Monday, November 30, 2009

Hell is not Just a Town In Norway Any More

Last night I caught a few minutes of a religious show where the topic was "How can a Loving God Send People to Hell". It is a thorny problem for any Christians who believe in hell as a cornerstone of their faith, but they have well prepared answers.

The essential answer the fundamentalists give is "God doesn't send anyone to Hell. You send yourself there. God has done everything He possibly can to keep you out of Hell and still leave you as a person with free will and not just a robot."

Using the argument about not "sending people" is a simple debating trick. Whether or not God "sends" people to hell is not the issue. The question is about the creation and the purpose of Hell.

If the Christian fundamentalists say that nothing existed before God's creation, then why did God create Hell in the first place? Was He expecting something? And if God got mad and created Hell after the fact, then it's just a technicality whether or not he "sent" people to hell. As far as I'm concerned, it's just splitting hairs to say "God is trying to keep you out of Hell" when He created hell for the sole purpose of burning anyone He deemed a sinner.

In some ways, hell is such an overpowering concept that it casts a shadow over the rest of God's creation. Was the entire universe created only as a laboratory to sort out good souls from bad and sent the bad to Hell? If so, this brings up two issues. Did these souls exist before creation, and God needed to set something up for them? Or did God create the souls to see how many would end up in the fire of eternal damnation? Neither issue is addressed by fundamentalists, who manage to pick away at every tiny hole in the theory of evolution, but can't see these truck-sized holes in their own story of creation.

Later on in this article, this argument is made:

"You may love your little child, but if he puts his finger up on that hot burner on the gas stove or the electric stove, he's going to get burned!"

The weak point of this argument is that God did not create Hell to roast weenies, and then people accidentally fell in. Hell was made to roast people, which is not the entire function of an electric stove.

A more apt analogy for hell would be the Nazi gas chambers. If the Nazis had won WW2, the question we would be debating today would be "Why would a loving Hitler send the Jews to death camps"? Hitler never personally sent anyone there, and was desperate to keep the Jews out of the death camps, but because they were Jewish of their own free wills, he couldn't help them. This is false Nazi logic, of course Hitler could stop the death camps if he wanted to.

Picture credit:

In the News: Booze, Guns, and Socialism

We are not in Kansas any more. (referring to my last post "Sipping Latte in Kansas") Here are the news stories to prove it.

Is Santa a Socialist? Was Tiger Woods sober? Were the cops armed in Tacoma?

Now we are almost in December, and it is time to ask some hard questions about Santa Claus. Is he a socialist? It is well known that he hands out presents to illegal aliens and welfare people, and people of different races although not to people who are not Christian (hence the name "Christmas"). Also, it is known that Santa does not impose taxes on anyone but the elves at the north pole. So, it turns out that Santa is not really socialist, he is actually a faith based initiative. The capitalist free market system is safe for now.

Second shocking story, four cops gunned down in a coffee shop in Tacoma Washington, and the perpetrator gets away. Question, were they wearing their guns? If so, the gun owner clubs will not be able to say this tragedy could have been prevented with more guns. I have observed before that a gun is not a good defensive weapon, it is much more effective on offense. That has to do with the delay factor in deploying the gun during a surprise attack. For those of you into prophesy, I prophesied this tragic event a few days ago by linking to the movie "Volunteers" where John Candy played the part of "Tom Tuttle from Tacoma".

Third story: Was Tiger Woods sober when he had his accident? Because if he was drunk, this event would be of no interest to any sports fan in America. But if he was sober it is a scandal that could wreck his career. Say it ain't so, Tiger.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Propaganda: Sipping Latte in Kansas

In conservative propaganda in the US, it is common to portray the liberal as the enemy, as a latte sipping, sushi eating intellectual pinhead. Conservative thinkers constantly expand on this theme, adding more details about the mythical liberals to make real Americans hate them even more.

Against this stereotype of the liberal elite, conservative propaganda puts up the image of the typical conservative. The common-sense hard working person who does not take government handouts, and is responsible for his (or her) own success in life.

Often, just to help clarify the image, liberals are said to come from places like San Francisco and New York, while conservatives are typically located in Kansas. Which is about as far away from either sin-hole as you can get.

I've picked up a book called "What's the Matter with Kansas" by Thomas Frank, where Kansas is symbolic of "authentic" America. As opposed to the fake America one finds in San Francisco and New York. According to Frank, Kansas is not really the virtuous humble hard working place conservatives like to think it is. Not to mention some of the crazy ideas people have there. Here is a quote I picked out of the book, which I took the liberty of shortening (a lot) to avoid wearing out my fingers typing it.
"Kansas is where we look into that handsome, confidant, all-American face and realize that we are staring into the eyes of a lunatic".
I want to examine in detail the reality of the stereotypes, but I don't really have the money to ask for a survey of half of north America, so I am just going to work with a survey of two. Me, and you. It actually works a lot better if you happen to be a conservative who hates latte sipping liberals. I am going to be the liberal here and let's see who fits which stereotype better.

To get us started, here is a summary of the stereotypes of the liberal elite

  • Latte sipping
  • sushi and tofu eating
  • vegetarian
  • University educated
  • Godless moral relativist
  • Unable to recognize a field of soybeans
  • France loving
  • Gun fearing
  • Living off welfare or unemployment insurance
  • Desk/teaching job (if actually working, it's only pushing paper or talking)
  • Afraid of a chainsaw
  • Gay marrying
  • tax hiking
  • government expanding
  • Volvo driving (or Suzuki for motorcyclists)
  • New York Times reading
  • organic market shopping

Here is a stereotype of the common sense Kansas conservatives

  • Uneducated, at least no university other than Bible college
  • NASCAR fanatic
  • Fox news watching
  • Cousin marrying
  • roadkill eating
  • tobacco chewing
  • gun fondling
  • witchcraft and demon believing
  • evolution denying
  • Walmart shopping
  • American made pickup truck driving (Harley for motorcyclists)

OK this might be painful, but let's see how each of us made out, and you will have to be fair and evaluate your own "Kansas" factor on the honour system. If you cheat, then deduct five points from your score.

For starters, I will admit that I cannot recognize a field of soybeans, but at least I can now recognize a field of corn from a field of tobacco thanks to Mary Ann, who grew up on a tobacco farm and is constantly pointing out the fields to me. Give yourself a point if you can actually recognize a field of soybeans from a moving car.

I worked as a teacher and computer programmer. While neither one produces anything solid, I managed to teach myself myself how to rebuild a vintage motorcycle. I give myself a point for that. Give yourself a point if you can build useful things out of metal or wood like a house or a car or a boat, or if you are a farmer or a fisherman.

I can shoot a gun although I don't own one now, I did when I was young, and I was in a sharpshooting competition once. Because I at least know how to handle a gun safely, I will award myself a point one. Even if you own a gun, you lose a point if you have ever stuck a loaded gun in your sweat pants and gone to a party and it went off, or, if in a drunken stupor, you threatened your neighbours with your gun over their cat walking on your lawn. You also lose points if you have ever pulled your gun on your spouse during an argument.

True I tend to avoid Walmart in favour of local stores, but because Walmart is just full of Chinese stuff anyway, I'm not allowing any points for this at all, on either side.

This marriage controversy is a touchy subject. I never thought of marriage as a privilege, I always thought of it as an obligation, as a way to protect children and give them a chance in life. And I always figured that the original obligation rested with the two people who conceived that child. However, with widespread divorce and remarriage there are grey areas. So if you are married to someone from the opposite sex who is not a blood relative, and have taken the responsibility for any children of your own, we each get to score a point.

