Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Joy of Driving

Last year BMW had an ad campaign about the joy of driving. I wanted to know what they meant. For some people, the joy of driving is actually not driving. They get joy from playing the stereo, talking on the phone, drinking coffee from the many cupholders, and admiring the expensive looking plastic on the dashboard. That may be joy, but it is definitely not about driving.

When I first started driving, just being behind the wheel, and being able to drive was all I needed. The car could have been one of the most miserable pieces of junk ever produced for sale in Canada, and it was. But then it didn't matter to me at all.

Today, after driving so many cars for hundreds of thousands of miles, that joy is worn very thin. Now, the reason I may get joy from driving depends on my past experiences.

My first long distance car trip was across Canada in a '56 Chevy with very loose front wheel bearings. After that experience many years ago, I never fail to appreciate a car that goes where it is pointed. Part of the same experience was a looseness in the steering gear, which actually was hard to detect because of the wheel bearings. But after I tightened the bearings, there was still about five inches of play in the rim of the steering wheel. The feel of driving a car with a combination of loose wheel bearings and very sloppy steering gear can only be described as like driving a normal car at about 500 km/hr. It forces you to pay attention every second. No time for checking the rear view mirror when either one of the front wheels may at any time suddenly head off in their own direction, and you have five inches of hand motion to cover before you even begin to take control over the errant front wheel.

So now I love a car that needs very little effort from the driver to keep it pointed straight. I like steering wheels with little or no play in them, and tires that refuse to wander off on their own. That for me, contributes to the joy of driving. And it's one of the reasons I really like motorcycles.

Another situation from a few years earlier, also put me off cars with steering problems. My younger brother had bought a weird French car, a Simca. He had been working on the steering, and wanted me to take it out for a drive to test it. So I drove it down our street, which happens to be a half mile long curve bending gradually to the right (in the direction I was going). Everything seemed OK until I tried to take a left at the end, and the steering wheel would not turn past centre. It could only go straight or right. I expressed my dismay to him as I went by my corner, and he said the problem was the tie rod that sometimes hit a suspension member. I guess with both of us in the front seat it might have compressed the suspension enough to cause a problem. But if we went over a bump, the steering could suddenly free up and I could get the wheel past centre to steer left. This was going to be a problem to get home, as the road back now curved very gently to the left. We got it turned around and also got the steering wheel to the left side of centre, and I had to keep it there. If I let it get back across centre, it would refuse to go left again until we hit another bump. Our trip home was kind of erratic, as the wheel got stuck three or four times. It's actually very hard to drive in such a way that you do not move the steering wheel across the centre line. The lesson learned? Don't wait till you start driving to ask the question "What's wrong with the car?".

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Food Review: The Bauer Kitchen, Waterloo

Here is a new idea for me, as if I don't have enough stuff to write about. How about a restaurant review? Last night Mary Ann and I went out to a new restaurant called The Bauer Kitchen, located in the newly renovated Bauer skate factory. I have no idea where they make skates now. Actually yes, I do.

Mary Ann does not like to go to the food court for our anniversary dinners, and Bauer's obviously had table service, so we decided to try it.

I am lacking in imagination when we go out, and usually order what the restaurant is famous for. At the Fritter Place in Port Dover, I order Apple Fritters. Luckily, because they don't have anything else. At Bobby O'Brien's in Kitchener, I order beer and wings. I like making my decision quickly, the quicker I make up my mind, the quicker I get my food. So last time I was at Knechtel's in Port Dover, I had ordered the perch dinner while walking past the waitress on my way to the table. It helps that I was on my own. Because when Mary Ann is there, as a rule, the waitress will return four or more times, with the question "Are you ready to order yet?" And as I have found out, it is not good to say "Well I am, so just take my order now"

In an unfamiliar restaurant, where I don't even know what they're famous for, I like to order the rib dinner. This is what I ordered at Bauer's. But it was called "Short Ribs with Potato Gnocchi". Unfortunately I didn't have a clue what potato Gnocchi was, and still don't know how to pronounce it. So I ordered "short rib dinner". When it showed up, actually brought by a different waitress, she put it in front of me, and called it "Gnocchi", but I didn't remember or even understand the word, and not only that, but the ribs had already been deboned, so they did not look at all like ribs either. So I guess I said something like "Did I order this?"

One thing you will notice about most restaurants is that the stupider you are, the nicer the wait staff will treat you, so I get a lot of good service usually. Unless I'm at Tim Horton's where the competition is fierce. So the waitress said "Oh I'm sorry, we must have misunderstood, I'll bring you something else if you want." I didn't want to wait any longer as we had already been there some time before deciding. So remembering the Gnocchi potatoes, I said, "maybe it's the pronunciation of that word." The waitress was very understanding, and pleasant about it, meaning this must have been an unusually dumb statement on my part.

Anyway, the food was great,even the gnocchi (tastes like potato perogies), the dessert too. I always order cheesecake, and theirs was about the best, with white chocolate, blueberries, and some other stuff. But cheesecake is always pretty good wherever I go. I didn't get sick afterwards, which to me is an important consideration. I didn't go away hungry, it cost less than our average anniversary night out, and Mary Ann really liked it too. So it's highly recommended.

Toyota Suspends Sales, Issues over 2 Million Recall Notices

I have a Toyota Matrix, and I have been following with some confusion the Toyota scandal involving 2 million recalled vehicles. Actually, I guess it was over two million recall notices, but almost a million of those recalls went to vehicles that had already received one recall notice. So maybe more like one million vehicles.

I was trying to figure out what had gone wrong that Toyota would have built so many faulty vehicles, but most of the news stories were mostly about how this is going to impact Toyota's profits, and the rest about comparisons to the Ford Pinto, and not about what was wrong from a mechanical point of view. Apparently even the dealers didn't know the mechanical details.

I'm sure the details will come out eventually, and I'm not really worried for myself, as my 2005 Matrix (I have the OSB model: Oh so basic) is not on the recall list. And because it is OSB, it also has many features that override the problem of a stuck accelerator. One is called the clutch. The other is called the ignition key. And a third is the brake pedal. But some of these high-end keyless entry, remote-start automatic models with ABS brakes and anti skid controls, are so complex that if your accelerator pedal ever gets jammed under the carpet, you might as well kiss your keester goodbye.

How did we ever get to this sorry state? People don't drive cars anymore, the cars drive themselves while people talk on the cell phone or read newspapers on their iPads. Or both.

The funny thing is, even with our OSB Matrix, we had a baffling problem. A few days after we bought it, Mary Ann was at a friend's house and phoned me to say the Matrix would not start. I went over, got in and it started. She had to go somewhere right away, so I said "I'll figure it out later". But then she had the same mysterious problem at her next engagement, and once again I bicycled over to see if I could help. Again she got out of the car, I got in and it started instantly. I said "Now we have time, let's figure out what you're doing different from me." After a few minutes, I figured it out. A Canadian Tire car mat that I had thrown in the front to protect the nice new Toyota carpets, had bunched up under the clutch pedal. The clutch pedal must be depressed in order to start the car. Mary Ann was pushing the clutch pedal until it touched the mat, and that was not far enough. I was pushing it hard enough to compress the mat, and the car started. When I was a kid we had no such stupid lockout switches. If you forgot to push down the clutch and were in gear, the car simply lurched forward. No harm done unless your newborn baby was lying down in front of one of the tires, and I had a rule against that anyway.

Next time I spoke to my Toyota dealer, I started to tell him the story, and well before the surprise ending, he jumped in with "You must have put in a new mat." I said "How did you know?" He answered "It's just about the only thing that goes wrong with them" I said "So why didn't you tell me before I bought the car?" He said "Well, actually it's pretty rare."

So now, if the throttle pedal gets stuck behind a car mat, or anything else you might care to throw on the floor, you can no longer shut down the car, so you crash and die. Fortunately this has not yet happened in Canada, and I consider it to be a far cry from the Pinto, where somebody rams you from behind and you go up in a ball of fire.

Picture: I'm predicting the next Toyota recall problem.

The Day the History Died

Howard Zinn, an American historian who opposed the Vietnam war died on Wednesday.

