Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nicholas Cage can Make Love AND War

I was going to make the usual statement about spoilers, but this is a movie that simply cannot be spoiled. You know people are going to be shot, right? And there are going to be fast cars driven over the speed limit. In one of the most egregious speeding episodes, a speed limit sign of only 15 MPH is clearly visible, meaning there would be a very hefty fine for the speed they were driving (est. 150 mph)

Sometimes there is so much going on at the same time, you might miss some of it. For example, where Nicholas is shooting about 10 bad guys storming his motel room to death, and he is simultaneously making love to a hooker in 3D, you might not notice he is also chugging a bottle of Jack Daniels. I mean how is it possible to spoil a movie with scenes like that.

Normally I don't go out to such movies because Mary Ann dislikes them far more than she dislikes science fiction movies. But this afternoon I had a random blood test that told me I needed more exercise or I would be at high risk for diabetes, so I wanted to take a very long walk, much longer than Mary Ann could do. I decided to see a movie with my walk, and of course I would pick one that crammed in everything that Mary Ann does not like. To start with, it is R rated. It has guns, car chases, nudity, violence, and bad language. It has no socially redeeming features at all. Water is wasted, paper is not recycled, and I believe I even saw some styrofoam plates being used during the Infant Sacrifice scene. It would be impossible for Mary Ann to hate it any more even if it had also featured a cameo by Ben Stiller eating Chilean Sea Bass.

My only objection to the movie was the inference that Hell really existed. Five years ago I would not have cared at all, but that was before I discovered that so many religious people really believe in it. Although I don't like Satanic cults, I also don't like Christian fundamentalist cults, and even Muslim death cults. I guess I don't like any cults. The only way to tell that the cult featured in this movie was truly Satanic, was not so much that they sacrificed babies, but the way they sang a hymn in church. At first I thought they were deliberately singing it off key to avoid paying royalties to the songwriters, but then I realized there were no royalties on Christian hymns, it was sung off key to signify they were worshipping the devil.

If I had to describe the movie as a xxx meets yyy meets zzz, I would say Terminator I meets Dukes of Hazzard meets Macbeth. Instead of the General Lee (the Duke's car) they had a Dodge Charger. The Accountant (who was tracking down Nicholas) wanted to find out what kind of car Nick was driving.  I thought it was kind of strange that he asked what kind of engine it had, but not what colour it was, and I still can't figure out that one. Anyway, the Charger gets scrapped, and they find a Chevelle SS. That was the second thing in movie that I have a problem with. I just never did like the Chevelles. Couldn't they drive a nice little 1967 Toyota 2000GT like they did in James Bond "You Only Live Twice"? Of course not, as this movie was a celebration of good old fashioned American excess. Big cars, booze, guns, naked women, and religious cults.

I am going to award a special mention of thanks, in that no negative image of bikers were presented in this movie. The only biker I saw riding in the movie did not crash, which must be an all-time movie first. Especially so, in that some of the cars around him did crash.

Are Dictatorships Better than Democracy?

We are not supposed to call conservatives Nazis, despite some troubling warning signs. Conservatives who support torture, and wars of aggression, and military occupation of foreign territory, are not helping their "Nazi-Free" image at all.

But there is always an uncomfortable feeling deep down among some liberals that the conservatives secretly also would be in favour of dictatorship and genocide, if only it were "politically correct".

A commentary in the Financial Post on February 4, 2011 by Lawrence Solomon gives us a little taste of the reasons conservatives might favour dictatorships, as he argues the case for Hosni Mubarak who has ruled Egypt for over 40 years.

The article by Solomon is titled: "Egypt’s reformer", and "Mubarak can boast of economic, social and civil rights reforms that could go by the board under democracy".

I'm looking at Solomon's article, to find out why a Financial Post writer is unashamedly plugging for dictatorship.

"Next to just about any other Arab leader in the world today, the man is a teddy bear. During the Mubarak regime’s 30-year rule, Egypt has fought no war with any neighbouring country.
Well true enough, Egypt is a dictatorship that fought no wars against neighbours during Hosni Mubarak's time. But neither has the USA, though, and it is a full fledged democracy. However, Solomon has a point, if you include wars against non neighbouring countries, Egypt appears more peaceful than the USA.
"Neither did Mubarak invade communities within his country at odds with his regime. He returned to the Coptic [Christian] Orthodox Church more than half of the 1,500 acres of land that the state had seized in 1952 for the benefit of Islamic institutions and indicated an intention to have the rest returned."

"He decreed that churches and mosques should enjoy equal legal rights"
Under Hosni Mubarak, Egypt apparently has more rights for Christian Churches than the Christians in the USA want to give Muslim Mosques. In case you did not know, I am referring to the story of the mosque at ground zero. If Barack Obama was a dictator, he would also have gone against the Christian majority and permitted the Muslims equality to build a mosque at ground zero. But because the USA has no dictatorship, the majority (Christians) can get away with being unfair to a minority (Muslims). Truly one of the bad characteristics of democracies, that we need to be mindful of. Score another point for the dictator.

If you want to look this up, be aware the proposed "mosque" is not actually at ground zero, but within a few blocks. Here is the Wikipedia entry.

"Unlike Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, Egypt under Mubarak has not sponsored terrorism."
How many times must I explain that terrorism is not as bad as everyone says it is. Compared to having a Hellfire missile launched into your home, most terrorist bombs are like teddy bears. Furthermore, if America was invaded and occupied by any foreign power, terrorism would become popular in the USA. Think of the nice American terrorism in the movie "Red Dawn".

Next Solomon gets to the heart of the pro-dictatorship argument, keeping the the Muslim religious fanatics in check. He has polls showing most Egyptian Muslims want Sharia law. And here is an interesting statistic:
"Mubarak officially banned female genital mutilation in 2007 — Egypt had had the world’s second-highest rate at 97% — leading to an immediate drop in the rate to 91% in just one year, according to the World Health Organization."
What I find especially interesting is that in 2007, 97% of Egyptian women had their genitals mutilated. Given that somewhere between 5 and 18 percent of Egyptians are Christian, that implies that the Muslims are mutilating some Christian women.

I wonder if this mutilation nonsense is really that important to us. Do we complain because 99.9% of Israeli men have their genitals mutilated? As for the "drop" from 97% to 91%, who cares? Both numbers are probably wrong anyway. I wouldn't be surprised if the exact same number of genital mutilations took place before and after the ban, but afterwards they were not reported as much. Come to think of it, given that the mutilations were banned, I'm actually a little surprised that 91% were still reported.

The ban was declared by Mubarak after this incident (from Wikipedia)

"A 12-year-old Egyptian girl, Badour Shaker, died in June 2007 during or soon after a circumcision, prompting the Egyptian Health Ministry to ban the practice. She died from an overdose of anaesthesia. The girl's mother, Zeinab Abdel Ghani, paid the equivalent of US$9.00 (£4.60 pounds sterling, €6.82 euro) to a female doctor, in an illegal clinic in the southern town of Maghagh, for the operation. The mother stated that the doctor tried to give her $3,000 to withdraw a lawsuit, but she refused."
Notice that the girl actually died from the anaesthesia, which of course would not have been required if there was no mutilation. And according to all the anti-Muslim propaganda, no anaesthetic is ever used. Many people die each year in the USA from anaesthesia, so how about we have a ban on girls in the USA getting breast implants under anaesthesia? Even though it would save lives, the ban could only be imposed under a dictatorship, right? So by this logic, a dictatorship is actually superior to democracy.

