February 26, 2005

Science: Pseudoscience Detection Pt. 2

You'd better not doubt,
You'd better not try,
You'd better not think
I'm telling you why...
Sylvia Browne is coming to town!

Well, now I know that at least 1,400 people have far too much money (between $105 and $165) and not enough intelligence in Victoria, BC. The Royal Theatre is playing host to this Royal Pain on the first of March, thirty-one days early. One of the more embarrassing aspects of the West Coast is the flake quotient, and she has more flakes than Kellogg's.

This is a woman who takes her scores of television appearances and radio appearances and uses any possible references to anything that happened and counts them as "validated" predictions. Most frequently, she's decided to take one of her scads of Montel predictions (India could be dangerous) and explain that she actually meant that a tsunami would hit the area, killing 15,000 people or so. Of course, she neglected to mention Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, Myanmar, and Somalia. But heck, one out of eight isn't that bad! She's also gone out on a limb and predicted that it would be a health hazard to travel there over the next 6 months.

Oh, and just as importantly: she managed to predict that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anistion would get divorced. Hmm... Predicting divorce in Hollywood... Shouldn't it count as a negative if you DON'T predict someone getting divorced? No dates were given as to when these events were supposed to happen, of course. But here's one that she has put a date to: in 2010, aliens will reveal themselves to us. Pretty cool, huh? Except when it doesn't happen , she'll explain that they revealed themselves only to a select few, or only to top secret government agencies, or... I'm sure you get the idea.

The only special ability this woman has is the ability to lie with a straight face. And to take $35,000 from people for a seven hour chat. Must be nice.

I wish, how I wish I were less honest. Her live shows are a simple cold reading technique, where the larger the audience the better; on the phone ($750 for a half hour) she combines generalizations (dead people tend to "point to their head and chest") with leading questions ("Who is..."; "Do you know..."); and she will have staff listen in to conversations of people who are in line for the show. These people are true believers going to see a supposed psychic, so what do you think they'll be talking about? And now she also gives out vague medical advice, usually about the "lumbar region" in men, where just about all back pain occurs, and about vitamin supplements in women, who are at a higher risk for calcium and iron deficiency anyways, especially if they've had kids.

Then there's James Randi.

Hoo, boy, you don't want to mention James Randi to her followers. Mr. Randi is, or at least was, a professional magician. As such, he can catch a whole lot that someone with Ph.D.s and other letters after their name would miss, unless they knew what to look for. He has a little thing called the Million Dollar Challenge.

Here's the gig: anyone who can prove any paranormal ability at all gets $1,000,000 in cash. They agree to the test, and all of its protocols, before they begin. Then, when the person being tested is satisfied, the test is done under strict controls to ensure no cheating could be carried out. To get this straight: these folks do not "debunk" anyone, or their supposed abilities. The simple precept is this: Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. You say you can read minds? Prove it. You believe you can dowse treasure? Prove it. You think your machine can detect a human being over the distance of one mile? Prove it.

Back to Sylvia Browne. During an appearance on Larry King Live, she agreed to undergo the challenge. And avoided it ever since. But then, I've never thought she was stupid. Knowing who the most vulnerable to deceit are, she's made sure to always credit God with her "abilities". This gives her a nice ring of Truth to those who believe in such stuff. And she won't be confused for a witch and killed. (Ex 22:18) Because anyone who predicts the future is, after all, a witch. (De 18:10) So it's now (Feb 26, 2005) been 1353 days since she first accepted, and 1272 days since she agreed to protocols, all that's left is for her to step up and collect not only a million dollars, but a staggering amount of publicity.

So why should I even care? I don't know, really. It's something about making your money by targeting the emotionally vulnerable that sticks in my craw.

Of course, I could just be jealous. Hell, who wouldn't want to make $35,000 for a day of chatting with people who worship you?

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posted by Thursday at 11:27 pm 0 comments

Other: White Trash, Old and New

As far as I'm concerned, there was news good and atrocious that came to my attention today. Let's start with the cheerful stuff.

Ernst Zundel was finally ruled "deportable" today. For those who don't know him, count your blessings. He's your standard issue Holocaust denier, author of such gems as Did Six Million Really Die? and The Hitler We Loved and Why. He held regular meetings with neo nazis and other white supremacist groups and quite happily promoted hatred around the world, but these weren't reason enough to have him deported back to Germany (who aren't particularly happy to take him). So what was?

Here's where the issue is clouded. He was held on one of the new security certificates that have allowed Canada to arrest and detain people without charge. This is the same thing that was used to arrest Maher Arar and, currently, at least five others. They are suspected of being supporters of terrorism, part of sleeper cells planted here up to fifteen years ago. So why is the Arar arrest causing more commotion among human rights groups than Zundels?

Part of it, of course, is that Zundel is Old White Trash. This doesn't mean he was poor and caucasian specifically: he had money. What makes him Old White Trash is that he has little but hate in his head for those he believes are not like him. I say believes for a good reason: White Trash believe, rather than think. As such, it's very hard to have any sympathy (or empathy) for the guy. But again, being an asshole is hardly something to be extradited over. Sympathy will get people to fight for you, but a lack of it won't get you arrested.

Another part is that he never actually became a Canadian citizen. That makes the process so much easier, and it is something that Arar actually has. Sending a German back to Germany is easier to understand than sending a Canadian citizen to Syria.

The last part is a big bone of contention regarding the concept of security certificates: secret information. The Canadian government can reveal information to the presiding judge in secret sessions under the pretext of national security, ie. to reveal it to the courtroom at large would no longer make it secret. Duh. Apparently, what was revealed was links to hate groups trying to "destabilize" the government in Germany. This, needless to say, has the Germans attention.

Goodbye, Ernst. And good riddance.


Next comes the New White Trash. Actually, they're quite old; but exposure to them is fairly recent in North America. It's this guy, and those like him: Rajinder Singh Atwal.

What, you thought White Trash could only be white? Oh, my word, no.

The trial has been going for a few days now, and what happened was this: Rajinders daughter, Amandeep, had been seeing a guy by the name of Todd McIssac for a three years (since she was 14). An accident they were in together brought the relationship to the attention of her father. He was not pleased So, having apparently not read Romeo and Juliet, he forbade her from seeing him. She left a note saying she was running off to be with her 19 year old boyfriend in Prince George: her mother found, tracked her down, and the family talked that night, the father finally acquiescing to his daughter.

Lovely story; but don't forget that the play's a tragedy.

A few days later, the family was going to Vancouver and picked up Amandeep on the way. She was delivered, by her father, to a Langley hospital with multiple knife wounds. He told the staff that he "got out of the car for a break [from driving]" and when he returned, she had stabbed herself.

The pathologist told the court that none of the four (count them) fatal wounds were self-inflicted, and there were several wounds on her arms and legs. Case-perfect defensive wounds.

The hatred that qualifies this guy as Trash isn't race, specifically: his son dated a white girl, after all. No, here it's the hatred of someone trying to live outside what he felt was their prescribed role. It's a hatred of women not being free to choose their own life, and it's not like this hasn't happened before.