Last week, Glenn Beck, an opinion giver on Fox News decided to rewrite history, starting with World War two, in a one hour special. His purpose making "Revolutionary Holocaust: Live Free or Die", is to set people straight, explaining that Hitler was actually a left wing, not a right wing dictator. And to furthermore prove that the Progressive movement in the United States is going the same direction as went Hitler, Mao, and Stalin.

We didn't have enough headache pills, so I was not able to sit through the entire hour, but I did see a little bit of it.  At first I could not understand why the shocked tone, as Glenn Beck explained that Hitler and Stalin both invaded Poland at the same time. Then I realised that his audience would probably have never heard of that part of WW2, as most Americans are taught in school that WW2 started at Pearl Harbor. So no wonder he made it sound like this was some kind of secret thing that had been covered up for eighty years.

Maybe I have a slanted view on this because I taught history myself, but I really think Canadians would probably know something more about the invasion of Poland than Americans. That is because, if nothing else, people in a country are taught about what got them into a war. For the US it was Pearl Harbor. For Canada it was the invasion of Poland. Oh, sure you can find the occasional American who never heard of Pearl Harbor. And you can probably find even more Canadians who don't know about Hitler's invasion of Poland. But I'll bet a lot of Americans are like Glenn Beck, who probably just found out about Poland a few weeks ago.

I found the Glenn Beck special to be quite confusing historically, but technically excellent propaganda, even by Nazi standards, if the aim is dividing Americans against each other.

Glen Beck did bring up one new fact I was not aware of. There are a couple of quotes by George Bernard Shaw, where he suggested gas chambers be used to kill people. This was before Hitler even thought of it. Beck further linked George Bernard Shaw to Obama by revealing that both had won the Nobel prize. (Though Shaw's was not for peace, obviously). And he linked Shaw even more closely to Al Gore by noting that both of them had won an Oscar and a Nobel prize.

I looked up the quote, and apparently it is true. Actually I kind of expected it to be true, because bizarre revelations like this do not work well if they are wholly fabricated. I don't claim to know what G.B. Shaw was thinking when he wrote that stuff. Maybe he was thinking what I'm thinking, which is let's set up gas chambers for all the Glenn Becks of the world. Or maybe he was being funny, or maybe he was being serious. For sure GB wrote it before Hitler thought of it, and the world was so horrified by Hitler's actions that we have recoiled from many ideas that were commonly held even before the Nazis came to power. (such as racism for example). And to be fair, Shaw wrote over 13,000 letters in addition to his literary work. I'm sure you could find something to support almost any position in there. By comparison to my one year blog (where you can already find enough material to send me to jail forever in some jurisdictions, and to hell for eternity in the rest), I have only 300 entries so far. Imagine all the self incriminating stuff I could write if I had another forty years to go at it!

What was especially funny to me, was that the G.B. Shaw quotes were kind of wasted on Glenn Beck's target audience, as none of them had ever heard of George Bernard Shaw. And their comments on Youtube indicated that Beck had forgotten to mention that Shaw died a long time ago. So it is possible even for Glen Beck to overestimate the intelligence of his audience.

Howard Zinn died and passed on the torch to a new generation of history teachers, who apparently want to use history to promote hate against their fellow citizens. Glenn Beck, please, if you are reading this: Promoting hate is much closer to the evil stuff  of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, than is promoting health care.

Here is something else GB Shaw wrote, also prescient.

"It is said that every people has the Government it deserves. It is more to the point that every Government has the electorate it deserves; for the orators of the front bench can edify or debauch an ignorant electorate at will. Thus our democracy moves in a vicious circle of reciprocal worthiness and unworthiness."

Picture: G.B. Shaw wrote a famous play about Joan of Arc that I studied in high school literature. I can't wait for the Glenn Beck to do a special on it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How to Drive a Motorcycle in a Straight Line

A motorcycle steers entirely differently from a car. A four wheeled car has a steering wheel, which connects to the two front wheels, and turns them with levers. To maintain a straight line, a car needs constant little corrections from the driver. It is obviously not impossible to do, and seems to cause no aggravation to the driver. But when you ride a motorcycle you gradually become aware that most motorcycles need no such constant correction to maintain a straight line. It's almost as if a motorcycle can sense where it is going without any input from the driver required.

The way that a motorcycle maintains a straight line can be explained only by understanding some geometry, but I'll try to keep it simple. The front wheel is set up so that it wants to turn when the motorcycle leans over, which is also true of bicycles. And it may be easier to try this experiment with a bicycle. Stand beside a bicycle without touching the handlebars, and lean it a little to the right. The front wheel will also swing to the right. This action is not a result of luck or anything natural in a two wheel vehicle, it is designed deliberately into the steering by making sure the steering axis (the red line through the steering bearings) hits the ground in front of the wheel's rubber to road contact. This distance (Green line) is called the "trail" and the bigger the trail, the stronger the turning force will be on the handlebars.  The angle of the red line is called the "rake", and together "rake and trail" can tell you much of how stable or twitchy a motorcycle's steering will be.

It may be too obvious to state that a motorcycle has a tendency to fall over. But no matter how basic this fact is, we often forget it when it is so easy to keep a motorcycle balanced at speed.

To understand why the motorcycle travels easily in a straight line, we first need to look at why it remains upright, since that is in fact the trickiest job. If you can just keep a two wheel vehicle from falling, there are lots of reasons why it can go straight more easily than a four wheel vehicle.

Lets start with the idea that the motorcycle is always in a state of falling over, even while driving fast. As soon as it begins to fall to the right, the front wheel turns to the right. You can't detect it, even with your hands on the bars. You can't even stop the slight turning with your hands alone, but you could if you locked the bars mechanically like welding or bolting firmly in place so they could not turn. As the wheel turns to the right, it steers the bike to the right, which instantly straightens the bike up, and the wheel moves back to a straight ahead position again.

The self balancing effect is so precise and small scale, most people do not know it exists. But occasionally it goes wrong. The most spectacular failing of this self steering effect happens when the steering return force is too great. For years this was a problem for manufacturers, as they found it very hard to diagnose. The self steering effect is so small it can be thrown off by looseness of the steering, runout on the wheel rim, or even a minute flexing of the frame. If the return force is too great, the front wheel will turn back quickly, and overshoot the centre, causing an even bigger swing to the other side, where the self steering effect will turn it back to the right again, but further than last time. This increasing over-correction is called a speed wobble. Speed wobbles cannot be stopped by hand, the forces are too great. Once the speed wobble gets to it maximum size, it is called a tank slapper because you will find your hands hitting the gas tank, if you can even hang on. As this point the bike is probably going to crash, so jump off. Just to show how weird the effect is, motorcyclists have often jumped off bikes doing a speed wobble, only to have the bike straighten up and drive off riderless in a nice straight line.

Fortunately, with modern engineering and design, speed wobbles are just about a thing of the past. To experience one, you need a very old bike, or a bike that is damaged or worn out.

Another way to learn something about self steering is to have a bike with seriously flattened steering bearings, where the bearings are also overtightened enough that the handlebars are hard to turn. At certain speeds, you will find the self steering effect has disappeared, and you will be forced to constantly make minute corrections to the steering to stay upright. This is tiring, given the stiff bars. Often riders don't know what has happened, the bike just "doesn't feel right any more".

If the bike is set up right, it will be very easy to guide it in a straight line. It is possible on most bikes to take some gentle curves by slightly leaning your shoulders to the left or the right without hardly touching the bars at all.

Good and Bad Motorcycle Sounds

Motorcyclists are much more involved with the sound of their machine than any car driver except maybe a race car. That's because the engine is more exposed, and so is the rider. But even so, at highway speed, the sound of the wind can drown out almost any normal engine noise.

Whether or not the sound reaches a painful and damaging level can depend on the condition of your ears, your age, the type of helmet you wear. The single biggest factor on your hearing is the type of earplugs you wear. Not only do earplus lower the sound level, but they tend to block out high pitches noises most, and so any ride will sound more mellow with earplugs. I have worn earplugs for many years, and I almost can't ride, even around the block, without them any more. Not just for the noise reduction, but hearing the different sound of the engine without earplugs makes me think something is wrong with it. One caution with earplugs, they do tend to make you ride faster, you have to watch your speed more. But they can save your hearing so that when you're old you will be able to say more than "WHAT??".