"In the USA, 467 medical malpractice payments were made due to anaesthesia related malpractice in 2002, and $338,190 was the average payment" (slightly reworded)

The real shock here is that the Egyptian woman was only offered $3,000 in compensation, compared to an average of $338,190 in the USA.

I found a nasty propaganda web page that presents these issues in the most horrifying way. But ironically, they claim to be "advancing democracy in the Middle East", not promoting dictatorships like Solomon is. Well, somebody has to be mistaken, so I'll let the anti mutilation people debate among themselves whether democracy is the cure or the disease.

But here is some free advice: If conservatives want to distance themselves from Hitler, they should not be arguing for dictatorship, or torture, or invasion of other countries, or genocide. Because if anyone is arguing in favour of these planks in Hitler's platform, they should expect to be compared to Hitler.

Picture: I took it from a website promoting cosmetic surgery, this woman was apparently a nicely done job. (we don't like to call our stuff mutilation even when it is truly messed up)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Glenn Fox, PhD, Lectures Seniors on the Wastefulness of Green Energy

Yesterday I attended one of the "Third Age Learning" lecture series that Mary Ann has signed up for. I could go for $5, as a guest. Two to three hundred seniors are signed up for these lectures by respected authorities in various subject areas. The subject yesterday was: "Rural Economics and Green Energy in Ontario: It's not easy being green" by Glenn Fox, University of Guelph Professor.

I was quite appalled that this turned into what I thought was a one sided presentation of everything that was wrong with the renewable energy initiative in Ontario and in Europe. I didn't hear one thing that was right about green energy.

I am guessing that some of the 300 or so member of the audience were taken in, even though I did not interview every member of the audience afterwards. That's because Glenn Fox did sound "fair and balanced" without actually being fair or balanced. He avoided most of the outrageous claims of the anti-wind power advocates. Even when he was making an obviously outrageous claim, he presented it as an unlikely possibility. Also, being a university professor in economics, you would not have any reason to suspect him of twisting the truth. Of the two people in the audience we did actually talk to after the lecture was over, one of them was outraged at this one-sided presentation, the other stated that they thought it was fair and balanced. I don't see why a lot of other people would not match this very small sample.

The presentation itself was strictly from an economic viewpoint. With many statistics, bar charts etc, the professor made a case that renewable power was more expensive than hydro electricity, coal, gas, oil, or nuclear. In fact many times more expensive, given our current price of electricity to consumers in Ontario.

The same was done in Europe, going especially into Denmark's alternative energy and Spain's. Glenn stated that Denmark lost a huge amount of money to Norway and Sweden, who bought excess wind energy at cheap prices and sold back Hydro energy at peak prices.

Then he matter-of-factly stated that there was no known inexpensive way to store electrical energy from wind power, even though the case of Norway and Denmark was an example of how Hydroelectric generators can be used for this purpose, and how Norway was making money on this principle.

The professor even managed to toss out a few truly outrageous claims without anyone being able to call him on it because of the humorous way he did it, for example some Russian scientists have advanced a theory that oil in the ground does not come from geological plant matter, it it spontaneously generated.

When asked about the fact that oil is non-renewable, Glenn Fox mentioned that new technology could extract ever more oil from the ground, and that we had no idea how much oil could be discovered in the future. And yet, he never pointed out that speculative "new technology" could also help with renewable energy.

One question I asked was about his assertion that 5 jobs in Spain had been lost for every megawatt of wind power installed. I asked how this was possible, and he admitted that while there was more employment in the electrical segment of the economy, the rest of the economy had overall lost jobs because of the increase in the price of electricity, which he said had forced businesses to close. What this sounded like to me, was that this "fact" had assumed that every job lost in Spain was being blamed on wind power, because I don't believe it is actually possible to directly connect any single unrelated job loss in an economy to the cost of electricity. Anyway, this "fact" should have been the subject for a debate, or not presented at all, but it was simply presented as a truth. Many people might have come away with the idea that wind power normally costs the economy 5 jobs per megawatt, simply because it was impossible or unrealistic in the context to challenge the professor. (Questions were to be written on a slip of paper and handed in anonymously, which discouraged confrontation. This is the format of all the lecture series apparently, and yes it makes sense in a fair minded lecture, but not if the professor is only dealing to one side.)

I would not have minded if this lecture was any way fair to the controversy, and yes, there is a controversy. But the professor never even stated why we were trying to use renewable sources in the first place. Unless Mary Ann had asked about running out of oil, I don't think that would have received even a mention. Glenn made no mention of global warming or climate change, other than a reference to possible environmental costs that might theoretically be added to any of the energy alternatives. It was never mentioned how much these costs might be, though. And it was obvious that these costs would never really be added because they could not be quantified by conventional economists or accountants.

There was no mention at all of the amount of money that Middle Eastern wars have cost us, even though I wrote a question about it on a piece of paper and handed it. It was simply skipped over. I could see there were several other questions he also just skipped over without having to even mention. At least if questions are asked from the floor, the audience gets to hear the question and maybe it will give them something to think about, even if it is ignored.

In the end, I was quite resentful of being ambushed by this 2 hour long brainwashing session dressed up as an educational opportunity.

Further research into Glenn Fox finds him on the Fraser Institute website, a conservative think tank in Canada. He participated in "Taking Stock of Environmentalism", a research paper attacking "The Precautionary Principle", which may be one of the philosophical foundations of environmentalism. The paper is available for free download from their site. I hope it's not an April Fool's joke, but the date of the paper is April 1, 2000.

Glenn Fox's contribution to the paper was described:
"The Ambiguous Advice of the Precautionary Principle. The manner in which the Precautionary Principle is typically invoked is one-sided. It recognizes one category of unseen consequences but not another."
Picture: Glenn from his UoG web profile. The subliminal message given in Glenn's picture is "gentlemen, start your engines". I should give him some credit, at least, for not being in the driver's seat of a Hummer.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Motorcycling the Busy Two-Lane Roads

By The Lost Motorcyclist, February 2011

We ride our motorcycles on many different types of roads. One of the least exciting of course is the freeway, but there are some compensations for riding on a freeway (like safety). Another boring type of road, whose redeeming qualities are few or none, is the old fashioned, heavily traveled two-lane road, with two way traffic. One example around here is highway 24, Paris to Simcoe. Long and fairly straight, no passing lanes, and lots of cross roads and driveways. And very busy almost all the time. I have several alternate routes, but let's face it, Highway 24 is the shortest distance between two Tim Horton's.

I have no problems with lightly traveled two laners. But on a long stretch of two-lane (i.e. more than ten kilometers), that also has a lot of traffic, I get stuck behind lines of cars all moving slower than I want to. Being stuck behind a line of cars means I have to pay a lot more attention to the traffic in front, and I don't have any time to look at scenery. Also, I start to get traffic coming up behind, possibly tailgating, occasionally trying to get by me.

The two lane road does not allow easy passing, like the freeway does. And if it is busy, often that eliminates most passing opportunities for me. And with this volume of traffic, there will be police patrols on every corner.

Fortunately there are some ways to cope with these roads. One way is to slow down to a point where you do not come up behind the slow moving traffic as much. However, if the road is long enough, a slightly faster moving group of cars will come up behind you, and you will end up in the middle of a parade. Hopefully by then you will be needing to stop for gas anyway.

Is it safe to pass a long line of slow moving cars? Remember, not all of those cars want to be slow moving: only the first one. Strung out behind are an assortment of cars, some waiting for an opportunity to pass, some who will never pass anyone. Ever. When you try to pass, you may find another car pulling out to do the same, that might force you off the road. To avoid having that happen, I often wait a bit when I see a long straight open up. Then if nobody makes a move, I will pull out. But guess what? There are more drivers than you would ever imagine, who don't start to pass at the beginning of the long straight. They wait, maybe for the same reason I do, and then pull out. So if I'm passing several cars, I try to read the situation ahead of time, and watch carefully as I approach each car to see any signs of pulling out. In case you haven't got it by now, use of signalers is very rare.

