Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Truth and Flat Tires

One of the first places I read about the philosophical importance of science was in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig

"...Two kinds of logic are used, inductive and deductive. Inductive inferences start with observations of the machine and arrive at general conclusions. For example, if the cycle goes over a bump and the engine misfires, and then goes over another bump and the engine misfires, and then goes over another bump and the engine misfires, and then goes over a long, smooth stretch of road and there is no misfiring, and then goes over a fourth bump and the engine misfires, one can logically conclude that the misfiring is caused by the bumps. That is induction: reasoning from particular experiences to general truths.

Deductive inferences do the reverse. They start with general knowledge and predict a specific observation. For example, if, from reading the hierarchy of facts about the machine, the mechanic knows the horn of the cycle is powered exclusively by electricity from the battery, then he can logically infer that if the battery is dead the horn will not work. That is deduction.

Solutions of problems too complicated for common sense to solve is achieved by long strings of mixed inductive and deductive inferences that weave back and forth between the observed machine and the mental hierarchy of the machine found in the manuals. The correct program for this interweaving is formalised as scientific method.... "

I liked that book partly because Robert Pirsig used motorcycle maintenance problems to illustrate philosophy and science. So I am going to relate an event that happened to me yesterday to illustrate propaganda versus science.

Mary Ann had her first flat tire on her Burgman 400. I didn't have a tubeless tire repair kit, but I have used them before, so I called the motorcycle shop and was told "We don't stock tubeless tire repair kits because they don't work." Of course, the motorcycle shop would prefer for you to buy a new tire, so they have a motive to spread this story. And similar to propaganda, there is a fear factor. It is implied that if you use a repair kit, you may get another blowout at high speed and be killed. So now fear and propaganda are rearing their ugly heads in what should have been a simple repair. Finally, I did locate a kit at Canadian Tire, and it did the job in about 2 minutes, not including pumping up the tire. The nail hole was very small, and I have made many repairs like this that lasted the life of the tire - although once made a repair on a car tire that didn't hold up. But that was a much bigger hole, and since that experience, I have never used plugs when the hole is larger than the plug. With the patch in the Burgman's tire, I will check the air pressure more frequently, and very likely I will change the tire sooner rather than later.

I'm sure that many people would argue with me about whether patching a tire is unsafe. When I was younger I would not have believed that "tubeless tire repair kits don't work". But apparently the older and wiser you get, the more fearful you also get. Maybe that's why propaganda works so well on older people, and also explains that they are more likely to be conservative.

This is a bit of an aside, but I found a video that discusses skepticism and scientific method. I recently was on Richard Dawkin's web page and found a way to assess truthfulness, similar to my Bullshit Detector, except it is called "The Baloney Detection Kit". In this video, Michael Shermer has 10 ways to evaluate something for truth, with the key assumption being that you can determine the truth scientifically.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fascism: Is it Left or Right?

Mark Steyn has come out with an article in MacLean's titled "The Return of Fascism", referring to recent European elections where parties that opposed unrestricted immigration made some gains.

Once again, I think Mark's overwrought prose somewhat gets in the way of enlightenment, but of course it's all about his freedom of speech. And of course I would defend to the death his right to speak, although I'm kind of jealous that he gets paid, and I do this for free. But I do have an advantage in that I don't have any financial incentive to pad out my writing.

But on reading through the responses to the article on the internet, I did notice several of Marks fans seem to confuse Fascism with Leftism. They assume that Obama would be pleased with what had happened in Europe. Well, actually no - the American Left is not in cahoots with the European Fascists.

I think the confusion comes down to the fact that the Far Right propaganda has been trying for several years to redefine the Left as Fascists. I would like to clear up this matter for the right wingers. I have just read a piece of right wing propaganda by John J. Ray [ M.A.; Ph .D. "Modern Leftism As Recycled Fascism"….. In this long argument, John Ray takes Mussolini's words and shows how they prove that Fascists are leftists. For example:

Mussolini “Fascism has taken up an attitude of complete opposition to the doctrines of Liberalism, both in the political field and in the field of economics”.

John J Ray.: "The “Liberalism” he refers to here would of course be called “Neo-liberalism” today — the politics of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Mussolini opposed such politics and so do Leftists today."

Me: If you define Fascism to be "Leftist" then you will also need to define "Liberal" to be rightist. "Of course".

So how about if we just look up Fascism in Wikipedia? Unless, Wikipedia is suspected of liberal bias. Which it is, apparently. Along with the mainstream media, universities, public schools and scientists. So to eliminate the bias charge, let's check "Fascism" in Conservapedia instead.

"Fascism is at the extreme right of the political spectrum. [1]"

Hopefully, that is clear enough. Although I suspect that Conservapedia's conservative owner might come back to change this when he finds out. Because another entry in Conservapedia calls Hitler a leftist.

All the following quotes are from Conservapedia, and you can see that these selected comments also agree with the theory that Fascism is a right wing deal.

"an emphasis on nationalism and national traditions; militarism; information control and censorship;"

No comment

"Fascist regimes have often concentrated on a "scapegoat" to push their agendas, such as Nazi attack on the Jews after 1920"

Assuming the scapegoat here is the Muslims or the gays or the illegal immigrants, I suppose.

"rigged elections and a general disdain for human rights.[2]"

Rigged elections are debatable, but disdain for human rights is an admitted right wing characteristic (the waterboarding issue, Guantanamo Bay etc.)

Of the Fascist movement, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote:
“ their totalitarian ideal hardly fitted into the pattern of the Left, which had been the traditional home of greater freedoms and more generous aspirations. So, after boggling and uncertainty, they were assigned positions on the far Right. [4]"

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Propaganda: Fear Mining

Fear mining is the process of digging up the fear in a society, refining it, and converting it into something valuable.

One good way to dig up the fear is to start a radio station and get people to call in to express their fears where everyone can hear them. This helps to identify the best fears, and to concentrate them, because they are of little commercial value if they are too dilute.

Any society can come under stress, and during those times, people become afraid. Times of war, times of famine, times of plague. There are of course many more situations, and just picking from some of our recent events, 9/11, Asian tsunami, New Orleans flooding, the Israelis/Palestinian relations, or Rwandan holocaust.

During times of stress, there is a buildup of fear within the society. And this fear, to some people, is the mother lode. If that fear could be tapped, it would result in riches beyond our wildest dreams. And it can be tapped. That's why I call this blog the "Fear Miners".

Once a rich enough vein of fear has been tapped , (through radio, as one example), it is time to concentrate and convert it into hate. You do this by identifying a cause for the fear, and by finding some group to be blamed. Of course it is best to pick on a group with power, resources or wealth. With enough hate stirred up against them the fear miners stand to inherit this wealth or power in the ensuing struggle.

But even if the group to be blamed has nothing, you still stand to make some money if you are clever. An example would be Americans who fear losing their jobs, can then blame illegal immigrants. The illegal immigrants have nothing, so you then simply blame those liberals who allowed the illegal immigrants to get into the country.

Although it is generally best to tap existing fear levels in a stressed out society, sometimes the fear can be planted where you would think none exists. An example of this is fear of wind turbines. If you are an oil company, you might see these wind turbines as a threat. Then you might want to start "seeding" the fear, spreading stories about people getting sick, birds getting killed, lovely vistas desecrated, your tax dollars being misspent, and property values plummeting.

