There is energy in fuel and you can scientifically calculate how much energy is in a certain amount of fuel. But why is there energy in fuel and how does the energy get in there?

Are there any free and renewable energy sources? The sun, the wind, waterfalls, the heat under the crust of the earth all are pretty much infinite - though of the three sunshine is the closest to infinite. There is another source, atomic energy, which is abundant, but dangerous to play with and produces unhealthy radioactive waste.

Oil is a source, but is not free or renewable. The oil itself may be renewable, for example if you could make oil in a lab. But we want oil mostly because of the energy we find stored within it, and we could not make that in a laboratory without putting the energy in first. The oil sands in Alberta are kind of in between, as it takes so much energy to extract the oil that it's almost like making it in a lab, but we do get some energy out of it in the final analysis.

The Law of Conservation of Energy is a law in Physics that says we cannot create energy from nothing. So no matter how we try to design a machine that produces energy, we cannot. Any machine, or process needs to consume more energy than it makes.

This law was not known a thousand years ago, so many inventors in the last 800 years have tried to build so-called "perpetual motion machines". These are machines that claim to produce more energy than they consume. These machines are still being invented today by people who refuse to give up on the very attractive proposition that a machine can produce more energy than it consumes. It is so popular among inventors that the U.S. patent office refuses to grant patents to perpetual motion machines on the basis of diagrams alone. To get a patent, you have to build a working model. The model does not have to actually produce more energy than it consumes, it's enough that it works at all. Most of these machines would take a fair amount of time to figure out all the energy inputs and outputs, and the patent office simply does not have the time to check them all out. But it is pretty much assumed that none of them deliver on their basic claim, which is more energy put out then goes in.

Oil is a great fuel because it is a very concentrated, though safe, form of energy. The energy in the fuel was put there by millions of years of sunlight being converted by plants and stored in carbon based molecules. Of course, to understand this you do need to understand that the world was not created just 4,000 years ago by Adam and Eve. It's a real complicated story if need to deny the possibility that the earth is billions of years old.

Anyway, now we have Hydrogen being proposed as a fuel. It obviously burns, and it is the most abundant molecule in the universe. So why not use it instead of oil? It also produces no carbon dioxide in the burning, so no greenhouse gasses.

Hydrogen is not found floating free in our environment, so it must be extracted. The best way to extract it is is to get it out of water. Water is made of one atom of oxygen and two atoms of hydrogen. To get hydrogen, break water down into oxygen and hydrogen. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of energy to separate these components, and the resulting oxygen and hydrogen desperately want to get back together, so some effort is needed to keep them apart.

When our planet was formed, there may have been separate hydrogen and oxygen at first, but they combine so quickly to form water, that almost from the start, all the hydrogen would have combined with oxygen. We know today that there must have been more oxygen than Hydrogen, because we have free oxygen left over, and all the hydrogen is locked up in water molecules.

When oxygen and hydrogen get together, they release energy, and that can serve to propel a car or motorcycle. You would carefully (more carefully than the Hindenburg, for example) carry your hydrogen supply with you, and arrange to suck oxygen from the air, which releases energy as it combines with hydrogen, then expel water as vapour out the tailpipe.

The various laws of physics and chemistry state that you cannot get more energy out of the hydrogen than you put into breaking it free from water. Also, you get exactly the same amount of water back from combining oxygen and hydrogen that you used in making the hydrogen in the first place.

The summary? Hydrogen is not a source of energy because there is no free Hydrogen to be found. It can be used for storing energy, and that may be a good thing, because our current methods are not very good. The environment will not suffer no matter how much hydrogen we use, as any water we use making it will be released when we burn it. But what we most desperately need is a source of energy, so the whole hydrogen thing is a bit of a red herring to the average person who believes that hydrogen is a substitute for gasoline as an energy source.

You can think of it this way. If we had to make gasoline by pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, we would not have to worry about the carbon dioxide produced by cars running on that gasoline. What we would take is equal to what we would make.

China blocks my youtube videos

Apparently my youtube videos have now been blocked from viewers in in China. Was it the one about how to drive in snow? That's still my most popular video, although nobody in China has seen it yet. Seriously though, time for a blog on free speech. I know, a video is not really speech, and actually the root of all free speech is free thought. Let's start there.

If you are interested, there was a book written in 1913 A History of Freedom of Thought: J. B. Bury. It is available online though the Gutenburg Project

Although free thought has obviously been around almost since humans could think, so has repression. For as soon as people live together in villages or even in families, some members wish their thoughts to prevail.

It is quite understandable why people should need some kind of repression of free thought. Not all thoughts are good, and nothing gets done if everyone insists on their own ideas. There has to be some kind of leadership, somebody needs to be the chief and the rest can do the work.

As ancient civilizations grew, methods of enforcing orthodox beliefs grew more violent. People were locked away or killed. Often, the executions were public to terrify the rest into keeping their opinions to themselves.

As technology improved, the free thinkers got the upper hand. The discovery of writing, then the printing press. Then radio, television, the Internet. Each one needed new techniques to suppress. Even improvements in farming technology promoted free thought as people were able to have more time to think and less to grow food.