Here is another situation. As you go to pass, one of the cars in the line may turn left into a driveway or onto another road. So it's not good to pass a line of cars through an intersection. In most places, intersections are marked as no passing zones, but not always.

When you are patient, there are things that can happen. The lead car or truck may turn off or stop for gas, and suddenly everybody can go faster, and spread out more. One or more of the cars in the middle may pass, shortening the line for you. A passing lane may open up, giving you a better chance to get by. These are usually signposted miles ahead. And if you are not patient, remember this. Passing a lot of cars saves you about ten seconds per hour. It's not worth it. Every time you pass one group of cars, you simply come up behind yet another group of cars. And possibly a more annoying group.

I should mention it's very easy to get a speeding ticket passing cars. That's because you are not supposed to exceed the speed limit even while passing another car. That seems dangerous to me, but that's how the laws are written in most places. And don't think that no cop would be so unreasonable to write a ticket. The way it was put to me was "The truck you were passing was doing the speed limit!" I should have said "He sped up as I was passing him." but I didn't think of it till a few miles later.

Overtaking is dangerous in a car, even more than with a motorcycle. In case of a head on collision, the car with air bags and seat belt may work better than flying over the roof of an oncoming car after hitting it with a bike. But a bike is smaller, and if you keep cool and collected, you can pull back into your lane into a small gap between the traffic, or possibly squeeze between the oncoming cars. This of course (of course!!!) is not recommended. It's just better than ramming an oncoming car. No matter what you do, you should always be thinking of escape routes. Another example of an escape route: If there is a rear end chain reaction collision in the cars up ahead, where they all crash into the back of the car in front, you may want to head for the shoulder. That's because even if you can stop in time, maybe the car behind you can't. And that's also another reason to leave a bit of extra space when following. But don't hit the shoulder until you have almost stopped. A far better plan is to brake hard early, to warn the car behind, then ease off the braking as you come closer to the stopped car in front. If you have left enough space to do that, you are probably safe. But if you find yourself squeezing the brakes harder and harder as you approach the car, I would say your chances of getting hit from behind are much higher.

Picture: Motorcycle police patrolling two lane road in 1958. From They don't do that any more!!!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Subliminal Message of "Rules of Engagement" (2000)

Last night, "Rules of Engagement" was on TV, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. It is a fictional movie made in 2000. But in light of what has actually happened since 9/11, I would like to consider how realistic this movie was, and whether it contained a lot of subliminal propaganda.

This opinion piece is not a movie review, and contains a lot of spoilers, so if you have not seen it, and want that special experience, stop here.

The subliminal message of this film is that being in combat in the US military makes you a decent human being, with courage and morals. The other side of the story, which I am going to state here for the record, is that often, soldiers in combat develop violent tendencies that result in killing people back home (one example Timothy McVeigh).

If this movie is propaganda, it supports the fighting men in the US military. Throughout the movie, a message is repeated, that the fighting men sacrifice their lives to protect the US citizens so that they can live free. And throughout the movie, the warriors, are honest, honourable, truthful, kind, and selflessly dedicated to their country.

This movie is a lot harder on anyone who is not a combat veteran, especially the politicians (Administration and ambassador), hard also on people who have not seen heavy combat, and pretty hard on Arabs. These Arabs are from Yemen, but in this movie, we have no reason to assume Yemenis are any different from other Arabs. All these other people, who are not the US warriors, come off as cowardly, lying, vindictive, ignorant and ungrateful wretches.

So, just to start, I would have to say that this is definitely propaganda against certain groups or races. The Democrats were in power in 2000, so I'm not sure if the Republicans are excused from the bad behaviour. Never did the film mention Democrats or liberals by name.

The two most despicable people in the film are the Ambassador to Yemen (Ben Kingsley) and the National Security Advisor. Ben Kingsley calls in the marines because a protest outside the gates of the US embassy in Yemen is getting out of hand. So the marines arrive in two transport helicopters, land under what I would call heavy fire, and the Colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) finds the ambassador cowering under a desk. The Colonel asks the cowardly ambassador if he wishes to evacuate, and Ben angrily and says yes, of course, he called hours ago, why did you take so long? etc. etc. The colonel calmly and coolly takes the Ambassador, his wife and 4 year old son to the helicopter. The colonel even carries the poor little scared boy. Remember, there is heavy gunfire all around. Then he goes back to the embassy and under heavy fire takes down the US flag, and gives it to the impatient ambassador before he takes off for safety. The Ambassador's parting words were a grateful "I'll never forget this." (to become more significant later in the movie).

Meanwhile, the battle rages with the marines left behind. Snipers on the rooftops kill three marines, and wound some others. Coming from the mob on the streets is gunfire, and when I looked at it it seemed like every person was firing a gun of some sort, including at least one woman, and including a little ten year old girl. They were also throwing rocks (no big deal of course), Molotov cocktails to cause fires, and had a battering ram which was being used to break down the gates. That was just on the streets. Meanwhile snipers on other rooftops were picking off the Marines. And I should mention that these snipers were often in the company of women and children, to provide cover.

I need to make an aside here, for the sake of considering reality. This type of all-out assault on the embassy of some other country does not usually happen. The exception I can think of is Iran back in the seventies. So that may be the inspiration for this incident. But that was a case where the entire country was in an armed insurrection, unlike the relatively peaceful Yemen portrayed here. It's hard to believe that such a huge all out attack on the embassy could have been mounted without any warning, and without any intervention by the police or military. If the Yemeni military had intervened on one side or the other, the US marines would either not have been needed, or they actually have been in a lot of trouble.

Getting back to the marines who were in a very bad situation. The Yemeni authorities (police or army) were nowhere to be seen. Although it was never mentioned in the film, obviously the marines had no tear gas or any other riot control weaponry (like rubber bullets). They had no escape route, as the helicopters had gone, but this was not stated clearly either in the movie. For sure one helicopter had left, so at least half the men would be left behind even if the other helicopter was still there.

So the s**t hits the f*n, and the colonel says "open fire". The second-in-command reminds him, hey there are women and children in among these people. The colonel repeats. "Waste the Moth*r *uc*ers", and all the marines start to fire on the crowd, killing about 80 people and wounding maybe a hundred more. Given the situation that I saw in this film, I might be tempted to call this a justified massacre. But I am no military expert of course. Apparently, there is something called "Rules of Engagement" where you are supposed to warn the crowd first, then fire over their heads, then fire only on the ones who are shooting at you. Colonel Samuel L. Jackson apparently considered none of these things. And I'm not sure they were really necessary. The situation, as I saw it, was pretty much full on warfare before the Marines opened fire.

The next part of the movie is a court martial for Colonel Jackson. The White House National Security Advisor (I guess this was supposed to be the Clinton era) decided that Jackson needed to be found guilty of murder, go to jail, and this would somehow make the USA look good in the eyes of the rest of the world. So he ordered the court martial and then destroyed the video tape from the embassy's security cameras. It turned out this tape was vital, because by an improbable series of events, all other evidence of mob violence had been lost,  cleaned up by the Yemeni police. None of the people in the embassy will tell the truth about the mob, because it would reflect badly on the ambassador for not calling the marines earlier. None of the other Marines (besides the Colonel) saw anyone in the street with a gun - and honestly this is the part I found most unbelievable.