Windshields and fairings can reflect and amplify the unpleasant noises coming from the engine.

Riders generally do not like the mechanical noises that come out of their engines, such as rattles squeaks, knocks, and scraping noises. They don't mind power noises that come from the exhaust, and some riders get a real charge out of producing the loudest noise around. Consequently, one of the first modifications many riders do is to make the exhaust louder. I have a more modest nature, and I wear earplugs, so the factory exhaust usually sounds OK to me. The only time I have tried to "open up" an exhaust was when I had one bike whose exhaust was truly strangling the bike to the point that it could hardly run. That will almost never happen unless you have a two-stroke motor, and hardly any bikes are made like that any more.

It's not just the engine noise you hear, there is also gear noise, usually a high pitched whine. Some people don't like it. Straight cut gears tend to be worse, while angle cut gears are a bit more silent. Various other parts of the drive train can also add to the sounds, like a chain or even a belt.

The noise of the engine can have a powerful effect on the driver. Many noises make the engine sound like it is having a breakdown, which is unsettling. Even worse is a new sound that the engine starts to make. Or even an old sound that the engine stops making can be worrisome. The flip side, is when the engine is making a nice steady sound, it can give the rider a sense that all is well in the world. Well it can for me anyway.

In the end, it is a combination of many things that give the rider the final audio experience of riding.

I would say that of all my bikes, it's probably the Vulcan 900 that has the most pleasant reassuring sound. It starts with the V-twin, single crank throw layout, which tends to make a rhythmic slightly off beat exhaust sound that helped to popularize Harley Davidsons. Now the Harley Davisons are all made that way, and the company would probably have a hard time selling any other kind of engine because the sound is such a big attraction to the make.

This is something most Harleys don't have and it is another part of the Vulcan's appeal. It has water cooling jackets, which muffle less pleasant the internal commotion of the engine.

The worst sounding bike I ever had was my Yamaha 250. When it was running right, on the open highway it sounded happy enough. But at idle was another story. Two stroke engines are notorious for their frantic, rattly high pitched exhaust. The sound can drive some people mad. When the engine was idling, you always wanted to shut it off, thinking it was going to blow up any minute and scatter parts far and wide. Well at least they were going to be cheap parts, and not that many of them either. There's always some consolation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Illegal Motorcyce Riding: Quebec in Winter

It appears that the Province of Quebec has banned riding motorcycles on the street from December 15 to March 15 each year, unless they have winter tires, which basically do not exist. Although I now live in Ontario, for some reason this law still gets under my skin.

You might wonder why anyone would care, especially living far from the border. But I used to live in Quebec and I liked to go motorcycling when the weather permitted in the winter (not that often, where I lived up north). Granted, it's generally warmer in southern Ontario, and we have more ice free days. But what about a nice warm spell on March 10th to 14th, when the Quebec Police have announced they will be especially vigilant in handing out $200 fines, while everyone across the border is enjoying the weather?

For me the ability to go out riding on a winter day, when the streets are clear and the weather allows it, helps me deal with the length of our cold, dark winters. I enjoyed going for a ride Thursday, and again on Saturday. I have all the cold weather equipment I need, except winter tires, but then I don't go out when there is ice and snow on the road. OK I'll admit occasionally I may hit a small patch of snow, but it's no worse than a patch of sand, oil, or wet leaves in the summer.

Now I'm worried that the folks in Ontario are going to start thinking it's a good idea.

If I was still living in Quebec, I would try and thwart this law in any way possible. The first one would be to actually go riding as often as I could in the winter, and in front of the police wherever possible. There are several ways to do this. One way is to actually buy snow tires. Not many are available, but you can get a limited range of sizes from France. They are only available in about 4 sizes, but if there is a bike that fits these sizes, (possible a Kawasaki KLR 650) I would buy it and install them. This would be a very big factor in any motorcycle purchase for me. Once I had the snow tires, I would then make every effort to get out when there is actual snow on the road. Which come to think of it is way more dangerous than going out with summer tires on a clear winter day. But riding a motorcycle on snow with winter tires is legal so I would at least be conforming to the law, and instead of just riding for fun, I would be making a political statement too!

Another option is to apply for a special exemption, which is available for people travelling south for a vacation in Florida. It is free, and I think you can apply online. I would carry this around when being stopped by the police.

In a perverse way, this law might actually make the winters the most fun time of year. It would be a lot more exciting going out on a cop-baiting ride in the snow, than my usual donut run to Tim Horton's at Port Dover in the summer.

Picture: Riding in snow, 1952 perfectly legal.  I got the pic from the link below:

The Rise of Evangelism

It is difficult to write about the history of Evangelism without bias. You either believe devils work among men, or you don't. I am not a believer, I may come off as biased. Because this debate is still ongoing, claims and counter claims are flying around. For example claims that science is actually religion in disguise. Other claims that our scientific advances are based on biblical knowledge, or that atheistic scientists are holding back the advance of technology. There is another accusation, that the age of reason has made possible horrors such as the Nazi holocaust.

I'm going to make the assumption that science is actually science. Religion is actually religion. Science mostly looks at nature, needs evidence and uses logical reasoning. Religion is based more on emotion, faith, and the supernatural. And considering the various types of religion, the Evangelicals use more faith and emotion than many others. Evangelicals also try to explain our natural world in terms of supernatural forces.

The Rise of Evangelism

The growth of a new way of thinking, whether a religion or scientific theories, can be studied in the same was as the growth of a plant or animal species. The new idea needs a method of reproduction, whether by birthrate or by new converts. It "lives" in an environment made of people with their own understanding of the world, with ideas, hopes, fears, and myths. A new way of thinking has competition from contradictory ideas, and always faces resistance from the the powers that be. It has adaptive measures to help it survive, the way a living organism would, including camouflage, defensive and offensive capabilities, sharp senses, intelligence, or speed. And success is measured by growth of population, or survival.  Much of the success depends on how good the adaptive measures are, how well they fit the environment, how fast the species can adapt to changing conditions, and how weak the competition is.

I am reading the book "Southern Cross" by Christine Leigh Heyrman, the history of Christianity in the southern US bible belt published in 1997.

The book reads like a university History course textbook. It starts off in the time before the American War of Independence, when the Evangelicals were a small minority in the south, and the Anglicans were the established religion.

It is the story of a small fringe religion that became a dominant force, and reading this book helps to understand how it grew.

There were many factors that worked in favour of the Evangelicals. Because it was a small, decentralized religion with a very loose hierarchy, the various itinerant preachers were free to experiment, to modify, to adapt new ideas. Each preacher could see what worked and what didn't. Those that stumbled across ideas that worked, would thrive. Others dropped out and were forgotten. Each preacher had plenty of enthusiasm unhampered by orders from the boss. Each one was his own "boss" serving God, not man. Motivation among them was very strong.

To encourage rapid growth, Evangelicals dropped the requirement that Pastors have any higher education.  This gave them an edge in recruiting new pastors to travel to poor pioneer communities, but also let a some ignorance and superstition creep into their religion.

The old Anglican Church was a monolithic hierarchy, slow to change, unwilling to adopt new ides. Additionally, because Anglicans were also the official religion of England, they lost much of their "official" status after independence. They did their best, but did not have the extraordinary motivation of the Evangelicals to find converts. Meanwhile, the energetic Evangelists were travelling miles up-country as America began to expand into former Indian territory.

The main idea of the old Anglican church seemed to be, go to church and keep quiet. If you have problems, keep them to yourself or pray silently. It did not ask its members to seek out new converts. Why would it need to, as the dominant church?

The Evangelicals were a more emotional church. They took the approach that everyone had burdens that were too much to bear, physically, spiritually, and mentally. They promised to relieve you of those burdens, if you accepted their Jesus.

The Evangelicals also were were evolving quickly, and adapting to their environment. The basic approach was improved and retuned as the church grew, and evolved in an almost organic way. The theology and the ideology changed, methods were tried and adopted or abandoned. These changes happened relatively quickly among the Evangelicals compared to an established religion like Roman Catholic or the Anglican Church.