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posted by Thursday at 3:41 pm 4 comments

February 25, 2005

Motorcycles: Idle Speculation III

With my bike dying on me (again), this list has whole new meaning for me... I found out that the owner previous to the fellow I bought this bike off of has a miserable reputation for his treatment of bikes: he's gone through six new bikes in five years, hearsay has it.

Bastard.

In any case, we're at the big bikes now: 650cc and up. The price limit has kept some manufacturers off the list so far, making their first appearance here. Goody!

Kawasaki Z750 - $8,999
Kawasaki Z750S - $9,499

A sports bike with less plastic, these two are all business. Quite an agressive seating position for what's theoretically a naked bike, the "S" version has finally realised what speeds this bike can go and added a fairing.

Kawasaki ZR-7S - $8,499

Retro-cool and more comfortable than the Z750, it's got a 22-litre fuel tank to carry you where ever the road goes. The passenger seat is good enough to take someone with you, too.

Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Classic - $8,499

Vulcans have been around so long, the "Classic" is redundant. Very smooth running bike, low-tech, okay power. Has a chain drive, which is odd for a cruiser.

Yamaha V-Star 650 Custom - $7,899
Yamaha V-Star 650 Classic - $8,399
Yamaha V-Star 650 Silverado - $9,699

One bike, lots of variations. Not particularaly powerful, but some of the best looking of the Japanese cruisers. I like the Silverado, new for this year and all set for touring with passenger.

Harley-Davidson XL 883 Sportster - $9,299
Harley-Davidson XL 883L Sportster - $9,899

H-Ds entry-level model, these bikes just scream to be modified by the vast aftermarket Harley has. The classic look is what sells this bike. The L model has a lower seat and shorter reach to the handlebars for the vertically challenged.

Suzuki Bandit GSF650S - $8,799

Actually 656ccs, the little Bandit is a bit of an odd duck. Comfortable with adjustable seat and handlebars, good mid-range power, and good for just about anything; but its bigger (1200cc) sibling is twice the bike with teh same styling for only $2,000 more, and Suzuki makes a better all-rounder in the V-Strom.

Suzuki SV650 - $8,499
Suzuki SV650S - 8,799

One of my favorite bikes, the SV has a very responsive V-twin engine that frequently gets mentioned as the best for the size and the price. A naked look I love, and one of the funnest bikes I've ever ridden. The S model has a bikini fairing.

Suzuki 750 Katana - $9,699

A venerable bike: not anywhere near cutting edge technology (no updates since 1998), but a rock solid inline four engine that has a meaty feel to it. Corners like it's on rails, great price.

Honda VT750 Shadow Aero - $8,499
Honda VT750 Shadow Spirit - $8,499

Same bike, different modes - The Aero is geared to a cruising look with fat tires, full fenders and 2-to-1 exhaust; the Shadow styles itself a dragster, with a 19-inch front wheel and bobbed fenders and a chain drive to cut weight. The Spirit also has twin carbs and the dual exhaust improves performance over the Aero. You can get two-tone paint for another $200 on either.

Moto Guzzi Breva 750 - $9,900 (approximately)

Moto Guzzi has always made some of the most beautiful bikes on the planet (and a few of the ugliest), and for the brief time Aprilia owned the company (Piaggio has it now) the technology and quality of finish skyrocketed. This bike is a serious push to make people who've always wanted a Goose consider it. Tough to find: I'm still holding out for the Griso.

Triumph Bonneville - $9,999

A 790cc twin engine in a nostalgic frame. At this price, it just comes in basic black, which is a shame because Triumph has the best factory paint in the business. It's not too nostalgic, though, as the electrics (and the rest of the bike) work perfectly well. Be ready for old guys with misty memories to start talking to you, though.

Suzuki S50 Boulevard - $8,299
Suzuki M50 Boulevard - $8,899
Suzuki C50 Boulevard - $8,899

Streamlining their cruiser models into the Boulevard, here's what you need to know: the S is a sporty model with slash-cut pipes, drop tank and drag bars; the M is the more powerful engine with an 8-valve v-twin and fuel-injection; and the C is the reto-cruiser with full fenders, scoop headlight and a hardtail look. Got all that?

Suzuki DL650 V-Strom - $8,999

Strange name, odd styling, brilliant bike. Showing up on a lot of Best Of lists, for good reason. With the SV650 engine in a tremendously capable frame (from the DL 1000 V-Strom) and a vast 22-litre tank, the only thing that could make this bike more trouble-free would be a shaft drive. Its bigger sibling is only $3,000 more: but unlike the Bandit, this is the better bike.


If I only had one bike to buy for the rest of my life (okay, never going to happen; but this whole thing is hypothetical anyways) the V-Strom wouls be it. Hedging further, if I was mostly commuting short distances or living in the city, it's the SV650. But (and this surprises me) I like the Katana the most of all of these bikes. Not the fastest, not the most stylish, certainly not the newest, but the comfort and modest sportability really appeal. I'd like one in a solid metalic colour, though: not a big fan of splashy graphics.

Well, that was fun.

So of all new bikes under $10,000, it comes down to the Ducati 620 Monster or the Katana 750 - Style vs. Substance in a classic matchup. Simple enough solution: at this price, sell off my truck, ride the Duck in Summer and the Kat in winter. Perfect!

***

Figure I should provide links to parts one and two, eh?

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posted by Thursday at 12:23 pm 8 comments

This is a friend of mine. Yes, he did this on purpose.

He's just sent me a promotional video, and the show looks like a blast.

These guys are based in Ottawa now, and are on line, too: Ash Circle
 Posted by Hello

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posted by Thursday at 11:58 am 1 comments

Sex: Being Faithful

To quote Johnny Carson:

"Democracy means freedom of sexual choice between any two consenting adults; Utopia means freedom of choice between three or more consenting adults."

So, why do I love my wife? Some would have you believe it is the biological imperative, that without love there would be no children. Not exactly my view, that: if I ever do have kids, it won't be with her. And frankly, while she has a big, BIG lust (so to speak) for sex, there is so much more to her than that.

Though sex is a big one.

A big reason why we don't have children, I'm pretty sure, is that they would cut into time better used for having sex. Typical conversation driving home from a friends house:

She: "We're almost out of lube."
Me: *blink* "Yes?"
She: "If a beautiful woman showed up at our house and demanded to be fucked in the ass, we'd only be able to do it once."
Me: "Should certainly get some more, then."
She: "It's a consideration."

It ends up that she is somewhat kinkier than I am, but that's life. I've got a bit of what psychyatrists call an Oral Fixation, and she's ecstatic about that. So we're not quite alike in our tastes: no big deal. The art of comprimise is one of the things that makes out relationship work as well as it does. We both like sex, and it's certainly been great over the past eight years. But she said something about, um, another woman, right?

Yup.

The odd thing about our being "faithful" to each other this long is that we never really intended to be, neither of us. The only shock in our lives so far is that we haven't found anyone who quite fits with our character, who neither of us has vetoed, and who hasn't disqualified themselves for one reason or another. The difficult part isn't just sexual compatability: it's spiritual and intellectual compatability. We've got a simple life, but we do have a very low tolerance for bullshit and/or drama queens. Which puts a lot of people out of the picture.