And what about the opposite? What I mean is the environmentalists who are tapping the fear in society. You could call this mining fear out of "thin air". For example spreading stories of global warming/cooling, the threat of chemical pollutants in the air and water. Then this fear is concentrated and redirected at people driving SUV's and oil companies making obscene profits, and chemical companies dumping mercury and PCB's into the rivers.

Even when most of the fear has been processed already, an enterprising prospector can mine fear out of alternate and supernatural realities that are invisible and undetectable. For example: Spread the word that unless you belong to our religion, you are going to burn in hell forever. Once you establish that connection, you can explain that the cure is to join your religion, then ask for donations to support the cause of explaining the problem to other people who do not yet "get it".

Picture: The Baggertransport 2001 Because I'm sure you want to see a few more pictures of it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Economics 101: A Slow Day in a Texas Town

There is a story being circulated on the Internet that seems like propaganda, because it is found mostly on libertarian or conservative websites, and because it mentions Texas. Here is the story followed by my take on it.

It is a slow day in the East Texas town of Madisonville. It is raining, and the little town looks totally deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt and everybody lives on credit. On this particular day a rich tourist from the East is driving through town. He enters the only hotel in the sleepy town and lays a hundred dollar bill on the desk stating he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night.

As soon as the man walks up the stairs, the hotel proprietor takes the hundred dollar bill and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher. The butcher takes the $100 and runs down the street to pay his debt to the pig farmer. The pig farmer then takes the $100 and heads off to pay his debt to the supplier of feed and fuel. The guy at the Farmer's Co-op takes the $100 and runs to pay his debt to the local prostitute, who has also been facing hard times and has lately had to offer her "services" on credit. The hooker runs to the hotel and pays off her debt with the $100 to the hotel proprietor, paying for the rooms that she had rented when she brought clients to that establishment. The hotel proprietor then lays the $100 bill back on the counter so the rich traveler will not suspect anything.

At that moment the traveler from the East walks back down the stairs, after inspecting the rooms. He picks up the $100 bill and states that the rooms are not satisfactory...... Pockets the money and walks out the door and leaves town.

No one earned anything. However the whole town is now out of debt, and looks to the future with a lot of optimism.That, ladies and gentlemen, is how the United States Government is conducting business today.

If that doesn't scare the hell out of you, then I don't know what will.

Well, one thing is sure, after this, I will not be leaving any hundred dollar bill on any hotel desks in Texas!

This paradox actually does illustrate one point quite well, the usefulness of non gold based paper currency. Which I think is the opposite of what was intended, knowing that Ron Paul opposes any currency not backed by gold. In this example you may notice that everybody actually had zero net debt. A simple way to clear up their outstanding debts would be if the hotel manager had written an IOU "payable to bearer" for $100, handed it to the butcher and waited until it came back from the prostitute - then he could tear it up, and everybody starts over. No U.S. currency is even required, just a paper with some reputable signature. Although, having been to Texas I'm pretty sure that the equivalent in Canadian currency would not have worked at all!

One other thing, the statement "no one earned anything" is actually false, in that each person had provided some goods or services to earn $100, the only thing lacking was a "medium of exchange", similar to what happens when credit shrinks. In this case, the $100 bill did the trick. But another medium of exchange could have worked too.

This story is interesting to me because it actually resembles what used to go on in isolated fishing communities in north east Quebec during the winter when the supply boat could not get through. In the absence of a bank, or of any outside trade, people would simply write checks to each other, which would then be passed around almost like currency until the supply boat came back in the spring with its on board bank branch. Then the residents of the village who were holding the checks at the time could clear them.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Roger Ebert: From My Cousin Vinnie to Bill O'Reilly

Roger Ebert is my favourite movie critic. He may even be the main reason I still go out to movies with my wife. When Mary Ann and I were first dating, she liked going to movies and so did I. Just not the same movies. It took a few years before we could find the very first movie we both liked, "My Cousin Vinnie". That was a real breakthrough because at least it proved we had some common ground in movies, other than movies that were so bad we both hated them, but for different reasons. But Cousin Vinnie was a fluke, we needed some way to predict which movies we could both enjoy.

I started reading reviews before going to the movies, as my usual rating system was not working well. Actually my old rating system went kind of like this: I looked through the known facts about the movie and added or subtracted points.

Has a motorcycle in it +100
Has Sandra Bullock in it +20
Rated R or better +5
Has Mickey Rourke in it -100
Science Fiction theme +50
Involves death by disease -50
Involved death by explosives +10
Psychological drama - 20
Comedy +50

This system was simply not working for both of us, as every thing I awarded points for, Mary Ann subtracted the exact same number of points. There are many movie reviewers out there, but soon I noticed that Roger Ebert seemed to be the one most in sync with my tastes. The cool thing was, that if he ever awarded 3 and a half stars or better to a movie, we would both enjoy seeing it. Maybe not enjoy it the same amount, maybe not the for the same reasons, but we both started to look forward to going to movies together.

Now I have found an interesting journal entry written by Roger Ebert, and not surprisingly, I consider his opinion spot on about the propaganda found on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News Channel opinion show, called "The O'Reilly Factor".

Here is a link to the Chicago Sun-Times web page with this article from June 14, 2009. "The O'Reilly Procedure"

(Yes, I know My Cousin Vinnie only got 2 1/2 stars from Roger Ebert, that's because it's the exception that proves the rule.)

Update On Bombing Iran

First a confession about the duelling t-shirts pic, one of those shirts is NOT a conservative T-shirt, I photoshopped it. Now on with the blog.

I want to comment on John McCain, Obama's rival in the presidential election, who is criticising Obama for not speaking up more forcefully to support the Iranian protesters.

Although I disagree with John McCain, I don't think telling him to "Shut up" is the right response. I am happy to hear him say he is supportive of the protesters. Since McCain thinks that the protesters are a significant part of the Iranian population, he may think twice before making further comments about bombing Iran. This is a good thing for peace.

So getting back to John McCain saying that Obama must give "moral support" to the Iranian protesters. Now this is the part where not only do I think John McCain is wrong, but he is the "useful idiot" who happens to have outlasted his usefulness. I'm just making a reference to John McCain calling Joe Klein of Time magazine a "useful idiot". Joe Klein thought McCain's idea of American "moral support" was not what the protesters needed or wanted. I might also mention that many years ago, George H W Bush made a few "moral support" remarks about Iraqis rising up against Saddam that resulted in their slaughter. Obama, at least learns from mistakes, while McCain either through innate stupidity, or through political opportunism, does not learn. That may be the difference between graduating at the top of the class, or at the bottom.

By the way, the definition of moral support, is support that includes talk, but no actual help. The Iranians should say to John McCain "Thanks but no thanks"

But what is so frustrating in dealing with John McCain, is that he is wrong on so many levels that I often miss one or two. Well, here's one that I'd like to get to before I get sidetracked: It is a lie to say that Obama has not given any moral support to the Iranian protesters. He has basically given the right amount of support in a situation that demands for diplomatic finesse. So McCain's entire line of reasoning is based on ignorance. Also, Obama has made the protests thinkable, because if McCain was president, the Iranians would be less likely to rebel in the streets, especially with Mr. Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran as president. We should also remember that it was the Republican "Axis of Evil" strategy that paved the way for the reactionary Iranians to come to power power four years ago.

This entire Iranian protest has validated Obama's "talk with the enemy" approach, while the right wing extremist approach is now irrelevant. Is it any wonder that despite the intense right wing anti-Obama campaign, most people are even more relieved that Obama won?