The Environment

Many of the adaptations were made to appeal to the settlers of the south, especially those who lived in the mountains or in the new frontier. The Evangelical religion grew in the back country and in the coastal cities. Some people had very little education and some were completely illiterate, such as the black slaves who were permitted to attend meetings (when the Evangelicals opposed slavery).

The population of the south was made up of European immigrants (Irish, Scottish, English and some others), black slaves, and free black men, and some native Indians. There was a strong current of superstition, witchcraft, spell casting, ghosts, and demons both visible and invisible. Every natural phenomena was sent by the devil, from earthquakes to eclipses of the sun. It was known that witches transformed into animals that could not be killed by anything but a silver bullet. People feared not only real hardships, but also the evil eye and curses. They often turned to fortune tellers and witch-doctors to make or break spells, and to faith healing. They feared unlucky Fridays, and magical numbers.

The Evangelicals tapped into this superstitious tendency, and made it fit with their interpretation of the Bible.

The Evangelicals made it a priority to bring in converts. The basic approach with potential recruits was to sympathise with their superhuman burdens. Apparently there were more than enough people with unbearable burdens, so this touched a real nerve. Next step was to offer relief, through Jesus. The Evangelicals could explain almost any problem a person was having, in terms of the devil or God. They had all the answers, including miracles, faith healing, and eternal peace of mind. They also were usually ready with excuses in case some of their wilder promises did not work out as planned.

Adapting quickly

You would not expect such a religious system to work in every case, and it didn't. But because the Evangelicals were a loose organization, the unsuccessful pastors could fail without reflecting too badly on the reputation of the rest. The successful ones could be emulated, and help the others. If things went wrong, it was not a reflection on the whole movement, just another bad preacher who deserved to fail because he was not a true believer.

The general ideology centred on the bible as the ultimate authority, and on rejecting the newly developing ideas of science.

Some Evangelical pastors were opposed to such heavy emphasis on superstition, and those same people were regularly accused of being in league with the devil. As Evangelism grew, its ideas evolved in the direction of the supernatural. Evangelism eventually turned more towards witchcraft and devils to explain the bad things. Their main argument for conversion, was based on the idea that people were suffering in some way, mental, or physical. And the Evangelicals would explain the suffering in terms of witchcraft or the devil. They offered salvation by baptism to their religion.

Their persuasive arguments were backed up with stories of miracles, scenes of people being converted, falling to the floor screaming and shaking with the spirit of God or the Devil. It had a powerful effect on many people in the south of the USA and on the frontier, where they were suffering the hardships of pioneer living, some facing the terrors of Indian attack, some living in fear of a slave uprising, and very few with any access to education.

The Evangelicals came in for much ridicule from more educated people, and shrugged it off. They successfully made such ridicule fit their self image of being persecuted for Jesus.

The Evangelicals' initial successes were among the young, and the females. This had a tendency to undermine the unity of families. Later, as they expanded their base, to gain more converts "they catered to adult, male-dominated family order (while still proselytizing youth and women); and they supported the rightness of slavery and racial hierarchy, willing to lose African American followers if they gained white ones." Steven Stowe, Indiana University

A review of the book "Southern Cross" claims the author is distorting source material

A quote from Southern Cross said the Evangelicals "wanted to have it both ways - to discount the sway of demons and wonder-workers even as they played upon the susceptibilities of those who still inhabited a world shot through with marvel and mystery" p. 75-76

Christine Heyrman gives this following quote from John Wesley, (one of the fathers of Evangelism) supporting the eventual use of witchcraft and demons as a bold feature of Evangelicalism (I paraphrased this quote)

"Most learned men in Europe have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions as mere old wives' tales for they well know ... that giving up witchcraft is in effect, giving up the Bible; and they know that if but one account of the intercourse of men with separate spirits be admitted, their whole castle in the air falls to the ground."

So Wesley concludes that they should retain this weapon of witchcraft in the hands of their church.

Struggles within the Evangelical Church

There were two basic struggles within the church that were ultimately decided because of their appeal to the white people of the South in the nineteenth century.

First decision was to go with a heavy emphasis on superstition, the works of the Devil, and miracles, rather than science and reason which was becoming fashionable in Europe during the industrial revolution.

The second decision was to support slavery, which was more a matter of practicality than of scripture, and ultimately proved to be a mistake that was denounced much later near the beginning of the 21st century, when it seemed like racism was never going to return.

Although slavery is now a thing of the past, the fight goes on against science, especially in the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Picture: Religious Revival meeting in America painted in 1839 J. Maze Burbank

Friday, January 22, 2010

CBC TV: Kevin O'Leary, Eco-preneur or Guru of Greed?

Last night I saw Kevin O'Leary, the CBC's new guru of greed. He may one day be to finance, what Don Cherry is to hockey. He is on a show called the "Lang and O'Leary Exchange". As it says in his bio on CBC, "O'Leary is opinionated, ruthless, he hungers for big deals and loves to take control. Yet he made his millions helping children learn how to read." Isn't that sweet? He also calls himself an "Eco-preneur", because his company "Englobe" saves the environment. Well if he's an ecopreneur, I'm a skeptopreneur.*

Kevin was speaking about the proposed US regulations that will prevent banks from creating another financial crisis, and he proclaimed that Obama's regulations are going to destroy the only thing that is actually making money any more. According to Kevin our only way to wealth is by using ever more complicated investment "strategies" (I call them PWDs, or Pacts with the Devil). Kevin also says about Obama "Somebody has to stop him!!!". Kevin wants to see the American banking CEO's left alone, because "They are greedy people, and greed is good!!!" and "They are my kind of people."

Apparently, Kevin is no longer the kind of people who make their millions helping little children learn to read.

Does this seem right? You take a pile of money, and double it just by swapping things around and playing with the figures. Forget about lending money to businesses and homeowners when you have this kind of return on investment available.

Personally I think the banking CEO's have now completely lost their minds. I heard one of them, in front of a senate inquiry tell this story to explain the financial crisis. He said "My daughter called me from school, she was worried because she heard there was a financial crisis. She said 'Daddy, everybody says there's a financial crisis. What's a financial crisis?' and I told her 'A financial crisis is something that happens every five to seven years'".

I have no idea why a banking CEO found it necessary to tell this childish story to a senate inquiry, or actually why the CEO himself would be worth tens of millions a year, when he is incapable of running a bank that does not collapse every few years, and thinks financial crashes as normal. He doesn't even seem to be interested in why they happen or how to stop them. Apparently he makes money no matter what. Then the inquiry had to listen to a CEO who explained how they were cutting secretary's salaries to make the bank run better. I don't want them to cut secretaries' salaries, I want them to cut the CEO's salaries. And cut the million dollar bonuses.

So apparently we don't make money with hard work, with thrift or saving any more. The way to riches is with accounting tricks, Ponzi schemes, golden parachutes, bailouts and a call upon the power of "Greed". Is that really the way to prosperity? Even if we don't think so now, put Kevin O'Leary on TV for a while, and some Canadians are going to believe him.

* About "Environmental" companies like O'Leary's Englobe, and why this raises red flags for me. About ten years ago I invested in a company called "Phillips Environmental", which was in the same business as Englobe, getting rid of waste, toxic stuff etc., with an emphasis on re-use of chemicals. It did sound promising, and they did a lot of business, because there is so much demand for the service. A nice clean way to get rid of every kind of hazardous toxic waste, with no liability for the customer. Unfortunately, in this business, the customers rarely ask questions once the waste is gone. If the customers don't care, then who does? The owners of the waste removal company are the only ones who care whether they live up to their promises. This is an unusual ethical challenge. Phillips succumbed to the temptation, and started dumping their toxic waste illegally, and got caught. I luckily had gotten out early, because I know somebody in the environmental movement. When I told her of my "green" investment, she said "I don't think so". She had been asking questions about Phillips Environmental, and they were blocking her from finding out what they were up to. Now I don't think I would ever trust an environmental company led by someone who says "greed is good", and "greedy people are my kind of people". I would be more likely to start an investigation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January Motorcycle Ride

One advantage to living in the south of Canada, is that you can go for a motorcycle ride in almost any month of the year. I'm not saying it's easy, because you don't get many days to choose from, and you need to be almost ready to go any day. Of course you dress warm, and be careful of your route, and a hundred other things. But that is all stuff you might be forced to do in the summer if you live further north, where I did before moving down to sunny Kitchener in 1979.