Well, isn't this infidelity? Even the search for someone else? Sure, but it's not cheating on each other. We're both completely open about what we want out of life and from each other, and frankly guilt over something we both approve of is stupid. I'm never going to stop being interested in women, and I know she's not going to stop looking at other guys (and the occasional woman), so why try to hide it? That just builds up pressures that don't have to be there, until someone finally kills the other for holding their teacup wrong. Which is a silly way to go.

I wouldn't mind having kids, eventually, but there's simply no way I'm ever going to leave my wife and she doesn't want them. We may never actually find anyone who fits the bill; we may be far too demanding of others, and others may not like either of us. Certainly possible, especially as we age and our bodies become less attractive, but so what? We'll carry on quite happily looking for something we may not find, and enjoying each others company in the mean time. The sex is great, and the conversation is even better.

It could be the spiritual side of our lives that keeps others at bay. We celebrate two holidays: Hallowe'en (best party of the year) and I Love You Day, which is every day and doesn't require a card, candy, flowers or anything else you can buy. So it could be that we're too bloody saccharine for anyone else to stomach. Well, it works for us.

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posted by Thursday at 10:30 am 5 comments

February 24, 2005

Politics: The Wife of an Alcoholic

So Bush has a new bestest buddy in the whole world; and he's French. Wonder how that's going over with the imbiciles who thought "Freedom Fries" was a good idea? (Granted, there were pockets of sanity in the US, and not just in the supposed blue states.) About bloody time. Anyone remember way back in the Bush-Gore election contest, one of the supposed strong suits of the Bush team was international relations? Remember that? Of course, Bush also claimed he could work with both Republicans and Democrats, so that didn't quite pan out either...

One of the problems in considering the relationship between Canada and the United States is that it's very easy to feel that anyone who complains about it is a whiner, and anyone who likes it is a sycophant. Not much consideration of what the relationship actually is, especially to the rest of the world.

Traditionally, Canada has been a broker for the US in negotiations with NATO and the UN and the G7. It's a simple reason: we share much of the culture, while at the same time having closer ties to Europe by the simple expedient of not having gone to war with them for our liberation. There was no radical break, so no need to deliberately distance ourselves. We didn't even have our own charter until 1982, almost finalising the break from England (we kept the Queen for some reason: no biggie, it's not like she has any power). Since we're seen as a lesser power (certainly true!) , often smaller nations will look to Canadas ambassadors for guidance in dealings with the US, formally or informally. We try to get along, to be diplomatic; it's a trend that has given us a huge part of our identity. We are desperate to remain distinct from the gigantic force to our South, while the reality is that there is no possible way to seperate that nation from our own.

The opposite has been true, as well. Since Canada has the internatial reputation that we do (that of frantic peacemongers), we have been approached by the United States to "soften" their image, something like a warm-up comic for a talk show host. Frequently, the US hasn't needed the help, like with Presidents Clinton and Bush Sr., both quite acomplished in international negotiations. In other times, though, it's tougher to explain away the bad behaviour: Bush Jr. and Reagan were disasters for international relations. Here's a hint, if you can't tell the differece beween a diplomat and a loose cannon: declarations of other nations as "Evil", a perverse joy in war (declared or otherwise), and being unable to tell if you were actually in a war or not when you were younger.

"But he's such a nice guy, most of the time. When he's not... You know..."

The only thing Canada has to trade in on in these situations is that quite nebulous declaration, "moral authority". Well, big whoop. What the hell does that mean, anyways? It means that when soon-to-be ambassador to the US Frank McKenna said that Canada was already taking part in the Missile Defence program, it touched off a minor contreversy. It's fairly well known that Prime Minister Martin was in favour of taking part in the program while he was finance minister (economics being his only consideration then), but as the head of a minority government, even a small backlash could be disasterous for him. Reading the reaction accurately, Martin has since declared outright that Canada will not be a part of the program.

But let's not kid ourselves here. If the US ever has a missile launched at it, there will be war, and Canada will go to war with Americas attacker. And Canadas involvement with the supposed missile shield will make no difference to the plans the US has for it, domestically speaking. So why did the US care what we thought?

Moral authority.

With Canada in its side, the US could go to any other government that protests the deployment of this program with an ally that has a reputation for moderation and negotiation. If even Canada is comfortable with it, it must be all right.

Well, we decided we weren't comfortable with it, and America is going to do it anyways, and there won't be any change to anyones budget or domestic policy. It was the right decision, and any long-sighted Americains should be glad for it. Canadas reputation remains intact, and that makes the explanations to the rest of the wold a little easier.

"Just give him four more years to sleep it off. Really, he'll be better when he wakes up."

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posted by Thursday at 10:17 pm 0 comments

February 17, 2005

Other: In Defence of NHL Hockey

As you have undoubtedly heard if you have any interest in hockey, the NHL has decided to kill the season. I've heard the occasional moan about how bad hockey is now, and it's no great loss, and how no one can play the game anymore since (player X) left, expansion made everything awful, it's too voilent, etc etc etc.

Suck it up.

I wrote this little blurb last year when a certain columnist was pissing and moaning about expansion. I've added a bit at the end to update it, and talk a bit about violence in hockey.



Unfortunately, your view on contraction just hasn't been thought out. It would NOT improve the game for any length of time, because the problem isn't the players. Ironically enough, the team you mention in your story, Calgary, would have been "contracted" a couple of times by now. Unless you'd rather Edmonton went? Anyhow, off to the arguements in favour of removing teams, shall we? I'll start with what may be considered the best possible consequences of contraction:

Fewer games? Not with these owners. Hockey relies on gate far more than other leagues do, and if you take away games, you lose that much money. While I'd LIKE to see a much shorter schedule (say, 60 games), it's not going to happen.

Yes, contraction means a concentration of talent... for now. There is no league, in ANY SPORT and at ANY TIME, where this is not true. If, for instance, the original six had shrunk down to four, a similar increase in skill would have happened. Yes, oddly enough, even those original six had "fringe players", and those players probably wouldn't have made it in today's NHL.

Here's why: Let's go back 36 years, say, to 1967. It's the first major expansion for the NHL, going from six teams to twelve. It would be six years before Philidelphia would get a cup, and frankly, the only reason the expansion teams got any points at all was because they played each other. (Well, and Detroit, but that will come later.) However, the new players in the NHL were playing the game at a higher level than they ever had before, and they improved (like Philidelphia did) or they died (Oakland/California).

Bear in mind that the Canadian players were 96% of the league. This means that teams were drawing from a population of maybe 20 million people. Few Americans were interested in playing hockey, and fewer Europeans wanted to move to another continent to do so. But those that do make it to the bigs are starting to be challenged by more players wanting in. In a couple of years, an entry draft system will be instituted, and teams are starting up minor clubs with the express purpose of training their prospects for NHL play.

Jump to 1983, 15 years later. Detroit managed 95 points in the '69-'70 season, but has been simply awful for nearly twenty years. There has been more expansion, and the WHA has been absorbed and eliminated, and those teams that joined have done well enough (Minnisota) or relocated (Calgary, New Jersey). Teams have noticed that Canada is running dry of talent to share, so have turned to the U.S. and Europe: only about 80% of players are from Canada, now.
There are many who decry the expansions, and long for the era of the so-called "Original Six". They say the influx of players in diluting the game, and too many fringe players are playing in the league now. Hockey is worse than ever. It's time to consider eliminating non-traditional teams that haven't been doing very well, and redistribute those players to the good teams. Eliminate Hartford and Vancouver, say. Washington and LA can go, too. Imagine Marcel Dionne on a good team, eh? The league would be better for it.