Another method of suppressing freedom of thought non-violently is through propaganda. However, propaganda is a double edged sword in that free thinkers can use to spread their ideas more quickly.

Just as there are problems with freedom of thought, so too are there problems with blind orthodoxy and authoritarianism. The violence of repression often turns people away from the orthodox views. The suppression of free thought also deprives the society of scientific and medical advancements. Even in the military, it is important to have free thought just to come up with better ideas of how to win wars and develop weapons. Ultra-orthodox societies do not keep up with the times.

In the long run, it does seem as if freedom of thought is making progress. The worst problems with free thought are the sheer volume of ignorant thoughts that may be generated. So how can we tell which thoughts are good and bad, and still maintain some freedom of thought? Well let's start with "any thoughts you have that involve you killing or maiming somebody are not good" The Scientific Method, is a way to check thoughts against reality by experiment, measurement, and discussion. Universities are fertile ground for free thought, with discussions and exchange of ideas. In many advanced societies, democracy has been found to be a way to allow both freedom of thought and yet some orderly thinking in politics. Each side while in power has an incentive to treat everyone decently, and occasionally power changes hands to keep everyone honest.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Propaganda: Is Jesus Pro-War?

Who do you think it is in the picture? Hopefully you did not think it was Jesus, given the AK-47 in his hand.

In case you think that the question of Jesus being pro-war is entirely rhetorical, feel free to check out this article.

Or this one by the TV Evangelist Jerry Falwell.

If I may take the liberty to summarize their opinions: Although it is recognized that Jesus is for love and peace, these concepts are not incompatible with the notion of "Superior Firepower".

A couple of thousand years ago the Roman Empire tried, and failed, to stop Christianity by torture and violence. Then in desperation (or a stroke of genius), it was made it the official religion of the empire. It was not long before the message derailed itself and the Christians became the persecutors instead of the persecuted.

In my mind a key element in war propaganda is religion. Somehow, the pro-war Christian religions manage to grab the moral high ground by proclaiming their belief in Jesus, while also supporting war, torture, and tax cuts for the rich.

I do not claim to be a religious person, but I can get annoyed by illogical debating techniques. For example, using Christianity against the very people who are actually supporting Jesus's own views. It is perverse, and something has to be said. Even though I am not a biblical scholar, it is not all that difficult to piece together the message of Jesus as stated in the Bible.

The greatest obstacle to understanding Jesus's message is this. There is an argument that Jesus is son of God, and whereas God wrote the first testament, therefore through his divinity, Jesus also had a hand in the writing of the first Testament, including the ten commandments. I just want to point out that this argument is the first step on a slippery slope of watering down Jesus's message, if not subverting it entirely. Which has actually happened many times.

Let me just sum up Jesus in 25 words or less based on what he is reported as sayinging in the new testament. His message was peace, love, forgiveness, and wealth redistribution. You might say he was the precursor of human rights movement. He was crucified by people who found his message offensive, and although I am not sure why love and peace were so offensive, people do often get piqued about wealth redistribution.

Now let me try to sum up Christianity. After Jesus was killed, his earth-changing message continued to spread, and a religion formed around it called Christianity. It was a simple message, as I have already said. Complicated messages do not travel well, especially in the presence of extreme persecution. The Romans persecuted the Christians, but it was futile against the power and simplicity of the message, so the Roman Empire simply adopted the Christian message as its own and twisted it around to be a message of pro-war and pro-slavery and wealth. This was one of the earliest known uses of "idea management", and it worked a lot better than persecution. However, the message was not dead, and for the next 2000 years, re-emerged, divided, spread further. But as in the Roman times, the religion was coopted again and again by the established powers.

So it's not really surprising that today, for the tenth time at least, Christianity has been coopted again by a powerful empire wanting to use Jesus in its own propaganda. Two thousand years ago, Jesus's humanist ideas overcame the worst kind of physical persecution with people being thrown to the lions and crucified. You can believe what you will - Jesus was pro-war, anti-war, or neither, but funny how vulnerable these ideas are to clever verbal manipulation.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Motorcycle Self Defense

I wrote about bikers and guns a while ago (Do you still meet the nicest people on a Honda). It brings up a good point, kind of controversial also. Should you carry a loaded weapon for self defense while riding a motorcycle. I have never carried a gun while riding. Nor mace, or a tazer . No weapons at all, ever.

The fact is that as a motorcyclist your main threat is not from guns but from traffic accidents. I would guess accidents outnumber shootings about 10,000 to one. My main goal is to avoid the 10,000 chances of dying in a accident. Carrying a gun causes problems at borders, and statistically there is always a chance you will be shot by your own gun. (17% in the police force).

I have never been in a situation with my bike where I was really worried about my safety. People I meet are invariably nice or non threatening. So I shouldn't even be talking about motorcycle self-defence, since I seem to have no experience.

But much like driving defensively, I think there are preventive ways to look at self defence. My first defense is to never go where I am likely to need a gun. How do I know where to go? One way is to simply read the news. If there is a war going on, don't go there.

Also look for reports of tourists especially bikers being shot or robbed. But with stories of robberies, you need to dig a little deeper, because robberies occur everywhere - there have even been several holdups in our neighbourhood since I have lived here. I went to Baja, Mexico a few years ago, even though the day before I left, a story came out about Canadian tourists being robbed and left with concussion beside the road when bandits took their motor home.

