Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is a Gold Wing Like a Sport Bike?

The Honda Gold Wing has had a unique place in the motorcycling world ever since its introduction. It has only been briefly challenged once as the most sophisticated long distance touring bike, but I would say that today it is solidly at the top of the heap.

When it was introduced in 1976, it had an opposed four cylinder motor of 1000 cc. Honda only sold it "naked" as we say today. That means it did not come equipped in the showroom with fairing and luggage. But aftermarket suppliers saw to it that almost every GoldWing was soon set up for comfort and hauling extra crap, for a bit of extra money.

Over the years, the Gold Wing has grown, and features have been added. The weight has gone up and so has the price, and the power, and the number of extra options.

I admire the Gold Wing as a touring machine, but I have never owned one because it is not my style. Mainly I am cheap. But also I do not like balancing so much weight at a stop, or pushing it around the garage. I'm sure Mary Ann would like the comfort of sitting in the passenger perch, in the lap of luxury, but now she has her own bike and likes that even more.

I am not trying to put down the Gold Wing at all. Because of its weight and length, it is slightly restricted in its nimbleness, its maneuverability in corners and on curving roads. But when I road tested a Gold Wing once, it seemed to be just as fast in the corners as any other bike, at least at the speeds I was able to go. A few years later, I was riding my BMW K1100LT in front of a newer 1800cc Gold Wing, and the Wing was easily keeping up to BMW through some fast corners. At the end of the road I checked over the Honda and noticed the footpegs were ground off right up to the top rubber. That Gold Wing rider was obviously used to riding it fast. A Gold Wing makes the rider feel like it can keep up with lighter and more nimble bikes. The BMW weighed about 200 pounds less. But common sense says no way can a longer, heavier bike keep up when pushing the envelope. I think if you were suddenly faced with a really sharp turn, the Gold Wing might not make it while a lighter bike may get through. But I don't have any proof of it.

Another problem I have with the Gold Wing is the sheer number of fiddly things on it to play with. The stereo, intercom, cruise control, GPS, and I'm sure there's more. I know you can add all this stuff to any other bike, but the point is, it is distracting. One of the safety features of a motorcycle is that you are forced to pay more attention than in a car. But a Gold Wing, with its sheer size, number of built in goodies, tends to isolate you from the road, and distract you at the same time.

Now if Gold Wings were feared as dangerous bikes that crashed a lot, maybe that would help their riders concentrate on the road. But no, they apparently are safe bikes that rarely crash. I suggest that is mainly due to many of the Gold Wingers being kind of slow riders. But on a twisty road, a Gold Wing does not force you to slow down the way most big, heavy, bikes do. My Vulcan 900, a much smaller bike, is far more scary going around a corner than a Gold Wing, and grounds its floorboards threateningly at much lower speeds.

What if you have a really good rider on a Gold Wing, riding with a group of other fast riders? Might that result at some point in the Gold Wing rider hitting a corner a little too fast because they were listening to the stereo, and not being able to wrestle the big bike around the corner? I remember only three horrific accidents with motorcycle journalists in the last ten years. One was at Cycle Canada in 2003, and one was at Baggersmag.com last year. I'm sure that three accidents don't prove anything, but two were on Gold Wings that missed a curve. The other was safety expert Larry Grodsky who hit a deer.

Maybe its just another chance to remind riders that there is no such thing as a perfectly safe motorcycle. And that your attention and care are always demanded. And another: Goldwings probably should not be driven as if they were sport bikes. On the other hand SUV's should not be driven like sports cars.

Here is a video of a Gold Wing being driven faster than most people could ride a sport bike. But I'm guessing familiar road, familiar bike. Without both you would have a very ugly situation. Heck even with both, a bit of bad luck, a few leaves on the road, or a truck coming the other way...


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Baby Killer Toyotas?

I wish I had bookmarked this comment, but I didn't and I can't find it. However, I have decided it is an important enough issue, just on principle, for another Public Service Announcement"

The comment was made in response to the Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration problem. The issue is turning off the engine, where on a keyless ignition, at highway speed, you need to hold down the button for three seconds before the engine shuts off.

One commenter had something like this to say. My baby is sleeping in a room right in front of where I park my Toyota, and is protected only by a flimsy wall. The truck could easily reach and kill the baby before I can say "one-Mississippi two-Mississippi three-Mississippi" and shut the engine off.

This particular comment does not appear so extraordinary at first, but it popped back into my head later. Did this person convert his garage into a nursery for the baby? That would explain the flimsy structure, as the garage door might be flimsily boarded over to look like a wall. Anyway, lets look at all the problems with this scenario.

You should not put your babies in front of vehicles unless you have a reasonable barrier to protect the baby. This would go for all human beings, by the way. The most common way for an accident to happen here, is the driver gets in the car or truck, starts the engine, accidentally puts it in drive, instead of reverse, while forgetting to hold the brake. The truck lurches forward, and the driver is too shocked to respond, or worse yet, responds by mashing the accelerator in haste instead of the brake, compounding the problem. This is not a Toyota problem at all, and it is not entirely a stupid driver problem. It is a situational problem. You should not set up a situation where the vehicle could easily kill somebody if you make a simple mistake. Mistakes happen, so try to avoid setting up traps like this.

Now about the three second delay. This delay is only when the car is at highway speeds. When stopped or parked, the shutoff is instantaneous, just the way it works every other time the driver turns off the engine.

If you hold your foot on the brake, the car or truck will not move, even if you give it full gas. I have tried this with a sixties-era car, and brakes were not as good then, but the engines were pretty powerful before anyone started worrying about fuel shortages. And when the car is not actually moving, the brakes will hold the car as long as you can press your foot down, they will never burn up. On the highway, it is possible to burn out the brakes if you don't stop the car.

Another thought, is the truck parked uphill from the baby's flimsy chamber? Because in that case you may cause a lot of damage just by forgetting to put it in park or not applying the parking brake.

There are certainly two aspects to this story. I have had kids myself, and I know how hard it is to prevent them from getting run over by a car. They manage to escape in an instant, and head right for the nearest busy road to cross. It has happened to me. Drivers often speed through our quiet dead end street neighbourhood, until speed bumps were installed, and then they started taking short cuts over the lawns to avoid the speed bumps until a neighbour placed a rock ornament in the middle of the lawn. Now its a lot safer for kids. That's what it takes to protect kids. You baby would be taken away by a child protective service if you ever put your baby to sleep in a cardboard box in front of the wheels of a parked vehicle. The reason you do not have your baby taken away is only because your structure is stronger than a cardboard box. But how much stronger?

It's too bad that emotional situations like get dragged out just to add fuel to the Toyota hysteria. Many people get crazy when they just think of babies being hurt.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Motorcycle Sound is Not Just Noise

When you listen to the sound of a motorcycle engine at highway speeds, does it say anything to you? Sure, there is the actual noise of the exhaust, and possibly some whine and clatter from the moving parts. But to me there is always something more. I am listening for the sound of impending doom, like Captain Kirk in Start Trek listening to the Chief Engineer Scotty in the engine room "She canna take it captain, she's breakin' up".

There have been a number of different sounds in my own motorcycling history. Most of the time I did not hear any negative protests from the engine compartment. On my first bike, the Honda CD175, I often cruised at 60-70 mph, blissfully unaware of any panic down below. It helped that there was no tachometer, it was months before I read through a shop manual and calculated, to my surprise, that the engine was running at a steady 7,000 -8,000 rpm. Also, the mufflers were very quiet, and the wind was very loud. So I never heard any noise from the engine. And then, being 21 years old, I didn't know that much about what could go wrong with an engine anyway. If I had known about all the moving parts inside there, I might have slowed down.