The lying, perjury, and destruction of evidence make the court martial a mockery. In some cases, I wonder how it is even possibly to get away with this amount of lying. Surely a bit of serious cross examination would expose a few of the stupidest lies told, especially the ambassador's story. The Ambassador's story is that the mob was peaceful (!), that he refused to leave his post (!!), and that Colonel Jackson had "roughed him up" and forced him into a helicopter (!!!). Apparently not one witness could be found to discredit the Ambassador, although the ambassador's wife was contacted by the defence, and she simply stated that she would also tell lies to put the Colonel (who saved them, remember?) in jail for murder. Hard to believe that these lying, ungrateful civilians could be so evil. But that's how they were portrayed in the movie.

In the trial, it turned out that the missing video tape was documented as having been delivered to the State Department. The defence lawyer used this evidence to prove that the State Department "lost" the video. This way, they got the Colonel off all the more serious charges, and he was only charged with "Disturbing the Peace", which I guess means he woke up some people during the riot. I found it a little disturbing that in the closing comments, the defence lawyer (Tommy Lee Jones) argued that since the jury was all Marines, that they were honour bound to stand by their brother and find him innocent, comparing it to their code of honour that no marine will be left behind. That was a bit surreal.  And illegal.

In the end credits of the movie, it was stated that the Ambassador was later found guilty of perjury, and the National Security Advisor was later found guilty of destruction of evidence. This "closing credits followup" film technique is mostly used in true stories, but this movie wasn't a true story at all.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Storytelling Tradition: Creation Stories

Most, if not all societies, have creation myths. Yes, we call them myths because they are made up. I know that Christian Fundamentalists would be upset at the suggestion that their creation story is also a myth, so for the sake of avoiding an argument, I will leave their story out of it for now.

Last night I went to the Historical Storytelling Series put on by the Friends of the Waterloo Region Museum. It is on every Tuesday night, and last night it was "Oral Traditions Along the Grand" by Aaron Bell, an Ojibway storyteller. Among other stories, he told two different First Nation stories of the creation, and not only that, tried to tell what purpose was served by these stories in popular culture. I had supposed that it was people wanting to know answers to questions like "Why are we here", "where do we come from". I forgot that there may be another more important purpose to creation myths.

Although creation myths are common to almost every primitive or advanced culture on Earth, it is not because of any need for a scientific explanation of creation. They are universal because they all basically teach respect for elders, and for ancient wisdom.

There are certain common elements that pop up in creation stories. Not every creation story is the same, but for example all the North American Indian (or First Nation) stories feature the character of the "trickster". This is the character who introduces an element trickery to creation. To the Haida, it was the crow. To the Chippewa it was Nanabush (who could take any form he wanted), to others it was Glooscap, the spellings and names vary a lot.

Immediately, I thought of the trickster character in the Judeo-Christian creation story, the talking snake, who tricks Eve into eating the apple, which gets humans kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and explains pretty much all the evil in the world.

I am not trying to make the point that there is any kind of moral equivalency between the Haida and the Fundamentalist Christians. The point I'm trying to make is that creation stories are not told to educate us about science. They are not there to challenge our knowledge of the world, or to be debated and dissected, or to be proven right or wrong. They are there as a means of teaching respect for elders, and for ancestors. They are a way to teach respect for the environment, respect for God, respect for ancient customs and knowledge.

At their very most basic level, creation myths are stories, told by the elders to the younger generations. Only stories that get the attention and lodge in their memories of the younger generation will succeed. Those stories are passed on for many generations.

It seems very natural to me that younger people would turn to their elders and ask where they came from. After all, the elders were there before the younger people were born. The story of their birth is itself essentially a story of creation that is as interesting as any other. From there it is not too far a stretch for the elders to recount the stories they were told from one generation further back. And then, (why not?) since the youngsters are in a listening mood, give them the ultimate story of the creation of the very first human. Just to complete the picture.

One other thing all the creation stories have in common (almost by definition), is that they tell how the first humans were created. The creation stories do not focus on where other things came from, in almost every story something is there already. In some cases, the beavers, crows, muskrats are already there when man is created. I guess in the Jewish story, God and Satan and the angels are there already. Not much time is taken explaining the origin of the rest of the universe, very little time in the story is taken explaining the creation of other animals. Naturally, a creation story tends to focus mostly on the creation of the humans.

Stories of creations are first and foremost a part of the human storytelling tradition. These stories lose much of their traditional function in society when they are copied into a book. That function is to bring elders and the new generation together in mutual respect.

Picture: The Storyteller by Howard Terpning, I got it from this blog:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Cambrian Explosion was not the Garden of Eden

Charles Darwin wrote that there was an event called the Cambrian (Cam-bri-an)** Explosion that he found difficult to explain in terms of evolution. And here we are a hundred and fifty years later, with websites and youtube videos from creationist groups stating that the Cambrian Explosion positively disproves Evolution.

Why did Darwin bring this on himself? Why not just pretend it doesn't exist, just not mention it. I guess that's where scientists have a flaw compared to religious people. Scholars and scientists need to look at both sides of an issue, because their reasoning is based on evidence. Other scientists would already know about the Cambrian Explosion, and so Darwin had to at least address the issue even if he didn't have all the answers at the time.

Unfortunately, creationists point to Charles Darwin's mention of the Cambrian Explosion, and call it his admission of defeat. Creationists do not think like scientists, and to them, any admission of weakness is a red flag. To a fundamentalist, strength lies in unwavering faith, and the ability to overcome evidence and logic.

The fundamentalist websites usually overstate the suddenness of the Cambrian Explosion, and also suggest that many present day animals appeared at this time, with no previous fossils. This amounts to a deception. Many Fundamentalist bible believers mistakenly think the Cambrian Explosion happened in one day, and in that day all current animals abruptly appeared. But to a scientist studying evolution, ten million years is sudden, or "abrupt". And can be referred to as an explosion. I've said before that scientists do get misunderstood by ordinary people. Ordinary people have their explosions in a matter of seconds, not millions of years.

But I personally don't see how a Creationist could claim a win, even if the Cambrian Explosion was a one day event (which it wasn't). The Cambrian explosion did not produce Adam or Eve, it didn't even produce monkeys. All that business about man (supposedly) descending from the apes happened long after the Cambrian Explosion. The first primates appeared a hundred million years ago, so that leaves 400 million years of evolution after the Cambrian Explosion, and before the first monkey-like animal evolved.

The way I see it, the entire argument about the Cambrian Explosion by the creationists is like a rear guard action. For a comparison, consider a retreating army blowing up bridges. Sure it's nice for them, it gives them more time to retreat and maybe regroup and counter attack. But blowing up bridges is not winning, it is trying to slow down the enemy, and sometimes it is very effective.

Since Darwin's time, all new evidence has supported and extended the theory of evolution, and in fact other lesser "Explosions" were found such as the Avalon explosion.

So the Cambrian Explosion cannot prove that Eve ate the apple and then Adam and Eve were both kicked out of the Garden of Eden 4000 years ago. But distorting it may help slow down the scientists by misinforming people, and obstructing public education. It gives more time for a campaign to convert as many people as possible to Fundamentalism. At the same time, Biblical people accuse the Darwinians of helping Hitler to Kill the Jews. That's how fundamentalists fight against the forces of Satan and his black magic.

** CAM-bri-an sounds funny to me, because I live near a city called Cambridge that is pronounced CAME-bridge. Good thing I'm not doing a youtube video.

Time line picture from (originally Encyclopedia Britannica)

T-shirt Picture: The anti-Cambrian Explosion argument fits on a T-shirt, but not on a bumper sticker.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Gospel According to John is ... Different

By I. Tawt Itawapuddytat February 2011.