Motorcycles do have some advantages when it comes to avoiding risky situations. Most people do not know how to ride a motorcycle, so your bike is not a good getaway vehicle. Even if a robber does know how to ride, he knows that not all motorcycles start easily, and all have different quirks - not like cars where you can jump in any one and drive off. If a gunman tries to "jack" a motorcycle, it can fall down and is hard to pick up. Also, if a lone gunman ever does try to steal your motorcycle, he will need to put the gun away when he starts to ride (remember clutch and throttle are both hand controls). So if you absolutely must fight back, your best chance is to give him the keys without argument, then wait until he tries to ride away. But if you are being robbed by an armed gang, I would say your chances of winning are slim to none, so avoid armed gangs at all cost.

I should not need to explain that a motorcycle cannot carry a lot of stuff worth robbing. Also your stolen bike is not easy to sell if it is not a Harley, and is all covered in dirt and bugs and looks like crap (I don't wash my bike during a trip).

Motorcyclists are always at risk, so are more alert than car divers.

Motorcycles are rare. Why bother setting up to rob a motorcyclist when you have to wait for a hundred cars to go by before you see one - and even then you may get two or three at a time travelling together. And motorcyclists tend to stop and help each other even if they are not travelling together.

Motorcycles are hard for bandits or terrorists to stop. They can go around and between things, and make u-turns faster than cars, and can accelerate faster than cars. To summarize, motorcyclists and farm tractors are equally unattractive bait for thieves.

I tend to avoid travelling at night unless I am sure it is perfectly safe. I try to stay where there are some other people - I don't look for free spots to camp. I check maps so that I don't get lost - getting lost is very bad for safety, in my opinion.

Be aware that motorcyclists always look a bit menacing, so innocent people, who may be carrying a gun might mistake you for a threat and shoot you. I remove my full face helmet before going into a gas station for example.

I suppose getting involved in road rage is one possible way to get shot or beaten up. I use politeness on the road at all time. Purposeful driving and politeness are not mutually exclusive. Don't try to teach other drivers a lesson, no matter how ignorant they may be.

I think I also have an instinct, like a sixth sense, about areas where there is likely to be violence. This I cannot explain, really. It might just be the angry expression on people's faces. It may be that people are gathering in groups. If I start feeling uneasy in a certain area, I try to go some place else. This may be as simple as getting off a back road and onto the nearby interstate highway.

One of the scariest places I have ever found myself was not on my bike, but in the car. Mary Ann and I had stopped at a motel in New Orleans the year before Hurricane Katrina. Most of that city is black, there is a high crime rate, and we were in a run down area. We decided to walk downtown, so asked the clerk, who was white, how long it would take to get to the French Quarter on foot. It depends, he said. "Half an hour usually, if you're being chased, about 10 minutes." We walked, and it wasn't so bad really. And the motel was really cheap.

Compared to New Orleans, Baja Mexico felt very safe. And many years ago, motorcycling in Sierra Leone West Africa (40 years ago) also felt totally safe at any time of day. Also anywhere in Canada or the USA, so far.

So no weapons for me, but I always try to be on the lookout for problems.

Propaganda: "Socialism"

During the debates about how to rescue the economy, many conservatives have criticised the idea of government intervention as "Socialism". This is a purely political argument, as most people listening to this have no idea on earth what socialism is, but merely by the tone of disgust they can tell it's something bad.

So what is socialism, should we be afraid or should we be very, very afraid?

The following quote lets you know a little bit about the philosophical divide. "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need." This is from one of the most famous thinkers of socialism, Karl Marx.

I heard this once recently on the Sean Hannity radio program which I can sometimes pick up on the car radio from Detroit. The caller agreed it didn't sound like too bad an idea. At which Sean Hannity roared back "That was a quote by Karl Marx!" And the call ended there.

In the context of our modern society, it is a radical idea that might just destroy our way of life. It means that you are not rewarded for working, you are rewarded for needing. Furthermore, if you don't need anything it means you could be forced to work for nothing. And one more thing - since no one really needs luxury goods like trucks, TV's, cottages by the lake, or vacations in Hawaii, that has to stop for everyone.

But taken in the context of a very poor society, where people are starving, it has a certain mass appeal. And there are many places in this world even today, where this appeal is pretty strong. I would think that back in 1875, it might have had even more appeal.

Apparently Karl Marx was not the first to start thinking along these lines, and according to Wikipedia, the first recorded instance of this kind of thought is in the Bible, so if you have one you may want to look it up.

Acts 4:32-35

32. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35. And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

And furthermore, you can look at the parable of the workers in the Vineyard: Matthew 20:1-16

So not just Karl Marx, but also Jesus.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jay Leno and Barack Obama

Last night I watched along with 8 million other people, President Obama appear on Jay Leno's Tonight show. I have to confess a bias toward Obama. I also like Jay Leno, as he is a dedicated motorcyclist/car guy who is probably living out every motorcyclists fantasy. To tell a few jokes at night on TV, then ride around southern California on the most classic and exotics bikes and cars you could imagine. It was amazing for me to see Obama and Leno together. For a moment, I was undecided about what I envied most about Jay Leno - all his motorcycles, or all the times he could talk to and joke with the famous people who are guests on his show.

