Monday 27 November 2017

Accepting the inevitable

At this time of year I procrastinate when it comes to putting the bikes away, hoping against hope for that one last, glorious, sunny day when I can go for a short, even if it’s chilly, ride. Usually it works out, but not this year. Riding season is done.

And that explains why the Harley was sitting, idling, on the snow-covered driveway yesterday, warming up the oil in advance of its pre-winter oil change. Which is a messy affair at the best of times, not helped by melting snow off tires and boots mixing with the inevitable oil spills that somehow manage to always get past the drain pan.


But now it’s done and she’s ready for a long winter’s nap. I’d also like to think I’ll be smarter next year, but I know I won’t.

Saturday 25 November 2017

Red Notice – a Review

Red NoticeThis book had been on my must-read list for a while and with Russia commanding the news cycles these days it seemed like an opportune time to pick it up.

Red Notice is the true story of Bill Browder, an American financier operating in Russia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He is the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and was the largest foreign investor in Russia until highly placed and influential members of the Russian government decided to loot his companies for personal gain and to drive Hermitage Capital out of the country, and out of business.

He escaped Russia with his family, but as he fought back against the state-sponsored corruption, colleagues still in Russia were harassed, intimidated, and sometimes jailed. His friend and lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was jailed, tortured, and beaten to death by the authorities because he wouldn’t lie to wrongly indict Browder and his company in the thefts. This one event, more than any other, triggered Browder’s relentless crusade against the Putin regime, eventually resulting in the US Magnitsky Act which denies visas to, and targets the finances of, named Russians involved in Magnitsky’s incarceration and brutal death.  Variations of that law have also been passed in Canada, the UK, and elsewhere. Vladimir Putin and his partners in crime are not pleased, but then that was the intent.

This is a true-life thriller that reads like fiction. It gives the reader a fascinating and frightening glimpse into what it’s like to do business (or politics) in today’s ‘modern’ Russia. Which makes one wonder why Western businesses continue to do so. But then, as in Browder’s heyday, there are billions of dollars to be made – it’s all relative.

A highly recommended read.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Moderates need not apply

Scott Kelly is a retired US Navy Captain and a retired astronaut. He has completed 4 trips into space, including a year-long mission aboard the ISS in 2015. He has recently published his memoire, Endurance, which talks, in part, about those missions and the impacts his experiences, shared by so very few others on this little blue planet, have had on his life. I haven’t read his book yet but it’s on my list.

Scott Kelly was recently interviewed by the CBC’s Anna-Marie Tremonti on her show, The Current. (You can listen to the entire 20-minute podcast here.) The interview was very interesting but it was right at the end when a question about any political ambitions he might have started me thinking.

His response to that question about political ambitions? “I am too much of a moderate. I’m not on the edges of either political party and unfortunately, in the US, to get elected in a primary, you have to be an extremist.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

If he’s correct – and the current political climate would seem to indicate he is – what it means is that if you are a highly accomplished professional with the kinds of extensive skills and experiences we say we want (and so desperately need) in our leaders you will likely never get elected. Your contributions to society over decades of service will count for naught with party brass. Your informed, moderating voice will never be heard. Your ability to see the gray in every situation will never be there to counter the black and white of the extremists. And the people who think like you, who are decent, common folk with no particular axe to grind will never have your voice speaking for them and working for them.

However if you contribute nothing of value to society other than being a frothing-at-the-mouth rabid partisan you have a shot. If you appeal to the worst extremes (on either side) you have a shot.  If your only qualification is that you are not “the other guy” you have a shot. (And if there was ever any doubt, President Trump endorsing Roy Moore simply because he’s not a Democrat proves the point beyond debate.)

While the US is clearly a leader in this particular dysfunction we have numerous Canadian politicians who also view the world through that same “us or them” lens, all the while bemoaning the fact that political participation, particularly among young people, is at an all time low and sinking like a stone. And I'm afraid we are only a few election cycles behind our friends to the south before it becomes endemic to our political process as well.

It really is a depressing state of affairs.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Can’t ignore the signs…

We’ve had such a fabulous fall we got lulled into believing (with just a little bit of wishful thinking involved) that winter was still far, far off. Well, yesterday morning proved that wrong with a smattering of snow on the ground and temperatures of -10C (-25C with the wind chill). And today is even colder.

So now I’m looking at next week when temperatures may reach the lofty heights of 4C or 5C to take the bikes for a short warm-up run in preparation for their fall oil changes.

Meantime I’m getting everything else ready to go. The tractor has been serviced and tire chains installed. The big snow blower is checked, lubed and ready to hook on and go. An old walk-behind snow blower that was recently given to me (gotta love great neighbours) has been tuned up and is waiting anxiously to prove its mettle with the first big blow.