I don't like Latte's, I prefer coffee. But now I have to give up all coffee entirely because it builds up bladder stones. And when I did drink coffee, I did not sip it. But I also believe what people drink is up to them in a free country. (exception drinking alcohol and driving) No points will be awarded for either side.

I do not work for a living any more, so that fits the negative stereotype of liberals. But I am not now or ever have been collecting welfare. If you have ever collected welfare, score this point for me.

French loving? You may have me on this one as I do actually speak French. I would point out that there is a difference between French Canadian and French from France, in case you thought they were all the same. If you can't speak French, give yourself a point.

I drive a no-options basic Toyota Matrix, not a Ford pickup truck loaded with all the luxury options. I even roll up my own windows. And this Toyota is actually manufactured in my neighbourhood. My Kawasaki Vulcan is manufactured in Japan. But then the Japanese actually buy a lot of Harley Davidson motorcycles, so nobody needs to get upset about that, it's just normal international trade. If you drive an American vehicle, from an American company you can have this point. If it's a pickup truck, or a Harley motorcycle, add another point. Unless you also own some foreign vehicles.

Apparently the stereotypical liberal is also Godless. I will say that I am kind of irreligious, but at least I don't believe in witchcraft like a lot of evangelical Christians do. And no, I do not think the Earth is only 6000 years old, or that Adam and Eve were literally the first humans. To give yourself a point here, you need to have always attended church regularly AND you must live by "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That of course means no witch burnings, right?

And one final stereotype I want to take issue with is the claim in Conservapedia that conservatives give more to charity on the average than liberals. Because churches are considered charities, all church donations are considered charitable donations. But many of those donations go back into the local church such as repairs, and more comfortable facilities. So it's not really "charity" is it? Take that stuff out, and liberals, who don't attend church as much, (apparently) statistically give more to charity than conservatives. But I don't want to make this part of the stereotype busting, so I'm not going to get in a contest with who gives more to charity or what exactly a charity is. As a liberal, I want to live in a world where charity is no longer needed. But that means more taxes, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Propaganda: Casting Doubt

How easy it is to put all of modern science on the defensive. You would think that with the success science has had in medicine, astronomy, technology, information systems, communications, warfare, and entertainment alone, that it would be practically unassailable from superstitious cults and special interest groups.

But sadly no. Over the years, there has been a growing list of "controversies" about science. In the fifties there was the debate over pesticides killing flora and fauna. (science vs. the chemical companies) Then there was the controversy about whether smoking was harmful to your health. (science vs. the tobacco industry). Nuclear radiation (science vs. the nuclear industry and the military together) We had another one about the ozone layer (science vs. hair spray) which I believe was successfully resolved, in part because the hair spray industry must have been disorganized or underfunded or something. The current big outstanding debates are on creation vs Evolution. (science vs. Evangelical Christians) and lately global warming (science vs. oil companies). In almost every case there has been a long drawn out, bitter controversy, pitting science against some special interest. The controversies waste time and money on both sides. People in general get confused and lose confidence in science and even in the educational system. In effect, the controversies hold back progress, while prolonging damage to our health, the environment, and to our general knowledge.

One reason it's so easy to hamstring science is because of the way the struggle is framed. Science is traditionally required to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that their current theories are correct. This of course is difficult to do at the best of times. For example, I hear comments from global warming deniers like "there is not one single shred of evidence that humans cause global warming". And they are right. There is not one shred of evidence that humans caused global warming.

How could you prove humans cause global warming with one single piece of evidence? I would think you might need to discover a human controlled "world thermostat" that regulates the temperature of the Earth. This is not going to happen, because we only have a series of relationships to trace to the root cause of warming. For example, we can prove that humans produce CO2. Then we can prove a relationship between CO2 levels and global temperature. But we can never prove beyond a shadow of doubt that there is no other source raising the CO2 levels. Especially if the other mystery source may be supernatural, which is beyond the scope of science.

Casting doubt only needs to make sense in a very superficial way, like a bumper sticker slogan. It requires no proof, it does not need to be scientific, it does not need to be logical. And significantly, casting doubt is more lucrative than science when corporations are involved. And it can be carried out by anyone with a sharp wit and poor understanding of objectivity.

Honest scientists cannot resort to propaganda to get their message out. They don't usually deal directly with the public anyway. They generally act as advisers to governments, industries, and school systems. If the sponsors don't like the findings of the scientists, they can ignore them. But the sponsors know that without an aggressive propaganda campaign, the truth will eventually come out to bite them. Actually, even with the propaganda, reality will bite them in the end.

Picture: I photoshopped the classic "head in the sand" onto a picture of a confused kid I found on the internet and manually added the equal sign and the question mark. I think it's art.

Propaganda: The Climate Debate Warms Up

The climate may not be heating up, but the war between pro-climate change people and the deniers certainly is.

A severe blow to the climate change movement was several recent winters and summers in the US northeast have not been scarily warm. This is an area where many people important to the debate on climate change live. Including the government of the United States of America.

Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, who years ago called Global Warming the greatest hoax ever, recently declared "We won, you lost, now get a life!"

Now another PR disaster. An email server at the University of East Anglia in England's Climate Change Unit, has been hacked, and hundreds or thousands of scientists emails stolen. One of those emails dated 1999, contained these damaging words:
"I've just completed Mike's Nature [the science journal] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline."
Unfortunately for the global warming people, this comes in the middle of a prolonged propaganda campaign to discredit scientists. I find it frankly appalling that any scientist would freely use the words "trick" and "hide the decline" when discussing climate data, even in private. Of course I understand that some scientists think themselves very witty and sometimes use words in ways that other people find very unfunny. I can think of several examples in the computer world, where programming geeks are very fond of telling their users that programs have "blown up" or "died" when they merely stopped operation until a forgotten jcl card could be inserted. But users are accustomed to this kind of language from computer geeks and even use it themselves.

The problem with scientists is that although they may be very clever dealing with test tubes and such, they are often lacking in personal communication skills. Most people make allowances for this. I believe Einstein has made some embarrassing statements too. That is OK when they are not involved in politics and when they are not being attacked for propaganda purposes.

Scientists are also under attack by right wing Christians over evolution. As usual, they are simply incapable of taking the threat seriously. A movie was made called "Expelled: No intelligence allowed" that dug up a lot of dirt to make scientists look bad, and it looked like they were suppressing scientific data which might have proved that God (if not Adam and Eve) existed.

The propaganda attacks on scientists use every trick, every media outlet, in a well funded, coordinated, no-holds barred attacks. But scientists still have the public's confidence because they never (almost never) lie deliberately, and they have no ulterior motive in their findings. Or hardly ever. The propaganda battle is not fought scientifically, it is fought in the media, the political arena, in fudged figures, or in public debates. Most scientists by their training and nature are incapable of the kind truth-bending needed to manipulate people's emotions. The public knows this and allow extra credit for it. The most damaging thing you could ever do to a scientist is make public their private communications, where they don't even know enough to avoid words like "trick" or "hide".

George Monbiot has written a column on this, I'm not sure his attempt at witty irony is going to fare well.

The picture is stolen from this website. Obviously it is photoshopped, as Polar bears live at the north pole, and penguins at the south pole, and this very lack of land based predators is the reason penguins don't need to fly, and so evolved into a flightless species, and why you would never find flightless birds at the north pole. And the ipods of course.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Obama Bows to Emperor of Japan

I should not be surprised that my nemesis Mark Steyn writes that Obama should not be bowing to foreign heads of state. But there really is a lot of criticism of Obama coming from the conservatives in the USA on this issue. Maybe I need to hold another blog/lesson in foreign affairs.