By the way, Jay is one of those rare celebrities who can talk to anybody. He often rides his bike to motorcyclist hangouts on weekends (like the Rock Store in the picture), and just chats to strangers. It seems like nobody ever acts like a jerk when he's around. Unlike all other celebrities. Maybe the secret is the bikers, when they talk about bikes they do not appreciate paparazzi jumping around asking dumb in your face questions.

But now there are various news reports that Obama's visit to the Tonight show was a disaster. Apparently Obama decided to use this unscripted appearance to mock handicapped athletes. I listened to the whole thing twice, but I missed it, or did they censor it before it got on the air (maybe they had a 5 second delay).

I checked out one of the references on the BBC website - it was the pro-Republican National Review Online.

I generally don't like reading things on Republican news sources, I find basically a lot of propaganda of the sort that I disagree with (always a downer), and I also find it humourless (goes with being on a downer I guess.) and accompanied by a lot of yelling and threatening. But I decided to take one for the team and peek at it. At the end they summarize what Obama's next move will be "tripping up elderly nuns".

At some point during the 40 minute interview with Jay, Obama was joking about his dismal bowling score, and he mentioned his bowling was like the special Olympics. Yes, I heard that, but I not think "My God, he's just mocked the handicapped athletes who participate in the Special Olympics."

In my opinion, Obama was just poking fun at himself, which is called self-deprecating humour, the type of humour never used in propaganda. The only type of humour used in propaganda is called ridicule. There is only one right wing comic I can think of, Dennis Miller (who used to be on Saturday Night Live). Here is a pretty typical clip where I think there are multiple instances of ridicule.

But what made Obama's remark unfunny is that he is not mentally handicapped, so he has no right to refer to that group in a joke. Although I never thought it was ridicule, I did not think it was funny either.

I want to take every opportunity to enjoy Obama's time in the White House, and for me, no amount of Republican criticism can change my appreciation of that show. I'm not surprised even Jay Leno could call it one of the best nights of his life.

Compensation: Pay for Performance

Back in the nineties, just after the fall of the Soviet Union, I worked for Manulife. One day, all of us in IT were invited to an important meeting with our CEO, where he filled us in on the new realities.

Our CEO, Dominic D'Alessandro was a nice guy, and very approachable considering his position in one of Canada's largest corporations. One of my co-workers asked him at a company event "How does someone like me get a job like yours?" Dominic answered "Apply for it." Another time, he personally called me to congratulate me on getting some company morale boosting award, and I hung up on him when he announced his name saying "yeah right! Who is this really?" I was thinking one of my humorous co-workers was pulling a prank. Dominic called right back, "No, it's really me." I think most CEO's would leave the job of setting up a phone call to their secretaries, apparently not Dominic. In 2002 Dominic D’Alessandro was named ‘Canada’s Outstanding CEO of the Year', so apparently other people also felt that he had some class.

Now back to the speech he was giving to us, something about the end of cradle to grave job security. He mentioned that the fall of Communism had proven that pay just for showing up, without performance taken into account, did not work. And that pay should be based on performance, and it provided an incentive to work. He said something like "The pay I get sure incents me."

Just sitting there at the time, I remember thinking "too bad this is a lecture and not a discussion, there are debating points on both sides." And now with some perspective and our economic collapse, I think we can see that pay for performance does not necessarily mean the system will run any better than a socialist/communist system based on just showing up for work.

If you pay for performance, you have to come up with some measurable criteria for performance. That criteria is sure to miss out on many important but invisible qualities of work - one of them being honesty. Also, in pay for performance you need to make sure that you are not simply rewarding the taskmaster for driving the workers to ever greater exertion until they break.

We have seen the problem where CEO's had the incentive to boost their company's stock prices, leading to problems at Enron and Nortel.

The situation really got out of hand during the last 10 years or more. Workers in the financial business were paid according to how much business they managed to do, so they simply did more and more business. It turns out that in the end, they were not doing good, solid business. They were just doing a lot of questionable business, in order to get paid ever larger bonuses. And they were very creative in inventing new types of business to do. After all, high salaries attract very bright people, or so we are told.

How could this non-communistic "pay for performance" idea bring down the economy? Think of it this way, if those Wall St. Wizards had simply embezzled say 5 million dollars each, the economy could have shrugged it off. They would go to jail when found out, some people would lose money, of course, but not everybody. And the total amount would have been trivial - say maybe 50 billion dollars in all, if there were (for the sake of argument) 10,000 Wall St. Wizards all embezzling 5 million dollars each. But compare the trillions of dollars damage done to the economy, when the best and brightest "earn" their bonuses according to their performance. That's because they only make a commission of say 1 percent, which means that to legally make the same money as they could have embezzled, they have to crank up 5 TRILLION dollars worth of fake business. And then when they are done hollowing out the entire world's economy, they don't even go to jail - everything was nice and legal. And as we have seen at AIG, these busy, bright executives think they are entitled to million dollar bonuses even after the economy collapses like a house of cards. These people's intelligence is only strong in the area of their own compensation. Elsewhere it is pretty weak.