Some Christians have been accused of forgetting that Jesus told us to "love our enemies", and twisting Jesus' words to make him into a warmonger. But that may not be exactly true, according to a book I just read. Apparently, the depiction of Jesus is not consistent throughout the bible.

I have just read a book called "Nailed", by David Fitzgerald. The main aim of the book is to simply prove Jesus never existed, but a part I found especially interesting was the comparison between the four gospels. David Fitzgerald says the Gospel of John is the one that describes the "Republican" Jesus. For the most part I agree.

The first three gospels are Mark, Matthew, and Luke. These are similar to each other, and so are called the synoptic gospels. But the book of John, the fourth and probably the last written, gives a different interpretation of Jesus.

John's gospel is the book that says you must be born again, and so I would suppose it is a favourite with Born Again Christians, who also tend to vote Republican. So there, Fitzgerald may be right.

In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus performs only two miracles, one is walking on water, and the other is feeding the masses with loaves and fishes. The book of John adds a lot more miracles, including turning water into wine, raising the dead, and faith healing.

However, the Gospel of John happens to include the only story of "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone". This teaching is strangely uncharacteristic of John's Jesus. It is also suspected that this passage was added at a later date, by another author.

John is also reputed to have written "Revelations" a book telling of the second coming of Jesus and predicting how the world is going to end in a major conflict. This violent book is also a favourite of Born Again Christians and Republicans.

The Gospel according to John left out many of the peaceful teachings of Jesus: the sermon on the mount, "Turn the other cheek", "Blessed are the meek" "love your enemy" etc. It is also missing the last supper, the birth in Bethlehem, and differs from the synoptics on the actual date of Jesus' death. (among many other differences)

The parable of the good Samaritan is only found in one Gospel, and if you guessed that it is not in John, you would be right. It's in The Gospel according to Mark. (In case you did not know, the good Samaritan is teaching the liberal view that some foreigners are better than some of your fellow countrymen.)

Who was John the Apostle anyway? Although John called himself Jesus' "Beloved" disciple, Jesus nicknamed John and James "Boanerges" or sons of thunder, according to their hot tempers. John was the only apostle to live to a natural death.  Apparently, the Roman emperor ordered John to be put in a vat of boiling oil, but John emerged unhurt. No wonder John believed in miracles.

OK now pop quiz.

1 Which book of the Bible says Jesus turned water into wine?

2 Which says "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." 

3 Jesus chasing the moneylenders out of the temple is often cited as proof God wants us to be violent. Here is the description from John and Matthew. Which is John's version?

A "And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves."

B "So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables."

4 Who said "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war."

5 Who said "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one." (This quote is interpreted in the Bible Belt as a commandment to buy a gun.) 

Answers 1. John 2. Ooops! That's Matthew. 3. A is Matthew, B is John, the clue is only John says he makes a whip 4 Revelation (also written by John according to some Bible scholars, so you get a point for saying John) 5 Another trick question, only Luke, not John (or Matthew or Mark) said to buy the sword.

Picture: Apostle John, second from the left here in this picture from about 43 AD. OK I didn't have a real picture of him, and you don't either. I got it from this website for the actor Cory Montgomery.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Visit to Ilderton, Ontario and my Country Music Theory

By The Lost Motorcyclist, February 2011

Last night Mary Ann and I went to a St. Valentine's dance out in the country. It took place at the Community Centre in Ilderton, Ontario, about a ninety minute drive. On the way there, Mary Ann and I were discussing how we don't have passports so we are not travelling the world like all out friends seem to be doing. We made up our minds to enjoy our visit to Ilderton by pretending it was some place as far away from Canada as possible. (which is not easy) And because we were a bit early, we had 45 minutes to do it before the Valentine dance started.

Ilderton is a crossroads town. On the way into town, we saw a sign "The home of world and Olympic ice dance champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir". After we went through the town we noticed another one on the west side. Mary Ann guessed there might be one on the north and south sides also, so we drove around until we had seen all four signs. Then we spotted the King Edward Pub and Restaurant in the middle of town, so we stopped for a beer. It's an old looking place, and it was just about full. We went to the bar and Mary Ann ordered "Dead Elephant" beer from St. Thomas Ontario. St. Thomas is famous as the place that killed the Ringling Brothers' Jumbo the elephant. The guy sitting next to me at the bar wore a Toronto Maple Leafs' toque and Maple Leafs' shirt, and the hockey game was about to start on TV, so I asked him if he was a Maple Leafs' fan, and when he admitted it, I told him this joke. "How are the Leafs like the Titanic?" "They are both OK till they hit the ice." Luckily he found that funny. Mary Ann struck up a conversation with a waitress about the King Edward Pub, and she mentioned the rumour that a Tim Horton's may be coming to town, and that would kill their business. I asked why, and she said because they have faster service. I asked if the service in the King Edward was slow, and she said no, but it wasn't like fast food because they had to prepare it first. Then Mary Ann asked the waitress where she got the Tim Horton's coffee she was drinking at the moment? She said it came from London, because she wasn't allowed to drink beer on the job. They did have a coffee maker right behind her, but she said it wasn't as good. Before we knew it, it was time for our Valentine dinner dance, and we had to leave, but we will come back by motorcycle this summer and try some wings. Mention in Lord of the Wings Blog

It's been about 15 years since I went to a dance, so I'm no expert on current music. But as an outside observer I have some comments.

I only listen to oldies on the radio, so unless I go to a dance, I don't find out what other people like these days. So in that way, it was easy to imagine we were visiting a different country. After supper, the dancing started, and the music was played very loud by a DJ, so far that was about the same as the Canada I remember. Every once in a while I could hear some of the lyrics from a song I recognized, but almost all were done by different artists. For example, one song was Tutti-Frutti, which was an oldie already by the time I began to listen to music. I also recognized "You make me Wanna Shout", again a new version.

Being out in the country, it is only natural that there should be quite a bit of country music. Some of it sounded like heavy metal, but the occasional words I could make out like "I got on my horse" or "I was born in the country" gave it away. For me, country music is more defined by the words than anything else. Just to give an idea of the typical country music words or titles here are a few.

You Done Stomped on My Heart and You Mashed that Sucker Flat (Mason Williams)
How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away (Dan Hicks)
They Call me Cleopatra, 'cos I'm the Queen of Denial (Pam Tillis)
My Tears Have Washed 'I Love You' From the Blackboard of My Heart
Drop kick me Jesus through the goalposts of life (Bobby Bare)
If I'd Shot Her When I Met Her I'd Be Out of Jail by Now. (Diesel Doug & the Long Haul Truckers)
I Don't Know Whether To Kill Myself or Go Bowling
I Still Miss You Baby, But My Aim's Gettin' Better
She Got The Ring and I Got The Finger (Crow Carroll)

Admittedly they didn't play all of those at our dinner dance, but it's a general idea. Country music is about cheatin' hearts, pickup trucks, guns, dogs, America, and bibles. They like metaphors and word play. Country music also has a costume and specific dances, but at Ilderton nobody had a cowboy hat and nobody did any line dancing. So I guess it was not a hard core country crowd like you might find in Texas.