It's pretty obvious that Obama has no need of schooling from me on how to act. This topic never came up in the election promises (as in, if I am elected, I promise to bow deeply to all foreign heads of state). But somehow I knew that Obama would have no trouble figuring out how to handle himself in foreign countries, unlike a certain other US president. Mind you, I never got too worked up about Bush holding hands walking with the Saudi King, and I didn't care when he gave Angela Merkel a shoulder massage.

It's obvious to me that there are two ways to act when travelling abroad. One way is arrogant and disrespectful, at best and violent and murderous at worst. The other is respectful of foreign cultures, and friendly. The second way can also sometimes lead to peace. I am going to ask you which one you think Obama would be, and which one Mark Steyn would be.

I'm not saying that bowing is why Obama got the Nobel Peace prize, but I can tell you that almost everybody out there still complaining about the bow is also scratching their heads wondering why Obama did get the peace prize. I have a whole other blog explaining why Obama deserved the Nobel Peace prize, and not once did I need to mention the bowing.

Please be patient, I am coming to the explanation soon.

Obama bowed because he thought it would be a good thing to do. He just went with his gut reaction, just like Bush did when he decided to attack Iraq. Except that the bowing cost nothing. Not one US soldier or Marine was killed or had legs amputated because of this gut decision to bow. In fact it might even be that some time in the future, some US soldiers will live normal lives instead of being blown up, just because of this simple act of respect.

If it turns out to be a really bad decision to bow to the Emperor of Japan, Obama still has an exit strategy to set it straight. He can just drop a couple more atomic bombs on Japan. That should make the US right wing happy and regain the upper hand on the Japanese, if necessary. (Actually I strongly doubt it will be)

It just boggles the mind that the USA is involved in two wars, has run into staggering debt, crashed the economy, and we still have a class of people in the USA who find the time to criticise Obama because he bent over at more than 45 degrees to greet a foreign head of state. Not surprisingly, they are also the people who got the USA into the mess it's in. Hopefully they will all get a chance to read this blog and find out how mistaken they are.

The picture is Tom Hanks, from the movie "Volunteers" where Tom Hanks is a Peace Corps volunteer arriving in a Thai village, and passing out sticks of gum. It is a slightly more expensive alternative to bowing, often used by American troops, and I guess the Emperor of Japan might have even preferred a stick of gum to a bow. I know I would. If you want to see (and learn something from) the movie, it is currently on youtube, starting here.

Some Ideas on Ethical Investing

Ethical investing for some people is an oxymoron, but not for me.

Years ago I saw an article in a financial section of a newspaper that argued the only way to invest money profitably was amorally (without regard to ethics), and then suggested if you wanted to ease your conscience, give some of your gains to charity. My feeling is that this argument mindless nonsense. First there is no guarantee that investing in something unethical is going to make money, any more than investing ethically will lose money. If we could predict the future that way, we might all be rich and evil. (Can it actually be true that all rich people are evil?) Let's take an example of a classical "bad boy" investment, tobacco companies. You invest in a tobacco company, then make a lot of money (the basic assumption of investing in evil), and take part of that money to give to anti-tobacco charities. Now your conscience is clear, I suppose, as you attempt to shoot yourself in the financial foot. Sorry, this is just a ridiculous situation to illustrate the contradictions of the "evil investing/nice charity" school of thought.

But to address the fears of new investors, who are somewhat idealistic in their ethics. Often their concerns go far beyond avoiding tobacco, alcohol and armaments industries. They seem to challenge the entire idea of any company being truly ethical. How would you know, for example that a wind turbine investment isn't hiring slave child labour in China to make blades for the turbines? How do you know they aren't killing bats with the blades as they spin in the wind? How can you be sure that they aren't cheating on their taxes? Well, seriously I don't know, and really I cannot account for every single act of every employee of any company.

Ethical investing comes down to this important question. Do you believe that there is any good anywhere in our entire economic system? For people who deny there is any good in the economic system, are you doing that as just a rationalisation because you want to convince yourself that investing unethically is OK? Because I don't agree.

When it comes to making investment, there are varying degrees of buying into a certain industry. For example buying shares in an armaments company could make you money in times of war, but lose money in times of peace. Thus you are basically betting on, and profiting from human misery. But if you buy a bond with an armaments company, you do not make any more or less money during a war, and so are profiting less from human misery. And there is even a way to bet on peace, by "shorting" the armaments company stock, you make money when the war profiteers lose, and vice versa. That almost makes it the opposite of an unethical investment doesn't it? Meaning it could be way to profit from peace.

There are far worse ways to invest money than looking for ethical investment. For example, the popular method of investing in any "hot" stock, meaning a stock that has recently had a sudden price increase. Usually these investors chase the hot stocks and buy with the intent to protect their investment by selling if it drops a certain amount. This is a recipe for losing money. (Buy high sell low) Not always of course, but stock chasers do have a dismal record on the average.

It is generally a more profitable strategy to think ahead about how world needs to go in the future, given what we know about population increases, limited oil supplies, environmental degradation etc. Choose a stock that is going to help answer those problems in the long term, and stick with it through highs and lows. I don't see any worse financial return with this strategy than in chasing hot investments to make a quick buck.

What Happened to the Sixties?

The movie "Easy Rider" in 1969 featured a couple of guys on motorcycles, heading out to experience America. They had enough money that they did not need to get a job, which was a popular fantasy at the time. But in the end, the Easy Riders are killed by gun-toting, pickup-truck-driving (and presumably ignorant) rednecks. Is this what happened to all the the ideas of the sixties?

During the sixties, some Americans became aware that with their increasing wealth and higher standard of living, that one day "work" may be a thing of the past. The idea was that machines would do the work, and people would have lots of leisure time, and be able to enjoy life in the future rather than spend their lives accumulating goods. The sixties were an idealistic time, where civil rights for black people had been achieved, and where the "war on poverty" was being waged. With the new generation of baby boomers reaching late teen years, new ideas were everywhere. Some of the ideas included sex, drugs and rock and roll. The future looked like peace and love.

Today, forty years later, instead of peace and love, we have some war and plenty of hate. The war on poverty turned into the war on drugs, with a holy war thrown in just for good measure. Leisure time is not valued all that much, and most people prefer just to accumulate material possessions. What became of the dream of leisure time? Now parents need to put their kids in day care so that they can work enough jobs to buy the stuff they "need".

I'm guessing that near the end of the seventies, when it came right down to the decision, most of the flower power generation opted for consumerism.

Another sixties idea was the "Back to the land" movement. This idea was that you did not have to get a job and work for money, you just moved to some land, and built your own house, grew your own food, and became self sufficient. It was an idea doomed to failure from the start. Not only did most people lack the skills, but they did not realize that farming was unpleasant hard work. Then you have babies and suddenly the concept falls flat.

The backlash to the naive "Back to the Land" movement was strong, and possibly persists to this day. As the flower power generation hit their thirties, suddenly jobs were back in style, "dressing for success" was popular, and anyone who was not a consumer with a paying job was to be pitied.

Eventually the trends will swing back again, though probably not to the extreme "back to the land" ideas. We could do with a healthy dose of frugality, eliminating wasteful consumption, learning to repair and recycle things. And we need to learn how to handle leisure time in a sustainable way. For example, people could use some of their leisure time to learn about the world around them instead of grabbing mindless sound bites off Fox News.