Now, I hope we are ready for another new reality. As Dominic said - the fall of communism proved that pay just for showing up does not work. But it does not prove that pay for performance alone works. If it is taken too far, it can lead to the fall of capitalism. What we need is something in the middle, and I hope that's where we are going now that the deregulating Republicans are out of office for a while.

I wonder if this video illustrates my point about pay for performance, maybe in an abstract, but funny way.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Conservative Party of Canada Fundraising

This entry is kind of a follow-up to my previous one, where by the way, I was the one who photoshopped the picture. But after I wrote the blog, I had other thoughts about why Gary Goodyear was worried about saying he didn't believe in Adam and Eve.

If you look at this webpage, it is clear that the Conservative party of Canada has a huge fundraising advantage over the other parties. Note that the Conservatives have more contributors than the other four parties combined, almost 34,000. The other parties total just over 25,000. Also, the Conservatives have by far the highest per person contribution, $104.20. The average for the rest is $74.13.

Consider also the fact that more people voted for the other parties than the Conservatives, 5.2 million vs 8.4 million.

So apparently the Conservatives have unnaturally rich and/or fanatical supporters. No wonder they moved last year to cut off government funding for the opposition parties. Although their move actually failed, and could have backfired by drawing more attention to this fundraising gap.

Here are some ideas of where the money might be coming from. In the USA because of restrictions on maximum contributions, and therefore on corporate funding, many techniques have been developed for slipping money from one donor to another through families and clubs. So I would suspect the oil companies, who last year were rolling in dough. Are they supporting their hometown boy using these techniques to get around the corporate donation limit? Another great way to raise money under these rules is to appeal to fanatical religious groups, who can easily encourage their members to donate to a supportive political party.

With our Conservative Minister of Science and Technology afraid to come out clearly for the scientific theories of evolution of species by natural selection, I wonder if a lot of those donations might be coming from US based evangelical churches, the ones that are so determined to stop the spread of Darwinism? And which, by the way are also allied with the oil companies in the USA in support of the Republican party.

Adam and Gary. What was the question?

Canada's Science Minister ends evolution brouhaha? No way! He was able to weasel out of answering the question for a reporter who didn't know the fine points of the controversy.

Apparently Gary Goodyear does not think it relevant whether he believes in evolution or not. I happen to think it is. But the report missed the mark wildly when asking him for his views on evolution. He said of course he believes in evolution, and then described a type of evolution that has been accepted by religious people for a couple of thousand years, certainly ever since humans learned how to breed dogs, maybe longer.

Gary Goodyear managed to weasel his way out of the question. He did say he believed in evolution, but his kind of evolution is totally compatible with believing in the "Young Earth" theory and the creation of Adam and Eve.

The question should have been do you believe in Darwinism, or do you believe in man descending from an ape like creature, or do you believe that all life evolved from single celled organisms billions of years ago, or do you believe in Adam and Eve?

In my opinion anyone with fundamentalist religious views should be not be "Minister of Science and Technology", why couldn't they make him "Minister of Faith Healing and Superstition" instead. And that is one of the reasons I will not vote conservative (back in the eighties I did, actually). They are just way too deep into fundamentalist religion. And Goodyear's weaseling around the wording just makes him look all the more like a fake.


Economists recognize that since an element of greed is inevitable in any human endeavour, an economy should be designed to allow for it. That is why a free enterprise economy works. It is also why a true free enterprise economy does not work.

We have often heard the expression "Greed is good", which seemed to arise out of the Ronnie Reagan era. It is credited to Ivan Boesky, a Wall Street wizard (later of course went to jail for insider trading), and made famous by Michael Douglas in the film "Wall Street". Although the movie was a message against greed, as is typical with many overly complex messages, the idea of greed being good was all that remained a few years later. The idea that greed was good, possibly even patriotic, fermented and spread in certain circles through the nineties and the Bush administration. At one point, the war in Iraq was even seen as driven by greed. I remember at the time when Canada was deciding whether to go in or not, the main consideration for some people seemed to be how much we could benefit financially, as the US would only hand out contracts to countries who helped. This was what I call the "Little Red Hen Syndrome". I picked up on that because Carole MacNeil, on the show "CBC Sunday" used this analogy, apparently to persuade Canadians we should get into the war.

Greed and "self interest" are two similar terms, but they don't mean exactly the same thing. If a person has self interest, they are also somewhat interested in the well being of the people that work for them, their customers, their peers, and even the homeless people on the street. That's because your own well being does, in a way, depend on the entire cultural environment, assuming you do not live in a fortified gated community, and fly around in a bullet proof helicopter.

Out of pure self-interest, a person might support a fair system of taxation, or a public health system, or a public school system. Most people do not want to live like an emperor in a starving and violent nation. Arguably, it is in our own self interest to live in a country where everyone has opportunity to prosper and laws are fair and are obeyed by as many people as possible.

Greed is an extreme form of self interest that excludes the common good from the equation. It also seems to exclude the risk of going to jail, as it is often accompanied by the feeling that "I won't get caught".