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Meaning of I Wasn't Born to Follow

I have learned that to make an effective blog, you must have a sharp focus. Obviously my blog is violating this sacred principle. But I am not going to correct that error, because I believe that I am covering in this blog the only two things that are worth learning. How to ride a motorcycle, and how to think for yourself. So this blog is basically the School of Life, because it combines motorcycling with propaganda.

You might think that I am shutting out the large number of Internet users who are hopelessly brainwashed. But no, this school welcomes conservatives and evangelicals as well as atheists and liberals. The comments are open to anyone, and I am willing to listen to reason. Nobody, left or right ever sets out in life with the aim of being a mindless follower, and there are followers on both sides.

So now the meaning of my banner: The Lost Motorcyclist, or I wasn't Born to Follow. When you ride a motorcycle, being lost also happens to be a natural consequence of not following. "I wasn't born to follow" is a song by the Byrds on the soundtrack of Easy Rider, written by by Carol King and Gerry Goffin in 1968.

"I Wasn't Born to Follow"

Oh I'd rather go and journey where the diamond crescent's glowing and
Run across the valley Beneath the sacred mountain
And wander through the forest
Where the trees have leaves of prisms, and break the light in colors
That no-one knows the names of.

And when it's time I'll go and wait beside a legendary fountain
Till I see your form reflected in its clear and jewelled waters
And if you think I'm ready
You may lead me to the chasm where the rivers of our vision
Flow into one another

I will watch her dive beneath the white cascading waters.
She may beg, she may plead, she may argue with her logic,
And mention all the things I'll lose that really have no value.

In the end she will surely know I wasn't born to follow.

The lyrics I found on the Internet vary, so hopefully this version is at least meaningful. In Carole King's version there was another line just before the last:

"Though I doubt that she will ever come to understand my meaning"

Now what does this song mean? No it does not mean get wasted and look for chicks. Read it again. Especially the line "And if you think I'm ready, you may lead me to the chasm where the rivers of our vision flow into one another." Seemingly contrary to the theme of the song, to say "you may lead me", but it's more like you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. So at first it seems like nothing more than a song about a guy who is not able to make a commitment to a girl. But in a broader sense, it's about not wanting to surrender yourself to any other point of view. Which may be good or bad. If you can't or won't follow, you can not only get lost, but you can get lonely. But some people are just born that way.

So another reason I do not have a sharp focus to this blog is because "I wasn't born to follow".

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The BS Detector: Artificial Intelligence?

This is a followup to my blog on the "Theory of Evolution of Intelligence" where I mentioned the most primitive useful form of artificial intelligence is the bullshit detector machine. Years ago we looked forward to the day when a computer could beat a chess master. We thought, if that ever happened we would be on the threshold of artificial intelligence. Some doubted that it could ever be done. Well, that benchmark has been blown away, so what's next? Let's skip all the games now and get to something of real use.

One possibility might be a machine that could drive a car. Although it would be a useful test of intelligence, unfortunately, this machine would only add to our woes as a species, since populations would continue to increase as the resources depleted.

It seems to me we really need is a machine that could actually reverse the backward slide of our civilization's sum knowledge. We already have a very primitive prototype of a BS Detector: the spam filters. The best of these filters include a look up on the Internet to see if this piece of spam is from a known spam source. Also the better ones can read a picture to recognize spam-like content printed on a photograph.

My proposed benchmark of a basic BS detector should be to input an article from a source such as the Globe and Mail, or a program segment from CNN or Fox News, and get an answer back indicating level of bullshit on a scale of 1 to 10. Where we could increase that scale to 11 in the case of some BS-rich sources.

The BS detector would need to separate the content as opinion or fact. If fact, the machine would check the sources against the Internet. If opinion, to evaluate the logic, reasonableness and probability.

This machine is just a theoretical machine at this point, and I don't know if Homo Sapiens has enough time left in its evolutionary run to actually build a working one, or if it's even theoretically possible. But think of the uses it might have. First, to avoiding a stock market crashes or economic depressions by feeding in market analysts blurbs, or even company reports. It would have been very useful to run a couple of AIG annual reports through a BS detector and have it come up all 11's on the BS scale.

The one problem is with the question of the universal bullshit scale, one that does not vary from one country to the next, or from one political party or religion to another. We would need a universal knowledge base, for example do we choose Wikipedia or Conservapedia, or one of the other variants that spring up because Wikipedia is seen as biased by some. At any rate, a machine, much like a human, needs some underlying base for reference. Producing a logical machine is simple enough, but knowing which sources to trust for facts is a problem that may be impossible to solve. My own bias would be to go with the scientific community consensus, but not everyone would trust that. So in the end we may have the Scientific-based BS Detector, and another Jesus-Centered BS Detector, and yet another North Korean BS-Detector and so on. Which of course opens us up to the possibility of networking the BS detectors together in a kind of debate or "fight to the finish".

A working universal BS detector would not actually be making advances in science for us, but it would increase our sum knowledge. That's because
(sum knowledge) = (all that we know) - (all the BS).
Eliminate the BS, our sum knowledge increases. And we are better able to move forward and solve some of our other problems such as famine, resource depletion, war, and overpopulation. Or to invent an even better artificial intelligence machine.

The Theory of Evolution of Intelligence

Aaron Levenstein, 1946 "For the first time in man's long journey out of the dark cave in which he started, the bright sun awaits him. It will not take much now to send him scurrying back to the cave."

Time for a serious topic in this blog. I am going to propose a new theory that is bigger than Darwin's Theory of Evolution of Species, although admittedly not as well supported by scientific research. I am going to call it "The Theory of Evolution of Intelligence".

The basic premise is that we humans are not the only intelligent life to have ever evolved. Although we have never yet detected another manifestation of intelligent life, it may have evolved on other planets yet remain undetected by us, and it may even have evolved at an earlier time on this planet, yet still somehow remain undetected in the fossil record.

It may not be inevitable that intelligence will evolve, but we know for certain that it can evolve, because we did.

By intelligence, I am referring to "intelligent life forms". A life form that can create tools, can manipulate the environment, and that multiplies it's knowledge by inventing ways to keep records, to write, to speak, and to teach and learn through speech and writing. I don't want to put down the intelligence of Chimps and dolphins, but that's just not what I'm taking about here.

This entire theory is based on observation of only one species, whereas Darwin had many species to look at for his theories. So scientific observation is out until we make that first contact. But I do want to look at how we evolved intelligence, and how it might apply to other species, possibly on other planets.

There are some general rules that may apply to the evolution of any intelligence, anywhere. First would be that on any one planet at one time, only one intelligent life form can exist. That is because intelligence will allow one species to wipe out the other almost as soon as intelligence evolves. What I'm referring to here is Neanderthals and the like.

On the road to the evolution of intelligence, the brain evolves first. A species develops a brain through Darwinian evolution, soon after that the evolutionary growth of intelligence slows and stops, as the intelligent species becomes able to prevent the law of natural selection from taking due course on its members. From then on, the evolution of intelligence takes place through learning, and development of technology, and increase in externally stored knowledge such as libraries. The intelligent species will quickly reach a point where all knowledge does not need to be learned by every member of the species, but "experts" will develop to specialize in certain areas, and members will trade knowledge with each other in large civilizations.

Technology will develop following certain inevitable paths.

One of the first discoveries of any intelligent life form, will be fire. Fire is nothing more than the external harnessing of the same chemical reaction that goes on internally to provide energy. Fire will at first provide heat that allows all kinds of possibilities, and later will provide other types of useful energy such as motion, with the invention of machines that can harness the heat from fire. On our planet fire is oxygen and carbon compounds reacting, on other planets it will be whatever the equivalent chemical pair is. I will assume that on any planet, there is oxygen and carbon or some alternative chemical pair. The chemical reaction between oxygen and carbon forms the basis for the energy of almost every form of animal life on our planet.