The reason the days of wasteful over-the top consumerism are numbered is simple. Consumerism now makes no more sense than the old Back to the Land ideas any more. In spite of the slogan "Drill, baby, drill", oil production has peaked, the climate is changing, jobs are evaporating, and people still with jobs are overworked. Overworked people are not thinking people. It's pretty obvious that extremist doomsday religions are gaining stronger footholds, and ignorant, dissatisfied people tend toward aggressive displays to make up for their lack of understanding of the world around them.

It's too bad we had to go down this road of mindless consumerism for thirty years. It's even more of a dead end than "Back to the Land".

A Perspective on Fuel Economy

Let's compare fuel economy in methods of transportation. In these measurements, the lower numbers are for less fuel.

First comparison in kJ per Km., as we are not always using gasoline as fuel.

  • Walking 330 kJ per km (the fuel is food, in case you were wondering)
  • Bicycling 120 kJ per km
  • Toyota Prius 1600 kJ per km (Calculated from 5.1 L/100 km at 32,000 kJ per Litre)

Second comparison, switching to L/100 Km., but I included a Toyota Prius in both comparisons for a benchmark.

  • Toyota Prius 5.1 L/100 Km (55 mpg US)
  • Jet Aircraft 4.8 L/100 km (this is per passenger)
  • Ocean Liner Ship 16.9 L/100 km (per passenger)
  • Diesel Electric train 1.2 L/100 km (per passenger) (I got this from another site, as wikipedia was unclear about the units and passengers, also seemed unrealistic at 12 mpg for the whole train?)

Note that for two people to go across the country, the Prius would be more efficient than flying. But with only one person in the car and a full airplane, it is close to a tie. Again, if the aircraft is half empty, the Prius wins.

In this website Matti proves he can run his car for a year with less fuel than to fly two people from Toronto to Acapulco and back on a winter vacation. Part of the secret is that he has a VW Golf with only 12,000 km in one year. In this case it is appropriate to say YMMV.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Second Best Idea Ever

This idea is probably the second best of my life, and I want to thank Muhammar Ghaddafi for the inspiration. Or more honestly, I am outright stealing his idea, there was no "inspiration" on my part because I was not able to think of even one way I could improve on his idea.

So this is "my" idea. I am going to set up a soiree for beautiful models, over 1.6 meters tall, under 130 pounds, and all stunningly attractive (screening to be done by me). Once they arrive, I will address them for about 2 hours, lecturing them on my religion (covered in an earlier blog) and impressing them with how pro-women I am. To this end I will especially stress the fact that a female is currently the theological grand visir/imam of my own religion, (newly named the Intergalactic Worship Group, or IWG). Her name is Brooke Shields.

After the speech, I will have a Q&A, after which I will hand out copies of the IWG bible, and a book of my quotes ("The Collected Quotations of Chairman Lost").

A sample of my quotes:

"Google bush lies you will get 13,200,000 hits." January 2009

"Rooftop ski carriers shaped to a point at the front and squared at the back. Turn it backwards, you'll get better gas mileage" February 2009

"Cowboys don't have mortgages or credit cards maxed out" March 2009

"If my motorcycle was that inefficient, I would need 2000 lb of coal to get to my mother's house on the 401" April 2009

"The Republican side of the personality comes out. It's party time, get drunk, break all the rules, get in a bar fight, pick up some prostitutes and get the clap, gamble away all the money, and get sick and hung over" May 2009

"I assume that chickens must prefer to check for food on the other side of the road, then panic at the sight of an approaching motorcycle and run for home" June 2009

"The stupidity seems to be contagious" July 2009

"The driving force of industry and commerce always has been and always will be laziness." August 2009

"I don't worry if people think I am not a patriotic American, because I am Canadian" September 2009

"Who is the Secretary General of the United Nations and is he the AntiChrist? Ans. Ban Ki-Moon, and no." October 2009

"Why did no-one ever question the Federal Highway Act before it was passed?" November 2009

Oh yes, I finally did think of an improvement on Ghaddafi's idea. Drop the no-miniskirt requirement.

Propaganda: When is Too Much Mud Enough?

Every time the Republicans are criticised for "hoping Obama fails", they rightly point out that liberals were also hoping Bush failed. And when they call Obama a Nazi and a tyrant, they can refer to many instances where liberals compared Bush to Hitler. So is it really just a case of turnabout being fair play?

This is something I noticed about typical reactions. When Democrats lose, they threaten to move to Canada. When Republicans lose, they were far more likely to (a) call for armed insurrection (b) secede their state from the union.

Statistically, Obama has been receiving 4 times as many death threats as Bush, according to the Secret Service. I would think it would be fair if he got about the same number.

Democrats said some nasty things in their election rallies. But in Republican election rallies, people were calling Obama a terrorist and calling out "kill him". True it was only a few people, but nobody in the audience nearby did anything about it.

Was it fair of the liberals to call Bush a moron? It was definitely not nice, and a gross exaggeration of Bush's halting speeches and narrow world view. Is it fair of conservatives to call Obama a tyrant or a socialist? That may be an exaggeration of Obama's huge spending bills and health care reform, and putting mustard on his hamburger. But other than the mustard, Obama is just doing what he was democratically voted in for. On the other hand, everybody also knew Bush was not too bright before the election. In both cases, it is just democracy at work, so the losers have to get over it.

In two ways, the liberals got shortchanged by the elections. Although they had the majority of the popular vote in both 2000 and 2008, the victory in 2000 went to the conservatives on a technicality, and kept them in power for 8 years. And whether the left wins or loses, the President always seems to lean more to the right when in office. The left loses ground whether they win or lose the elections.

In my opinion there was a lot of nasty rhetoric about Bush coming from the left. But the nasty rhetoric from the right against Obama is even more extreme, and has crossed at least one line, and probably a lot more. I never saw protesters with signs AND loaded guns waiting for Bush when he was president. Nobody in congress yelled out calling Bush a liar during one of his speeches.

One thing for sure, the amount of political negativity in the USA has reached damagingly high levels, even for a country that has fought a civil war and seen the Civil Rights riots of the sixties. It is still hard to believe that the differences are so fundamental that they cannot be reconciled. But there are some very well paid commentators who are spreading propaganda of hate and fear, making things as bad as they possibly can be.

Is there an antidote to the juvenile tantrums, something that will help America be great again? I see the need to make more effort to eliminate deliberate lying on television, and in the rest of the media. Yes, I know, it's all about freedom of speech. But could we at least make lying publicly something to be ashamed of instead of a means to gain more support?

Jesus had a great idea too "Do unto other as you would have them do unto you". Even Godless atheists can buy into that saying. And you Christians don't be too smug, because I happen to know some of you do not live by that even though you call yourselves followers of Jesus.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Propaganda: Use of Humour

Using humour in propaganda is a fine art, and you will often find that it falls flat with people who are not convinced. As a liberal I often find Conservative humour not only unfunny but actually kind of stomach turning. Very much how I feel when listening to a bully in the playground picking on someone. I'm pretty sure that conservatives must feel the same way when they listen to the daily show with Jon Stewart, or the Colbert Report.

Last Night, on Saturday Night Live, the opening skit was one of the funniest conservative-leaning bits I have heard in a while. It had Barack Obama at a joint press conference with the Chinese leader Hu Jintao. Hu is speaking Chinese, simultaneously translated by a young woman with a slightly whiny voice, who generally maintains her flat nasal interpreter's tone, but occasionally breaks into some yelling. It opens with Obama lecturing China about some human rights stuff etc, then Hu takes over with the first of many funny bits where he talks like a New Jersey lone shark collecting a debt. (except through an interpreter of course)

Interpreter: "I completely understand why you feel entitled to come here and lecture China on our shortcomings. After all my country does owe the United States a great deal of money. Oh wait... hold on a that I think about it, it is your country that owes us a lot of money!"