Once the principal of "Greed", rather than "Self Interest", takes hold with the rich, it won't be too long before everyone is acting the same way. Countries do not run well when greed has taken hold from the top right down to the bottom of society. Nobody does their job right, everything is about "What's in it for me." And when everybody does that a sense of hopelessness sets in.

It is far better to live where people can be trusted to do their jobs. The whole country prospers when everyone pulls together. I know that may sound like socialism, but regardless of what you want to call it, we need some of that spirit of sharing the load. And it won't happen if everyone thinks the fat cats at the top operate under the banner of pure greed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

AIG Bonuses and Ronnie Reagan

A battle is shaping up that I think could be the defining moment for the Obama administration: taking back the AIG bonuses. It reminds me of a similar moment in Reagan's presidency when he fired all the US air traffic controllers. Reagan proved that he had a lot of nerve by doing that, the stakes were high. He also had public sentiment behind him. It paid off for Reagan and the Republicans, and symbolized the powerlessness of the unions. And also the empty threats from the supposedly highly trained controllers who warned that aircraft would fall from the sky if they hired strikebreakers to manage the air traffic.

From Wikipedia:

"August 5, Reagan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored his order to return to work,[87] busting the union.[88] According to Charles Craver, a labor law professor at George Washington University Law School, the move gave Americans a new view of Reagan, who "sent a message to the private employer community that it would be all right to go up against the unions."[88]"

Obama has to take down the Wall Street Wizards to signal that the unregulated free market is over, the high CEO compensation is over, that the democratically elected government is not a puppet of the corporations.

I see this particular battle as possibly the most important test of the Obama administration. If he can't put a stop to single minded greed in this case, he will not be able to turn the economy around, and much of the stimulus package will be wasted by hundreds of thousands of people who take the attitude of "This money is mine, who cares about the economy".

I understand that many on the left are disappointed by things that Obama has not done, or not done enough. Personally, I would be happy with his presidency if he does nothing more than nailing the bonus issue. And don't tell me it's legally impossible. Just declare all the bonus takers as terrorists and waterboard them until they sign release documents giving the money back. The Republicans have already showed how little the law matters in getting what they want.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Propaganda: Sarcasm and Irony

Propaganda: Sarcasm and Irony

One of the interesting subtleties of human language is the existence of irony and humour, and I am assuming it is true of all languages and cultures.

Like language itself, humour and irony are both based on cultural stereotypes and commonly held understandings. But if there is a lot of propaganda, it will create confusing effects with not only the words of our language, but with perceived humour, irony, and sarcasm. That is because with a nationwide audience, you will get some people who have the opposite stereotypes and commonly held understandings from the others.

For example, Fox News calling itself "Fair and Balanced" is either a simple declaration of truth, if you believe it to be true, or it is an ironic statement if you believe it to be false. However if somebody else, say Michael Moore called Fox News "Fair and Balanced" it would be sarcastic, as Fox News is always attacking him.

Sarcasm is a person saying something as though it was true, but really they believe is a lie, and that the audience also believes is a lie.
Irony is a person saying something that they believe to be true, but the audience believes is a lie.

Now I have an interesting story about the religious Republicans vs. Democrats either religious or not.

A fundamentalist Christian church, during the 2008 American election, mounted a prayer campaign against the Democrats. Apparently Obama was going to make his acceptance speech during the convention at an outdoor stadium. Since the Republicans were doing their own convention indoors, they obviously didn't have to worry about rain. I'm sure that the prayer leaders had cleverly taken this little fact into account, stacking the odds against the Democrats. So the fundamentalists decided to pray for "biblical" proportions of rain to come down on Obama's acceptance speech.

So far, so good. What's the worst that could happen, I guess simply that it doesn't rain on Obama.

But then it got strange, since Obama's speech went off without any interruption from God, but a few weeks later as the Republican convention began, they had to shut it down due to an "act of God", a Hurricane approaching the Gulf Coast. Even though the convention itself was a thousand miles away, and indoors God apparently knew how to hit the Republicans where it counted. Though the Democrats (as far as I know) never prayed for it.

Now the telling of this tale, as funny as it might be, is understood by different people in different ways. If you are a southern Baptist who believes that Obama is the Anti-Christ, you will simply take it that people didn't pray hard enough, and that you should never give up praying until God finally smites the Anti-Christ down. And maybe sharpens up his timing and aim. Besides, military types are all used to the idea of friendly fire, I guess it happens in prayer, too. But have faith in God, He will eventually get it right.

But if you are say, an alien from another planet taking all this in, you might observe that God had given a very clear message to these deluded Christian followers of Bush, and it said clearly "Wake thyselves up, for I, who art thy God, am with Obama! Did thy forgettest Jesus was a man of Peace, not war." You would think, how much clearer does He have to be?

The lesson here is that you cannot defeat propaganda and brainwashing with arguments, for arguments require the use of words, and the meaning of the words is controlled by the propaganda.

Trucks on the 401

The picture is not actually the 401, it is a truck convoy. But to most Ontarians, it looks just like an ordinary week day on the 401.