Another basic invention that I can assume is universal would be the wheel, which is a geometric structure not dependent on the chemical composition of the planet. Of course, what the wheel is made of will vary, but the shape will not. Such things as writing, mathematics, and scientific study will also develop, as they are also universal.

Intelligent life will continue to evolve to the point where nuclear weapons are used. Nuclear weapons are possible on any planet. My theory proposes a new rule at this point in the evolution of intelligence: In any civilization, the point where nuclear weapons are used represents "peak intelligence". From that time forward, the intelligent life form is on a path to the inevitable decline of intelligence and ultimately it's self destruction. That destruction may take place through the massive use of nuclear weapons, or through some other means. But the eventual decline and destruction will not take long by geologic time scale. The fall will be a lot quicker than the rise.

I really have only one intelligent life form available to study, but just looking at Homo Sapiens since the atomic bomb, there is a resurgence of fundamental religions which deny the very science that brought us the atomic bomb. Seems inevitable to me. And at the same time, various groups all over the planet begin to see the need for their own atomic bombs. Instead of coming together in one scientific, rational world with a common purpose, the world breaks down into conflicting religions, each one denying science, but also developing atomic bombs.

The religions promote overpopulation as they reject science. But they accept atomic weapons. They also preach hate against other religions and promise their followers immortality. This of course makes nuclear war or something else inevitable.

I say something else, because the combination of technology and industry, together with overpopulation will inevitably lead to a poisoning of the environment, or to using up all the resources, or to nuclear war, or all three.

Although I only have one species to base my observations of intelligence on, there is a book called "Collapse" by Jared Diamond which studies how human civilizations have failed in specific locations through history.

There are some theoretical exceptions to this evolutionary decline. First is that if, before developing atomic weapons, the intelligent life form develops artificial intelligence. At which point they may be able to leverage their social intelligence to cope with their ever increasing weapons technology, and to overcome the backlash of fear and superstition following the first use of nuclear weapons. The reason I think this is doubtful, is that if nuclear weapons are used, it indicates that artificial intelligence has not developed first. And once atomic weapons are used, the rapid rise of fundamental religions will prevent the development of artificial intelligence. Based on our history, a huge amount of energy is put into religion, war and reproduction. If all that energy had been put into developing artificial intelligence, we would by now at least have a functioning "bulls**t detector". (I have to write that with stars because people are offended by the very word word bulls**t, which of course is bulls**t). Of course, I am assuming the basic bulls**t detector is the most primitive form of artificial intelligence to be of any real use. No offense to computer chess programs, of course.

A second theoretical exception may be space travel. If, for example a civilization has developed space travel before atomic weapons, their problems may be over as they could just migrate to other planets. This is unlikely, as space travel has proven many times more difficult than the development of atomic weapons. In fact, it may be impossible, which would also explain why we have never seen any aliens running around on our planet.

Unless we do get an unforeseen break, we will continue down the path where atomic weapons proliferate, and so do fundamental religions, fear and ignorance; until Homo Sapiens inevitably uses these nuclear weapons on itself on a massive scale.

Since I don't like to end a blog on a downer, her is a little Father's day song from Youtube to cheer everyone back up. (BTW, if the word bulls**t offends you you might just want to avoid this little pick-me-up.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obama Criticised by Some Leftists

Is there any activity more loved by the masses than bitching and moaning about their leaders? And every single one of those people is convinced that they know better how to get the job done. Even the British engaged in it in WW2, many of them had better ideas about how to run the war than Churchill.

It seems to be some kind of law of politics that parties out of power have more idealistic promises than can actually be delivered, and once a party gets in power, they need to tone down the goals to suit the conditions they find themselves in. It kind of reminds me of young parents with a new baby, full of idealism of how they are going to raise their "perfect" baby, then it turns out twenty years later that baby is all grown up, and they made a lot of mistakes, but thankfully it sort of turned out OK in the end. No one will ever know how it would have turned out if they had done it differently. It certainly is an experience to make you a little less likely to spout off with your opinions.

Today I was reading an article about "Obama a Very Smooth Liar", by John R. MacArthur on Common Dreams, a website I used to read often during the Bush years. Following it are almost a hundred comments along the same lines of "Obama lied to us". I suppose a lot of those comments are from Republicans or from Libertarians who never voted for Obama in the first place, but the ones that did vote for him should just get a grip.

Obama cannot afford to make any stupid mistakes, and no matter what his personal opinion, he must try to lead the country - which means taking into account not just the 3% of the most extreme left wing, but also the 97% of the rest who will have to be not only carrying out these tasks, but giving top level advice as well. If Obama tried to pull any nutty stunts and a horrific slaughter resulted, who is responsible? Certainly not the Monday morning quarterbacks posting comments on Common Dreams.

One characteristic in a true democracy, is that when power changes hands, the country does not flip immediately to the very opposite of what it was. No, that's what happens in a bloody revolution, where the opposition is all killed or locked up. The USA had an election, that's all.

In the rest of the world, as in America, actually, most people are quite happy with Barack Obama. Hardly anyone outside America had any unrealistic expectations from a mere democratic change in leadership. They can see some obvious changes, one of them is: Obama is speaking out against the Israelis settlements. Although some Israelis settlers are quite angry about it.

Another change, the Pakistanis are going after the Taliban. It's doubtful they would have, or could have, done that with the Republicans in place who are regarded world wide as a warmongering party. Obama is actually trying to close Guantanamo. Didn't Mitt Romney say he would have opened two more? Obama is trying to talk to Iran, did Rudy Giuliani say he favoured a pre-emptive nuclear strike? So go ahead and make your suggestions to Common Dreams, but keep it reasonable. Obama is way better than the Republicans, and most of the world knows it.

If the economy rebounds, and the wars wind down peacefully, he could be on track to be one of the best presidents ever. I may not agree with all his moves, but I can at least see how they might all fit together in some larger plan that could result in more peace and prosperity and even a better environment. Unlike George W. Bush, whose policies set my teeth on edge, with the ignorance of world history, and utter disregard for diplomacy, the environment, human rights, or even human decency. Not to mention the "dead or alive", and "bring 'em on" rhetoric. Nope, let's not go back down that road to destruction, we went far enough already. I just hope Obama can get us out and back onto solid ground.

Propaganda: Uncle Tom's Cabin

Here in Ontario, Canada, is the historical site of Uncle Tom's cabin.

"Uncle Tom's Cabin" was a best-selling fictional novel in 1852 that is an example of anti-slavery propaganda . Its depiction of the most sadistic aspects of slavery gave a boost to the anti-slavery movement. The slave owners, of course were not going to let this pass unchallenged. A good response to a piece of powerful propaganda, is to issue a rebuttal that is educated and reasonable, so as to highlight the fairly wild imagery of the propaganda itself. Although the this type rebuttal may still be propaganda, it has a more rational tone to give it greater credibility - especially in that it can now call the propaganda exaggerated, while the rebuttal is simply factual and calm.

Here is an example of a rebuttal against "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by John Bartlett. In case you cannot read through the excruciating nineteenth century prose, I can pretty much paraphrase his best argument for you: You can't judge slavery to be bad by the rare cruelty you may find in it, any more than you can judge marriage to be a bad institution because some men are cruel to their wives, (who incidentally also receive no pay).