Today it was possible to go for my January ride. I already did December, that one was actually pretty easy. January is often the month with fewest choices of good days. Today the roads had mostly dried up, we have not had a lot of snow this year, it was sunny and -1c.

When there is a chance for a lot of snow beside the road, it's best ride just below freezing, (-2c). When it's warmer, the melting snow creates pools  of salty meltwater on the roads. It's not dangerous, but it's corrosive.

This January ride has split the winter right down the middle. I prefer two short winters to one long one.

The biggest difficulty today was opening the garage and getting the bike turned around. I don't have a snowblower, and I don't keep the driveway down to bare bricks just for fun. The only problem with that is if we get an unexpected nice day, the ice makes it difficult to get the bike out of the garage (which you can see is behind the house in the picture) and down to the street. I couldn't get the (hinged) garage doors open without chipping ice away, and that took about ten minutes. Then I couldn't turn the bike around because there was a big lump of ice in the turning area that I could not back the bike up over. So more chipping the ice, then edging the bike back and forth until I had it turned enough to be able to use the engine. Once almost slipped when I put my foot on an icy patch. Coming back in was easy after the ride.

The bike fired right up, as I expected. It's great to have fuel injection that works.  I was surprised to find the bike very comfortable, both the seat and the handlebars. The rear spring was actually softer than I remembered it from December.  Time plays tricks with the memory. 

As soon as I got on the road, I noticed that gas would be needed so I went to Petro Canada, where the pump had a sign on it "Winter Gas" I'm not sure that's what I really want, but fill up anyway. Then out on to the 401 for a high speed blast, with the heated vest plugged in.

There was not much traffic as I headed to New Dundee, where there is a motorcycle accessories shop named Vicious Cycle. I found out about them at the Toronto motorcycle show last week, so it seemed like a good destination for my ride today, and there was "motorcycle only parking" in front. They have a Kawasaki KLR 650 fully loaded with accessories that you can see in their shop and order those accessories. That's a good idea. Normally it's confusing trying to order universal accessories from a catalog without seeing them on a bike. The place was a lot bigger than I thought it would be, and they have a website.

There weren't any customers in the shop, but the people there were still amazingly busy, although the same person I met at the show talked to me for a while about the accessories on the KLR650, including the Trax aluminum luggage cases.

I got home before the sun went down, and I only hit one spot where some snow had drifted on the road a little. I don't think the bike got much dirt on it, I hate getting salt on the bike in winter, although it's not really a safety issue.

Picture: Putting the bike away for another month?

How (and why) to Make a Pat Robertson Voodoo Doll

Before making your own voodoo doll of Pat Robertson, you need to know why. Just after the earthquake struck Haiti last week, Pat Robertson went on Television to announce that the earthquake, and general poverty of Haiti was a result of the Haitians making a pact with the devil. Soon after, a "Pat Robertson" Voodoo doll appeared on eBay, but was quickly taken off, I assume by Pat Robertson supporters, who were apparently scared of the voodoo curse that the owner of such a doll could put on their boss. But if you can't buy a Pat Robertson doll on eBay, you can still throw a voodoo curse on Pat Robertson by making your own doll at home.

The first step in making a voodoo doll is to get a piece of Pat Robertson to put in a doll (any doll, but a G.I. Joe would be good). Traditionally this would be a hair, a toenail clipping, etc. Even if you are Pat's bodyguard or mistress, you may have trouble getting hair from under the wig which he keeps on at all times. But you don't actually need a physical piece of him. Just print out this blog, which explains a bit of his history, and roll it up, remove the doll's head and shove the paper down the neck. Put the head back on, and you're ready to begin sticking the doll with pins.

Pat Robertson's Pact with the Devil, True Story

Pat Robertson, back in the eighties, wanted to make a little money for himself, and thought a diamond mine in Africa would be a good idea. The country of Liberia, in West Africa is a significant diamond exporting country, and so Pat Robertson looked for a partner in Liberia who could run a diamond mine and share the profits. He somehow became friends with Charles Taylor, a powerful Liberian warlord who was also a "Born Again Christian". Pat Robertson decided that he could trust this man, and gave him seven million dollars in return for a promise of a share of the profits of the mining operation.

Pat Robertson is not in the habit of checking into details too carefully, as you can tell by his poorly researched "true story" about the Haitian Pact with the Devil. If he had done some research on Liberia, he would have found out that even though Liberia is a significant diamond exporting country, they have no rich diamond deposits. Most of the diamonds exported by Liberia are illegally smuggled into the country from neighbouring Sierra Leone. The reason that smugglers go to Liberia, is because it is against the law in Sierra Leone to possess, let alone export, diamonds that have not been mined legally. No such such law exists in Liberia, because they have no history of profitable diamond mining, but have made fortunes from Sierra Leone's diamonds. Today, it is illegal for any diamond cutting firm to buy diamonds that are not documented. But back in the 1990's no such international law existed, and so Liberia continued to export diamonds smuggled from Sierra Leone.

Once Charles Taylor had the money from Pat Robertson he knew that the only way to set up a diamond mine would be across the border in Sierra Leone, which was not possible for him to do legally. He hatched a diabolical plan to send a group of his thugs across the border to clear the civilians out of the diamond area, and create enough mayhem for the Sierra Leone government that he could go ahead with digging up the diamonds without a permit.

The plan was first to clear out the civilian population through terror, and make them flee into the cities far from the diamond fields. While Taylor had enough money (Pat's 7 million would go a long way in Africa), he did not have enough men to carry out the plan. So he decided to recruit young boys in Sierra Leone to form an army.

Charles Taylor's small but well funded band of thugs entered Sierra Leone with the strategy of forming an army of children to fight their own people, and drive the civilians out of the diamond area. The tactic they used was brilliant, though unfortunately it was also a war crime. But back in those days, no evil dictators feared any international court, and Charles was the dictator of Liberia.

The tactic was to go into a village, and round up boys about 10 to 14 years old as their recruits. Most villages in Sierra Leone are totally unarmed, so a couple of men (or even children) with AK47's can easily take over a village. They then lined up the villagers, and forced their new recruits to chop the hands off one by one. Psychologically this was devastating, as fathers and mothers had their hands cut off by their young sons. Usually after most of the hands were cut off, and the soldiers had left with their kidnapped recruits, the entire village would be abandoned. And with each new village, Taylor's small band had a new bunch of recruits that they began to turn into "child soldiers". This training process involved the use of cocaine, beating and torture, usually carried out by the children on each other, with the help of the drugs. Also the children were told they were fighting for Jesus against the evil Sierra Leone government, and that they were on the side of God. With a combination of psychological methods, they could get the children to carry out these village operations almost with no supervision. So the tactic proved effective. The Sierra Leone police and army found themselves faced with an army of drugged up children who were heavily armed, and fearless. Plus, of course some men who were persuaded that this rebellion was an easy way to power and wealth. Millions of people fled, not only the diamond country, but Sierra Leone itself.

The rebellion was actually too successful, it spread right into the capital city of Freetown. The reason I say too successful, is that Taylor did not want to "take over" Sierra Leone, he just wanted the country in chaos so that he could continue to smuggle out the diamonds. But with the success of the rebellion, came a UN team to negotiate a peace settlement.

A power sharing agreement was mandated by the UN, peacekeepers were brought in. Everything should have gone back to normal. But of course it didn't, as Charles Taylor needed the terror to continue. The fighting did not stop, and at one point, a large group of UN soldiers were kidnapped by the drugged up "rebel" forces. If peace had returned to Sierra Leone, it would put a stop to Charles Taylor's hugely profitable diamond operations.

Gradually as the fighting continued in spite of a peace deal, it became clear that this was not a typical tribal rebellion based on some legitimate grievance against corruption in the government. The Sierra Leone army was stretched to the limit. At that point, the British Government, under Tony Blair sent in a commando unit with the stated purpose of providing security for British citizens. When they arrived, the desperate people of Sierra Leone looked to them as their only hope of ending the carnage that was still going on. With the help of the British commandos, and a further effort of their own, they managed to turn the tide. They eventually persuaded most of the child soldiers to put down their weapons. The children, who now were actually getting to be teenagers and young adults, were eventually put into child soldier rehabilitation camps, and with time the refugees that had fled into neighbouring countries started to return.