But here we come to the opposite of country music, a song by the Canadian group "Barenaked Ladies" who are neither barenaked or ladies, that's just an example of their use of Canadian humour. The song is called "The History of Everything" which already tells you this is not going to be about just about cheatin' hearts and pickup trucks. The words start off:

The whole universe was in a hot dense state (obviously way before Columbus discovered America)
But then 14 billion years ago expansion started, wait.
The Earth began to cool
The Autotropes began to drool (an autotrope is not a pickup truck or a dog)
Neanderthals developed tools, we built a wall, we built the pyramids.
Math, science, history (OK now I think we're starting to get the idea this is not a country song)
Unravelling the mystery
That all started with the big bang. (Not a gun bang, the Big Bang is a theory of the origin of the universe that is not mentioned in the Bible)

Anyway, it was nice to go to a dance out in the country. People had a good time dancing and dining, and nobody got shot or stabbed.

First pic: What the King Edward looked like in summer. Right now it's piled high with snow, and no flowers.

Second Picture: Cover of the album "Mistakes Were Made" by Diesel Doug and the Long Haul Truckers

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Toyotas Are Not Death Traps

By The Lost Motorcyclist, February 2011

Still seems weird to me, a guy who drives a motorcycle having to explain why my Toyota is not a death trap.

With the debate still raging about Toyota's "sudden unintended acceleration", it seems to me that everybody is losing the perspective.

The story that keeps emerging is that Toyota was sitting on its hands doing nothing about sudden unintended acceleration, while all the other carmakers had already built in a brake pedal override, to prevent runaway full throttle acceleration. This is a very narrow point of view.

There is a far more serious problem with front wheel drive cars than SUA. It is losing control in a curve, and possibly sliding sideways and rolling over. I'm not saying this happens to everyone, but it happens much more than sudden unintended acceleration. It kills more people, and it is more difficult for even a fairly good driver to control.

Knowing that skidding in a curve was killing so many people, Toyota had made their goal to put stability control on every Toyota model. The Electronic Stability Control is much more difficult and expensive to make than the "Brake Override". And it would save hundreds of times more lives. This is where Toyota was going, and still is going, despite the billions of dollars lost with the SUA witch hunt in America.

But still, with all the Toyota bashing going on, you might think that Toyota was doing nothing to improve car safety.

Brake overrides are a useless feature for anyone who knows how to turn off a car engine, or put it in neutral, or use the brakes properly. But an Electronic Stability Control would actually save hundreds of lives. While it is easy to learn how to turn off the engine in an emergency (hold the button to a count of three, and you have maybe a minute to remember this and do it) it is actually quite difficult to control the rear end spin out on a front wheel drive car. (Accelerate and turn the steering wheel against the skid, and you have .5 seconds reaction time to do this or you are too late).

The fact is that although it is very cheap to put in a brake override, unfortunately it involved adding lines of code to the acceleration system. Which in turn makes sudden unintended acceleration, or maybe some other fault, more likely. One way Toyota has made its cars reliable over the years by trying to stay a bit back from cutting edge technology. Reliability is not glamorous, but many older customers like it.

When Toyota does innovate, they try to make it worth while, like making the car safer in rollovers or skids. They were on the right track, and I hope all this hysteria does not deter them from being the standard that other car makers must live up to. Because we all benefited from that.

Audi found a way twenty years ago to mostly prevent drivers from using the wrong pedal. They put in a lockout that prevented the driver from selecting any gear unless their foot was on the brake. That put a stop to Audi SUA problems. According to Wikipedia, on Automatic Transmission,
"In many modern cars and trucks, the driver must have the foot brake applied before the transmission can be taken out of park."
Of course that is only a front line defence, and can be defeated by a determined person by putting their foot on the accelerator when the selector is in "Drive", and then forgetting that they moved their foot from the brake to the accelerator, and then the accident is waiting to happen. I don't know if all Toyota have this brake lockout feature, but with many times more cars than Audi, they will still have some problems with extremely forgetful drivers.

How to put a Toyota Highlander in "Drive" from
  1. Place the key in the ignition and turn to the "On" position. The Highlander does not need to be turned on, but the key does need to be turned to "On" to shift gears.
  2. Press the brake pedal and push the lock release button on the shift lever.
  3. Slide the shift lever until it lines up with the "D" for drive.
Picture: Our Matrix heading out of town with the snow cleared off the windshield first.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Toyota Verdict is In

By The Lost Motorcyclist February 2011

The Toyota electronic engine management system is not guilty for the sudden unintended acceleration. The tests were run for months by the US government, with NHTSA and NASA contributing.

Unfortunately, Toyota is not out of the woods yet. If indeed this was mass hysteria, several other things need to be cleared up. For example, most people seem to think that only Toyotas have experienced SUA (sudden unintended acceleration). If that were actually true, then this verdict is only the start of the investigation. However, it is not true, and if the hysteria is to stop, then that information needs to be publicised.

Also, when people become convinced of a false story, their first reaction when being confronted with evidence to the contrary is to dig in even more. That is why many first reactions are similar to "No surprise, the US government was paid off by Toyota". Those people are not going to be convinced by anything unless it proves Toyota guilty.

It is actually very difficult to prove that nothing can go wrong in a complicated computer system. But a far more complicated system, also involved in the crashes, that was not tested by the NHTSA, was the human brain. The NHTSA was very reluctant to call it driver error, preferring to use the term "pedal misapplication" for the majority of fault reports.

In the now famous case that touched off the hysteria, the throttle was stuck under the carpet, and a presumably competent driver (police officer no less) was unable to shut off the engine, or shift into neutral, or apply the brakes properly to bring the car to a safe stop. According to the US Government, the correction will be to have a brake override on all cars, so that applying the brake will reduce engine power. A second corrective action will be to make the engine easier (or more intuitive) to turn off in cars (ALL cars) with keyless ignition. Both of those, (currently not required by law) in my opinion amount to making cars more "idiot proof", no offence meant to anyone who is not present to defend themselves.

This Toyota SUA scare is a classical mass delusion. The basis for most human delusions is a brain fault (*or feature!) called "selective awareness". This is how it works. When too many things are going on that don't affect you directly, you tend to not notice them, they become part of the background noise. Then for whatever reason, if you should become aware of one particular type of thing, suddenly you will get overwhelmed by how many examples there are of that type of thing going on. Meanwhile you will remain completely unaware of the rest of the "background noise". Let me give you a simple example. You drive to work each day not noticing which types of cars are all around you on the highway. But then one day, you decide to buy a Toyota RAV4, you visit the showroom and look the vehicle over. The next day, I guarantee you will notice every RAV4 that you pass on the road, and you probably never realized how many there were.

The truth is that all carmakers suffer from the same, or quite similar, problems. Most of the time people turn a blind eye to car accidents causing death because this goes on all the time. People do not want to give up their cars so they ignore the accident statistics. In the USA, that amounts to about 40,000 people killed each year. There were 5 Toyota deaths supposedly due to SUA over several years. Then one famous accident gets everyone's attention and suddenly people open their eyes to accidents, but only Toyota accidents. All the other accidents are still going on in the background, but nobody is paying any attention to them.

Toyota got in a very difficult situation where everything they did made the hysteria worse. First of all, they did not report the floor mat jamming the gas pedal right away, and were eventually heavily fined for it. I still don't understand why they needed to report to the US government a "flaw" where a floor mat slides over a gas pedal and holds it down. I don't even consider that a vehicle flaw, to me that is more operator error. If that happened to me, I would not go to the dealer to have it corrected. (but I don't have the official Toyota heavy duty floor mats)

Then, Toyota made things worse:

- apologised for the deaths and took responsibility
- recalled millions of cars (to straighten the floor mats?!?!?)
- did not blame the drivers for being stupid
- did not present statistics proving they were not the only car models with SUA accidents
- did not put the blame on the American throttle pedal manufacturer.
- did not press charges against the driver who deliberately crashed his truck into a Toyota showroom and blamed SUA

This behaviour is typical Toyota corporate culture, unfortunately it did not serve them well with a hysterical American car market out looking for blood.