It is a real classic, one that rivals the "More cowbell" by Will Ferrell and Sarah Palin impersonations by Tina Fey. If the skit has not been taken down yet it's here:

The skit pokes fun at the US for owing China so much money. It is not overtly political, but several of propaganda points are made for the conservative side.

Now here is some extreme conservative humour, in a tone that I find almost unbearable, so you are forgiven if you don't click on the link. The issue is a seventeen year old girl in line for a Sarah Palin event wearing the T-shirt "Wall Street got a 700 billion dollar bailout and all I got was this lousy T-shirt". A reporter from MSNBC interviews the girl ands asks if she is aware that Sarah Palin supported the Wall Street bailout publicly (which everyone agrees is true, but embarrassing for the Republicans.) Glenn Beck uses some of his conservative humour to turn this back against the liberals.

Glenn Beck's Show (Conservative humourist/opinion commentator)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Propaganda: The Connection between Socialism and Racism

Many people find it strange that Obama is criticised for Socialism, because according to the normal world definition of Socialism, he is not a socialist.

Now, some liberals are suggesting that socialist is not so much referring to economic theories, that it is a racist code word for black.

It is time to investigate the truth of these conflicting claims about Socialism.

The technical meaning of socialist in the rest of the world is "government ownership of industry", and by extension, "a society characterized by equal access to resources for all individuals with a method of compensation based on the amount of labor expended." As a political ideology, Communism is usually considered to be a branch of socialism. So Communist and Socialist can be used interchangeably in some contexts. But the word "Communist" had an even more emotional meaning between 1945 and 1990, when the communist "Soviet Union" was America's most feared military enemy.

Socialism, even as a theory, was not popular with whites in the Southern US. It was a direct threat to their traditional economic system where black people did all the dirty, heavy work for the whites, and received little or no compensation for it.

The white segregationists of the south accused communists of inspiring the Negroes to rebel against the white masters in the 1950's to 1970's. Because of the alleged support that that the African Americans got from it, Socialism came to mean "racial integration and removal of class distinctions between black and white". In Apartheid South Africa, Communism was regularly cited as being the inspiration behind the black revolt, and this helped gain a fair amount of support for the Apartheid government from the conservatives in the USA.

Throughout the Civil Rights struggle, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), which promoted equality, was accused by white southerners as being inspired by and supported by the Communists.

This book "The Ugly Truth About the NAACP" written in 1955, can be found online here at the University of Southern Mississippi Digital Library.

A Quote from Page 3:
"... the subversive designs behind the current crusade of the misnamed NAACP and its fellow travelling fronts to force upon the South the Communist-inspired doctrine of racial integration and amalgamation."
Of course, back in the sixties, Communism was far scarier than socialism. But since the fall of the Soviet Union, invoking "Communism" sounds outmoded. This means a necessary reversion to the word Socialism to describe racial equality and wealth sharing.

Socialism also has the fearful Nazi tie-in as the word Nazi evolved from "National Socialism", a fact that almost every conservative southerner could probably tell you, even though apparently 75% of Oklahoma high school students don't know who George Washington was. It is also a fact that the Nazis were socialists in name only, but this second fact is not well known in the USA.

Picture of protest signs saying "Race mixing is Communism" from the days of integration protests in the sixties. You might have to click on the image to see the word "Communist" on the protests signs.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Are We Really Going Hard Left?

Lou Dobbs was invited to the Daily Show, where he was interviewed by Jon Stewart. Jon tried to find out the answer to this question. Why does Lou Dobbs and the rest of the right wing think that Obama is a tyrant? Finally Lou settled on "Because Obama has made a hard left with this country".

Jon was wondering what makes that tyranny, if most people voted for Obama?

Here is my analysis. Politicians' campaign promises rarely match their performance. It's easier to make a promise than to carry it out. A second reason is that there is a lot of pressure from lobbyists.

If a politician promises to do a certain thing, gets elected, and does what was promised, we can call that a perfect democracy. But more often a politician promises something rosy, gets into office, and can't (or won't) deliver. Sometimes it is blamed on the preceding government that passed on some hidden problems. Sometimes it is because conditions changed since the campaign, and now the government has to improvise.

The only socialist turn Obama took that was not promised and voted for, was the stimulus package. He was elected based on some other promises he made, such as closing Guantanamo, and ending the Iraq war. He also promised health care reform, but he did not promise to wildly increase government spending. However, just before the election date, the entire world's free market economy essentially collapsed. This took place during the waning hours of the Bush presidency.

So Obama had an unusual situation to cope with. Almost at election day, a major crisis arose. And it seems that this crisis gave the election to Obama, as the Democrats were favoured as the best party to deal with economic downturns. I don't really know if the Democrats are better with the downturns, but historically, Roosevelt was a Democrat and he was credited with handling the 30's depression. And everyone observed that as soon as the economy started to go under, the polls showed an insurmountable lead building for Obama. It could all be coincidence, I suppose.

You could make a case that people voted for Obama on the assumption that he would spend more than the conservatives to bolster the economy. It was quite in character for Democrats to spend more than Republicans. And even the Republicans had decided that a lot of spending was needed, and got started with big bailouts even before Obama took over.

Now about making that "hard left turn". Obama has not really made a hard left turn. Sure, he is steering more to the left than Bush. Did anyone ever doubt that? But he did a lot of things that we could call conservative or even Republican. He has not really stopped the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, for example. He appointed many conservatives to high positions, angering a lot of lefties and liberal who voted for him, and his promise of "change".

Obama actually promised during the campaign a lot harder "turn to the left" than he delivered as President.

Just compare Obama to what happened with President Bush, when he was elected. Although the majority of the country had voted Democrat, Bush became president anyway, and immediately started doing things differently to what was promised. For example, he campaigned as an environmental candidate, but immediately rescinded the Kyoto agreement, almost as soon as he took office. I would consider that to be a hard right turn, considering the vote showed the country wanted either centre or even a little to the left. It was certainly a harder turn to the right than what he promised in the campaign.

Most of the actions of the Bush administration were to the right of the campaign promises. Similarly most of Obama's decisions, either match his promises, or fall to the right of what was promised. The only exception being the spending stimulus, which was not actually promised due to the last minute nature of the crisis. But on the other hand, Democrats would be expected spend more than the Republicans.

Although Americans keep on voting for leftish promises, the politicians keep erring to the right. This includes both Bush and Obama. Once in office, the lobby groups, the military industrial complex, all conspire to push things further to the right than the election promises called for. This pushes the country further right than the majority of voters wanted.

So why then is all the furore over Obama's "hard turn to the left"? I would guess that it is a hysteria fuelled partly by suffering in the ongoing economic crisis. People are still losing jobs and their houses, and they still don't have the health care they need. Plus there is a heavy propaganda effort by the Republicans to blame the Democrats for the economic hardships. After all, the best political strategy to regain control of the government is to blame the Democrats for the sick economy, whether it makes sense or not.

In my opinion, Lou Dobbs is wrong, there was no "hard left turn". The people spoke, and decided to go left, but the administration has not yet delivered and is now veering slightly to the right of what was promised. This rightward skew seems to be the typical result of elections whether won by Democrats or Republicans.

Motorcycling: The Elements of Cruiser Style

Every now and then a question is asked that sounds simple, yet the answer really needs some thought, which leads to enlightenment.