My next bike was a two stroke, and the exhaust sound is quite distinctive from a typical modern motorcycle engine. While accelerating, the two stroke exhaust is sharp, and on deceleration, it has a distinctly erratic high pitched popping noise. But if the engine is not running right, for example the plugs are getting fouled, you can hear a difference in the exhaust note. That may be because the exhaust comes directly from the power stroke, or it may be because a fouled plug clogs up the muffler with oil. But you can hear the difference between a good or bad running engine much easier on a two stroke than a four stroke.

My next bike was a Honda GL500, and like all my bikes after that, it was a four stroke. But surprisingly, for a V-twin, it had a very flat and droning exhaust note. Although it was very subdued, I kind of expected a more melodious "bike bike" sound when I bought it. I did ride that bike pretty hard, as it was the first bike where I did not worry about keeping up with freeway traffic. It was twice the size of my previous bike, and plus it was liquid cooled, like a car. My first bike never saw a freeway, and the second stayed in the slow lane for fear of seizing the motor. The GL500 felt secure to me. But as it got older, I started hearing funny noises coming from the engine, and then I began to lose a little confidence in it.

Then I got a bike that put all worries aside, tossed them in the dungeon and threw away the key. If Scotty had been down there, he would have been whining "Can't you find a place to go to warp speed, captain? The thrusters are getting rusty from lack of use." This bike had six cylinders and 1000 cc. Each one of the six cylinders was the size of the entire engine on my first bike. It also had a fairly loud racing exhaust. On the freeway, if I gave it full throttle, the sound was enough to make surrounding motorists duck as though they had been buzzed by a low flying F-16. Heck, even I ducked a few times until I realized that it was me.

After that I got a four cylinder BMW, liquid cooled and with a standard muffler. For some reason that bike always sounded more like a transport truck than a Formula 1 racing car. But no matter. Either way the undertone of the engine sound was always a positive message "Hey, open it up, us cylinders need some exercise". And of course, I got a few speeding tickets to prove it.

Now I have this 900 cc V-twin Kawasaki Vulcan. For the first time, I have a bike that delivers a traditional motorcycle sound. The sound you hear in movies like "Easy Rider", and "The Wild Angels". The sound I used to hear rumbling past the house at night when I was a kid. But when I get the Vulcan out on the freeway for a long drone, I hear another undertone to the sound again. As I get up to 125 kph, the engine begins to vibrate a little, despite the rubber mounting and the counterbalancer, and I start to hear a faint "She canna take it captain."

It's all BS of course, because I'm sure there is no problem travelling at much higher speeds. But unlike many of my other bikes, the Vulcan is designed to feel better at lower speeds. It vibrates less, sounds more mellow, and even seems to produce more power. My other bikes seem fussy at low speeds, and smoothed out at ridiculous speeds, and the power seemed to build the faster I drove them.

So yesterday, for old time's sake I drove my restored 1970 CD175 down to Port Dover, 100 km away. On the way down, something was holding me back. Even on the busier roads I was afraid to go over 80 kph (which is the speed limit anyway, but try telling that to a line of cars forming to the rear). But on the way home, the voices in the engine fell silent, and all I heard was this smooth purring at 110 kph, and sometimes I went even faster. Yes, I still had some cars behind. It was Friday, and lots of people have places they are desperate to get to. But it was kind of fun flying along at those speeds on such a tiny bike.

Now maybe I should start listening to the sounds from the skinny 3 inch wide tires of unknown origin. "She really canna take it Captain." True, they are the same size tires from forty years ago, but I have also added about forty pounds to the payload.

Picture: My Honda CD175 on the way back from Port Dover, almost tempted to get on the freeway, but no.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What Lessons Did We Learn From the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk?

While reading about World War 2, one of the puzzling things from a Canadian perspective, is the Nazi attack on Russia, while they had England and France down. Then, another puzzling development, the war against Russia, where the initial German advance was turned back after its defeat at Stalingrad. In the final analysis, it seems it was the USSR that beat Germany, judging from the number of German soldiers they killed. Although statistics vary, the Soviet Union probably accounted for more than 70% of German casualties.

As I was reading about this struggle between Germany and the USSR in WW2, I kept coming across references to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. If I ever heard about this treaty before, I promptly forgot about it. It only took effect for about a year, and was torn up when Germany lost WW1.


The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was the peace treaty signed between Germany, and the Soviet Union. Basically, it was a complete surrender by the Communist Soviet Union, which at the time had just been formed after a civil war where the Czar was deposed.

In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Germans (and their allies, including Turkey and Austria) demanded a huge amount of territory from Russia, including the Ukraine. The Soviet Union lost a quarter of its territory and people, and 90% of its coal mines.

The Russian delegation at the peace talks, in the face of such outrageous demands, broke off negotiations on February 10, 1918. The Germans renewed their military offensive, and in two weeks took most of Belarus, the Ukraine, and the Baltic countries. By March 3, 1918 a new treaty was signed, officially giving these territories their independence, but Germany began appointing aristocrats to new thrones in the newly independent countries, and began sending in troops to occupy these areas.

The quick victory of the Germans was a big disappointment to the Communists. At the time, they were quite idealistic. They believed that they represented a fresh new world-wide movement of freedom and equality for the common man. They had hoped that the workers of Germany would support them in their quest for peace and economic justice. However, the German workers did not rise up to disrupt the Kaiser's war machine. After this humiliating defeat, the Communist movement was taken over by far more cynical leaders, who had lost all their belief in the power of noble ideas, and from that time on the Communists in Russia were pretty much a power hungry dictatorship with a sugar coating of egalitarian idealism, reinforced with brainwashing and propaganda. If that failed, the Communist program continued with mass imprisonment or executions.

Following this lightning victory of the eastern front, and the final Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Germany moved to reinforce the western front against France, England, and now the USA, and had some initial success in this attempt. Their hope was now to go all out to win the war, but it was only a few months later, they ran out of steam and surrendered in November, ending the war, and at the same time ending the Treaty of Brest Litovsk.

At this point, much of the Russian Empire was either adrift or nominally independent. In this power vacuum, the Communists then began a war to regain their lost territory over the next few years, and they succeeded in annexing the Ukraine, which I guess would have been the biggest prize in the struggle. They also waged a bitter war against Poland.

How did the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk set up the Second World War? For one thing, the USSR had a lot of Russian Jews in its hierarchy, and so the idea that German Jews had betrayed their country took hold. Hitler believed this, and eventually Nazi propaganda convinced most of Germany. The second point is that Germany had, through a quick military victory, actually taken the Ukraine and most of Eastern Europe, so it was easy for the Germans to imagine that this territory could be retaken just as easily, and probably even belonged to them. For Germany and the Nazis, WW2 was all about punishing the Jews for WW1, and retaking the lost territory of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

On the west, the Germans never really had any illusions about permanently occupying England or France. If Britain and France had not interfered, the second world war would have been between Germany and the USSR alone.

Picture: From left: From Communist delegation Lipski, Trotsky, unknown person, Joffe from this web page.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Did You Do in The War?

Apparently lots of people whose fathers were in the war want to know what he was doing. That's because a lot of soldiers who came back from World War 2 were reluctant to talk about it. My father died in 1994, so I am not able to ask him about it any further. So I decided to investigate with Google, starting with a few details that I do know. In my case, I knew he was in "The Royal Canadian Engineers", he was in England, France, and Holland. He spoke French, very little English, and was posted with other French Canadians. I knew at one point he was driving a Dodge Power Wagon army truck, judging from the owners manual he brought back. He did say a few things about clearing mines, so I'm guessing he did a lot of that. If I recall correctly, he said they used to find the mines using a point like a bayonet or knife, which seems to me to be exceptionally dangerous. But then he always used a knife to extract toast from a toaster, a no-no, according to the fire department. He sometimes made remarks about Bailey Bridges, which were military bridges built to move tanks and artillery when the permanent bridges had been blown up by the departing German Engineers.