Ten years later (1993), only 66% of the players are Canadian, something that has self-appointed purists worried, because there can't be that many good players in the rest of the world, right? Expansion must have been the problem for the NHL, because so many players from other countries are in the league! This, according to said purists, has caused the downfall of the hockey dynasty, unless Pittsburgh can keep it together. The game itself is at it's worst, with the massively diluted talent pool.

Now (still 1993) ALL NHL teams own or share a minor team, and are paying close attention to the development of their players. Each of those minor teams has coaching approved by the big club, and almost no player makes it to the NHL without passing a couple of years in the baptismal font of the AHL or IHL first. Somehow, all those international players seem to have increased exposure for the NHL world wide, and players from around the world want to play in North America. There's some good money to be made. Get some English lessons, quick!

Canada is occasionally losing at more international events than just the Olympics. What's going on? Oh, well: if we get rid of Ottawa, Hartford, Quebec, Florida, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, San Jose and Aneheim, the League will be that much better.

Jump to now (2004). Countries from all over the world are losing their best players to the NHL. Far more Americans and Europeans are interested in getting into the big league, creating a population pool of potential players well into the hundreds of millions. NHL teams not only have AHL affiliates, but many of those affiliates have ECHL teams to send their players down to, until they're ready for the AHL. The average height of an NHLer is 6'1", the average weight 204 pounds, an increase of two inches and twenty pounds from thirty years ago.

None of these players takes summer off: not any more. The Summit Series was nearly lost by Canada way back when because NHL players were coming back from the off season, and they simply were not in game shape. Anyone who shows up to training camp out of shape now is given a severe reprimand, sent down or even cut from the organization. Fewer than 1% of players smoke anymore, and all of them follow diet plans, even in the off season. The competition for NHL jobs is simply too fierce to slack off, and the atheletes are bigger, faster, and better coached than ever before: many players train with additional coaches in the off season. One-dimentional players are looked at with suspicion at best, and dropped from the roster at worst, sent down to learn "a complete game" in the minors before being called up again. More ambitious Europeans have been starting their careers in the CHL to learn the North American game, and to acclimatise themselves to the culture and language, pressuring the players already there to improve their game.

Teams have upped the intensity as well: EVERY team now has a fitness coach, a goaltender coach, and at least two assistant coaches. They watch tape (if they don't have a video coach), hire dieticians and nutritionists, and restrict what their players can do off the ice in their free time.

And yet some critics STILL believe that players are worse than ever. The "problem" in the NHL, which can be narrowed to "lack of scoring" is one thing: coaching. Period. Everyone in the league is micro-managed, with coaches for everything in the game. The toughest award to give is the Selke, because everybody plays like Bob Gainey now or they are sent down. Watch the old games: the goalies were caught out of position far more often, the defencemen couldn't skate as well, and the forwards didn't back check! No wonder there were more three-on-ones and breakaways.

And now:

HOW TO SAVE THE LEAGUE

If you still want to contract, do it for two reasons only: no fan support and/or losing money.

1) Teams that drop below, say, 15,000 fans average attendance will be eliminated by the end of the year unless they can prove sound financial backing EVERY YEAR. Big support at the beginning of the year can salvage a team that drops out of the playoff race early, and likewise any team that starts slow can try picking it up by season's end. Fans will take a much more long-term approach to their teams, too, knowing that if they don't support them for the full season, that team will be gone (or at least relegated - see below).

2)Any team that cries poor will be eliminated by the end of the year. This will put an end to teams signing contracts that they cannot fulfill, and guarantees good management... or else.

This would probably create a tiered system, with teams not allowed to join the NHL until they meet both these criteria, but is that such a bad thing? On fan base alone, you've eliminated Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Nashville, New Jersey, the Islanders, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, and Washington! All relegated to "Tier Two", and not allowed to compete for the Cup.

This differs from the list you provide somewhat, but the remaining teams (yes, even Columbus which outdraws Calgary) have fan support, which is the main revenue maker for the NHL. How can removing a team that draws crowds be justified? In my opinion, New Jersey should have been moved when they didn't sell out the first year they were in the finals. If any fans don't deserve a team, it's them. Three cups in six years and rock solid ownership? Doesn't matter, they're still only drawing 14,000 fans to their games. Give the team to Winnipeg or Quebec City for crying out loud!


Back to 2005.

If I hear one more person describe Calgary as a boring team, I'll gladly offer to put them out of their misery! Ask yourself if you think Team Canada played a good game at the World Juniors - Calgary plays that exact same style. High tempo, constant pursuit hockey that, oddly, I didn't hear many complaints about during the Worlds.

As for hockey getting more violent, chew on this: Gordie Howe (AKA Mr. Hockey) was not just an awesome sniper, he was also a feared fighter and the possesor of the fastest elbows in the league. And "Terrible" Ted Lindsay didn't get his nickname because he was a bad player...

So who's right and who's wrong in this lockout? The owners may have a cap, but as long as they fight any sort of revenue sharing, a cap isn't going to do a damn thing to help the poorer teams compete. The owners brought this on themselves: the only reason they give for not offering stupidly big contracts to players is "We can't help it! We just can't!" And that's not good enough.

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posted by Thursday at 3:50 pm 0 comments

February 15, 2005

Religon: Okay, Not Really

So the pinheads doing the negotiating for the NHL and NHLPA have finally decided to speak in some meaningful way, have they? And they've waited this long for... why was that again?

I wish I could say that I won't watch the NHL if it does actually make it back this season, but I'd be lying, lying, lying. I'm a crackhead when it comes to this sport. I've watched the World Juniors, the Spengler Cup in Davos, the AHL, and the freakin' Swedish Elite League. Why, oh why would I do such a thing? 'Cause it feels good, man.

Whose side am I on in this? It is tough to support the players when you hear Chris Pronger make a twit statement like "Most players only make a couple hundred thousand [dollars]." And it's tough to support them when you haven't heard them say a damn thing about the cost of tickets, or what the other employees of the various teams are doing right now to try making ends meet.

But: these are the best players in the world. No one else can do what they do, as well as they do it. There are literally millions of hockey players around the world, and perhaps one hundred thousand of them are professionals to a greater or lesser degree; of them, fewer than one thousand manage to get even a sniff of the NHL. These guys are good, and without them, there is no game.

I simply can't support the owners on this. They keep pointing to the NFL as a fine example of a salary cap that works, but they never mention that 40% of the NFL revenues are SHARED. You know, split amongst the teams. If you mention this to the owners, they shy away like a skittish horse on Hallowe'en, muttering "we don't do that, we don't do that".

Plus the most obvious reason to place blame on the owners: they proposed the stupid contracts that players are getting. Don't get me wrong, Matrin Lapointe is an asset to any team, and a great third-line player. But he's a third-line player, and no third-line player I've ever heard of is worth the $5,000,000 dollars Boston offered him. How many tickets does Bill Guerin sell? The $10,000,000 worth that Dallas seems to think? And I have no idea what Ted Leonsis was thinking when he signed Jagr, for any price. At least the last two examples are a matter of new owners not knowing the value of players - what's Jeremy Jacobs' excuse?