I'm not sure if Bartlett's pro-slavery argument still needs a beat down, as the debate has been conceded by other side for a long time. But just in case you, as a reader, have suddenly decided "Hey, maybe slavery was OK after all!!!", I will go ahead with the counter-rebuttal.

The argument against slavery was not based entirely on the brutal whippings and mutilation. It was also based on the racism, the rape of women and subsequent offspring being considered slaves by their father, the splitting up of slave families, the hunting down of escaped slaves, the forced transportation of slaves. And perhaps most obvious of all, marriage is overwhelmingly by choice, slavery is overwhelmingly by force. (exceptions occur in both cases of course).

So this rebuttal is weak, and in hindsight we can all see how weak it is without any further argument on my part (I hope). Shockingly enough, though, this type of argument went over quite well in the southern USA in 1852. It just goes to show how people can shut out logic and reason to support their beliefs.

But more than anything, it is interesting to examine a situation where you compare "good" propaganda to an "evil" rational rebuttal, to see what they look like. Examples today would be some of the responses to "inconvenient Truth" by Al Gore, or "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Motorcycling and Tailgating

Motorcyclists get annoyed by tailgaters. Partly because they feel kind of vulnerable anyway, it's not as if they have a huge amount of metal between them and the bumper of the car following. And it almost seems like cars are more likely to tailgate a motorcycle than they are to tailgate a truck or another car. I do find that if I drive just above the average traffic speed (about 2 - 5 kph), I can eliminate about 80% of tailgating right there. When there is no traffic around, I usually go the speed limit. That's because of the way traffic enforcement picks on lone vehicles on the road.

I used to have a lot more problems with tailgaters when I was younger than I do now. Maybe it was because I was less tolerant of distances, or I used to get annoyed at distances that I now consider normal. Anyhow, I don't really know why but it does not happen that much to me any more.

My way of dealing with tailgaters is just varying my speed a little bit. This method works for casual tailgaters. Other people tailgate to send you the message that you are driving too slow. Casual tailgaters do it because they are no good at judging distance, or, let's put it under the broader category of just not being a good driver. Now I'm not saying the deliberate tailgater who is in a hurry is a good driver, I'm just saying that there is a "purpose" to that type of tailgating as opposed to casual tailgating.

Speed variations work on the purposeless tailgater, which I would say, for me, is about 95% of my tailgaters, given the speed I drive at. If I drive at a constant speed, they just keep getting closer and closer. A casual tailgater will back off when following a vehicle that is speeding up and slowing down by as little as plus or minus 2 km/h over a 30 second cycle. Their slow reaction time, and poor ability to judge distance are working work against them. So I take the chance that by gently slowing down just a little, they will come closer than they intend, at which point I have already begun to gently speed up, but their reaction time and judgement of distance is bad enough that they cannot respond, so I end up way ahead of them before they know it. I cannot just keep speeding up forever, so I gently ease off again. That is usually just about when their slow reflexes and poor distance judgement kick in and they are trying to catch up. Once again they get surprised by coming too close. Usually the second time is enough to convince them to give me more space and then everybody's happy.

The deliberate tailgater is more determined and will not give up, but on the other hand, they will usually pass you at the first opportunity. A deliberate tailgater is also given to road rage. However my speeding up and slowing down is too gentle to be seen as a deliberate act even by these aggressive types.

Another reason that motorcyclists get tailgated is because many drivers judge distance in the worst way: by apparent size of the vehicle in front. If it looks big, they think they are too close, if it seems tiny, they believe they can get closer. Unfortunately motorcycles generally look smaller than cars and trucks, and so this type of driver will try to get closer.

Big trucks tailgating is an entirely different matter. They are almost always sending you a signal to speed up. This may happen on a down hill run for example, where they would prefer to pick up a little speed and not use their brakes. It's an economic matter to them. Also, the truck is too cumbersome to speed up and slow down, so you can easily make them back off with speed variations, but I don't do that. I usually simply speed up a little, knowing that as soon as we reach the next uphill section they will need to slow down again. Either that, or they pass me if we are on a multi lane road. I rarely go slow enough to force a big transport truck to pass me on a mountain road.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Globe and Mail Article: Wind Power

From Globe and Mail article The answer's blowing in the wind, but not all of us want to hear it
Roy MacGregor
Monday, Jun. 08, 2009 12:00AM EDT

"Michael Lansbury is just one of many cottagers in the Upper Ottawa Valley attempting to block a wind farm that could mean as many as 60 of the giant windmills going up in the heart of what could be described as a Group-of-Seven postcard.

Mr. Lansbury at first didn't like the idea of going down to the dock with a morning coffee and having to stare at a horizon that would look more like a bad science-fiction set than dawn slipping over the high hills of the Canadian Shield.

That is undeniably a Not-In-My-Back-Yard response and Mr. Lansbury concedes the point easily, saying he is "motivated by selfishness to the extent that I don't want the countryside ruined."

But he also considers himself an environmentalist, living simply on the lake, believing in solar panels and even personal windmills - but not these behemoths."

Personally, I believe in getting away from coal fired power plants, and nuclear plants, and I am also in favour of diversifying our energy sources with some green non-polluting energy.

But there is a campaign being waged against wind power, that as this article mentions, is "undeniably a Not-In-My-Back-Yard" response. The anti-wind power campaign actually goes far beyond the NIMBY attitude, and also insists that there should be no wind turbines anywhere in Canada. There are further arguments about sickness from the noise of the blades and from the "dirty" electricity. Wind turbines kill birds and may block their migrations. They could lower property values. They may cause erosion of shorelines. They don't produce enough electrical power most of the time, because the wind is too low or too high. And the Government is stealing money out of our pockets to fund them.

If that was not enough, and apparently it isn't, consider this. The wind turbines in Europe are claimed by some anti-wind advocates to have never saved any CO2 emissions to this day. And now apparently some of the Europeans are rebelling against wind power too.

I hope I have not left anything out of the multi-fronted argument against wind power. At this moment I am not trying to debunk those arguments, although I have in the past looked into them and I think some might be weak arguments that are just put in there to help boost the anti-wind power cause. But for me, adding in weak arguments does not help, it just wastes my time while getting at the truth, and just reduces my patience with the rest of the arguments.

But I really want to examine the comment that wind farms destroy the countryside - specifically the "heart of the Group of Seven postcard countryside" where Michael Lansbury has located his cottage.

A group of seven postcard typically will be a few evergreen trees and some rocky landscape. Now I don't mean to put down the evergreen trees on rocks as an artistic vision, but I was born and raised in the Canadian Shield, and basically you have about 8 million square kilometers of that type of postcard "countryside" in Canada. Most of it is "inhospitable" as they say, and therefore sparsely populated. I highly doubt if Mr. Lansbury lives in the heart of this landscape. More like the fringes.

Most of the population of Canada lives huddled for warmth and comfort within 200 km of the American border. When they do travel north from the border area, they are shocked to discover this strange boreal forest with thin soil over bedrock. So they build cottages on it, especially beside one of the millions of lakes, and come back to admire the view every weekend. We have a freeway north of Toronto that gets jammed up every summer weekend with cars heading north.

I wonder if we have over a million cottages in the Canadian shield yet, if not it must be close. I have to admit that I do not find the cottages as attractive as the cottagers do. I am not bashing cottagers here, but just trying to put some balance in this argument against wind turbines. The most ugly aspect, in my opinion, of the cottages are the "Do not trespass" "Private property" "Keep out" signs you see around them. Some may be legitimate, and I suspect others are posted on public land, just because the cottagers can get away with it and they don't want the public anywhere near their property.