Pat Robertson never got his fair share of Charles Taylor's profits. But he also never made an attempt to find out what was going on, in keeping with his philosophy of how to attain prosperity.

As the story became clear, and Charles Taylor was discovered to be the culprit, George W. Bush called on Charles Taylor to step down as President of Liberia. Pat Robertson, still loyal to his "Born Again Christian" friend Charles Taylor, rebuked Bush publicly, stating that Bush had no business interfering in the affairs of a sovereign African Nation. But Charles Taylor stepped down, and he was offered asylum in Nigeria. Later on, he was handed over by Nigeria, to eventually be taken to the international court in the Hague, to stand trial for war crimes in Sierra Leone. The trial is still going on.

Without Pat's financing and moral support, this carnage in Sierra Leone may have never happened. So did Sierra Leone a country similar to Haiti, founded by freed slaves, also deserve this misery because of a pact with the devil? Or was it actually Pat Robertson who made a pact with the devil.

True Story.

Read and print this, stuff it in a doll, and you're set to go with the Voodoo curses.

Also, read Wikipedia's version of Charles Taylors story here

A much more complete, and complicated story of the Sierra Leone Rebellion:

Picture: A traditional voodoo doll in full headache mode.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to Make a Pact With the Devil

It is starting to get out of hand. Since I have posted the details of Bush and Obama's pacts with the devil, because of Pat Robertson's TV comments, I am getting a lot of hits from people looking up "how to make a pact with the devil" on Google.

I might as well confess I just made a pact with the devil myself. It was mostly because I wanted to get more hits on my blog. I figured it couldn't hurt to try. So apparently this is how the Devil rolls, eh? I get my hits, but only when I blog about how to make pacts with the Devil.

So here goes. The basic equipment is parchment (paper will do), and a strong NO in advance to all you geeks hoping you could do it by email or twitter.

Next you need a quill, an ancient form of writing device, made of a goose feather, but any sharp object will do. The quill is only better in that it holds more blood and allows you to write more words before needing to dip the point again. I won't go into the many other advantages of quills because I know anybody so lazy as to make a pact with the devil to avoid a little work, is going to just use a thumbtack or a nail. By the way, don't worry about the nail being rusty, tetanus is going to be the least of your problems. For Canadians, Canada Geese feathers are OK but those things bite like sons of bitches!

You next need to wait until just before midnight to write the pact, as Lucifer picks it up on the stroke of midnight, and it has to be fresh. In normal conditions, a pact can last for an hour, but when it's below -10c, it can stay fresh for up to 12 hours. (again a little help for Canadians there). The best place to get the blood is not your thumb, it is the crook of your elbow, whichever arm you are not writing with because you might inflict real damage if you do this drunk or stoned out of your mind, and you still need to write. Actually, getting drunk and stoned are highly recommended unless you need to drive home after.

Give yourself enough time to write what you want to write, and please be brief and to the point. I cannot stress forcefully enough how much the Devil gets impatient with run-on sentences, sentences without objects or verbs, and sentences that end in prepositions. He is however, remarkably tolerant of bad spelling, given his fussiness about syntax.

I suggest that you do not waste your time adding caveats, time limits, or late penalties. Hint: he is the Devil.

About a minute before midnight, put the parchment on a table, and say "Come Lucifer" three times. For French Canadians, reading this, an important note, you only say it once in French. And don't use Google's translation, say "Vien ici Diable".

I would advise getting your hands out of the way before the stroke of Midnight as precaution. Then look for the Devil's own instructions that he will leave as he takes your pact. Don't worry, they are never difficult to follow. It's not a trick by the Devil, it's just some stuff to be aware of to get the full enjoyment of your new pact. Kind of like the warning labels on a new computer, but these ones you don't ignore.

Any number of people can be in on a pact, they just need to be there at the handover. But unless instructed otherwise do not inform other people who were not present, of this pact with the devil.

I think that just about covers it. You can leave questions in the comments below if there is any confusion.

Next installment: Since the Pat Robertson voodoo doll has been taken off eBay, I will have instructions for how you make one yourself. Don't worry about the eBay doll, it was a hoax and besides, the bidding was up to $750.00 just before it got taken down. I know what you're thinking, and don't try it!

Did Bush Make a Pact With the Devil?

After my blog about whether Obama had a pact with the devil, it is only fair to give equal time to Bush's pact with the devil.

Dick Cheney had already chosen himself as the V.P. for the Bush campaign. George Bush was behind in the polls. On October 1, 2000, at 11:30 PM, Dick Cheney had a meeting with Bush.

"George, I know you wanna win this one. You are the only one who can end this reign of oppression by the godless socialist baby killers!"

"Well, Dick I'm fresh outta ideas. We tried every dirty trick in Karl Rove's play book, and we're still behind Robbin' Gore and his merry band of homosexuals in the polls."

"George, listen to me carefully. Principle is OK up to a certain point, but principle doesn't do any good if you lose. We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. It’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective." *

"I still don't understand, Dick. What dark side?"

"I mean a pact with the devil George. We can do it here and now. I have a parchment and a quill. All you need to do is write your wish in your blood and sign it. Don't worry, spelling doesn't count."

George wrote his request in blood. "Now do I sign it?"

Cheney said "We're not finished yet, you also want to be a popular president. right? Add in that you want to have a popularity rating of over 80% before you sign it"

"Why not ask for 100%, Dick?"

Dick answered patiently, "I tried that with Saddam Hussein. Trust me, 80% is enough"

George scrawled the request in blood and read it back. "I do hereby pledge my soul to the devil, in return for your promise to let me be president after the election and to have an 80% approval rating after the first year. Signed, George W. Bush."

He handed the parchment back to Cheney who, as the hour approached midnight, lay the parchment on the table in front of them. They turned out the lights and held hands.

At the stroke of midnight Dick called three times, 'Lucifer, come!' Above Dick's head, George saw a pair of gleaming red eyes. Then a pale hand reached across the table. Horrified, George turned on a light. The first piece of parchment was gone and instead there was a new piece of parchment, smelling strongly of sulfur. It had the words 'Tell no one of this pact. Be in Florida on September 11th 2001, and trust in your victory.'

So Bush became president (The Devil made sure regardless of who won the election), and his poll numbers shot up to 82% thanks to 9/11. But each happened with the unmistakable M.O. of the devil (i.e. the Devil's trademark is it never happens in a nice way like you wanted). Cheney and Bush have never confessed, and the original pact has never been seen again.

True story. **

* The paragraph is made up entirely of well known quotes from Dick Cheney.
** "true story" quoted from Pat Robertson, about Haiti's deal with the devil

Picture: I had to
photoshop this myself. The devil does not show up in normal photographs. This is Bush at a 9/11 memorial, the Devil is third from left, second row, and his hand is not over his heart.

Has Obama Made a Pact with the Devil?

Barack Obama has been in office as President of the USA for one year now. Is he successful or not?

He has been what I expected. I am satisfied, in that the USA has not dropped a nuclear bomb on Iran or North Korea. In fact there have been no threats of war against anyone. I am really happy that the stock market rebounded. Health care does not affect me, nor do jobs in the US, or the US debt (not directly anyway, as I have no money knowingly invested in US dollars.)

What is missing that I wish could have happened? I wish that the Americans could have rallied behind Obama, that Fox news would stop the constant stream of derision, invective, and dumping on him that they do. It would be nice to see Americans become more worldly, and learn from Obama's example how to handle themselves in foreign the countries.

Was there any unjustified criticism? Yes, and the latest from Fox news was that there were more terrorist attacks on American soil than under Bush. That includes the army psychiatrist who shot his fellow soldiers in a US army base, which I didn't consider to be terrorism, as I believed it was a psycho shooting. But OK it's a debatable point.