The engineer's job was quite diverse, and different from regular soldiers. For one thing, the lowest rank in the engineers is called a "Sapper" not a "Private" like in the army. I guess it's the same rank, just a different word. Here is a blurb on their job in Normandy.

Some of what they did in Normandy and Holland was providing battle maps; repairing and building roads, airfields, and bridges; clearing mines, road-blocks, and other obstacles; filling-in craters and anti-tank ditches; and constructing facilities such as headquarters, barracks, and hospitals. Before D-Day, in Britain, they "built defences like beach obstacles, pill-boxes, anti-tank ditches, and minefields. They also improved British road-ways to facilitate the movement of military traffic, constructed military and air bases, and even built the Canadian wing of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in East Grinstead."

My father volunteered early, instead of waiting for conscription. Apparently this was unusual in Quebec where the majority were anti-war. Also unusual was the choice of the Royal Canadian Engineers, but maybe that was not a matter of choice. Most recruits joined with the idea they would be fighting the Germans, not doing construction work. A sapper might even be more at risk than an infantryman, because the Germans always took special interest in firing artillery shells at them as they built bridges for Allied tanks.

Before D-Day, Canadian engineers were involved in the Dieppe raid, but my father was not one of them. After the failure of that raid, a member of the RCE designed an assault vehicle for the engineers to use, which helped reduce the casualty rate. It was called an AVRE (Assault Vehicle, Royal Engineers), made by modifying a Churchill tank. It fired a mortar instead of a cannon, and was able to mount a bulldozer blade or a crane, or several other options.

I don't know when the first Royal Canadian Engineers landed in Normandy, but my father arrived on the third day of the invasion. They took on a lot of unglamorous tasks, including building war monuments and graveyards. However, when the Canadian Army bogged down fighting the Germans in Holland, many RCE sappers were transferred to the infantry, and got to join in with the fighting. That must have been quite a welcome change for them, given that they were getting killed anyway while digging ditches and clearing mines.

Not all men who returned from the war refused to talk about it. To get some idea of what my father was doing, I thought that some of the personal accounts on the internet might be helpful. Here is one personal story, by a sapper from the RCE, D. Charles MacDougall of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Picture 1 is a Royal Canadian Engineer digging up a mine in WW2
Picture 2 is Caen Aug 4, 1944, Royal Canadian Engineers I guess are clearing debris.  The star on the bulldozer looks like it's American, but I have seen many pictures of Canadian equipment with the same star on it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How Intelligent is God, Anyway?

How intelligent is God? Well, that question may depend on the answer of a more basic question: Can intelligence exist without a physical presence. A physical presence could be an organic brain, or something like computer chips.

When humans first began to speculate on the intelligence of God, they did not know that human intelligence is the result of a process that takes place in our brains, and that the brain has the equivalent of electrical circuits that transmit energy signals. Today we have a much better understanding of the physical process we call "intelligence", as we now can build semi-intelligent computers out of electrical circuits.

The early humans thought that intelligence was something like a miracle, or magic, without any physical process taking place. Therefore, it was easy for them to believe that God, who came before the universe existed, could be intelligent, and think, and make plans. And since they did not know intelligence as a physical process,they assumed that God's intelligence could exist before the creation of the universe. Based on that assumption, Man's own intelligence was simply a gift from God. But just a very small amount of what God Himself had.

As our understanding of intelligence, and the brain has increased, it might be time to reassess our assumptions about God's intelligence. Either God's intelligence has a physical presence or not. Its not possible for me to tell whether or not God has a huge brain tucked away in some other dimension of time and space, so I will go on assuming God's brain exists in some way, and begin estimating God's intelligence.

In theory God is so intelligent that he never has faulty logic, he has unlimited memory, and so can remember perfectly everything that happened since the beginning of time. He can also figure things out in virtually no time, no matter how complicated they are, so he also has infinite speed both in processing logic, and in recall.

But God could not have infinite intelligence if his brain was made up of chemical synapses and neurons and brain cells, like ours. Because it simply could never work fast enough. So that should really put an end to any speculation that man is made in God's image.

By comparison to God's brain power, Man has very slow processing speed, flawed logic, limited memory both in size and in duration. Man suffers from mental dysfunction such as megalomania, delusions, superiority complexes, xenophobia, and dubious motivation. God does not.

Can the difference in intelligence between man and God can be thought of as similar to the difference between an Amoeba and a human? If not an Amoeba, (because it has no detectable intelligence), maybe a better comparison is an ant colony. Ants build cities, ants have slaves, cattle (other insects), grow fungus for food, and make war. So pretty much like humans, then. Maybe too much.

If you gave God a normal human I.Q. test, and if he actually took the trouble to complete it, and hand it in, you would find that He had completed the test in less than a nanosecond, and the only answers he had wrong were ones where the test question was ambiguous, or the official answer scheme was in error. In either event, His score would place Him in the top percentile of the test, way more than He needs to become a member of Mensa (top 2% of scores).

God does not need to get His information from Fox News, or any other TV channel or any newspaper, because He knows everything already. He also knows everything that has ever appeared in print or on TV and can recall it exactly. Along with every radio broadcast and phone call ever made. God has also memorized every page ever written, and every web page on the Internet, and every rough draft prior to publishing that page. He has even memorized all the art work that Kindergarten kids have made, and all the essays written by school kids. God even knows the every movement of every ant that has ever existed.

God does not get faked out by optical illusions, God is not distracted by bright flashes and loud noises. That means his eyes are not made like human eyes. Very likely does not have eyes as we know them.

Human thoughts and opinions can be messed up by peer pressure. God would never have problems with peer pressure (He has no peers.) God would not have double standards. It would be impossible for God to be prejudiced, or biased in any decisions. God does not have a problem with intelligent people asking questions or looking for answers. Also, God would never believe that He was created by God. And God can fact-check Fox News easily in real time, so he would never believe any misstatements He heard on that channel (or any other, for that matter).

So that leaves us with this eternal question:
If Man is so stupid as to not be able to figure stuff out, or even remember what he has managed to figure out, why does God actually care what man thinks about him? Do you care what an ant thinks about you?

In all of Human history, there is only one message that could conceivably have been given to us by God. It is the message of love one another. And what do we respond to that? We ignore it and instead we worry about whether Muslims are building a mosque too close to ground zero.

Further Reading


http://hubpages.com/hub/The-Second-Premise-God-is-Intelligent (Says failure of socialism proves God is real, while also acknowledging the early Christian church was socialist)

http://godisimaginary.com/video10.htm (How about a third answer: God is real but does not get involved)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religiosity_and_intelligence (connection between education, intelligence and belief in God)

Also, my blog on what kind of motorcycle God would ride.

Picture: From http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/i/intelligence.asp

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why A Mosque Must Be Built at Ground Zero Now

Just a reminder, I am not a Muslim, I do not use mosques at all, and I don't live near enough to NY city to use a mosque at ground zero anyway. But now after a public outcry against it, a mosque has to be built there.

Almost every time I hear someone explaining the case against building the mosque, the basic reason is because the Muslims are responsible for 9/11. This point of view seems to be gaining momentum, because shortly after 9/11, even George W. Bush did not try to blame Muslims in general, just a few extremists, and possibly some governments in that part of the world. (Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan etc.)

Now the noose of blame is tightening around the neck of the Muslim religion.

What should the Muslims do? Quietly move their mosque somewhere else, in respect for the victims and survivors of 9/11? Or should they demand that they be allowed freedom of religion, and go ahead and build the mosque?