It's not just the cottages, of course, but the outboard motor boats screaming along trailing fumes behind. Now again, I like boats as much as anyone. But it's obvious that the wind turbines make less noise, cause less pollution, cause less erosion, kill less fish, kill fewer people, and - yes - look better than the boats. Motor boats have been banned from a few Canadian parks and lakes, which is probably a good idea. But they are allowed on most.

As for Mr. Lansbury's self-proclaimed environmentalism, was it just the Globe and Mail writer who made him sound phony? But let me just go with the statements made in the article as if they applied to any cottager. I would prefer if he had mentioned some real environmentalist's concerns. What does he do with his waste, personal and otherwise? Does he believe in air conditioners, outboard motor boats, big SUV's? Does he like bears and wolves living nearby? Does he have a lawn sprayed with pesticides? These are some environmental issues. Come to think of it, does Mr. Lansbury actually have any solar panels or does he just believe in them?

Anyhow, it's just to say that cottagers and I do not have the same sense of what is spoiling the countryside. And how about this for a compromise? Only put up the wind turbines in or near places where you allow motor boats to operate.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Propaganda: TV and Radio

If you lived in Germany during Hitler's time, you would have had a reason to think the media was biased. The Nazis controlled all the newspapers and the new media: radio.

The Nazis produced a radio for their own mass market, and made it difficult for people to listen to distant broadcasts. Also it was forbidden to listen to foreign radio stations. This kind of live, instant mass communications had never before been available, and the Nazis made the most of it.

Now moving to North America at the end of the twentieth century. "Over 70 percent of Americans believe that there is a great deal or a fair amount of media bias in news coverage" (according to Pew, 2004).

Well, in 1949, after the experience of the Nazis, the US introduced the "Fairness Doctrine" in broadcasting which applied to radio and the even newer Television. There were several parts to this doctrine, which varied somewhat over the years. But in 1987, under Ronald Reagan, the Fairness Doctrine was dropped. Meaning that media outlets are not required to give equal time to opposing points of view.


But there were still two rules that remained in effect. The "personal attack" rule, where stations had to notify such persons within a week of the attack with an offer to respond on their station. The "political editorial" said that if the station endorsed a candidate with editorial comment, the opposing candidates be notified and allowed to respond.

In 2000, the remaining two rules were dropped. Since then, owning media outlets is an efficient way push propaganda out to a mass market at minimal cost.

Considering the experience of the Nazis was the reason for the Fairness Doctrine, it's not surprising what would happen when it was dropped. Now we have Fox News channel on cable TV, and Clear Channel Communications on radio. Fox launched October 7, 1996 and is owned by Rupert Murdoch. It has now attracted the largest number of viewers of a cable news network. Another highly political media is Clear Channel Communications, a radio network based in San Antonio Texas. Lowry Mays, currently chairman, is a George W. Bush supporter. Clear Channel hosts right wing talk shows such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity,and a slate of other right wing pundits. Clear Channel is the largest radio broadcaster in the USA, with 900 stations.

Although many people attack Fox News as a right wing biased outlet, Fox claims to be fair and balanced, and they claim that it is the other media outlets that are left wing biased. Clear Channel Communications as far as I can tell makes no claim to be fair or unbiased.

Either way, it does seem to me that there is an appetite in the USA for a news outlet that has only one side of the story. There is a human need for an easily understood point of view. Evangelical pastors also tell their flocks that the mainstream media is left biased, and that only certain stations like Fox News are fair. Hitler, of course didn't want to take that chance and simply made it illegal to listen to any other stations.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Propaganda: With or Without the Swastika

I assume everyone knows about the swastika being the symbol of the Nazi Party under Hitler. That's why after World War 2 there was a serious attempt made around the world to eradicate any occurrence of this symbol. But several problems cropped up. First, it was a symbol that had been used for thousands of years in many eastern religions, and many historically important artifacts and statues were adorned with the symbol. Also, as the swastika had been popular for years in the west, many people had old photos with their deceased grandparents wearing swastikas that all of a sudden made them look like Nazis, but they had died before they ever heard of the Nazis. It might have been simple enough to make a few exceptions, however certain racist organizations wanted to carry on using the swastika to represent their own cause. That certainly complicated things a little for the ongoing use swastikas.

It's hard to believe that anyone on earth could not have heard of the Nazis, but apparently an Indian Hindu immigrant in Auckland New Zealand last year decided to paint his beloved religious symbol of peace on the roof of his home to ward off evil spirits. And thereby ran into a spot of bother with his neighbours.


An organization using the Swastika, again it sounds innocent enough, is the Falun Gong. Many people know the Falun Gong as a persecuted group in China. Nobody outside China can figure out what these people did to deserve imprisonment and torture. But remember the Christians in ancient Rome, whose only real crime was following the teachings of a pacifist who only said "turn the other cheek" and they were thrown to the lions. So this type of repression of nonviolent people has happened before, we just have to wonder: why? It's pretty hard to understand when we live in a free society like Canada. Locking up people for spreading fallacies? The entire staff of MacLean's Magazine and the National Post would get life in prison with no chance at parole if we did that here. And of course in China, they don't even need to be false fallacies, you can also get locked up for true fallacies.

"July 20, 1999 China today banned the Research Society of Falun Dafa and the Falun Gong organization under its control after deeming them to be illegal.

In its decision on this matter issued today, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said that according to investigations, the Research Society of Falun Dafa had not been registered according to law and had been engaged in illegal activities, advocating superstition and spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances, and jeopardizing social stability.

The decision said that therefore, in accordance with the Regulations on the Registration and Management of Mass Organizations, the Research Society of Falun Dafa and the Falun Gong organization under its control are held to be illegal and are therefore banned."

There was no mention in China of the swastika, and I don't think it was an issue for them. But in Germany it was. Here is an article about the Falun Gong getting in trouble for their Swastika in Germany.

The trouble started with the German police in 1999. By 2003, they finally had a court verdict clearing them for the display of this symbol in Germany.

A swastika doesn't necessarily represent the Nazi party. In fact the true Nazis usually try to hide their swastikas. Except for a Canadian family recently who sent their young daughter to school with swastikas painted on her arms. After they repeated this a few times, the authorities paid a call and found out this was a white supremacist household, indoctrinating their child in hate against non whites. That plus the fact that it was a very unhealthy environment for the child raised questions about taking the children away from the family, even though the mother protested that she didn't tell her child to kill all the non whites.

It is unfortunate that we are so good at spotting a swastika, but we are so bad at detecting Nazi-like hate literature. We need to turn that around if we are ever to put an end to racism and needless wars.

Forward to the Past

Over the past twenty years the productivity of North Americans has declined, while the standard of living has continued to go up.

Back in the fifties, Americans produced more cars than anyone else, built the Interstate highway system, built planes, boats, televisions, stereos, refrigerators, boots, tools, atomic bombs, washing machines, as well as putting up houses and everything else. Then an erosion of jobs began, taking industries away from North America and moving them to low-paying countries. First transistor radios in Japan, then other countries such as Mexico, Indonesia, and Taiwan. In the last 20 years or so, China has become the major producer of our consumer goods. Meanwhile we have lost most of our industrial base, along with all the jobs they provided. Those jobs have been replaced with burger flipping jobs or part time jobs, including the "Wal-Mart Greeter" jobs.