Many motorcyclists have a problem driving on the freeways, like our 401. They claim it's boring and dangerous. Well I don't have too much of a problem with it, in fact I think a lot of our back roads are boring too, and even more dangerous. That's why I sometimes end up going somewhere by motorcycle and taking the 401. Even though it has more than its share of trucks.

The last time I was on the 401 by motorcycle, last Friday actually, there was a new law in effect in Ontario that all the trucks had to have electronic speed limiters set to 105 kph max. I know some of the truckers don't like this, but I think it is working. Even when I'm driving my car, I try to avoid being next to a truck, or right behind one. But when the trucks are travelling at different speeds, that's impossible. If they are all going about 105, you can find a bit of road without trucks, even on the 401, and stay there for a while.

Going down hills, you don't have the trucks speeding up and getting on your tail. That's good for my mother who never could understand that phenomena while she was driving her normal speed (100).

And keeping the trucks to under 105 will help maintain the roadway longer - it was never designed for the high speeds of some of those heavily loaded trucks, and now with so many trucks out there it deteriorating faster than it needs to.

I don't want to accuse any of the truckers of bad driving, I think most are pretty good, but yes, I have been passed by an oversized load once that seemed to be doing about 120 kph. The reason I'm not criticizing truckers is that I have never seen one reading a book while driving. I've seen many car drivers reading, and not just while driving cautiously, but while aggressively speeding.

Strategy: Occupation or Invasion

Just saw in a survey this morning that 80% of Canadians are receiving less phone solicitation due to the national do-not-call list. That made me feel so good (because of my earlier rant) that I have decided to branch out into another new specialty: Military Analyst!

It seems military thinkers are always have a problem planning for the next war. There has been a huge change in the last twenty years, that everybody except the Israelis seem to be missing. First lets go back ten thousand years, and follow the situation up to say WW2. It has always been difficult to invade, but easy to hold once the invasion was successful. In fact the very reason for the invasion was all about the fun of the occupation, where the invaders put their enemies to death, raped and pillaged to their heart's content. The invasion itself was a buzz-kill, consisted of getting mowed down by machine gun fire or having boiling oil poured on your head while climbing rickety ladders.

What seems to have happened? The invasion of Iraq has apparently shown that invasion is now the easy part, if you have the military hardware of course. Air power, sea power, high speed land travel. Logistics are aided by GPS and computerized plans.

But the technology of carrying out an occupation seems to have actually tipped towards the insurgents. Remote controlled roadside bombs being the prime example. And then it does seem that the need for occupation has pretty much evaporated. No more raping and pillaging allowed. No more grabbing the land of the occupied for your own people, in fact none of your own people even want to move there. The age of colonization seems to have ended. And with the end of the cold war, it's not like you are even denying the occupied area to the Soviets. These days, any occupied territory is nothing but a drain on resources.

Only the Israelis seem to have figured out the new model. In Gaza, they pulled out all their people and ostensibly ended the occupation. Instead they have a system where they blockade the area, and occasionally invade - they lose fewer people that way than they would in an occupation, and they spend less money on the invasion than the long term occupation. After the invasion, they just retreat and leave the Palestinians to recover. That way, other countries, such as Canada, Britain etc. pay for the rebuilding while Israel is free rearm and re-equip itself for the next invasion of Gaza.

Iraq was an unexpectedly easy invasion according to most Americans, but an unexpectedly difficult occupation. It's time to face the new reality, it would have been better, cheaper, less loss of life, more effective for US foreign policy and security, to invade Iraq 5 times in the last 6 years, than to maintain an occupation. We are not in the old days any more. Time for a rethink of general military strategy, and Canada needs to figure this out before we lose a lot more people in Afghanistan - I think Prime Minister Harper is almost there.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

One Week: The movie

May contain spoilers!
Whenever I see a movie poster with a motorcycle on it, I have to see that movie: World's Fastest Indian, Motorcycle Diaries, etc. So yesterday, when I saw a review in the Globe and Mail for a new movie called "One Week" Mary Ann and I went out to see it. I didn't even care that the reviewer slammed the movie for being too ordinary, too Canadian or shallow or whatever. When we got there, the theatre was packed.

Yes there was a lot of Canadian stuff in it, and Canadians are uncomfortable with any movie (other than a home movie) that has Canadian stuff in it. Real movies airbrush out the CN Tower, apparently. So this movie was over the top Canadian, which may be an oxymoron. Returning stuff to Canadian Tire. Rolling up the rim on Tim Horton's cups (twice!). Kissing the Stanley Cup. I guess they must have overdone it a bit, because the movie got no play in the USA. For some strange reason that didn't make me feel bad, especially sitting there in our packed theatre.

Some of the critics didn't like it - the movie was too shallow, too ordinary, too many Canadian songs. I didn't think so at all. The premise of the film is that a man is diagnosed with cancer, has a month to live, buys a motorcycle and travels across Canada on his own. Seems real to me, but to people who hate motorcycles maybe not. And I thought the movie was amazingly deep in it's view of how people handle death. There was a bit of flash back narrative about him growing up and his dreams being squashed one by one. I figure that I know as much about life and death as the film critics, and I say the movie had a thoughtful and courageous portrayal of the emotions and thoughts that people go through. I loved the music too. I can't really figure out why the negative reviews.