I would recommend that they go ahead and build the mosque, and if they are prevented by law, to fight as hard as they can (peacefully of course) against that ruling. If they are prevented from building it, or forced to move, they must challenge it loudly every step of the way. And never give up the fight.

Anything else will be seen by the American people as an admission of guilt by Muslims for causing 9/11.

Pat Robertson blamed homosexuals for 9/11. What if homosexuals decided to build a gay bar 2 blocks from ground zero, and there was a public outcry against it because it was a "slap in the face to victims"? Would it be a good idea for them to withdraw quietly and build far away? No, because that would in effect be saying, "Yes, we admit it we caused 9/11 with our homosexual ways". And you can be pretty sure that is how a percentage of the American population would eventually come to see it.

Some people blamed Israel for 9/11. Would Jews be willing to shift their Synagogues a few blocks away to avoid further controversy?

Another example of backing down from a threat, this one real, not hypothetical. Toyota recalled millions of vehicles because of a fatal accident where an accelerator pedal was stuck under a floor mat. The proper response from Toyota would have been to say "It was driver error, because, in the event a throttle gets stuck, all drivers should know how to turn off the engine or shift into neutral, or use the brakes to effectively stop the car." The very most they should have done was to refund the price of the floor mat.

But instead of taking an aggressive position, Toyota submissively recalled millions of cars for "repairs", which sealed their fate in the minds of Americans. The public thinking was "If there was nothing wrong with the cars, why did they recall millions of them?" Words to that effect were said over and over again. Toyota should have fought that recall every step of the way. The recall was the same as a confession of guilt. "Yes, we deliberately produced a rolling death trap, we are so very sorry, please punish us in any way you can".

In Nazi Germany the Jews thought that by going along with the laws to prevent them from going to school or from doing business, that they would avoid conflict and more suffering. Instead they went quietly, which convinced the German people that Hitler was right: The Jews did indeed betray Germany in WW1. And in the end, you know what happened there. The Germans decided that the Jews were guilty of treason, and if they got rid of the Jews, obviously they could win WW2.

The lesson is this: if others accuse you of a horrendous crime, it is better to go down fighting than to quietly abandon your rights.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to Live Through A Bombing

I have never lived through a bombing in Canada like the one on 9/11 in New York. But I do know someone who lived through the World War 2 bombing in England, and she does not seem to be anywhere near as crazy as some right wing extremists in the USA. This person is my mother, and until recently I had not taken much interest in her experiences in WW2. So I asked her to fill me in on what happened the day they were bombed out of their house, and I thought I would put this in my blog, because it's kind interesting.

My mother, Joyce, was the second youngest of 7 children, and 15 years old at the time their house was hit by a bomb. Her family lived on Humberstone Road in Leicester, a city in the middle of England. The bomb did not make a direct hit, and they were in the basement, so nobody in the family was killed. But many other people were killed by the bombs that night and the next.

The main Leicester blitz was two nights, the 19 and 20th of November, 1940. This was a major offensive against this particular city. The rest of the war, bombing of Leicester was more scattered.

The night of November 19, the family was sitting around the table having supper, and her brother Ray had just returned from a day of work at a munitions factory. He was a bit late and started supper just as the rest were finishing up. Her older sister Kitty, who lived a few streets away, arrived, asking why they were not in the basement, as there was real air raid going on. They were not paying much attention as there had been a lot of false alarms so far during the war. Everybody quickly moved downstairs to the basement, and not long after, a series of three bombs struck the neighbourhood in a straight line pattern, one after the other. One of these bombs destroyed a factory behind their house, and sent brick rubble crashing into the room where they had been sitting just before they ran to the basement.

The next day, they discovered that the house was shaken badly enough to put all the windows and doors out of alignment, and to knock off the roof over the back bedrooms upstairs. The family would have to move, at least until the house could be repaired. The family had a guest staying with them. She was a friend named Mrs. Rodwell from Frisby on the Wreake. The morning after the house was bombed, Joyce was delegated to take Mrs. Rodwell to her son who lived just outside  Leicester. It should have been a 30 minute walk and bus ride, but they kept coming across streets that were closed due to unexploded bombs, so they ended up taking over two hours. Mrs. Rodwell was elderly and it was about all she could do to get there.
No one was home when Joyce returned four hours later, and she then had to start off to find her older brother Jack's house amid all the rubble and people running around. This also took a few hours because of more closed streets.

Although several factories were largely destroyed, the biggest damage caused by an explosion (as opposed to fire), was a parachuted land mine that hit the building of Messrs. Steels and Busks Ltd. On St. Saviour's Road, the next night (the 20th). The factory made ladies corsets, which seems to not be mentioned in any of the historical records I saw. However I guess if you know the word busk means a part of a corset, then it's obvious.

In the days that followed, everyone found a temporary place to stay. Joyce, who was working at the time, was offered a room to share by a co-worker. The various other sisters and brothers moved off to live with relatives, while Veronica, the youngest, stayed with her parents. My grandparents owned a cottage with a garden plot just at the edge of the city where they grew vegetables. They would use the cottage as a make-do shelter until they could find a better house. It had a sink, an outhouse, and a wood stove.

Everyone went back to work, but Kitty didn't like what she saw. Near her office was the burned skeleton of a night watchman still at his post. I personally find some of these stories kind of shocking, possibly stretching belief at times, but hey, it was a war and people really did die. Stranger things have happened.

It took a few months for my grandparents to find another place to live, during which time their damaged house was looted of rugs and curtains, and the water pipes burst.

By January, the family finally was able to find a new home in the village of Kilby, it was the 300 year old pub called the "Dog and Gun". My Grandfather and Grandmother took jobs as innkeepers, so that they could live there. The day they moved in, Joyce showed up at the pub, looking forward to seeing all her family again, but met her mother in the middle of unpacking, who impatiently asked her if she couldn't have stayed a few more days in the city while she got the house/pub ready to live in. My mother said she was somewhat put off by the welcome, but it was understandable. The first night at the Dog and Gun, it snowed, and water leaked on to the bed she was sharing with Veronica. Her sisters Veronica and Olive hated living at the Dog and Gun, but Joyce did not mind, although it was a seven mile bicycle ride to Leicester, and uphill all the way back. Her father did not have enough petrol ration coupons to drive to the city, so he sold the family car and bought a pony and trap in order to bring supplies to the pub.

It took two years to finally get their old house repaired and moved back to Humberstone Road in Leicester, but the repairs were not good enough and finally the house was pulled down entirely.

Near the end of the war, my mother married a French Canadian soldier, and moved to Canada. Her father died a few years later. She is now the only living member of her family, and is 85 years old.

According to this website, surprisingly, the corset makers Steels and Busks are still in business in Leicester. The last time I was in Leicester, in 1989, I visited the "Ladies Underwear Museum", which I suppose I don't need to add was very interesting.

Picture 1: Back in 1939 when this picture was taken, both my uncles rode Rudge Ulster motorcycles, made in Coventry. The motorcycle on the right has my uncle Ray and my mother at 14 years old. This was just before the war started, and a year before they were bombed out. Alf, on the other motorcycle died of a brain tumor less than a year later, before the bombing. The picture is taken behind their house on Humberstone Road.

Picture 2: Taken from a book "Leicester Blitz Souvenir", shows Humberstone Road on Nov. 20th with the family's house outlined in a red pen. Click on the picture to zoom in.

Some first hand accounts of the Leicester Blitz:

http://www.wartimeleicestershire.com/pages/memoir_files/35.htm (Steels and Busks Engineering Factory?)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

T-Shirts That Annoy Me

I have not been to the USA since they tightened border security to require passports. So I don't know if people actually wear t-shirts like this. But apparently somebody thinks they want to and is willing to make a buck off it.