The fact that, the 9/11 was not included as a terrorist attack for Bush, shows something really sad about the Republicans. It is of course very shocking that they want to keep score on terrorist attacks as if it was a game, and the more successful terrorist attacks, the more they win. That was demented for a start, and the truly withering attack by Jon Stewart on this point seems to have effectively shut them up. But even worse was the reason 9/11 was not counted, on the theory that this was the first attack, and the "War on Terror" had not started. My interpretation, and one that I have believed for a long time was that Bush and Cheney and the Republicans in general were in denial that there was a war on terror going on before 9/11, and that contributed to the carnage. Of course many attacks happened before 9/11, and many people tried to tell President Bush it was a threat from day one. The Republican administration ignored all the warnings and all the previous attacks. Republicans are admitting publicly for the first time that they were not even thinking about terrorism before 9/11.

Most moderates and progressives think Obama is doing fine. Most right wing Republicans think he is a massive failure. Which I guess is normal. But consider the confusion if he had been a successful Black president. Conservatives would not know what to think until some reputable preacher came up with an explanation simple enough to make sense to even a white supremacist, that Obama made a pact with the devil. So by failing in the eyes of the conservatives, he at least proves he is not in league with the devil, which may help in the next election.

Picture: photoshopped (of course) I stole it off the internet. There were so many to choose from, I won't even bother to credit the website, it was just random pick.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mythbusting for Haiti

It is pretty overwhelming to see what is going on in Haiti. But absolutely revolting to see the heartless attitudes some people take toward this tragedy. I especially despise Rush Limbaugh saying that nobody should give a penny to the Haitians.

I saw some comment like:
"What do they expect, they live in little tin roof shacks, of course they are going to be killed in an earthquake"

Fact: You are actually far less likely to die in an earthquake when you live in a miserable shack held up by broomsticks and twine, than you are to be killed when a larger multi story cement structure, probably built during the American occupation, collapses on your head.

Pat Robertson made a lot of errors in his condemnation of Haiti. The "Pact with the devil" they made to get free from France? I have gone over the pact with the devil contract before, it does not hold up to any scrutiny. I don't expect any truth from someone who believes in Adam and Eve anyway. But please, they were not fighting to be free of France. They at first wanted to remain a colony of France, and only to be free of slavery. Toussaint Louverture, their early and successful leader, wanted to negotiate for the end of slavery and remain a colony of France. But he was captured at the official negotiation, by the French, and sent to France where he died of disease in captivity. He was actually lucky, almost every other leader who stood up to the French was burned alive or tortured to death upon capture. It was only after these talks broke down, that the Haitians were forced to choose new leaders and decided to fight again for complete independence, against the treacherous French.

Another big question Pat raised, why are Haitians so poor, when right next door in Dominican Republic people are wealthy and happy? He reasons it's all about the "pact with the devil" which I actually find an improvement over many of the racist slurs other people make to explain the poverty.

Why is Haiti poor? After Haiti's independence, the French refused to trade with Haiti, and no other country would or could trade with them either. Either for revenge, or because of the so-called pact with the devil, of for pure racism. Anyway, no trade, no money. After a number of years of near mass starvation, the Haitians negotiated with the French, who were also hurting a little by this time, as Haiti had been a major source of wealth for them. The French offered a deal, take it or leave it, that the Haitians would have to repay France for every bit of land they took (the entire island of Hispaniola), and the full market price for every slave on the island who was freed by the rebellion, (almost the entire population) and all damages cause by either side in the rebellion. Ask yourself how this compares to the terms England gave to America after the war of independence. You may have to read up on that history again, but I'm sure you will not find reparations or trade embargoes. The Haitians were saddled with paying off a staggering debt, including extremely high interest rates from 1826 to 1879. So don't make disparaging comments about Haitian poverty if you don't know anything about their history.

Is there more? Of course. The entire Island of Hispaniola, for a time was under one government, but in 1844 considering the burdensome deal made with France, half the island split away, leaving the people in the Western half of the island (today Haiti) to pay the entire war reparations to France without the help of the Eastern half, now called Dominican Republic. That's the "wealthy" part that Pat Robertson compares to Haiti to "prove" there was a pact with the devil. Apparently, in Pat Robertson's eyes, poverty proves you have a pact with the devil, even when people are taking money from you unfairly. And by the way, the Dominican Republic is not actually paradise on earth either.

Another myth to dispel is this: That the people of Haiti are congenitally incapable of running a decent country. Either through stupidity, or pacts with the devil or whatever, the myth is, the Haitians just can't do it. Well just read up on their history, and you will find there was a period of time (approximately 1867 to 1911) when the Haitians actually were turning their little country into a nice place to live, with a growing intellectual class, and with arts and literature. Peace and stability were the norm. But Germany saw Haiti as a potential colony in about 1911, and the Americans retaliated by invading and brutally occupying Haiti. Since then it has been either outright American control, or American puppet dictators, more or less steadily. Later in this dictatorship phase (especially in the last 20 years), many of the most wealthy and educated Haitians emigrated to Canada or the USA, leaving the rest to deal with it. Not the best of conditions to try to run a good country.

Then this earthquake, and all of a sudden racists pop out of the woodwork with their opinions that do nothing but show their own ignorance and lack of either education or heart.

Now I see a video on CBC News  of a Canadian teenage girl in Haiti crying. Why? Because she and a group from her church were in Haiti during the earthquake, on one of these volunteer trips, doing some humanitarian work while visiting a developing country. She was crying, overcome with emotion of seeing all the dead bodies, hearing the screaming people trapped in the buildings, and yet in the middle of all this, their Haitians hosts were still doing their very best to make sure the Canadian guests were safe and taken care of.

How about if we just give these people a break for once?

Top picture: Haiti, taken from a travel blog here:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Modern Day Puritans Condemn Haiti

I have learned some stuff about pacts with the devil. Number one, if you make a pact with the devil, any conditions you put on it are null and void. Such as if you say "Canada will be yours for 200 years if you give us our freedom", the devil will removed the time limit from the pact, but the pact is still good. As a matter of fact, the devil can decide he doesn't even have to make you free, and the pact is still good. Pacts with the devil are not like normal pacts.

Secondly, any pact with the devil, although it may or may not bring what you ask for, it will bring much more bad stuff eventually. Or not, depending on what the devil feels like.

The actual wording of Haiti's "Pact with the Devil" that Pat Robertson referred to, goes like this:

"The god who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light. The god who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our god who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man's god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our god, who is so good, so just, he orders us to revenge our wrongs. It's he who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It's he who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men's god, who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that speaks in all our

From the Associated Baptist Press

Nobody knows for sure that this was the actual historical pact with the devil, The Voodoo priest might have said something else, as there were no eyewitness. And many other words were probably said during the pact making ceremony, for example about the 200 year limit. But this wording is the best we have to go on about the pact. An unspecified God was named in the pact, but not the White man's God. At that time was known that to be God, you had to be White, so the "god" referred to in the pact must have been the devil. That's how Pat knows it was a "Pact with the Devil".

We have no real proof of course, that they said these words. But we have the following circumstantial evidence to back it up.

1) Many Haitians themselves believe there was a pact with the devil. This is like if I believed that Canada made a pact with the devil in 1867, then it may be true because I am a Canadian, and I should know.

2) Haiti is a poor miserable country (say compared to the USA) That kind of indicates the Pact with the devil thing may be true, because we are told that the USA had no pact with the devil, and they are better off. It's not really solid, hard proof, but it does kind of point to Haiti being in league with the devil, and the USA being not in league with the devil.

I wonder if anyone can see in this, the heritage of Puritan thinking that led to the witch burnings in Salem Massachusetts. Rumors and hearsay, backed up by the circumstantial evidence (poverty).

Picture: Limbaugh and Robertson together at last

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Japanese Motorcycles Keeping Up With Technology?

I was reading the editorial, by Neil Graham in the latest Cycle Canada, about trends in motorcycling. I think I am noticing a trend he is talking about, which is, motorcycle prices from European and America are coming down to more closely match Japanese brands. This may be an interesting development. Neil talks about how European bikes were absurdly expensive, and unreliable and same for Harley.