The reason we didn't react to the decline in productivity is that our standard of living has not declined along with it. Actually, our standard of living, measured in consumer goods, has gone up, not down. This seems to fly in the face of logic. The less we produce, the more we have. We now have more cars than people, more TV's, bigger houses, with more bathrooms and garages than ever before. We go on more vacations to more exotic places, we own bigger cottages ever further from their home, and we have more toys such as RV's, boats, planes and motorcycles.

How is it all possible? Well more credit is available for one thing. We know not where this credit originates, but we do know that when we go down to the bank to get a mortgage, we are approved more easily than before, we lie about our income more easily, we get lower down payments and lower monthly payments for anything we buy. So part of our easy life is easy credit. Another part is our inheritances. Those hard-working and frugal (that ugly word!) parents who made it through war and depression are dying and leaving surprisingly large sums of money to their children who promptly use it to leverage more credit to ratchet up their standard of living once again.

I'm not going to go into why we even want a higher standard of living. I'm going to assume that it's natural and even without the inundation of commercial advertising, we would still want to have more, bigger and shinier stuff.

Maybe something needs to be done at last. Let's consider the latest market crash, and bankruptcy of Chrysler, General Motors plus the millions of jobs lost and houses foreclosed. We need to get serious about reducing our standard of living. Or it's a sign that we need to start being more productive - meaning building things, or at least creating jobs that are more productive than Wal Mart Greeter.

Actually, would it be so bad if we went back to the standard of living of our parents? High school kids would not automatically have their own cars. Wal-Mart Greeters would not be living in three-car garage, six bathroom mansions. In the summer we would go to the nearest beach, not the furthest one on Earth. I should not have to go through the whole spiel, since at least some of us remember life in the fifties and sixties. By today's standards, the way we lived in the sixties would be considered utter grinding poverty. But if we went back to the material level of comfort of those times would we really suffer all that much?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Honda Insight 2010, Fuel Economy and War

Just a reminder that everything is connected. That is why motorcycling makes me interested in middle east war. Motorcycling connects to propaganda and back in six steps: "Motorcycling > price of gas > war in middle east > religion > propaganda > fuel efficiency > motorcycling"

Now Honda has come out with a new hybrid that makes it more fun to save gas. The new 2010 Insight has available CVT (continuously variable transmission, similar in function to Mary Ann's burgman 400, also available on the Prius), and the usual Hybrid technology including regenerative braking. They are priced starting at under $24,000 in Canada, which is less than the $30,000(?) Prius. But what I find most significant is the recognition of the need for driver feedback on fuel efficiency. As I have said before in a previous blog, our fuel efficiency problems are mostly mental.

One of the biggest problems with fuel economy is that is is out of sight, out of mind. A high powered engine is always able to show its power at the touch of a gas pedal. More than anything else, this constant awareness of power drives our "need" for more powerful cars. Anyone, even a car lover or an engineer can appreciate the achievement of fuel economy. It can be just as exciting and interesting as the achievement of more power and speed. Car and motorcycle fanatic Jay Leno has said so on his website, Leno's Garage, and he has quite a few high efficiency vehicles to prove it, along with the usual assortment of gas guzzlers. But to have fun saving gas, you need something to make it more visible, more immediate and psychologically satisfying.

Honda has taken the psychology a step further. First, they copied the style of the original Prius, which was pretty good aerodynamically. But even more important they are now creating a "style" that is becoming recognizable across the industry. Just as "Muscle cars" had a certain style across all makes, so now do fuel efficiency cars. If you're driving a muscle car, you generally want it to look like a muscle car. It's the same with a green car, and now we seem to be getting a recognizable green car look.

Next is the computerized dashboard display, which is almost like a video game within the cockpit. Indicators of current fuel efficiency, visual cues about how well you are doing, markers as "rewards" for an efficient trip, and something to brag about. Mary Ann finds it frustrating when someone asks about her Burgman's fuel economy and she says she has gotten 70 mpg (Canadian) and asks them what they get and they say "My gas mileage is real good". "Well what is it?" "It goes really far on a tank of gas." Coincidentally, a test driver reported getting 70 mpg with the new Insight on one trip.

Feedback is important to driver satisfaction, and it has always been less with green cars than for muscle cars. Once people get used to knowing the fuel efficiency of their cars as well (or better) than they know the horsepower or torque ratings, more people will start to buy their cars based on fuel efficiency rather than brute power.

It's a lot of fun to drive fast, but it's also a lot of fun to drive efficiently. Both are mental challenges, but if the only satisfaction you get out of taking it easy is an ambiguous readout at the pump every 500 km, then you will get bored driving efficiently long before the end of the tankful.


Slavery and Race War

I am fairly sure there is connection between slavery and the support for war in the middle east and that it is important to understand it.

Looking at the electoral map of the USA, it is easy to see geographically the support for the Republicans who favour war is based in the south, especially the old slave owning states. And politically they are supported by the right wing Christians, especially the large Southern Baptists church. Coincidentally the Southern Baptist church was formed to promote slavery.

Maybe these are just coincidences so far, but there is more.

Slavery and the war in Iraq are both racist. The war is not against Moslems, in which case it would be a Holy War. This is more of a "Race War" against Arabs. There are several non-Arab, but Moslem countries in Africa and Asia that are not generally targetted by the pro-war faction, and happen to have little or no oil. Racism worked well in the days of slavery, it was impossible for black slaves to escape - even if they made it to Canada, they still faced life-long racism of a more subtle kind. To be fair, not all slavery is racist, but the type in the southern USA definitely ended up being overtly racist. No whites were ever owned by blacks.

The second similarity is the economic underpinning of slavery and middle east war. Imported slaves were needed to do the work to make America wealthy, because manpower was in short supply. Slavery was doomed from the moment that slaves could be replaced by industrial machinery. The machinery now needs oil which is getting to be in short supply. The oil has to be imported from the middle east, where there are a lot of Arabs. Slavery in 1800 was the way to get work done, and oil in 2009 is the way to get work done.

The third element to consider is cruelty. Slavery was cruel, not by accident, but by American law. No mercy was permitted to the slaves. This element is present in today's race/oil war, where torture of prisoners is the debate of the day. Pro-war people generally approve - especially the southern conservatives and formerly pro-slavery churches. And I guess it's not too surprising that General Petraeus has come out against torture. But he is from New York, with a Dutch-American background. And by the way, for southern Christians still arguing that waterboarding is not torture, the US government executed Japanese soldiers for war crimes where they were waterboarding US soldiers, and it was called torture.

Canada is not really free of the pro race war propaganda. Our very own Mark Steyn, who no longer lives here, has written another piece in MacLeans Magazine, called (if I remember "What Price Empathy") in which he argues that we cannot know for sure that most Moslem mother don't want their sons to grow up to be suicide bombers. This comment by Mark was to refute Condoleeza Rice's statement that most Arab mothers want their sons to get a University education. Although this may be a stupid argument from Mark, as usual it's hard to prove he's wrong. Well I'm going to give my support to Condoleeza for once. That's right, I think that Moslem mothers want their sons get an education rather than to be blown up. On this very question may rest the fate of world peace.

Cartoon by Steve Bell
19 July 2005

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?

This blog is putting together motorcycling and birdwatching, two hobbies not often linked, but that's Mary Ann's passion, and mine is motorcycling. So here goes.