Also on this web page: "If you ask me to press 1 for English I hang up!" With slogans like this you really should have the English language spell checker on before you upload your page. For example: "Ah, it's so much fun being right, isn't it? A histerical t-shirt for conservative right wingers. Only found here at conservative-t-shirts.com"

Apparently some conservatives think it annoys Liberals to work hard and live free. I don't get it, except as a not so subtle propaganda statement that liberals always live off welfare, while conservatives always seem to get the hard-working jobs. If you're hard at work stamping out dumb t-shirts all day long, well, just go ahead and knock yourself out. Why should I even care? And why should you care how hard I work at my job, unless you're my boss.

But if you're a CEO raking in 30 million a year in a defence or oil industry, wearing that t-shirt, yes, that kind of annoys me. Start by paying your fair share of taxes! How can people take that much money, while the government sinks into debt paying for wars that in turn make profits for defence industries and oil corporations.

Now how do you annoy a Conservative? Be born anything but white or Christian. Pay your fair share of taxes.

Here's another shirt: "White, straight, Republican, male (How else can I piss you off today)

Obviously, by also being an Evangelical Fundamentalist. Actually the most annoying part of this is that it is apparently a Canadian website. We can't even vote for the Republican party in Canada. And furthermore she is apparently a straight white male? Yes, that actually is beginning to piss me off. I thought she/he was female.

Wait a minute, is he/she even white? Is this Canadian organization cranking out the conservative t-shirts with a shop full of illegal migrant workers where nobody even speaks English? By the way, it might be photoshopped, but if so I didn't do it.

More Propaganda: Mosque at Ground Zero

This report or editorial came from Philip Elliot (AP), 3 hours ago, about how the Republicans are attacking Obama on being insensitive.

The issue, of course is about propaganda. Obama has the best message, and that message, on a level playing field could damage the image of the Republicans, and hurt their chances in the next election. The problem is, that the media playing field is not level. In spite of the incessant propaganda telling us the media has a left wing bias, most of the media actually lean toward the Republicans. Fox News, the most watched 24 hour news channel is saturated with anti Obama propaganda.

In spite of Obama having clearly the better message, the Republicans are probably going to batter him in this round of the propaganda war.

Here is the Issue: A Muslim cultural centre has rented or bought a place two blocks from "Ground Zero" in New York.

Here is Obama's message: People of any religion are free to have meetings anywhere in the USA.

Here is the Republican Message: Obama is insulting the families of those killed in 9/11 by having a mosque built at ground zero.

If the media was unbiased, Obama should win this one. The Republican story has two glaring errors. It's not a mosque, and it's not at ground zero. Obama has a very strong point about freedom of religion, and another strong point that America has no grudge against Muslims, just against terrorists (of any religion actually).

But with a biased media, this story has the power to hurt Obama. After Fox News repeats their story for a while, echoed by the rest of the mainstream media, Obama is going to look like an out-of touch elitist who does not understand the emotional needs of real Americans.

If The Democrats try to fight back accusing the Republicans of racism, discrimination, lying and distorting facts, they are going to come off looking even more like losers.

I don't know how the left wing can win this propaganda battle, with Fox News standing guard against any reasonable Democratic arguments, but the Democrats need to send out this a strong reminder to America.

How about this message for example? "The real traitors to America are those who undermine its freedom. Liberty for all or liberty for none. You would think the Republicans, who claim to believe in "Land of the free, home of the brave", would be the most happy to have an Islamic cultural centre in New York."

The idea is to make the Republicans sound small minded and petty. Here are some specific messages to fight back on:

"It's not a question of whether or not they have a right to build it," Portman said. "It's a question of whether or not they should."

Answer: So it OK to have the right to do something in the USA, just as long as you don't actually try doing it. That is hypocritical.

"Mr. President, ground zero is the wrong place for a mosque." Rick Scott

Answer: You win, we will not allow anyone to build a mosque at ground zero. Would you like to decide on the place? How about a block from ground zero? two blocks? a hundred miles? A thousand? Are you looking to have an Islamic centre in your home state?

"Well I think it's another example of him playing the role of law professor. ... We can have a great debate about the legal arguments. But it's not about that," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in an interview Monday on Fox News.

Answer: So what is it about, Governor, if it not about law? Instead of the law, how about a group of angered citizens who band together to drive the Islamists out of town? Maybe this veiled reference to lynch mobs is too blatant. So word it a better, more subtle way, but this issue has to be fought, and fought hard if America is to survive as a free country.


In spite of the far better message of the Democrats, they simply cannot get their message relayed by the mainstream media. If there ever was a proof that there is no liberal bias in the mainstream media any more, this is it. If freedom of religion and rule of law get beaten by a couple of outright lies and religious bigotry, I say the mainstream media has now officially become a right wing propaganda machine.

Picture: Harper's Weekly Sept 5, 1868. Editorial Cartoon from back in a time when the American press was more balanced.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How Pascal's Wager Underpins Modern Consumerism

Pascal's Wager, I believe, is based on three principles, which to Pascal seemed logical, but I do not accept. They are

- Black and white choice
- Not possible to know the truth
- Self interest dictates our decision

Pascal's Wager was just possibly a tongue in cheek comment. He was famous for using satire and ridicule in his writing. But on the other hand, he was a convert to Christianity, and was reputed to be quite an angry and morose person, so... probably he meant it.

Pascal used his idea of the wager to convince people that they should believe in God. Ironically, it does not argue that God exists, just that you would be better off acting as though God exists. So he was really telling you to pretend you believe in God, even if you really don't. Or at least start by pretending you believe in God and one day maybe you will genuinely believe in God.

Pascal was interested in gambling, and he invented a primitive roulette wheel. Got into a lot of arguments about whether a vacuum could exist. He opposed the "Rationalism" argued by Rene Descartes. i.e. "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification". In politics, this rationalism has led to something between "internationalism" and "realism".

I am beginning to remember why I stayed away from Philosophy courses at University. All these philosophical offshoots seem to be a jumble of ideas that do not follow logically. For example, I might disagree with Pascal's conclusion about the belief in God, and I am more inclined to Rationalism instead. But I don't really see that Rationalism is the opposite of Pascal's Wager, in that Pascal was simply using rational thought about belief in God. In politics, Rationalism apparently leads us to two views, Internationalism, (that I believe in) and Political Realism (which to me seem like just another offshoot of Pascal's Wager).

Internationalism holds that all nations of the Earth are more or less equal and should cooperate rather than try to dominate each other, Political Realism holds that national interest should take precedence over ideology.

Pascal wrote about his wager in the 1600's, and his idea is even more important today as the philosophical underpinning of all spam, lotteries, all propaganda, all consumer marketing, the "invisible hand of the free market" and all of George W. Bush's decisions.

Let's take spam for an example of Pascal's wager, from the point of view of the sucker who falls for it. You receive an email, let's say it is promising you a larger something. First, your mind is focused on a simple choice, which is limited to a binary on/off decision: to have a small one or a large one. Second, you have no way of knowing the truth of any of this: Can this product help you or not? Do you actually have a small one or not? You do not know. And third, your self interest is to be happy, and you are being told that happiness depends on answering this email. Like Pascal's wager about God, you are told you have nothing to lose by answering (money back guarantee), and everything to gain. If everybody was rational, no spam would ever get any replies. But if some people make decisions in the framework of Pascal's Wager, some people will reply.

The converse of Pascal's wager would be something like this.

- There are grey areas in any choice, and other alternatives to the two being presented.
- Ultimate truth may not be possible, but seeking the truth is a moral obligation.
- Self interest should not take precedence over truth.

If everyone made decisions according to the converse of Pascal's Wager, not only would it mean and end to spam, but possibly an end to free enterprise and consumerism as well. But of course, it is one thing to talk about denying self interest, and quite something else to do it.