Reasons a person might hate the movie? I know there are people who hate motorcycles. Maybe the haters thought the Tim Horton's cup was a thinly disguised product placement. Hey maybe it was. The film pokes a finger in the eye of the religious faction, too. In a flashback, Ben Tyler will not pretend to be a believer just to make his girlfriend happy. In one scene, he opens a motel-room bible to find all blank pages except a quote in the middle. Funny none of the critics mentioned this, was it too subliminal, or were they too afraid to even mention it in the review? Do they maybe think it takes religion and spirituality to make a movie realistic?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Propaganda: Class Warfare

Barack Obama has been criticised for being like Robin Hood, who famously "stole from the rich to give to the poor". In the original story, Robin Hood was a hero, a decent person who was trying to put right the wrongs of his country. But apparently today, most conservatives seem to identify more with Prince John or the Sheriff of Nottingham. Now Robin Hood is seen as being a socialist cur.

I think there really is an emerging issue of class warfare in the USA, and to some extent Canada. I'm not saying it's started yet, there is no doubt the rich are getting richer. Do they deserve it? Are they really the best and the brightest? These are the questions I am not going to bother answering. But if it is really going to class warfare, it will be the most important issue of our time.

There are also some other non related issues such as the issue of abortion. For some people it is the only issue that matters. But abortion is not a primal instinct. Animals will fight over food, but they will not fight other animals just because of the way they treating their own young. If the only thing a foreign country was doing to annoy us was allowing their women to get abortions, we would never bother going to war with them. Hey just wait and the problem solves itself!

In America, the middle class is disappearing. Illegal aliens are increasing. The new word for people so poor they have no legal protection at all is illegal alien. The conservatives are aligned with the rich, the liberals with the poor, and both are attempting to appeal to the rapidly shrinking middle class.

These are what I think are the real issues. Taxation, health care, immigration, minimum wage, maximum wage, food prices, free education, affordable housing. Taxation especially because for years in most liberal democracies, taxation was a way to take money from the rich and give it to the poor. Which used to be thought of as a good thing by the middle class and the poor.

There are two side of the story. The rich believe they have worked hard to earn their money, and do not want it taken away or stolen by the government, especially if that government gives it to the undeserving poor. On the other side, the poor feel that they have not had a fair shot at wealth, and they only want enough to live a decent life.

The truly rich or the desperately poor each have an easy choice to make, but which way to go when you are in the middle? There is a temptation for the middle class to side with the rich. For one thing, people hope one day to be rich. For another, many people like to think they are richer than they are. Or to pretend they are. Very few people want to think that they might be poor themselves one day, living on the street. But not everyone on the planet can squander resources the way the rich do, or our planet would be dead in a week. So the reality is: not everybody can be rich.

In a liberal democracy, the rich need to control the government by appealing to the middle class for votes. They can't do it simply by giving the middle class enough wages and jobs to make them rich. The cheaper way of doing it is by PR, spin, propaganda, marketing - whatever you want to call it. It is an appeal based on emotion, instead of real benefit. The poor do not have access to such a weapon of control, although they can do some things like spreading stories and passing out flyers.

I believe the trend in history is that the rich get richer until the poor cannot tolerate it any more and revolt. That may also be Karl Marx's theory. It happened during the French Revolution, for example. And I guess the Russian revolution. Call me a liberal if you must, but the best antidote to this cycle is a strong middle class, which I for one hope we never lose.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Do you still meet the nicest people on a Honda?

Chuck Hawkes maintains a good website about motorcycles. I think it's fair to let him have his bias toward Harley Davidson motorcycles. I have my own biases too. But there is one place where I feel that his comments about Honda are so far off base that I simply have to let you decide for yourself.

First quote, from the page above, the Sportster review:

"Years ago, Honda ran ads saying "You meet the nicest people on a Honda." Today, you meet the nicest people on a Harley."

It does sound a little biased to me, but then I know some very nice people riding Harleys and some scum sob's riding around on Honda's. Still, I don't agree that on the average Harley riders today are nicer than Honda riders. So I continued reading Chuck's website to get a better feel for what exactly Chuck Hawkes means by "nicest people".

I came across this quote, on this page: http://www.chuckhawks.com/motorcycle_firearms.htm
I took note, that the article is credited not to Chuck Hawkes personally, but to Dr. Christopher Lee.

"1. When selecting a firearm for motorcycle carry, opt for one that has a ported barrel, especially if your choice is a lightweight gun in a magnum caliber. Ported barrels are a relatively new technology, and they significantly reduce the recoil of the firearm. That means that when you are firing from a moving motorcycle, the shot will be less likely to disrupt your balance."

(I skipped a few of the points)

"5. If you decide to fire, FIRE AT THE DRIVER, NOT THE CAR. Obvious in retrospect, make sure you decide to fire at the driver before you engage to avoid time-consuming, and therefore dangerous, mistakes."

I will not challenge the advice itself. But Chuck, the point of Honda's commercial in the sixties was to improve the image of motorcyclists, at that time a lot of people thought all motorcyclists, especially Harley riders, were outlaws and bullies. One way to think of it, being nice means NO SHOOTING PEOPLE WHILE RIDING.