My very earliest observation of birds while motorcycling came on my first motorcycle drive in Africa. I was new to motorcycling and new to driving in Africa, especially since I had to drive on the left. Once I got out of the city I noticed something that I never saw in Canada. It seemed that every mud hut had a few chickens out in the yard running around pecking the ground. Chickens to the left and chickens to the right of the road. As I approached, it seemed without fail, the chickens on the left took a run for the right side of the road, and the chickens to the right made a beeline for the left side of the road, in all cases narrowly escaping death. Before long, I was asking myself "Why do all the chickens  cross the road? They would have been perfectly safe in their yard pecking away. Then I realized that I had just put into words the best known joke in the English language. This chicken behaviour no longer happens in North America, but maybe it did years ago when people used to let chickens run free instead of locking them up in little boxes. I still don't know the real answer, but I assume that chickens must prefer to feast on the far side of the road, then panic at the sound of an approaching motorcycle, and run for home.

Next observation was from a bird found in Sierra Leone called a Night Jar. And a well named bird it was, as I found out riding at night on a gravel road. These birds have a tendency to sleep in dips in the road, and with an approaching motorcycle, will panic and fly up in the air, but just a bit too late to clear the motorcycle rider with the result that I often found myself riding along with a big flapping bird in my face. To this day I couldn't tell you what a Night Jar looks like in daylight, but I did have a lot of up close jarring encounters with them at night.

Back in Canada, I found something else interesting about birds. While riding a motorcycle, I often need to know which way the wind is blowing, and one way to tell is to watch birds taking flight. They always point directly into the wind to take off. It's useful to know that if you come upon a big vulture sitting in the middle of the road, you should aim for the downwind side of him, in case he takes off as you go by. At highways speed, you don't want to hit a vulture. By the way, you should also slow down, sometimes they make a very sharp 180 degree turn immediately on taking off.

More observations. Everyone has seen Canada geese parading slowly across the road blocking traffic, seemingly enjoying the car horns honking at them. For some reason, geese are not as brave about motorcycles. Once I was stuck behind three cars waiting for the geese. So I pulled out and passed all the cars. The geese saw the motorcycle coming and cleared off the road in a hurry. They might think of a motorcycle as more the sound and shape of a predator, where the cars are more like slow moving houses.

Once when Mary Ann was riding her Burgman down a road beside an Emu farm, the Emu on the other side of the fence decided to try to race her, and did a pretty good job of keeping up. I have also seen horses do try to race motorcycles, but I have never seen it done with a car. Maybe again the motorcycle looks more like another animal.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Should Scientists be Afraid of Fundamental Religions?

This is a question asked by Ben Stein, in the film "Expelled: No intelligence allowed". All the Christians want, he says is to ask questions.

There is historical evidence that religions persecute scientists, and nobody wants to be burned at the stake. But of course, Ben doesn't want to do that, does he? No, in fact Ben say quite the contrary, it's the scientists who are persecuting Christians. For example Christian scientists rejected from a job in a science faculty. All they did was mention casually that the first man was Adam, and that Eve was made from his rib, and all the animals came from Noah's Ark after the flood.

I would suggest that the time has long since passed when there was any debate in the public forum or at an open university on the matter of Adam and Eve vs. evolution. The scientists have gone on with the theory of evolution, and have made many scientific advances based on it. But certain religions, (not all), have simply refused to accept the result of that debate many years ago. They have regrouped, formed their own "universities", and have gotten funding from Christian TV networks that sell "miracles worth thousands of dollars" at $50 a pop.

These religions are mainly the Evangelical Christians and Southern Baptists, yes the same ones famous for condemning Abolitionists to hellfire before the civil war. Now their tactic is an all out and dirty propaganda war, trying to make the case that the scientists and Darwinians are responsible for the Jewish holocaust, and for all of Hitler's crimes. This was also covered in Ben Stein's movie. Scientists are not equipped to fight a propaganda campaign, actually I have found that most educated people are unaware of many, if not most propaganda techniques. On top of that, they don't have the funding and the media ownership to do it. It is a very uneven battle, science vs. propaganda.

Scientists may be right about one thing, they have got something to be worried about. More and more people seem to be converting to these religions, and they are preaching that scientists are worse than Nazis. And the scientists have taken note that these religions coincidentally support torture. I'm talking about today, not a hundred or a thousand years ago. I think an educated person would have to have their head stuck in the sand to not be a wee bit concerned about the resurgence of fundamentalist religion in the USA.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Is Abortion Like SLavery?

I was recently Googling the words slavery and abortion and came up with 2,020,000 hits. All the pages I read were comparing abortion to slavery and saying why abortion is as evil as slavery (hint: both treat a person as a non-person).

It is interesting that the religion pushing hardest against abortion, the Southern Baptist, is also the religion that justified slavery based on the teachings of the Bible. Not only justified it, but made it morally wrong to oppose slavery.

Since the same religion is involved in both supporting slavery and opposing abortion because they say it is like slavery, my guess is that even to this day, they don't "get" why slavery was wrong. Although they did issue an apology for supporting slavery in 1995,

Why is slavery not like abortion?

1. With abortions, nobody is profiting by causing the misery of others.
2. Abortion is not a form of State sponsored terrorism against one race of people.
3. No babies are being taken away from their loving mother and sold as slaves.
4. No women are being used as "breeders" to produce "goods" to be sold.
5. Abortion does not promote rape, it tries to correct the results of rape.
6. No people are kidnapped on the streets or in their homes to be sold into abortion.

Now for some speculation on the the attitudes toward abortion back in the "good" old days of the Southern Baptists. African women knew how to do abortions, because they had been doing it for thousands of years and still do it in Africa. I am speculating that it must have galled the slave owners that they could not stop or even detect most of these abortions. The only time they could punish a black woman was if she decided to let the masters know she was pregnant, and then later on didn't produce the baby. As a pregnant slave, she would qualify for a little extra food, and was given a slightly less burdensome workload. Many women told their masters they were pregnant for these advantages, and carried on the pretense as long as possible before getting the inevitable whipping.

African women, as accustomed as they were to infants dying shortly after childbirth, did not consider the fetus to be a person even when the umbilical cord was cut. They would wait a while until they were more certain it would live. This contrasts with the current religious view that the first meeting of a sperm cell and an egg constitutes a "person" with all their protections and rights. Ironically, without the despised scientists, today's religious extremists would not have a clue that a sperm even met an egg, let alone when it happened.

Slave women used their ability to perform abortions to gain some control over their lives, and this was maybe the only thing that the slaves ever successfully pulled off that the slave owners could not find any way to control through terror and violence. The slave women had created a bargaining chip, and used it with some finesse. Even to admit that the slave women were intelligent enough to get away with this scam undermined the current slave owner view that slaves were less intelligent than the white owners. So I am assuming this game was tacitly understood but never clearly stated. In 1808, the importing of any new African slaves was prohibited, this gave the slave women even more power. Which I am again going to assume they knew, even though the slave owners took great pains to prevent the slaves from learning anything. I would bet that that the slave women figured out that no new African slaves were being imported. they would know that this made their breeding work more valuable to the slave owners. If you don't think that African women understand the law of supply and demand, go shopping at a market in Sierra Leone.

Now this brings us to today, when the original slave owners religion is trying to make abortion the most important issue for American voters. You have to wonder whether it isn't a little bit of payback for their impotence in the old days. In my opinion, that is the real connection between slavery and abortion.

If the anti-abortion crowd was actually interested in saving lives, about a million infants die each year in Africa, along with 250,000 mothers in childbirth (in Sierra Leone, one mother in eight). It has been estimated that about a billion dollars a year would save 800,000 lives a year in Africa. That's equal to all the abortions in one year in the USA.