Picture: That's a modern roulette wheel. Mathematically, you would do better at a roulette wheel than with a lottery ticket. (although in both the odds are that you lose)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reframing the Debate About God

There are many videos on Youtube attempting to prove that God does or does not exist. I find many of them interesting, just because of their pure logic and debating skills. But I think that in most cases the debate about God existing gets confused, and is not really about God at all.

One of the proofs of God, invented by Blaise Pascal, was called "Pascal's Wager".


"even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose."

But Pascal's Wager was not really a proof that God exists. It was simply Pascal's logical observation that, given the choice between believing in God (with no cost or pain) and suffering in everlasting hell after you die, it would be smarter to believe in God. That is actually a "Risk Analysis", not a proof of God's existence. It is more about believing in Hell than about believing in God.

In my mind, the greatest weakness of Pascal's Wager is that you base your beliefs on the religion that threatens you with the most horrible afterlife. And only a very stupid person would ever do that.

In contrast to "Pascal's Wager", I would like to present something I dreamed up called "The Snow White Defence".

Many people who attempt to prove God exists, are not really interested in a pure God, they are talking about a God who has these seven characteristics.
  1. Created hell and heaven
  2. Looks like a Man (Including hands, feet, eyes, hair, beard, clothing etc.)
  3. Performs supernatural miracles
  4. Endorses only one organized religion, and denies the rest
  5. Wrote the Bible
  6. Wants humans to adore Him.
  7. Is the one and only source of moral law.
If God is like Snow White, the seven attributes are like the seven dwarfs. The "Snow White Defence" argues that proving the existence of Snow White does not prove the existence of Sneezy, Grumpy or Dopey. (I don't remember the other names, but the same logic is true for all.)

That we disbelieve one of the preceding dwarfly characteristics of God, does not actually mean we don't believe in God, if you define God as something that started the universe. We might or might not believe in something totally outside the known universe, and call it "god" or any other name. But if God existed outside the known universe, it does not necessarily mean that God looks like a man, or wrote us a book, or sent His son to save us, or smites Haiti with earthquakes for worshipping devils, or answers prayers with miracles. Every single one of those other seven assertions are going to need to be proven separately on its own merits.

It seems to me that Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have been taking the short route to proving all their assertions, by making a big deal about proving that God exists, and then saying: We proved God exists, therefore all these other things are true, end of debate. As if their view of God is the only one possible.

Proving God exists is actually only a baby step in selling the rest of that contrived religious package, it is nowhere near the be-all and end-all. It is easier to prove a basic God might exist, and harder to disprove God's existence, than it is to prove all those other weak assertions that sneak in while debating the existence of God.

First Picture: In case you were wondering. It is not God, it is Blaise Pascal. The second picture I will assume is public domain, along with the name "Snow White". I don't want to get in any trouble with Disney, because I am pretty sure they exist.

Friday 13 2010, Port Dover: A Contrast

Yesterday, I was in Floradale for Thursday the 12th, and today I went to Port Dover for Friday 13th. I am going to suggest that Floradale and Port Dover get together and enter a competition to find the world's most dissimilar towns. Floradale is a bit smaller than Port Dover, and is in a Mennonite area where you can find lots of horses and buggies. People dress like Mennonites, and the general store sells whatever you need to look like that.

People in Port Dover dress in T-shirts with skulls on them, and leather jackets and assless chaps, with tattoos up and down their arms and probably a lot of other places I didn't look. And you can also buy all the stuff you need right there in Port Dover. I got a Friday 13th t-shirt with a skull on it for $20.

In Floradale I did not see a single police person. But I was pulled over at a checkpoint 80 kilometers from Port Dover, to make sure my papers were in order and my bike was safe. Nobody seems to care if I have a safe, documented bike when I visit Floradale.

There was not much of a line up for food in Floradale. But the lines for Tim Hortons in Dover went around the block (probably more than once). In Floradale, there is no one holding up a sign, telling you to park on their lawn for $10.

There is one place in Port Dover where you might actually think you were in Floradale, if you ignore the hordes of bikers pressing by like sardines outside the window and the huge yacht docked in front. The place is called "Apples" a family business that sells apple fritters with real apples, just peeled on a real 19th century apple peeler. And it may be the only place in Port Dover today where there is no lineup to get service. Maybe I was just lucky to get there at the precise moment where there was a lull. But I have never had that kind of luck at Tim's. There is no Tim's in Floradale.


We were walking back to the bikes and I got separated from my friends for second, when I got cut off by a Gold Wing. I was walking behind this Gold Wing that was trying to cut a path through the crowd in the middle of the street. I followed it on the theory that it would help me walk more easily through the crowd to have a wide motorcycle in front of me shoving people to the side. But then it turned out that Gold Wings are no good at getting through crowds because their engines are too quiet. Then I started to suffer from exhaust fume inhalation, so I decided to pass, (I feel the same way whether walking or riding) just when the Wing made a turn in front of me. Those things are so heavy it could have killed me even at half walking speed. I got out of the way, but by that time I lost track of the rest of the motorcycle gang. So I had to meet them back at the bikes.

For the rest of the day, our entertainment was watching Garry try to stuff his jacket under the seat of his Honda Firestorm. After many tries, and a huge amount of pressure, he finally got the seat to latch. But if that seat catch ever lets go when he is sitting on the bike, he will need a parachute on the way back down.

Picture: You can see Alex in front of the Wing with the ZRXOA t-shirt (ZRX Owners Association), and the Goldwing making no impression on the crowd in the middle of the street. I am trying to pass but just then he made a right turn and I had to step back and lost the group. The red arrow points to the GPS that is being no help whatsoever. Maybe it should be programmed to yell "Get out of the way!" in various voices and accents.

More Pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/rbezeau/PortDoverFriday132010#

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Global Warming Beliefs

Recently I read that public opinion has shifted away from Global Warming. What happened?

Here in blue, underlined is a link you can click on to see an article from February in the Globe and Mail by Margaret Wente

Public opinion is important in the global warming debate, because without it, nothing will be done. The more public support, the more can be done. In the unlikely event every single person on earth changing their lifestyles, we might even be able to avoid the problem altogether. It isn't going to happen, but it would be fun to see everybody in North America riding a bike to work.

The scientific truth about global warming has nothing to do with public opinion, so let's keep that in mind, too. Whether or not people "believe in it" will not change the facts, either way.

Although I happen to believe that global warming is real, I want to put aside my own beliefs for a moment to consider how the vast majority of people think. Let's say we had an extreme event like, for example half of San Francisco burned in a forest fire, or all of Kansas ended up under ten feet of water. I can almost guarantee that many more people would start believing in global warming. That is how people think, they need to see extremely scary weather events. On the other hand, if we get a cold winter in Washington DC, it may spell the end of any serious concern about global warming until the next weather disaster.

Here is another more recent article on Global Warming that I found in the Montreal Gazette.

Weather events are always shifting public perception. We have had a few disasters recently, and we may get more in the future. Who can say how big a disaster will have to be before the majority of ordinary people get panicked into doing something?

People change their minds in the face of once-in-a-lifetime floods, forest fires, heat waves, droughts, hailstorms, hurricanes etc. Even if there was no connection at all between global warming and some hypothetical unprecedented extreme events, the effect of weather disasters is to stampede the masses into some kind of belief.

Scientists are just now coming to grips with the problem of fickle public opinion. First they must understand that they actually may need to promote their theories to the public. And then, the need to figure out what strategies are to be used, and who is going to direct and pay for the publicity campaign. Science is up against a well organized and funded propaganda machine that fights against scientists with fully owned TV networks and newspapers, and a budget probably in the billions (judging by the size of ordinary ad campaigns). As scientists are not really that well organized, or funded to fight a PR campaign, they become somewhat frustrated and occasionally use cynical language, and a few come off as being not-nice people. Also there are some genuine scientists who are genuinely not-nice people, and maybe are kind of greedy too and seek fame and status. None of these scientists are helping the cause. Even Al Gore himself drives in a big car and takes airplane rides to the far corners of the Earth.