Plus, of course, the owners have also said nothing about the cost of tickets.

I only have one request before the game starts again: could the media please stop reporting that "people have found other things to do during the strike". And you expected what, exactly? We'd spend three hours a night staring at a blank screen? Sober up, already.

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posted by Thursday at 8:40 am 0 comments

February 12, 2005

Politics: Arguments Against

One of the great things about chopping wood is that you can have a maul in your hands and be thinking about anything you want, but no one can tell. If intent were the bulk of a crime, I'd have been arrested a couple times today.

So what's the problem this time? I just encountered the stupidest argument against gay marriage EVER: homosexuals shouldn't get married because they don't have divorce laws for them yet!

Ye gods.

So I talked to the person in question for a short while, and it ends up that he was talking about common law marriage, and how it could relate to same-sex roommates. Not the brightest bulb on the christmas tree, this. So it got me to thinking about all the possible arguments against gay marriage; there are a fair number, so why not go through them?

1) They can't have babies.

A) Fine by me! Actually, there are a fair number of couples I know who can't, or won't, have children for whatever reason. Like my wife and I, for instance. We are far too self-centred to have kids: I simply wouldn't have the time for them. If having kids is the sole purpose, or even the main purpose, of marriage then all those without children have invalid marriages. And I think we all know more than one couple who should never have had kids.
I got into a bit of a debate (big surprise, I know) with a gay man who tried to say that not having kids was his moral choice, what with overpopulation and all. I pointed out that he , like many gay folks, already had one child before he decided he couldn't live a lie anymore, so that statement was a bit of self-justification. He actually blushed.

2) Society is based on the family, and if there non-families are allowed, society will crumble into anarchy and chaos.

A) Marriage makes families: what part of this gets misunderstood? Almost every gay person I know tried to "play straight" for a while before they realised that they hated their lives and had to break free. Their exes may have had a period of adjustment (much like any other divorced family), but surely that's the better option? My own parents divorced, and frankly I'm bloody glad they did. I can't see where growing up in a house where the parents can't stand each other (still true after almost 30 years) is a good thing. In any case, every scandinavian country allows gay marriage, and they haven't collapsed yet. Denmark's been doing it for the past 15 years (1989); but we all know that those freaks have rampant turpitude throughout the nation, anyhow.

3) Family is: Mom, Dad, Kids. That's it. Anything else is just wrong.

A) A slight exaggeration on the question, but it's what many opposed to gay marriage use a half-dozen paragraph to say. If these folks are really focused on "Defending Marriage", then let's make divorce illegal. Even better: let's make the law retroactive, forcing all couples to return to whomever they first married. Know any divorced people? Ask them their opinion of this little law. And, of course, children would be manditory for married couples in, say, three years. Any longer, and they will be
susceptible to heavy fines, increasing each year thereafter. Then again, I'm already in the highest tax bracket for my income: no dependants, you see.

4) If you allow gays to marry, that's like saying it somehow all right to be gay.

A) Why, yes. Yes it is. Your point being...? Actually, the funniest "defence of marriage" I've ever encountered was when one person claimed that if homosexuality were permitted, then you could justify sex for pleasure (which it just can't be) , and no one would ever get married again. I guess people would rather be gay than married. Or something.

5) Gays can't be with a single partner for very long. They're always promiscuous!

A) Well, what say you ask the hetro folks how many lovers thay've had. If it's more than one per marriage, then that's promescuity. Anyhow, according to this study of Norway (which allowed gay marriage in 1993) and Sweden (1995), there simply isn't much of a difference in divorce rates between straights and gays. Granted, there are far, far fewer gay marriages (about 100 a year); so when one such couple gets divorced, it tends to skew the stats more dramatically than with straights, so there's a bit of wobble.

6) God says it's bad.

A) Ah, yes: the traditional "let's pick and choose the religous laws to live by" defence, despite the bible being very clear about this being a bad idea (Deut 12:32). Unless you avoid tatoos and are opposed to interracial marriages, this isn't even worth debating. Hey, and why hasn't god punished Denmark yet? They've got a reported 5,000 AIDS cases in a population of about 5.4 million people: hardly a plague, despite allowing gay marriage. No tidal waves, comets, or other natural catastorphies yet! Or unnatural ones, for that matter.

7) Same sex roommates will claim social security and other benifits just by living together, and that's cheating.

A) BS meter - off the scale! First off, any social service provided universally is going to have some abuses. For instance, someone who is self-employed but still collecting welfare. Second, what's to stop opposite sexed roommates from doing the same thing? If this was an actual concern, then opposition should be to ALL unmarried people who happen to live together. Third, why don't you give it a try? Go ahead: explain to your friends and family that you're actually gay. Hey, if you can get an extra $30 or $40 bucks off per month off of your income tax, that makes it worth it! Or better yet (as the person who got me started on this rant suggested) why don't you file for divorce and take half your ex-roomies stuff? Your family will back you up on this, right? Right?

These are lame bloody arguments against what is (to my mind) simply a matter of fairness. Allowing gays to marry is only polite, and frankly, it's just not going to affect many of us. About 16,000 gay couples in Canada have been married so far. Over 140,000 straight couples got married in Canada in one year.

Tell me again why this is such a big deal?

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posted by Thursday at 9:57 am 8 comments

February 10, 2005

Religion: What's Fair?

I cannot believe that this is still going on. There are Americans who are astounded that much of the world views them as an intellectual backwater, and they protest such treatment (rightly, in my mind). But when you look at what the public face of America is, you can begin to understand why they are looked down on. Go back ten years, or even five years, and there was a very different opinion.

You can protest all you want about how good a family guy you are; or the books you read; or the amount you give to charity. If you throw your garbage into your neighbours yard; skin their dogs; and shoot at people randomly, then the neighbourhood is not going to like you. As Kurt Vonnegut said, "It matters who you pretend to be; because that, in the end, is who you are."

So what's this got to do with religon? Currently in seventeen states of the US, there are legal and educational challenges to the teaching of evolution. How has this particular brand of idiocy survived this long? Simple: people believe. And when you believe, you don't have to think.

More specifically, there have been several religous groups who feel that evolution and religon are opposites. So they have created a concept called "intelligent design". This is the claim that since science cannot prove that evolution requires complexity, then the complexity that life contains could only be from a creator of some kind. (Gee, I wonder who they could be thinking of...?) You can imagine the uproar if every variant of creationism was taught alongside evolution, eh?

So, they say, in the intrests of fairness and tolerance of other views, creationism should be taught alongside evolution (inteligent design) and should be given equal time. What's wrong with that?

Let me count the ways...

Actually, I'm just going to stick to the most basic reasons why creationism and science are 1) not opposites; and 2) incompatible. Whoa - does that look like a paradox to you?

Science is a study based on observations of the world around us. We can see how something functions, study it, and try various hypothesis to explain it. The best part about science is that it is self correcting: the instant a hypothesis (or even a theory) is disproved with superior facts, then that hypothesis is consigned to history. Perhaps the classic example of this is Newtons alchemy: here was one of the greatest scientific minds in history, convinced that base elements could be transformed instantaneously from one to another through mystical means, but the laws of nature didn't bear this out, so that branch of science died out, bearing no fruit. Chemistry was only tangentally related, and could be best described in its early form as "physics with liquids"; but it did produce repeatable results, and so thrived.