Picture: This is my car. Yes it is a Toyota, but I do not work for Toyota. I will brush all the snow off before driving away. But if I didn't know how to do that, I would not blame the car for not having a "Blocked Vision Override".  (One day we may have to have those.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You Can't Handle Demoting Pluto

By: The Lost Motorcyclist, February, 2011

Science is not a natural way of thinking for humans. You would think the human mind would be able to grasp such an apparently simple concept as science. After all, how hard is it, really, to make judgments based on evidence, observation, logic and testing, with no human bias? When you consider the alternatives, it becomes a little bit more obvious why scientific thought remains an alien concept to the average human. Before science came along, decisions were made based on tradition, habit, superstition, conformity, and peer pressure. And most assuredly were influenced by prejudice and bias.

The Pluto controversy is a perfect example of scientific thought versus traditional thought. A scientist would look at Pluto, in light of all the recent discoveries of asteroids in our solar system, and make the scientific observation that Pluto was actually more like an asteroid than a planet. A scientist would say that, to be fair, either Pluto gets demoted to an asteroid, or we promote every similar object to planet status, and apparently there are a lot of similar objects to Pluto. To a person who can think scientifically, without bias, the answer is obvious. Pluto is not a planet.

But scientists don't think like humans. I asked Mary Ann how many planets there were. She said ten. What? She counted them off for me. "Men Very Early Made Jars Stand Up Nearly Perpendicular." I was floored, I never heard of those planets before. Then I started to recover. "That's only nine." She said "I heard they found another one a few years ago."

Mary Ann is not a scientific person. She does not like Star Trek. She does not like most science fiction. I'm guessing that most people who understand scientific reasoning would like science fiction. Mary Ann does not enjoy speculating as to what might happen in the future based on scientific discoveries that might be made one day. She is already suspicious of scientific discoveries we have right now. Cell phones, Facebook, 52" HD TV's, Surround sound, leaf blowers, and just about anything that can be found at Wal-Mart.

So I informed Mary Ann that there were eight planets, that Perpendicular had been demoted to an asteroid. She seemed resigned, but not terribly worried. Maybe she thought I was talking about a science fiction movie and none of this was real.

But other than Mary Ann, this demotion of Pluto caused considerable controversy, even within the scientific community. I was reading about it in "Unscientific America", a book by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. This is taken from their book:

"even as scientists get up each morning and resume the task of remaking the world, the American public all too rarely follows along. This alienation leads to recurrent flare-ups like the Pluto episode, in which people suddenly catch wind of what scientists have been doing and react with anger, alarm, or worse."

Very few people think in a true scientific way. Most people's thought process is about the same as it has been since the beginning of the human species. We seek the "truth" and then we hang on to that "truth" no matter what. It is uncomfortable, even painful to have to change our "truths", when it turns out the truths do not hold up to further investigation. It is painful for humans to change their truths, and they will do anything to stop that pain. In the old days they used to lock up, stone, or burn scientists at the stake. Now we are apparently in a scientific age, we can't do that any more. But it does not mean people have to listen to the scientists. A modern alternative to burning at the stake is to look for selected scientists who have more comforting truths for us. Or to just not think about it at all, or react with anger when we are told that Pluto is no longer a planet.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

How to Stop Chain E-mails

By The Lost Motorcyclist, February 2011

There are probably hundreds of chain emails being circulated on the Internet. Many are harmless but some chain emails posing as helpful are actually malicious, alarming and possibly even damaging.

The best way to screen these emails is to not forward those that are false. How can you do that? There is a website that has information on most of the chain emails which are circulating the Internet. How do they do that? Well it's easier than you think, because most of the emails have been circulating for many years, sometimes with hardly any changes.

Simply go to Snopes and type words in to the search box, it works like Google except it's to search for hoaxes, scams and chain emails.

For example, if this chain email starts off with

Florida court sets atheist holy day.

In the picture, I have typed these words into the Snopes search box. (if the picture is too small to see, click on it for an enlargement).

Type the significant words from the chain email into Snopes search box, and click GO! Make sure you spell the words right. Snopes does not tolerate bad spelling like Google does.

This will tell you if Snopes has any information, and whether they have found it to be true or not.

Next, if it is false, email the link for this blog

to the person who forwarded the email to you. That will help them to do the fact- checking for themselves, and perhaps they will also forward this link back to the person sending them the chain email, and so on and so on. Then hopefully, at some point everyone will be able to fact check the emails before forwarding, and the misleading chain emails will disappear entirely from the Internet.

Click HERE for the live Snopes website when you are ready.

The Opposite of a Beginner's Motorcycle

By The Lost Motorcyclist, February 2011

These are a few traditional requirements of a beginners bike.

  • - light and easy to handle
  • - cheap, affordable, not too expensive to maintain or insure
  • - safe speed (i.e. keeps up with traffic, but is not too fast)
  • - easy and simple to operate (i.e. no suicide clutch, right foot gear lever, leg breaking kick-starter etc.)

So obviously, the opposite of a beginners bike might be

  • - so heavy that only a tall, strong, and experienced rider can push it and keep it from falling over.
  • - So expensive that you would need to be an older, experience rider to be able to (a) afford it (b) appreciate why it costs so much more than a beginners bike (c) get a decent insurance rate on it.
  • - A bike that can go so fast that it's ridiculous. That would be, let's say 300 plus kph? No beginners should be doing 300 kph. No experienced rider would do that on a public road either, those speeds are for the Bonneville Salt Flats.
  • - Finally, the opposite of a beginners' bike can be as complicated and difficult to operate as a skilled person can handle.

Let me give you an example of a bike that was both a beginners bike, and the opposite of a beginner's bike.

A man named Burt Munro bought a 1920 600cc Indian Scout with a top speed of 55 mph (89 kph). In the twenties, this might be considered a beginners' bike. Although I'm sure there were slower and smaller bikes available.

Burt must have felt the bike needed something extra, and in 1926 started making modifications. His modifications went on for many years, and in the final stages, he had turned it into a 950cc, terrifying motorcycle capable of 200 mph (320 kph). It was difficult, complicated and awkward to drive. It could only be properly tested at Bonneville or a similar track. If you count all the work done on it, in the end it would be worth well over $100,000. And would easily fetch more at a classic and historic bike auction.

So there you have it. Exactly the same bike is both a beginners bike and the opposite of a beginner's bike, just with a few modifications. OK a lot of modifications.

There was also the movie about Burt Munro, who travelled from New Zealand to try his hand at an official record at Bonneville. The movie has the title "World's Fastest Indian".

While I'm on the subject of Bonneville here is a blog entry with some pictures. I was quite surprised reading it, that some Bonneville motorcycle racers are getting records with speeds in the 50 mph range. What? I'm pretty sure I don't need to travel to Bonneville to nail 50 mph with my Honda CD175. On the other hand, I guess if I want a world record I need all the documentation and race verification that goes along with a timed Bonneville run.

Now getting back to beginner bikes, the Cycle Canada issue for March 2011 seems to be promoting smaller bikes. The new Honda CBR250R is on the cover. One article is about the KTM 125, which is not available in Canada yet, but maybe a 250 version in a year or two? And one of the new contributors, Michael Uhlarik heaps a lot of high praise on the CBR250R.

"the CBR25R is not just a perfect machine, it is a perfect motorcycle."

These are not just empty words. Michael says he sold off his Yamaha FZ1 with 145 hp last year, keeping a 50 hp Laverda. And he takes time to explain his attitude towards the hyper power bikes.