You can get some idea of what people believe when they deny global warming from reading the comments at the bottom of the Gazette article. I listed a few here with my opinions in brackets

Weather is not constant (true)
Global warming was invented by Al Gore (False, that was the Internet)
Fear of climate change is akin to ancient superstition and human sacrifice (true, though it does not change the facts)
Global warming is caused by changing tilt of the Earth (I suspect this is just plain stupid)
It is "Agenda 21" and "The Club of Rome" (This may be delusional)
Global Warming is a scheme to make the rich get richer through Green Industries (true and false i.e the assertion makes no sense)
CO2 is only 1% of greenhouse gasses therefore it couldn't possibly have any global effect. (Flawed logic)
We deserve to be wiped out (Semi religious point of view)
It was predicted by the Mayans and Aztecs in the film 2012 (Some people are more affected by movies than actual weather)

Picture: Do I need to say that this picture proves nothing scientific about global warming? But it does have some propaganda value to some people, apparently.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Zen and the Art of Chain Lubrication

I am writing this blog because this weekend I rescued Mike's 1972 Honda CL450 that had sheared all the rear sprocket bolts. After I got it repaired I also noticed that the chain was almost seized due to lack of lubrication, and that it was very loose. Less than two months ago, I rescued the same bike, with the chain just as dry and loose, where the chain had jumped right off the back sprocket. So this got me thinking about maintenance intervals, and the expectations we have about vehicle reliability today.

Motorcycles in the not too distant past were high maintenance. That may be easing off today, thanks to maintenance free belt drives, electronic ignition, sealed batteries and fuel injection, to name only a few. But how much maintenance is enough? Some people are nearly fanatical about doing all the maintenance. Others do no maintenance at all and wait for things to break. Some take their bike to a mechanic for everything, including the most minor adjustments, and others do all the maintenance themselves.

My 1970 Honda CD175 has a chain drive, typical of almost all bikes of that era. You need to oil the chain, and adjust the tension every once in a while. According to the manual, it was "Monthly or every 1000 miles." On the other hand, the battery, oil level, and tire pressures should be checked "Weekly or every 200 miles". And here is the first problem with maintenance. Can you trust the manufacturers' recommendations?

In general, the manufacturer's recommendations are conservative, meaning that they usually say to do something more often than need. This is no big deal for the owner, unless the task is either burdensome or expensive. In most cases you can figure out for yourself that this schedule is more frequent than required, for example if you check the battery every week for a year and find out you never need to do anything, you might just ease off the inspections.

But there were some items where the manufacturer might actually be underestimating the maintenance. I suppose they didn't really care, if it is not a warranty item, and you are paying for the replacement yourself. In this case, I'm guessing the owner would be better served checking the chain more than once every thousand miles, and the battery less than weekly.

The type of chain on the Honda CD175 disappeared from the motorcycling scene soon after the O-ring chain was invented in the early 1980's. Although an o-ring chain looks like a traditional chain, they are as different as night and day when it comes to endurance, high speeds, and high power. By the way, reinforcing my theory that lubrication was the problem with the traditional chains all along.

Even back in 1970, premium brands like BMW had given up on chain drive as being too dirty, and too maintenance intensive for their motorcycles. But the cheapness of the chain drive, and its long history and tradition kept it going long past its expiry date. It wasn't too bad on the CD175, which at least had a nearly totally enclosed chain, and very little power to transmit. But when Honda came out with the CB750, it soon earned a reputation as a chain shredder. Obviously, it was time for a better way to transmit the power to the rear wheel. In 1976, the new Honda Gold Wing 1000cc had shaft drive, and soon after, all the Japanese manufacturers had their long distance tourers equipped with shaft drive. The combination of high power engines, and the high speeds of the roads at the time were simply more than any traditional chain, no matter how big, could handle. Especially so with neglect and improper maintenance.

It's almost hard to remember today how much maintenance was needed on motorcycles in general, not just those chains. Motorcycles of the thirties sometimes recommended a complete engine teardown and rebuild every 5000 miles.

We wonder today how people tolerated chains that threw oil all over the back of the bike and all over your clothes. Well, the engines back then also spewed out a lot of oil. It was actually difficult to say where all the oil was coming from, but you just knew it was not all off the chain.

Today all bikes that I know of are equipped with either an O-ring chain, a belt drive, or a shaft drive. I suppose there may be some exceptions, but you can easily buy an o-ring chain to replace a regular (old fashioned) chain, if you want to, so it doesn't matter too much what the manufacturer puts on the bike. (although the CL450 does not have space inside the cover for an o-ring chain, unfortunately.)

On bikes equipped with an old fashioned chain, I usually do the maintenance more often than recommended. This way, not only do the chains last longer, so do the sprockets. And they don't require as frequent adjustments. The down side is the oil that gets flung all over the place. So I will not wear anything but a black jacket on my CD175, or my son's 1972 Honda CL450.

Some people tried automatic chain oilers, which dripped oil onto the chain in a steady stream while driving, but supposedly shut off when parked overnight. I never found out whether these things worked, I suspect not.

Back in the early 1970's, I toured across Canada on a two stroke Yamaha 250 with (of course) open chain drive. I soon saw that the only way I was going to make it on one chain was to lube it more frequently than the "1000 miles". So I mounted a bracket on the rear carrier, where I could put a handy can of chain lube. And then, at every gas stop, I put the bike on the centre stand, spun the back tire and sprayed the lube all around the chain. It was a "quick dry" lube, that was cleaner than most. And with practice, it only took a few seconds. With this technique, I all but eliminated the weakest component of the bike when it came to long distance touring. From then on, the chain adjustments were few and far between.

Picture: This is a surviving picture of my 1972 Yamaha DS-7 2-stroke set up for touring. The can of chain lube is in a bracket near the back of the seat.

The Propaganda of "Red Dawn"

The movie Red Dawn, from 1984, was on TV last night and this movie has many of the answers to why right wing conservatives exist. National Review Online has named the film #15 in its list of 'The Best Conservative Movies'

If no followup questions are allowed, "Red Dawn" gives a plausible explanation of

1. Why the survivalist movement is so important
2. Why Americans must keep their guns until they are pried from their cold, dead hands.
3. Why hunting is a fundamental skill that must be taught to all children
4. Why teenagers must have pickup trucks, and why four wheel drive could be important.
5. The importance of high school spirit, and the need for football teams.
6. What is wrong with communism
7. What is wrong with the Green Party
8. What is wrong with NATO
9. Why America is great and always will remain great
10. Why liberals are so easy to brainwash
11. Why Nicaragua needs to be destroyed

This movie was made long before the Iraq and Afghan war, so I will forgive the filmmakers for glorifying terrorism, and insurgency when the shoe is on the other foot.

One particular event in the movie got me thinking. A young American teenage girl, after an attack where she is wounded, managed to kill one of the attackers with a hand grenade. For an almost exact mirror image of this situation, check out the case of Omar Khadr, currently being tried at Guantanamo. Apparently, back in the eighties, was not illegal for a teenager to kill an invading enemy soldier with a hand grenade. Today it is.

In another scene, one of the the teenage insurgents is explaining why they have to kill the Communist troops. The answer is an emotional "Because we live here". Oooops. Isn't that the same reason why the Iraqi and Taliban are fighting the American Marines? And the Indians of the old west fought the cowboys? But you almost have to be a liberal to figure that out.