One of the greatest fallacies used by evolutions opponents is that evolution isn't perfect, so the entire theory should be trashed. Besides, it's just a theory, right? These are people who do not know the difference between hypothesis, theory, and proof. What it means that science calls evolution a theory seems to be missed by critics: there is a will to change the theory should superior facts present themselves. They haven't.

Intelligent design, on the other hand, is simply a variant of the "watch in a desert" question: if you were walking the desert and found a watch, you would not expect it to have grown there naturally, would you? Of course not. Likewise, with the awsome complexity of life, you don't expect it to have come from nowhere, do you? Of course not. Ipso facto, the watch was created by an intelligence. To which, you reply certainly: and that intelligence came from where? What they don't mention is that if later in that same desert you found a watch bush growing at the side of the path, but no sign of intelligent beings anywhere, then you would have to leave the subject open, wouldn't you? This is what science does.

Science starts with observation: what is here, what is around us. You can teach science, and how science operates, and what physical laws have been discovered, and what's still up in the air. And if those laws are found to be false, science changes to match the facts.
Religon starts with belief: what we want to be here, what could be around us. You can teach about religon, and what various religons are, and what moral codes they may have, but you can't force belief. The moral values are absolute and unchangeable, or else a schism results.

That's the difference at its core. Science is of the physical realm, and religon is of the spiritual. There is no real conflict between these two because they operate in entirely different fields. The only time they can be considered opposties is when religon tries to claim scientific validity.

Why is this a crisis in schools? Because the intelligent design groups are trying to change what is being taught from science to religon, from fact to fantasy. Learning biology without evolution is much like trying to learn physics without calculus: there are some basic things you can do with it, but nothing very advanced. The entire fields of research have come from evolution and its sister study, genetics. They are two halves of the same equation, they simply do not stand alone without the other. Perhaps this means both are wrong. Perhaps there will be a discovery in time to explode the current theories: it's certainly possible. But here's the crux: when this happens, it will be fully trained scientists who bring these theories forth; and they will be savaged by their contemporaries, and the theories will survive because the facts support them.

This is why I trust science before religon every time: what is real will win out, not what is believed or what should be believed. Giving mysticism equal time with science is fine, if you really think it necessary: just don't make the mistake of believing that mysticism to be science.

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posted by Thursday at 11:29 am 2 comments

February 09, 2005

Other: Utter Glurge

I'm going to be completely self-indulgent, here. Of course, if I wasn't, I wouldn't be writing a blog: it's the definition. But I will provide an early warning (other than the title) that this is going to be about the death of a family pet. Caveat Emptor.

I have a lot more room in my chair than I'm used to right now. I'm far more accustomed to be wrestling for space with my cat, Elizabeth. She had a small, temperature-sensitive homing device that would guide her to the warmest spot in the house, and frequently that was me. What I was doing at the time mattered little to her; if I happened to be at the computer at the time, there would be a brief wrestling match to see how little I could move her without being reprimanded while still being able to type. After a few months of intense negotiations that rivalled any labour board, we agreed that when I was sitting, she could be at my right, wedged between the arm of the chair and my leg; I, in exchange, would guaruntee that the keyboard did not infringe upon the space her head currently occupied. In bed, she slept between my legs; reading on the couch, she was permitted the use of my belly. We've had her longer than Jenny and I have been married.

I defy anyone who had any beast that slept on their belly for eight years not to cry when it dies. I'm crying now. It makes for a blurry screen, and the proof reading may be a little off, but it's not like I have much of a choice.

A common theme of our pets is their names: they only get a single name and title when they come to us from the SPCA, and the others they earn as they go. Elizabeth, when we first got her, was a perpetual crank. Daring to move her, or anything she was sitting on (cushions, blankets, you) without her prior permission got a stern reprimand, so she was promptly given the title of "Princess". She cost us $1000 in the first year we had her, as there was something in her lungs making her breathe loudly and we were trying to figure out what exactly it was. We (the vet and us) finally decided it was scarring from an old lung infection, and if it wasn't hurting her, we just weren't going to worry about it anymore. The noise remained, so we also dubbed her "Two-Stroke". She was also a fantastically decorative cat: a beautiful cream colour with bright blue eyes, but also in that wherever she went, she simply became part of the decor because she was not going to move from that spot until forced. Thus her last name: "Throw Pillow".

The Princess Elizabeth Two-Stroke Throw Pillow, aged... uh... anywhere from twelve to sixteen, is now buried in our garden beneath a Rosa Mutabilis, and in lots of sunlight (one of a few - very few - of her favorite things). At least we know she ain't moving. Oh, come now; you didn't think I'd pass up a little morbid humour, did you?

Pax Vobiscum.

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posted by Thursday at 2:38 pm 0 comments

February 07, 2005

Motorcycles: Idle Speculation II

Another Sunday, another few hours working on the RDs. There's an added pressure now, though: Jennys bike has given up the ghost (at least for now) and while she'll miss Honey, she wants back on the road pronto. With that in mind, I thought I'd get around to the new mid-sized bikes available this year for under $10,000 (MSRP):

Yamaha FZ6 - $8,999

Slightly more reaxed bike to Yamahas R6 race bike, it still almost pulls 100 horsepower. A small fairing and comfortable riding position makes this a great commuter.

Yamaha YZF600R - $9,999

Barely makes the price limit: for the extra $1,000 you get better brakes, better suspension, and a full upper and lower fairing. If that's your thing.

Ducati Monster 620 - $9,995

If the words "Naked Itallian" catch your interest, that may be all you need to know. Ducatis best selling bike, it's "street" in every sense of the word. Started the rebirth of cafe style.

Suzuki S40 Boulevard - $6,299

Low price for one of the most basic bikes going. A single cylinder (or "one-thumper") air cooled 652cc engine, low seat, low maintainance belt drive, and low power makes it a fair introduction to cruisers.

Suzuki GS500 - $6,099
Suzuki GS500F - $6,799

The F is the descendant of my wifes bike, and she loves it. Hardly a technological marvel, but at that price? The difference between them is the F has a full fairing, the other doesn't. Very smooth bikes, very easy to ride.

Suzuki GSX600 Katana - $9,099

One of the venerable old bikes that were so amazing when they came out, and are now looked upon as easy going, comfortable sport bikes. Good all-rounder; last updated seven years ago.

Honda VT600C Shadow VLX - $7,599

Some people say you can't have a cruiser without a V-twin engine: this qualifies, then. Wide handlebars for easy steering, and if you ever get nervous about changing gears, rest assured: this bike only has four, so one of them is going to be right!

Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD - $6,799

A retuned Ninja 500 engine, it delivers good power (46hp) for a small cruiser. Great price, but the styling is something I've never learned to like. Six speeds make it easy to keep in its power band, but a bit awkward in town.

Kawasaki EX500R Ninja - $6,899

Fantastic price for the bike you get. A sports bike in performance (60hp) and handling, and forgiving of inexperience - to a degree.