The last of the garden ornaments have been tucked away, along with various and sundry pots, deck chairs, and all the other ‘stuff’ that gets dragged out each spring at the first sign of nice weather.  The vegetable gardens have been turned over and next year’s garlic crop is in the ground, ready for the big chill. The wood shed is full and snow tires installed.

Now all that’s left (other than the oil changes) is to clean the shop/garage of all the summer clutter so that this winter’s projects can begin in earnest. Let it snow – I’ll be warm and busy.


Monday 6 November 2017

Zombie Law

According to the this news item an Ontario legislator has tabled a bill, dubbed the “zombie law”, that would make crossing the street while looking at your cell phone illegal, with scofflaws being fined $50 and up depending on the number of times they have been caught in flagrant disregard of yet another Nanny-state incursion into the realm of legislating stupid.

zombie phone

This province is certainly not alone in this regard but few jurisdictions seem to have the same degree of enthusiasm for protecting us from ourselves as Ontario does. Liquor laws are still firmly set in the immediate post-prohibition years where it was felt the population could not possibly control their thirst (pun intended) for the demon rum. Several years ago an attempt was made to limit motorcycle passengers to 14 years of age and older for “safety” reasons. (Blogged about here. Fortunately the bill did not become law but it was a close thing. ) Periodically legislation is floated (so far only as a trial balloon) that would see already legally-required helmeted bicyclists subject to training, testing, licensing, and insurance, again for “safety” reasons. And recently an intoxicated canoeist was charged with “impaired driving” which is a criminal offense and which could result in the loss of driving privileges if he was found guilty.

The one thing these laws, and countless others just like them, have in common is that they are all attempts to stop a few idiots from doing stupid things. Except that the broad legislative brush treats everyone the same as the idiots, whether they are guilty or not.

So here’s an idea. Scrap all these individual laws and replace them with a common sense law, something along the lines of “If you do something stupid you’re on your own, pal. And if society has to pay to rescue, resuscitate, rehabilitate, or, if all else fails, inter you, you’ll be getting a bill.”

In other words, let Darwin do his work unencumbered while making sure the taxpayer isn’t on the hook. Much cleaner, and we improve the gene pool as well.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

One thing leads to another.

There’s probably a famous quote by some renowned philosopher on the subject of how one small action can have a ripple effect far beyond expectations. I think I once read something about the unintended consequences of a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo – or maybe that was Godzilla.  But, whatever, I couldn’t find it so you’re stuck with “One thing leads to another”. Just imagine someone famous said it. Or something like it.

As my loyal followers know, a little over a year ago I acquired, for the princely sum of a bottle of great Canadian whisky (Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest – if you haven’t tried it, treat yourself. You’ll be happy you did.) a 1981 Kawasaki 440LTD. It had issues but since then I have sorted out the carburation problems and got it running, fixed the safety items like tires and fork seals, and it is now licensed and on the road. However there are still a few things I want to do to it cosmetically, including fixing the tank.

There’s really nothing wrong with the tank except for a largish dent in the side and a few deep scratches in the paint. My plan was to repair it myself and paint it over the winter (kind of partial to Jade Green), drawing heavily on the expertise of a friend who’s past life includes years as an autobody technician and who passes his spare time these days hand sanding his 1969 Barracuda Notchback in preparation for a trip to the paint shop some day soon. I think he’s down to 1200 grit wet by now.

Be that as it may, being the consummate professional I wanted to make sure I had a Plan B in place for when I screwed up the tank beyond salvage. So I started looking for a good used tank in all the usual places – eBay, Kijiji, Craig’s List. In the process I discovered there are lots of used tanks out there that already look like the anticipated outcome of my Plan A (in which case I could do that myself) and those that didn’t were outrageously expensive.

Then I discovered, quite by accident, a fellow who had 2 – count ‘em – 2 good used tanks for sale at a very reasonable price and he was only a couple of hours’ drive away. And, best of all, the tanks came with the rest of the motorcycles still attached!

So it was that yesterday found me on a 500-kilometre road trip to check them out. The bikes (and tanks) were as specified and generally in very good condition for being 35-plus years old. One is an ‘82 and the other is an ‘83 but most of the parts for those years are interchangeable so I would have many, many options that would result in two, if not three, serviceable motorcycles at the end of the day. And so, after a bit of negotiation and the requisite transfer of funds, they were duly loaded up and I was on my way home, having just tripled the size of my Kawasaki fleet.


But now the garage is full so I really must stop checking out used bike sales for a while.