From a new rider "I am enjoying my V Star 650 Custom, but I am already thinking about my next bike. I am wondering if there is a "cruiser" that doesn't look like a traditional cruiser?"

To answer this, the first step is to break down what a cruiser is, and what a cruiser looks like. And what is the difference between the "is" and the "looks like". Frankly I never thought about it like that before, as I assumed that if it looked like a cruiser it was a cruiser.

One of the turning points in the history of the cruiser was the 1978 Honda CX500, Honda's first V-twin motorcycle. It was first made as a standard, which was normal for the day. In 1983, Honda created a version called the CX500C for the American market. The CX500 continued as the standard model, the CX500C was the cruiser model, and they were both on sale at the same time. The CX500C outsold the CX500 ten to one. It clearly showed that if you make a cruiser, people will buy it. And quite possibly the days of the standard bike were over.

Honda dropped the CX500C and CX500 the next year, deciding to go with their Shadow line of motorcycles, which took the cruiser style even further and were also introduced in 1983.

All this took place around the time that the Harley Davidson boom started. While Honda was trying to make bikes look more like Harleys, Harley Davidson disassembled some CX500 engines in order to study how to make bikes work as well as the Japanese bikes.

What were the differences between the CX500 and the 500C? A smaller diameter, fatter rear tire seemed to be a key element, which in turn helped lower the seat height. Then there were some buckhorn handlebars to help the rider sit back with their arms raised in a classic "cruiser" riding position often seen in Hells Angels movies. And another styling touch, was a smaller teardrop shaped gas tank, tapered at the rear. This seemed to be the shape that everyone in America wanted. It didn't really make sense, as a "fat" looking tank will hold more gas, but what was selling was the tapered look. Another popular trend at the time was longer forks, but that trend has since gone away and is no longer an essential part of the cruiser style.

So the key element to me, of a cruiser is the low seat height. The low seat height forces a cascade of other changes. First, to lower the seat, you have a smaller diameter rear tire. A longer chassis also helps you to make space for a low seat. But the low seat forces you to place the footpegs further forward to prevent knee cramping. To move the footpegs further forward, you need a long narrow engine, (rather than short and wide) meaning the preferred engine becomes a v-twin mounted transversely. With the narrower but longer engine, you need longer handlebars because the seat has been pushed back. And if the seat is set back and low, you can move the instruments to the top of the gas tank instead of over the headlight.

Once you put together all those elements, you have a cruiser. But now what to do if you want something a little different, but still a cruiser? I guess you need to decide what element you would like to change. Cruisers have been built with parallel twins, six cylinder engines, even v-8's. They have been built with non-teardrop gas tanks. You can change almost any element except the low seat. As soon as you make that seat high, I think you have to stop calling it a cruiser, at least in the modern sense.

If you want a cruiser that doesn't look like a cruiser, how about the Suzuki Burgman 400? Low seat, feet forward, but looks nothing like a cruiser.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Does CTV News Know About Car Safety?

Obviously, the CTV news people have not been following my blog closely enough. I already wrote a blog on the relative safety on small cars vs. large cars. If they had been paying attention, I would not be forced to rebuke them publicly.
As part of my rebuke, I will state that CTV is less well informed than it's rival the CBC news.

The CTV news item was about a crash safety report coming from the insurance industry in the USA.

I had no problem with CTV's basic report, but right at the end of the segment, they threw in a gratuitous opinion about the lack of safety in small cars, even though this had nothing to do with the IIHS report.

I don't have the exact words, but this is the gist of the conversation.

The anchor person asked "But what about the fact that large cars are safer in crashes with small cars?"

The guest expert responded "Even with all the air bags, they have not been able to repeal the laws of physics, and a big car with the extra weight and metal will always fare better in a crash with a small car."

It seemed to me like this opinion was uncalled for especially with a new move on to reduce the size of cars on the road. The expensive "Cash for Clunkers" program has done a lot toward replacing big gas guzzlers with smaller cars.

But it is the sanctimonious statement that "you can't repeal the laws of physics" that gets me the most. If the CTV news writers (who probably drive big SUV's) really want claim the laws of physics as their authority, here is another view. The lower wider car will be less likely to roll over than a car with a high centre of gravity relative to it's narrow wheel track. And because the popularity of SUV's with a high CG and small track, we are now getting more rollover deaths than collision deaths. That is the other law of physics to consider the next time you people at CTV want to report on car safety.

The picture: for an example of how lightweight cars have been made safer, formula one racers have substantially reduced deaths in the last fifteen years, in spite of hitting walls at speeds of up to 300 kph. No they did not repeal the laws of physics. It's done with car design, and I will also mention the drivers wear helmets, and do not text their friends during races. Also notice the low centre of gravity and wide track. These are arguably the safest cars made, although I would not want to drive the kids to hockey practice in one.

Going for Another Motorcycle Ride

This was the first day of the year that I used my electric vest. Mary Ann and I decided to ride together to London, where we could do our own thing then meet up at her parents house in the afternoon for a ride home. The day started at 3 degrees C. went up to 8c then back down to 3c at sunset.

Mary Ann's Burgman just turned 20,000 km. and has had very few problems. It still has the original drive belt. The only annoying glitch is that the reset button for the trip odometer stopped working. She had one flat tire a while back, and we replaced it with a new one. Once this summer it didn't start, and I did a valve inspection, but the valves were OK. Now it does not start quite as quickly as before, but at least it fires up reliably on at most two pushes of the starter button. It has never gone back to the shop since we bought it, for the new tire, I just took the wheel in.

We got rolling at 10:30 AM, about 30 minutes late because of having to put on all the cold weather gear. It is actually so much work putting on the clothing that you can work up a sweat, which is bad because as you cool off, it reduces the effectiveness of the clothing. So the way I do it is to move the motorcycles out of the garage in my normal clothes, to stay cool. Then I put on everything but the gloves, jacket, helmet, and carry them outside to put them on where I don't get too overheated.

Mary Ann took the lead. We have a lot of European style traffic circles in this region, and when I followed Mary Ann around the first one, I scraped the left floorboard trying to keep up. I'm guessing the Burgman has only a little more ground clearance than the Vulcan, because I could see she was pretty close to grounding the centre stand lever. It was the first time I grounded in a traffic circle, and obviously Mary Ann is getting faster as she gets more confidence with about 15,000 km of riding now.

When we got to London, I headed off to Inglis Cycle, and she headed for her parents house. That gave me a little time to buy an Air Hawk seat pad, and to look at the Triumph Scrambler without worrying about keeping her amused.

First the seat pad, which is air filled. I knew this would work for me, because I already did tests with an old air mattress on my seat. I bought a 12" wide Air Hawk 2 "Cruiser" seat pad and installed it in the parking lot, so that was easy enough to do. I did have a little trouble finding what I wanted, because the sales people seem to know nothing about these pads that sell for $140 each. First I wanted one that fit my seat, and they told me that a 12" wide would do, even though the seat is 14" wide. Anyhow, it seemed they did not have any 14" ones and they were not sure that they made them that big. All they had was a "Cruiser" 12" and a "Touring" 12", and when I asked what the difference was, they seemed to think that there was no meaningful difference, it was to just give the customer more choices. Well, the choice I wanted was 14" wide, not some arbitrary alternate name for the same seat. But I guess I should have known better than to tangle with sales associates before Googling the product on the Internet. I bought the 12" seat, but later, I saw the website advises that the 14" is correct for my bike. In any case, the 12" seat pad is more versatile. I also have a 1970 Honda CD175 that could use a 12" seat pad, I can use it on the passenger section if I want to, and the 12" seat does not look bad on the wider driver seat either. But the best part is that eliminates numb butt, which is really all I could ask for. It felt really comfortable for the rest of the day.