Another review from a bad speller, but still he makes a good point. "this soviet army that kicked our armies ass is somehow defeated by a small gang of poorly armed children who have no combat skill whatsoever"

The conservatives have not given up their philosophy after watching this movie twenty years later. Here is a conservative website "Dirty Harry's Place" in 2008, frustrated with the liberal attitude to Red Dawn:

"Using guerrilla tactics to wage a war against military targets versus using them to kill civilians… that’s the difference between a military unit(the Wolverines), and terrorists(Iraqi “insurgents”). And it’s a big difference, liberals."

This observation, I would say is about the best argument presented on this conservative web page. The only unfairness I can see would be that it is a comparison between a fictional unit (Wolverines) and a real world insurgency (Iraq.)

But if we compare real world to real world situation, we have to take the example of the US military in Iraq. We all know that the US has been unable to avoid killing civilians in a real insurgency, but still claims to not be targeting civilians. What does that mean?

1. The civilians may have been killed because they were in the wrong place when a nearby bomb was dropped

2. The US thought the civilians might have been insurgents, and had to kill them for fear of their own safety.

Why do the terrorists target civilians in real life situations?

1. Military targets are often too well defended (by a competent military, unlike a fictional but incompetent military)

2. They may kill civilians who are collaborating with the occupation

3. They may kill civilians of a different race than themselves, in self defence or in a pre-emptive strike

4. Sometimes what is called "deliberate targeting" is actually an accident, poor aim, or mistaken identity

5. Some of what we call "civilians" are actually mercenaries, for example, the US refers to Blackwater as "contractors"

6. Civilians thought to be feeding information to the US military for air strikes.

7. The civilian settlers, brought in to take land away from the original people.

I am not arguing for the killing of civilians. But obviously, in a fictional situation where you are trying to make one side look good, you will not deliberately show the "good guys" killing innocent people. (see "The Hurt Locker" for example). That's the difference between a propaganda war movie and real war.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

We Really Need Election Reform in Canada

Stockwell Day put his foot in his mouth again. As a minister in Canada's ruling Conservative Party, he want us to build more prisons. But the press was making fun of him for his reasoning that, although crime stats are down, "Unreported crime" is up.

Conservatives are very big on crime, and as I recall a few years back, at a press conference with our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, TV personality Geri Hall was subdued and led away in handcuffs. (Geri Hall is a comedian on the fake news show "This hour has 22 Minutes", which Conservatives apparently don't think is very funny.)

"Law and Order" is an issue that Conservatives take very seriously, and they use the issue to win votes. "More Jails" is a popular theme with conservative voters.

I don't want to get into a debate whether or not we need extra jails to lock up reporters for telling Harper they love him in press conferences, to me the real problem is that Canada is a "liberal" country being run by a Conservative government. In other words, Canada is mostly about freedom of religion, but we have a Christian fundamentalist government. Canadians mostly want peace, but we have a pro-war government. Canadians want the government to help run the economy, but we have a government that believes in "Laissez Faire" economics and the invisible hand of the free market. Canadians want a government that takes a lead internationally on human rights, but we get a government that abdicates support for international justice. Canadians want a government that protects the environment, but we get a government that obstructs international efforts to combat global warming.

How did we get into this ridiculous stranglehold that the Conservatives have over us? It is because our voting system is archaic. So, the unified Conservative party, with only 32% of the vote,  uses our archaic voting rules to defeat four disunified left wing parties. (and calls it treason when the opposition parties attempt to form a coalition).

Most democratic countries have ways of dealing with this, by using a runoff election between the top two parties after the first ballot. The UK and the USA (and Canada) do not have a runoff system, but the US is basically a two-party state, so rarely has the problem of runoffs (notable exception in 2000). And in the UK, there is a tradition of coalition governments that apparently we are losing, or have lost in Canada.

Recently, the province of Ontario had a referendum on election reform, which was soundly defeated. Why? I think it was because the new (and complicated) system required over 40 additional members of the provincial legislature, that was unpopular with all sides.

The easiest solution would be to have an automatic runoff system, based on a two choice ballot. When you vote, you can put your first choice, and your second choice right away, on the same trip to the polls. Then the vote tabulating computers can work out not only who the top two candidates are, but within seconds of the final count, could also tell us who wins the runoff. That way we eliminate the long and expensive second round vote, and have something resembling a second round runoff.

Best of all, it would give us the kind of government that represents most Canadians, instead of this travesty of Canada as a right wing militaristic police state (albeit a nice one) run by religious fundamentalists.

Photo June 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What is a Bland Vehicle?

Again, to correct a mistaken first impression, this car is an old Fiat 500, and I do not consider it bland. Now for the rest of the post.

Many months ago (it seems like years!), the Toyota acceleration problems reminded us of this topic: That the fun had gone out of driving. The segue goes like this. Toyota admittedly seems to build bland cars that your grandmother would want. Because Toyotas are bland, they are no fun, and drivers get disconnected from the act of driving to the point where they don't know what to do in an emergency. What's more, as it was later shown, most of the time the Toyota drivers cause the emergency, what with pushing on the accelerator instead of the brake, and not understanding how to turn off the engine or shift into neutral.

So now to deal with this topic, what exactly is a bland car or motorcycle? Once again, I fear that most people have misunderstood, and until it is properly thought through we will get nowhere with this.

A lot of people confuse "fun car" with high horsepower. Same in motorcycling, of course. Where actually, a fun car is much broader than merely horsepower. In fact, higher horsepower in many cases can work against the fun of driving.

I will admit that there is some fun in having a lot of horsepower. There is certainly a thrill in giving a powerful machine full throttle, and feel it pick up speed quickly. In a car, your back is pressed into the seat, and you feel your head tipping back. It may be accompanied by squealing rubber or black marks on the road. With a motorcycle, you may "pop a wheelie", and stretch your arms trying to hang on to the handlebars. And the satisfaction of leaving all the other traffic behind at the light as it turns green, having the road to yourself for a few seconds. Or passing a slow car in the blink of an eye.

But extra power is also something that dulls the driving experience. Many drivers feel they need the extra power because they don't like to shift gears, or so that they can accelerate without the engine making any loud scary noises. That's right, Grandma, engines make a lot of noise at full throttle at 10,000 rpm. In my opinion an awful lot of drivers want big powerful engines so that they don't have to think about how and why the engine makes power, or how to maximize that power. In many ways, a modestly powered engine is more fun precisely because of the power limitation. It forces you to think, not just about what gear to be in, but also when to begin accelerating for that big hill, when to give it full throttle before attempting a passing move. To drive a low power engine, you need to learn about powerbands, the sound of the engine, and transmission ratios. And possibly also about maintenance, like changing the oil once in a while before the engine blows up.

One thing is for sure, that the real fun of a high powered engine comes at full throttle. Yet the more powerful the engine, the fewer opportunities you have to use it to the max. And the less you learn about driving it.

What other things can make a car or motorcycle fun to drive? I would say steering precision, suspension compliance, cornering ability are all part of it. Also, the feel of the gearshift if it is a manual transmission. Of course, I'm talking strictly about street cars here, not off-road vehicles like 4 wheel drive jeeps, where the fun may also be in getting through a muddy puddle without burying the vehicle up to its' window sills.

I still believe motorcycles are more fun to drive than cars. They do not give that sense of invincibility that cars do, but that may be a good thing in the long run. But with a motorcyclist being out in the open, they are definitely more connected with the sound of the engine, the bumps on the road, the wind, rain, or or cold that they may encounter. And they are far more concerned about slipping on a patch of gravel, or balancing the vehicle at a stop. None of those sensations are helped much by a way-too-powerful engine.

Picture: A Fiat 500, which may not have quite enough power for north American highways (or even Italian for that matter). But although a few more ponies may be welcome (true of all cars by the way), still lots of fun to drive.