"We are still out of control on the top end where $18,000 can buy a 180 hp missile."
"in mass produced bikes aimed at the general consumer, maximum power is irrelevant if it intimidates the user and contributes to their injury."

Kind of reminds me of Mike Duff, many years back writing in Cycyle Canada, criticizing street bikes with way more power than GP racing bikes of just a few years earlier. And as I recall he got a lot of flack for taking that position. But I agreed with Mike Duff then and I think Michael Uhlarik is an the right track now. The market, however, has gone the other way, catering even more to the maximum performance bikes, at the expense of the "beginner bikes." This has resulted in a collapse of the motorcycle market from the bottom up. What I mean is that there are few young riders, plenty of old riders, getting older all the time.

One answer to the collapsing market is small bikes that don't cost too much to insure. Insurance cost a big obstacle to people entering the bike market. Bikes around 250 cc are more reasonable to insure than 1000cc bikes. And this new Honda proves they can also be appealing. But we have to improve our appreciation of bikes of 150-450 cc, and we need to start buying them and riding them more.

Picture: A 1920 Indian Scout, 600cc from Wikipedia:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Darwin Did Not Inspire Hitler

One idea proposed by the Born Again Christians is that without Charles Darwin, Hitler would not have started World War 2, and would not have tried to exterminate the Jews.

Of course, the reason they want to show this connection is that Hitler is considered so evil, that if you can somehow connect Hitler to your enemy, your enemy becomes as evil as Hitler. And therefore your enemy's logic will be disproved.

Well I intend to prove the exact opposite. Charles Darwin could not possibly have inspired Hitler to exterminate the Jews. On the contrary, Hitler drew much of his inspiration from the very Christian southern USA slave holding states, including the tell-tale use of the word Aryan.

But to get back to Charles Darwin. It is true that Darwin preceded Hitler, thereby making it possible for Hitler to have read the Origin of Species, and natural selection. But the idea that "only the strongest survive" was not invented by Charles Darwin. The idea of "the strongest survive" has been with us ever since humans have been able to think. It is the idea that has fuelled wars since the beginning. I'm pretty sure Genghis Khan operated on the theory of "the strongest survive". There has never been a battle in history where the defeated leader ever said "well, by golly who would have guessed that the weakest would lose the battle. Next time we will make sure we are the strongest."

I think the confusion exists between the inputs and the outputs of Darwin's thought process. One input to Darwin's theory was the well known law of "survival of the strongest". The output (and here was Darwin's original thought) was that evolutionary changes result from survival of the fittest. What Darwin was saying was that by eliminating the unfit, that a species would begin to morph into a different form.

Born Agains argue that Hitler wanted to "evolve" the German race by purifying it of its bad elements (Killing the mentally handicapped, the genetic mutants, the Jews, etc.). And the way to purify it was to kill the non-pure members. Again, this was not an idea that Darwin thought up. Long before Darwin, humans had learned to modify a species by killing or breeding it selectively to achieve the traits they wanted. Dogs, horses, pigeons, seeds. This is called "Selective breeding", and has been known almost as long as "survival of the strongest".

So Darwin did not invent either "survival of the fittest" or "selective breeding". And those are the two ideas that Born Again Christians accuse Darwin of inventing that lead directly to Hitler. But because both those ideas had existed long before Darwin, that logically refutes the connection between Darwin and the Nazi holocaust.

But there is more. Hitler also needed a something else to be able to go ahead with the holocaust. He needed a moral justification, which he would never get from Darwin. And he needed an example of some other country that had benefited from genocide and racism. He needed to look no further than the Christian USA, which used the Bible to effectively argue for the moral goodness of slavery and racial superiority during the time of the conquest of the Indians and the enslavement of the Africans. And, it seemed to Hitler that the USA had achieved remarkable success following this path of religiously sanctioned genocide and racism.

I forgot to mention one other thing Hitler needed and that was maybe just a touch of insanity.

In any case, I wish the Born Again Christians would let up on their endless attacks on Darwin. It is far more likely that, without the USA, Hitler could never have thought up these ideas of genocide leading to wealth and power. Charles Darwin had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Scraping Pegs or Scraping Blogs

The term "scraping" has one meaning for motorcyclists, and another for bloggers. To the bloggers, it means copying material from another blog to fill out your own. This is also called plagiarism. Actually I think it is really dumb for someone to copy any blog into their own. But especially my blog, considering my controversial style that is bound to offend many more readers than it attracts.

Anyway, this motorcycling blog seems to have randomly copied my conversation with God:

And they also blindly copied many more of my blogs, without regard to the subject matter.

If you want to use any of the material in my blogs, please give me credit for the stuff I wrote and/or put a link back to me like this:


And anyone is welcome to leave a comment below, you don't need to have a Google account:

Who is Killing the Anti-Hosni Mubarak Protesters?

Egypt is in a period of conflict right now that started a couple of weeks ago. Thousands of people are in the streets demonstrating against the president Hosni Mubarak. Many people have been injured, and some killed.

Whenever you have violent conflict, you also have confusion. To give an example, recently there was a political gathering in Tucson, Arizona where a lone gunman appeared, shot Democratic representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head, then proceeded to shoot and kill several other people gathered around, until he was subdued and taken to jail. In the days that followed, everyone tried to make some sense out of what happened. Some claimed the killer was nothing but a mentally deranged person killing randomly. Others claimed it was a right wing gun nut trying to assassinate a liberal political figure. Yet others claimed the gunman was a pro-Democrat left-wing liberal according to the books in his reading list and statements he made on Youtube. The debate rages on even now.

Until now, the conflict in Egypt was simple. People in the street are assumed to be against Hosni Mubarak, I guess they want him to step down. Police and secret agents want him to stay in power. The army seems neutral, just following orders but not wanting a massacre.

Yesterday, things in Egypt got confusing. Thousands of armed, horse-mounted Mubarak supporters flooded into the streets, killing some Anti-Mubarak supporters. The question is, who are these pro-Mubarak supporters? Some Egyptians claim they are nothing but the secret police in plain clothes, following Mubarak's orders. Some of the Pro_mubarak supporters were found to have Police ID badges. But the government claims that all those badges are fakes, that no police are participating in the "peaceful" Pro_Mubarak rally. What is the truth?

I noticed something a bit strange about the Mubarak supporters. They call themselves "Real" Egyptians, kind of like conservatives in the USA who call themselves "real" Americans. I'm not saying there is any connection, other than the choice of rhetoric.

From CNN:

Supporters of Mubarak, who had been largely silent since the unrest began, came out in full force Wednesday -- in one case wielding whips and thundering through the crowd on horses and camels.

"What you are seeing is the demonstration of the real Egyptian people who are trying to take back their country, trying to take back their street," said businessman Khaled Ahmed, who described himself as "pro-Egyptian."

Is this Pro_Mubarak rally a genuine grass roots movement? If pro-Mubarak supporters really are killing anti-Mubarak supporters, then that's just one more reason to get rid of Mubarak. But if the killers are just crazy people, then Mubarak is not to blame. If we go by American logic, one way to find out would be to examine the books that the Pro-Mubarak killers are reading. For example if they are reading "The Communist Manifesto", "Animal Farm", or "Mein Kampf", we can assume they are pretty much like Jared Loughner, the shooter in Arizona. (i.e. left wing liberal, definitely not a right wing gun nut.)

But I seriously doubt that any Egyptians care what books are being read by these killers. In Egypt, I guess they like to keep things simple. If you kill an anti-Mubarak protester, that automatically makes you a pro-Mubarak supporter. What you say or read is unimportant compared to who you are killing. I sometimes have to admire that kind of clear thinking.