I also had time to look at the Triumph Scrambler in real life for the first time. They had two, one a flat green colour with the dual seat and the other a shiny black. By talking to the sales rep, I found out that you cannot get it with the two-into-one Arrows exhaust. What I mean is that you would have to buy it with the factory exhaust then order and pay extra for the Arrows. I guess this is to conform to Transport Canada's noise and pollution requirements, but they don't worry much what you do after you buy the machine. Funny thing is that Harley for years was selling their bikes brand new with aftermarket "Screaming Eagle" exhaust systems. I don't know why Harley Davidson was the only company allowed to do this, but it smacks of unfair competition to me. Anyhow, apparently Harley has stopped doing that now.

There was a Triumph America parked right behind the green Scrambler, and I have to admit that in real life I liked the look of the America more. I guess it's just the more traditional look with brighter colours and chrome that I like. But if the Scrambler came with the Arrows exhaust and the solo seat with luggage rack, I might have changed my mind.

I stopped in to visit my Mother, then headed out to meet Mary Ann at three, as we had agreed, but she was not ready. So I knew with all the cold weather gear this was going to be another half hour of waiting while the sun was dropping quickly to the horizon. It must have been about 5c as we departed for home, and I had removed my sweater, which was dumb because this was going to be the coldest part of the ride. Anyhow when we got stuck for some construction, I had a chance to at least plug in the electric vest. That worked for a while, then I realized I was getting cold again. Finally I figured out that I had accidentally knocked the switch "OFF", and then I got back to feeling warm again. But with the sun going down, and my sweater in the saddlebag, I never fully recovered my body heat from turning off the electric vest. Which means I never got toasty warm again, but I also didn't get uncomfortably cold, just a little chilly in the fingers (Yes, they are affected by the main body temperature and the electric vest)

The two most scenic places on the drive were Jubilee Road, on the other side of London, and the other was Dundas street going through London. Lots of traffic in the centre of London, but I don't mind once in a while, just as a break from all the farm scenery.

Picture: My Vulcan parked in front something that looks like an old WW2 Dodge truck. I took the picture because it looks like the Dodge Power Wagon my father drove in the army.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Blog Gets a New Look

The blog is almost a year old now. I am marking the occasion by updating the banner picture. It used to be my Vulcan parked on a beach. Now I have an artistic picture I call "Sunset at Tim Horton's". I caught the reflection of the setting sun in the engine side cover of the Vulcan, with the Tim Horton's sign next to it. And because I had just cleaned the engine, the reflection is almost like a mirror.

I have also changed my profile picture because I got tired of Google chopping my head off when the picture appeared in comments. And I fixed up my comment name to match my blog name of "Lost Motorcyclist".

I am going to leave the rest about the same. During the year, my average daily hits have gone from about 0 to now about 15-20. This I think is mostly because Google's top secret indexing scheme seems to rank some of my blogs quite high on the search index. For example my blog "Battle of the plains of Abraham" (with and without quotes) ranks second on Google after Wikipedia. But comes ahead of MacLean's magazine, and ahead of the Canadian Military Museum, and the Canadian encyclopedia. To name only three of the 2,000,000 plus competing pages. And several other pages have a high Google ranking too, for example "street scrambler" motorcycles.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Motorcycling: Group Rides: Safety in Acceleration

I used to belong to a motorcycle club that did a lot of group rides. Quite often you hear comments in group rides, that the leader is going too fast or too slow. And strangely enough it may happen in the very same ride from people in different positions in the group. The fact is, it is not the leader of the ride causing these conditions. It is inherent to group rides, and it is caused by the laws of physics.

I don't want this to be complicated, and basically it is simple, but requires a little background. First, a review of the distance to be maintained between motorcycles. It should be a 2 second gap to the motorcycle directly in front (in the same wheel track), which actually means the faster you are travelling, the greater the distance. This blog is about how best to maintain that spacing without having to reach ridiculous speeds.

If several motorcycles are riding together, with the speed varying from time to time, there will be a lag between the time the leader begins to accelerate, and the next motorcycle begins to accelerate. It may be half a second or 5 seconds, depending on the following rider. You can then add that lag to each rider in succession, because it is cumulative, so with five riders it may be a total of 20 seconds lag from the first to the last.

If the front bike begins to accelerate, it will by definition begin increasing its speed. When the following motorcycles begin to accelerate, they also begin increasing their speed, and as long as both are accelerating at about the same rate, the first motorcycle will always be travelling at a higher speed. As long as the front motorcycle is travelling at a higher rate of speed, the distance between the first and the next bike will be increasing. The increasing distance is also cumulative, to the point where the distance between bike 1 and bike 5 is a kilometer or more.

And eventually, the following riders want to close the gap, and so they speed up a little. Eventually they will catch up, but they may have to reach some quite high speeds to do it quickly.

What can be done about this entire process, which is variously referred to as the accordion, the whip, or the slinky? The lead rider should maintain a constant speed, but of course this is not always possible in traffic. Another question often asked is, should the lead rider ride at a slower speed to minimise the effect? I don't think it actually minimises the effect at all, and I have tried this myself and found the accordion effect apparently works just as much at low speeds. There is also a negative side effect of slowing down, and that is creating a jam of cars behind, which will lead to some cars tailgating and trying to overtake a long groups, which end up forcing their way into the line of motorcycles.

One answer is to keep the group at five or less, if possible. Another solution is for every rider in the group to accelerate harder than normal when following another rider. Many riders think it is dangerous to accelerate hard in a group. I just want to correct this misconception. Speed is dangerous, yes. Not acceleration. That's because speed takes time to bring down and involves momentum. Acceleration can be eliminated instantly by simply turning the throttle off. So in my opinion it is safer to accelerate hard and maintain a position, than to accelerate slowly, lose distance, then have to increase speed to close the gap. In the end, what we need to worry about is differences in speed leading to accidents, and not hard acceleration.

I adopt a policy that the lead rider sets the speed, the following riders set the distance. When I am in the lead, I sometimes want the the following rider to close the gap, but slowing down never seems to work. All it does is make the following rider slow down too. So when I'm the leader, I just set the pace and let the following bike decide how far behind they want to be. When I'm the follower, I try to maintain to correct spacing, and never "push" the rider ahead to go faster.

Just a few more ideas, to keep the group together without going so slow as to create a hazard. If I am in the lead, I try to slow down ahead of traffic lights, rather than speed up to get through. And I stop longer at stop signs to wait for people to catch up, and to find a safer opportunity to pull out. If the lead rider loses sight of the last rider, you need to wait at the next turn or intersection to make sure everybody is together. I also try to avoid overtaking other vehicles, unless I know everybody in the group can handle it.

I also want to mention that in my opinion, the worst type of traffic control for groups is a merge sign onto a two lane road. This is where the group can get split up easily so if possible I try to avoid them.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday 13th Wrap Up

On any Friday 13th that has a temperature of over 10c and no rain, tens of thousands of motorcyclists and bikers will drive there from as far away as the United States, in fact I saw one plate from Florida. But mostly from the Toronto Area, as that is where the biggest nearby population centre is.

Several friends in Kitchener formed a group, using email for about four days, where each person made up their mind as to whether they could take the time, or if it was too cold. Finally by Thursday night, 7 people were confirmed, and we planned to meet at the Tim Horton's near Conestoga college, and there would be a sub-group formed at another Tim Horton's which would join us at noon. Although things were a bit late, with the number of cell phones on hand, we were able to steer everybody in the right direction until we all ended up together.