Kawasaki ZZ-R600 - $9,699

The older generation Ninja, it's been outdistanced by a lot of the new 600s as far as performance goes, but there's more than enough power (100hp) to get you in serious trouble. And if you carry a passenger, they'll love you for the far more comfortable seating this provides.

I think that's about it for mid sized cheapies. Big ones next week (and man, has the definition of "big" changed over the past few years).

Of these, I really respect the GS500. It's a very under-rated bike to my mind, and I'd be happy to own one. But who am I kidding? I'd buy the Ducati in a heartbeat.

Rubber side down!

***

Check the shirts out here - half price if you say you came from this blog!

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posted by Thursday at 9:21 pm 0 comments

February 05, 2005

Politics: Fascist Canada at its Best!

My Goodness, isn't Canada important! At least, some of the more right-wing American pundits think so.

First, there was the silliness with Tucker Carlson.
Then came the silliness of Anne Coulter.
Now here's (knew this was coming) Bill O'Reilly.

We've seen several little blurbs about his opinions on Canada, of course. But (not being a big fan of irrational diatribes) I've not seen this little bit until this paper was published about the number of personal bankruptcies that have happened in the United States because of illness. Check the video link "Dr.Steffie Woolhandler on O'Reilly(Fox News) ".

Apparently, Canada is devolving into a "fascist state" that doesn't know how to run a health care system. Be patient with the clip: Dr. Woolhandler is actually an intelligent commentator, despite Mr. O'Reillys best efforts.

So I got to thinking about my personal experience with the apparently massively flawed health care system (Canadas) run by a fascist state (that's us) and doing a little comparison shopping.

Flipping around the net, it was pretty rare to find institutes that were willing to list their costs for anything other than cosmetic surgery. (I have to know: would you trust anyone who called themselves professionals, but couldn't spell "work"?) I did come across this at the American College of Surgeons:
"In addition to surgeons' fees and the costs of hospitalization, you should also expect to be billed separately for the professional services of other individuals involved in your care, such as the assisting surgeon, anesthesiologist, and medical consultants."

So I can understand the lack of solid numbers: too many variables, and of course you don't want to give the expectation of one cost only to have that price outdated by the time the customer/patient reaches the surgery room. There is one place in Bangkok, but not really what I'm looking for. Thene there's the potential bidding wars that could break out on-line. Personally, I don't trust the low bidder to work on my house, never mind my body.

Here's the closest I've some to a list for heart valve surgery performed in the US and does NOT include surgeon fees or "additional charges", like using equipment or surgeon assistants. There's a bit about eye surgery in British Columbia for those insured and those not, but all told it was a lot of looking for not much reward.

Then I sobered up and did the obvious: let someone else do the looking for me. Ray Romanow, former Premier of Saskachewan, already did a massive report on health care in Canada, and the CBC did a report of that. Voila! Unfortunately, all that is covered there is non-critical surgery and the comparative cost is US-India, and I'm interested in Canadian costs for all sorts of medical work.

Then: salvation! It occured to me that I had, in fact, broken my wrist a short while ago, and while I was in the hospital, I noticed a sign on one wall with some of the non-Canadian (tourist) costs. These apparently only cover the use of the hospital, not the staffing costs:

Operating room, visit: $2000
Day care surgery: $1200
Renal dialysis: $1200
Emergency /Admissions visit: $100
Emergency /Admissions visit w/physician: $200
Acute care ward: $2500/day
Maternity ward: $2500/day
ICU or CCU: $4300/day
Birth: $1000/day base cost,
Natural: +$1000
Caesarean: +$2000
Special care nursury: +$4300
Cat scan: $650
Xray: Variable ($63 when I went)

With my broken wrist, I waited two days to see if it was a sprain before going to the hospital. I've been to the hospital four times; had four sets of Xrays taken; got a cast put on; and seen a orthopedic surgeon three times. Here's the breakdown (after calling the specialist for his prices):

Three visits: $300
One with doctor: $200
Cast: $15 (the doctor wouldn't let me get a cheap one)
Four Xrays: $252
Visit to orthopedic: $225
Two follow-ups: $150
Total: $1142

Not bad, all told. But I don't now, and I didn't then, have a thousand bucks. So I may not have gone, which could be VERY bad with a broken scaphoid. I could well have had the bone die on me, then be forced into either a lifetime of pain or surgery, which would start at $2000 for the room and go up from there. Then there's the waiting lists for non-critical surgery, so who knows when I'd go in for it.

The moral? Without having the health coverage I do, I may not have caught this break in time. And if I hadn't, my quality of life would have plummeted, affecting me for the rest of my life. And that doesn't seem terribly cost-effective to me.

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posted by Thursday at 11:23 pm 0 comments

February 04, 2005

Science: Psudeoscience Detection Pt. 1

Homo vult decipi; decipiatur
Man wishes to be deceived; deceive him.


One of the biggest problems in having a scientifically uneducated public (hello, Premier Campbell!) is that critical thinking is weaker; vulnerability to swindles, charlatans and pseudoscience increases. This is not a good thing for the health of your population, medically, financially or socially. So what to do?

The best defence, of course, is to arm yourself with knowledge of A) what science is, and B) how to recognise its misuse. I'm only going to go over one of the easier to detect signs of misuse: the moving target.

Let's say biorhythms exist. That's mine for last week and the week to come. Looks pretty straight forward: three aspects of my personality going through highs and lows. Apparently, in three days (at midnight, apparently) I'm going to be tremendously physically gifted AND as emotional as I'll ever be. Also as intellectually feeble as I can get. Hm. Whereas four days ago I was at a physical and emotional low, and intellecually moderate (though dropping fast). Coincidence? Or... something extraordinary!

So what actually happened over the past week? Tragically, my broken wrist was given the thumbs up from my doctor, so I had to continue chopping wood and helping Jenny dig in her garden: I think I performed reasonably well at those tasks, and I did feel good not having to worry about my broken scaphoid. Of course, I couldn't think of an excuse to get out of the work, so maybe the intellectual part of the chart is correct after all. Otherwise it's 0-for-3 for the chart. If it stopped there, it would be quite easy to determine these charts accuracy. But for pseudoscience, obfuscation, vagueness, and very, very wide targets are the key.

And so the excuses can begin.

We have a second chart, right below the first. These are mixes of the original three aspects. Why are they included at all? They didn't exist when George Thommen wrote what is considered the seminal work on biorhythms, Is This Your Day? Of course, the original creators of the biorhythm only had a masculine and feminine line: the intellectual one added later, so why not a few more? The second chart can be used to explain away most aberrations when the reality of life doesn't jibe with the lines on the paper. These lines all influence each other, you see, so perhaps the positive from my intellectual aspect somewhat neutralized the physical part. Power of positive thinking, don't you know.

But the most obvious use of generalization-as-justification is in this single paragraph taken from Thommens book: discussing the ability of biorhythms to predict behaviour, he uses "there is a good chance that", "it sometimes happens", "likely", "not likely", and my favorite, "uncertain interpretation". This is in a single paragraph, mind.