I think the real story is the Chinese bikes coming in with exceptionally low price tags. I noticed a new Piaggio (Italian brand in case you didn't know) scooter earlier this year, priced well below a new, but non-current, and smaller Piaggio in the same shop. When I asked why, it turned out that the newer scooter was "built" in China. Well maybe parts were built in Italy, but the box arrived from China. That's part of what's happening as makers struggle to cut costs, tapping into Chinese production.

Although this is probably going to scuttle my slim chance of ever getting a job writing for Cycle Canada, I have to disagree with some of Neil's closing comments about the Japanese bikes, where he basically gives them advice on how to meet the European challenge. First.

"Make motorcycles that are so technologically superior that we have to go to you to get them."

Easier said than done, Neil. And then assuming they do it, will people buy those bikes? Many motorcyclists do not care much about new technology. They are still fighting tooth and nail against water cooling, a fairly basic technology that has been in common use for 80+ years. I think the Model T Ford had water cooling. And now this is the very first bike show where I have seen a new bike for sale to the mass market with no rear suspension. That's right, a hard tail, a primitive design not seen since the forties. And so help me i would have bought it, if I wasn't already pissing blood over every pothole on my Vulcan. An old guy standing near the bike said he was 65, and could ride a hardtail hundreds of miles a day and think nothing of it.

Neil Graham also wrote: "why didn't Honda build a $80,000 MotoGP replica before Ducati? I couldn't afford one, but I'd come to your dealership to look at it."

Well the comment seems to disregard the fact that Ducati will lend this showroom decoration cum dream bike to Cycle Canada free of charge for a road test. So Neil gets to enjoy this bike whether or not he can afford it, and he really would not need to visit a dealership. But what about me? Not only has Ducati never, ever called me to ride their $80,000 bike, in return for a writeup in my blog, but I might not ride it even if they offered. I don't like uncomfortable sport bikes, and 5 minutes is all I can stand. I certainly would not travel to a Ducati dealer just to gaze at it. Friday I was at the motorcycle show, and although I assume the $80,000 wonderbike was there, I didn't even glance at it. Every Japanese bike dealer I've ever seen has the showroom already jammed to overflowing with bikes you actually will buy.

More advice from Neil to Honda, Kawasaki, etc.

"Trying to make cruisers that look like Harleys is not a long term plan for survival. Look far into the future and then show us what that future will be."

How many times to I have to repeat. The Kawasaki Vulcan does not look like a Harley, it looks like an Indian. Didn't you know that Indian put out a V-twin engine two years before Harley did? But seriously, Neil the Japanese have looked far into the future, and they know that you would not like what they have seen. Because they are building those bikes today, you don't like them.

Enough ranting. Now for the day's history lesson. In the beginning, neither Indian nor Harley would be the first motorcycle company to have a V-twin, but they definitely did not copy it from the Japanese.

The Indian V-Twin hit the showrooms in 1907, and Harley came out with their version in 1909. The secret to the Harley version was that the angle was at exactly 45 degrees, which produced a sound like a potato. This was actually a great improvement on the the 1907 Indian, in which the angle of the cylinders is unknown to this very day. Although we have a picture of one of the first Indians, it is possible that the camera has distorted it to maintain the secrecy of the angle.

With their new V-twin, Harley coined a name for their bike "The Silent Grey Fellow" after the sound of a typical potato, which is silent.

Indian researchers worked feverishly on coming up with a new model to beat the Harley 45 degree twin, and in 1916, Indian finally rolled out the Powerplus, using the surprising cylinder angle of 42 degrees.

Thus began the famous rivalry between Indian and Harley that lasted until Indian went under in the early fifties.

Today, Harley aficionados are still recovering from the humiliation that Indian caused with their V-twin two years before theirs, and a famous book has been written to prove that the Harley V-twin was actually first. It is called "At the Creation", by Herb Wagner, and I've been told it is a pretty good Harley book.

I have a "100th anniversary of Indian's V-Twin" edition Kawasaki Vulcan 900. It's cylinder angle is surprisingly not 42 degrees, it is a 55 degree angle. Somebody even asked me once if it was a BMW (a 180 degree V-Twin) because it sounded a lot like one, so I took that as a compliment.

Picture, 1907 Indian V-Twin, first V-twin from a company with the name rhyming with Indian or Harley-Davidson. Angle? Could be 55 degrees if you stretch the picture a bit.

Motorcycle Jackets can also be for Motorcycling

Motorcycle jackets were on sale at the show, some under $100, for a leather jacket that seemed to be quite thick. Most of the good, yet inexpensive, jackets I saw came from Pakistan. I was wondering why, then I thought about all the sacred cows right next door in India. What happens when a sacred cow gets hit by a car or truck? Probably the simplest thing is to drag it over to Pakistan, where they have no scruples about turning it in to a motorcycle jacket. My best motorcycle jacket ever, was a Dakar type jacket that came from Pakistan. It was made of real thick leather, I have passed it on to Michael, so it's still getting a lot of use after twenty years. And it has been down on the road a few times too, I think Michael was wearing it in both his crashes and the jacket is still usable, and provided all the protection you could ask for.

I bought my first motorcycle jacket in 1981, it was plain, but after over ten years of motorcycling in non specialized jackets and windbreakers, I really liked it just because it was the first time I ever had a real leather motorcycle jacket. I chose blue because in those days black was still a bit too "evil", even for a motorcyclist.

Today, I was just looking at a website for teenage girls, advising them on how to wear a motorcycle jacket for a fashion statement. It's not what you're thinking, I was Googling "motorcycle jacket" not "teenage girls". Anyway here is the link, and all the excellent advice for wearing a motorcycle jacket when motorcycling is the furthest thing from your mind.

A few years ago, the trend started to "distressed leather", which looks like it's been beaten up for 20 years right off the rack at jackets 'r us. Mary Ann was unaware of this new trend, as she almost always is of anything that may be happening in a shopping mall. We were on our way to B.C. by motorcycle, we had stopped at a restaurant, and a motorcyclist pulled in on a nice Moto Guzzi, probably also heading to Sturgis for the big rally. He was wearing one of these "distressed leather" jackets. After he left she commented that he must be a very experienced rider, from the look of his jacket (compared to mine I assume), and we had a discussion, "how do you know it's not just a really really old jacket". Well, when the jacket looks older than the guy, that's one way. Also, if the jacket looks a lot more distressed than the bike. It also happened to be the only distressed thing he was wearing, do you think he would have bought everything new except the jacket? That's not how most people buy stuff after they've been riding a few years. Some things wear out before other things. I often have to buy a new pair of gloves, they really go fast. Sometimes I just lose the things and need a new pair. All the other things wear out at their own rate, and I don't replace everything in one shopping trip just because the gloves wear out. One time I might get a helmet, next year new boots, some years I don't need anything new. Like this year at the show, I was just looking. But I noticed that distressed jackets were nowhere to be seen. I guess that fad died out quick. As far as I know, jackets were the only item you could buy that came pre-beaten. For example, the Shoei factory never did hire a guy to beat the crap out of the helmets for you.

Nowadays most jackets are cordura nylon with a goretex inner liner to protect you from rain (this protection is more promise than reality). They have padding (also dramatically called armour cladding) at the elbows and shoulders and usually the spine too. They sometimes have reflective strips for visibility, and bright colours. Vents and removable liners make them practical for a wide variety of conditions. I have several Joe Rocket jackets, which are widely available, and reasonably priced. In the bigger one, which I usually wear in winter with sweaters, I put an old plastic raincoat in between the liner and the jacket, for real waterproofing. I know it doesn't "breathe" like Goretex, but in the cold weather that doesn't bother me too much.

When it's really hot, what works best for me (on a faired bike, or with a windshield) is to open the cuffs at the wrists, and let the air blast up the sleeve. I'm sure the jacket puffs up a little, but the cooling breeze is almost like having air conditioning. I would say it's the only way to survive the midwest in the middle of the summer, about when Sturgis is held. Also by slightly moving my grip I can reduce the air flow at will. The most serious problem is getting flies up the sleeves. Many years ago, I was at a stop light and spotted a Praying Mantis creeping out of the sleeve. And, even worse is getting a bee up there that stings you. It's a situation where you have to get off the road fast and stop, but luckily it never happens in really busy traffic, usually just out on hot and lonely country roads with flowers everywhere.