Now seven people is a bit of a large group, and normally I am hesitant about anything over five. But most of us have had practice driving together. And if this Friday 13th lived up to expectations, there would be so many bikes on the road that it wouldn't matter how big the group was, we would just be in an endless parade of bikes within 40 km of the town.

Once we hit the road, there was no need to stop until we reached Port Dover, where the usual conundrum is where to park. When the all-motorcycle traffic ground to a halt about a kilometer from the centre of town, I pulled over to find a parking space big enough for seven bikes. It was easy to find, but with a bit of discussion we decided to try our luck plunging further into the maelstrom of Harleys and other motorcycles, that is Friday 13th in Port Dover. My ultimate objective was the Apple Fritter place. We parked a bit closer then started walking. Soon the police closed off the main street, so everybody moved into the middle of the road to keep on walking. But a few bikes got through the roadblock, and we were dodging bikes while we walked down the centre line of the road.

Finally we reached the Apple Fritter place, and there were eight parking places empty right at the curb! For the first time in the three years it has been in business, I saw a line formed all the way to the door. It wasn't even this busy during the last record setting day, where there were three times the number of bikes in town. Maybe the word is getting out. Four of our group opted to go to the fish restaurant around the corner, and three waited in line for fritters (including me). We planned to meet up later.

But when we went to look for the fish restaurant, we found there were actually about five of them around the corner, since Port Dover is a fishing port. And unfortunately, of the four cell phones in our group, all four were with the fish people. So we decided to head back to the bikes, as the sun would be setting soon, and along with the setting of the sun would come the Canadian reality of November. That is, cold and dark.

We were distracted by many apparitions on the way back to the bikes. A Suzuki Burgman in the shape of a truck. A motorcycle gang wearing raccoon coats and horns riding Indian trikes with ape hangers. A couple getting married, Santa Claus, one Hell's Angel, the widest tire I have ever seen on the back of a bike, I'm surprised the bike could lean enough to touch the kickstand down, and another bike that fell over as we walked past (we didn't touch it). But no nudity. Or should I say, because Mary Ann was present, thank god there was no depraved nudity.
Once back at the bikes, we met up with the fish loving bikers, who had similarly given up the search for the fritter people, and were planning a run for home, or at least the next Tim Horton's on the way home. So we hadn't needed the cell phones after all, ESP was enough for us to meet up.

Pictures. I took both today in Port Dover. For once I didn't steal the pictures off the internet. First picture is our motley group of seven bikers. Mary Ann and the Burgman are in the middle. And I believe it is two firsts for our group: to have two women riders on their own bikes, (normally none) and also the first scooter ever.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Friday 13th Port Dover

Tomorrow is Friday 13th, and there might be a lot of motorcycles going to Port Dover. In case you didn't know: (A) Friday 13th is an unlucky day for the superstitious. (B) Every Friday 13th, many motorcyclists defy certain death by going to Port Dover on their bikes

I always knew Friday 13th was an unlucky day, because my father was born on a Friday, (actually November) 13th, and he was very sensitive about this unlucky occurrence. Every unlucky thing in his life could be somehow traced back to this event.

I am not superstitious, and maybe that's one of the reasons why. But if I happen to die in a traffic accident tomorrow, on my way to Port Dover, it's probably just a coincidence anyway, don't worry about it. If I don't, I could still die of a sugar overdose at the Apple Fritter place near the river channel. But that will not be a curse, it will be deliberate.

Next, I want to make an award for the Blog of the Day. This for Erin Easley who wrote a blog on Nov 10 commenting on Mark Steyn's anti-Muslim propaganda. In retaliation, Mark has linked to her from his website as the "Reader of the Day", and as usual his legions of devoted followers follow the link, and leave comments on Erin's blog to set her straight, letting her know just how ignorant she is, and how brilliant Mark is. I'm sure she doesn't even know who Mark is, because she apparently wrote these well crafted words:

"Fortunately I've had the pleasure of never reading Mark Steyn until now"

Actually I found Erin had been quite mild in her criticism of Mark's writing style. When I was bashing Mark at around the time I was given Mark's Reader of the Day award, I had gone much further, calling his writing garbage and referring to Mark as a Nazi.

Picture: I photoshopped a Friday 13th reaper image I found on the internet onto a still from the movie "Yes Man", with Zoey Deschanel riding an Aprilia Mojito scooter. Then I added the words November 2009 myself.

The Interstate Highway Sytem, Wonder of the World?

I have always been a great admirer of the interstate highway system in the USA. I would go so far as to say it is one of the wonders of the modern world, and one day in the future, long after we have run out of oil, it will be admired by people from who travel to the USA (in oxcarts) just to walk along sections of this system, in awe of what primitive peoples had accomplished.

This system of roads was built mostly after World War 2, and it is the biggest public works project in the history of the world. President Eisenhower introduced the bill and it was passed in 1956, called the "Federal Aid Highway Act". There was not much debate on this bill, at least not by today's norms. For example, almost nobody complained about the debt load that the government was taking on. Also, very few people were made aware ahead of time that the government was going to decide exactly where the roads went, and that many towns would die as a result of being bypassed by the opening of the new roads. No one understood that there would be what you could even call a "Death Panel" that would make decisions about which towns would be served, and which would not. And there was literally no debate about whether illegal aliens would be able to drive their cars on this road system undetected. Also, many trucks would be scrapped if they did not conform to the standard height and length determined by the federal bureaucrats. But more than that, it was never once mentioned that Hitler had basically invented the idea of a national highways system, called the Autobahn, and Eisenhower was so impressed with it as he travelled through Germany, that he decided that the USA should build it's own.

Why did no-one ever question the Federal Highway Act before it was passed? Why did nobody threaten to filibuster it? Why did nobody call it socialism? Well for one thing, the big carmakers were lobbying for it. Lots of people were going to get jobs from it, even though those were Government jobs, not private sector. And even though the jobs were just temporary, until the roads were completed.

Looking back on the "Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways" as it was officially named, nobody, even today, ever comments on it negatively. And yet it has led to a huge increase in oil consumption, to the point that the USA is no longer self sufficient in oil. It led to the dismantling of some of the national railway system, which is a far more fuel efficient way to transport goods long distances. And thousands of people have died in traffic accidents on it.

But what I like about it is that it allows me to travel great distances by car or motorcycle, assured of being able to find gas stations, restaurants and motels along the way. In fact the only real complaints I hear about it are that it prevents people from seeing the "real" America as they travel around. Which is actually similar to the argument if you take the plane from NY to LA. Of course it's true, but if you really want to see America, just get off the road. Any time, any where.

Footnote for Canada. Yay for us! Canada has a smaller freeway system than the USA, but it is busier. Specifically on the 401 through Toronto, the average daily traffic flow is 425,000 (measured in 2004). While the busiest on the Interstate System in the USA is 390,000 vehicles per day: I-405 in Los Angeles, California, (estimated in 2006) Highway 401 has 12-20 lanes through Pickering to Mississauga and this is thought to be the world's longest continuous stretch of highway having 12 or more lanes.

In contrast to the US system, this particular Canadian highway is actually an obstacle to traffic movement, and it is amazing to me that people keep using it in spite of the frequent slowdowns, even at 3:00 AM.

Picture: Me and the BMW on Interstate 10 New Mexico. Returning from my trip to Baja Mexico. I know I should not be fiddling with my camera while driving, but I had slowed down to 100 kph, to take a picture of the two bikes ahead of me.