Another of the authors (Bernard Gittelson - Biorhythms - A Personal Science) quotes a fellow by the name of Gunthard, who explains that some people are "non-rhythmists", unaffected by biorhythms! Or possibly that biorhythms affect all of us, but some more than others. There is simply no way that someone who wishes to defend this belief can lose. Apparently, there have been whole new cycles added, too: there is the 38-day intuitional cycle, the 43-day aesthetic cycle, and the 53-day spiritual cycle in addition to the 23-day masculine, 28-day feminine, and 33-day intellectual cycles. This makes a whole new range of ambiguity available to proponents, as the more aspects they can point to as influences, the wider the target becomes, and the greater number of "hits" they can claim.

Biorhythms, horoscopes, and luck all have ont thing in common: they can only be applied in retrospect, after the events have happened. And that's one way to detect pseudoscience.

posted by Thursday at 3:10 pm 1 comments

Politics: The Yellow Peril is Coming!

One of the most devestating play reviews I have ever seen consists of a single line: "The frocks were lovely."

The Province newspaper has a decent sports section. But don't think I'm going to stop there.

A couple of days ago, they ran a huge, screaming headline warning of an impending crisis: boat people were coming over from China. Now, to anyone who has bothered to look, this is hardly a new phenomenon. In fact, the US has criticised Canada for decades about the supposed ease of people getting refugee status. It simply isn't as easy as the critics claim (take a closer look at former Immigration Minister Judy Sgro's supposed "Strippergate" nonsense).

So why the hullaballoo? Because there were around 700 that landed on Vancouver Island in 1999. They ended up being put in an empty prison just so they wouldn't jump bail before their hearings. Illegal immigrants are a huge flight risk, and the people who roam China promising people there a new "Gold Mountain" (San Franciscos Chinese nickname) across the sea end up with indentured slaves until the immigrants debt is paid off. These "snakeheads" charge as much as $50,000, which means that the folks coming over need a long time to work that off. More to the point, the snakeheads have a vested interest in the newcomers staying out of the immigration system: anyone that can get away from the courts or the police will be hidden by triad (usually) connections.

Having 700 people show up all at once in a couple rusty tankers from across the ocean is a very dramatic event; so naturally, the population here panicked. The most voiciferous were those Chinese who reached Canada through legitimate means, but a lot of the howlers were simply people who thought we didn't need any more of "them folk" stealing "our" jobs, so they could go drown for all they cared. Of course, the fact that immigrants tend to take crap jobs never seems to occur to people making this argument, but I digress.

There were huge complaints that people in Canada, even if they aren't citizens, have rights. There were trials and immigration hearings set up, which folks complained about, then as they got expelled, people complained as they were flown back to China. No middle ground here, apparently.

What has been either missed or ignored is that 700 people trying to claim refugee status, or even just trying to "run the border" (to use an expression from the US-Mexico line) simply isn't all that much. The year before (1998), over 6,300 would-be immigrants were stopped, mostly at airports. As for the thought of them "jumping the queue" is also bogus because there is no queue for these people to jump! They are moderately wealthy in China, but don't have the money, marketable skills, or immediate family to enter Canada legally, so this is their only chance.

And frankly, when you consider where they're leaving, wouldn't you do what you could to get your self and your family the heck out of there?

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posted by Thursday at 12:54 pm 1 comments

February 02, 2005

Politics: Isn't it Romantic?

Who says that Canadian politics is devoid of romance and intrigue?

Here's the set-up:

Peter MacKay is the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party. That means he's the second-in-command.
Belinda Stronach is perhaps the third best-known Conservative Party member, after MacKay and..
Stephen Harper, who is the Leader of the Opposition, and top dog of the Conservatives.

When the Conservatives and the Alliance parties merged together (forming, for one brief, shining moment the Canadian Reform Alliance Party...) all three of these individuals ran for leadership of the party, with MacKay and Stronach coming from the Conservatives and Harper from the farther right Alliance. Mr. Harper, obviously, won.

Recently, he purchased advertisements opposing gay marriage in several newspapers that had minorities as their target audience. Both Stronach and MacKay have said thay had no idea that the ads were appearing, and both have also stated that it was not a tactic they would have used.

Ms. Stronach and Mr. MacKay are currently romantically involved, an apparently recent development. Conservatives and romance: who would have guessed?

There is going to be a showdown in the House of Commons about gay marriage, of all things. If the Conservatives do not have a good showing on this (they don't have to win, just show strong opposition), then there is some thought that it could cause a leadership crisis. Any bets on who would be in competition for that position? Even if MacKay (the more experienced of the two) were to challenge Harper and lose, in four to eight years Stronach could have enough influence to make a serious run at leadership of the party.

Lord and Lady MacBeth, anybody?

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posted by Thursday at 7:00 pm 2 comments

February 01, 2005

Motorcycles: Idle Speculation I

One of the first things I did with my new bike was look for the choke. I’ve never had a fuel-injected vehicle before, and it was a touch confusing, okay? Still, it was lovely not to worry about the bike starting in cold weather. Right until it stopped.

On disadvantage of computerized everything is that those of us who are marginal wrenchers get left far, far behind when the motor goes down. To make myself feel better, I remind me that I’m also working on some 1981 Yamaha RD350LCs. Lovely, utterly psychopathic two-stroke engines. Like a chain saw, or a leaf blower. These little beasts were out-gunning 750cc bikes on the race tracks when they came out. A power:mass ratio through the roof.

So this got me to thinking about the bikes available to Canadians this year, and what could I afford If I traded in the three bikes I have? I’m assuming about $10,000. Hey, I’ve got one valuable bike, anyhow.


So what’s around, for (according to Cycle Canada) under ten grand? Street only, littlest first:

Derbi GPR50 - $6,600

This bike is a freak. A tiny bike at 100 kg sopping wet, a 6-speed 8.5 horsepower engine will get it to 95 kmh. Expensive and utterly unique: nobody you know will have one, or have had one. Dang attractive, too.

Kawasaki BN125 Eliminator - $4,000

What it eliminates, I have no idea. But if you are just starting, and light weight, and broke, this is utterly unintimidating bike to ride. Twelve horsepower, easy to wrench and easy to ride; with a top speed of… um… let’s not go across Canada, eh?

Hyosung GV250 - $5,000

Styled bigger than it is, this actually looks like a cruiser. Pretty high-spec for a cheap bike, and you can actually use it on the highway (about 125kmh top speed).

Hyosung Comet GT250 - $5,000

Starts to show what even cheap bikes can do: like 0-100 kmh in under 10 seconds. Find any new car for five grand to do that. Anyhow, I like the looks of “naked” bikes better than cruisers.

Kawasaki ZZ-R250 - $6,300

Fully faired 38 hp bike that can travel the highways or cut some twisties. Great bloodline, too: this used to be the 250 Ninja. Great handling.

Honda CMX250 Rebel - $4,800

Reliable. Eternally reliable. Vertical twin that’s bulletproof, comfortable riding position, if you’ve taken a riders course, then you’ve already seen it.

Suzuki GZ250 Marauder - $4,700

Light weight, low price, standard (somewhat ‘80s) styling and cheap. Best for the small of stature, I think.

Okay, that’s enough of that for now. Mid sized next!

Oh, yeah: of these I’d buy the ZZ-R250. Or the Derbi, but I have no idea where I’d get it fixed!

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posted by Thursday at 10:54 pm 0 comments