Reader Mail

Menace to Society

Noise pollution from the Harley Gang. Plus: Dubious Grass. Socialist 'roots. Fair states. Also: How dark the Dark Ages? A learned exchange. And more.

8.21.06

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HARLEY NOISEMAKERS
Re: Lawrence Henry's Perspective:

Having been a citizen of Wyoming for 65 of my 66 years, I have often read articles about my beloved State, but the article by Mr. Henry (from Massachusetts, yet) is one of the best and most accurate. When one first sees the Teton mountains, they literally take the breath away. After seeing them a few hundred times, they only inspire awe. And these mountains are only a taste of all the beautiful places there are in Wyoming. So many judge the State by the trip across on Interstate 80. This is desert area, still interesting though a little monotonous. One needs to travel the northern parts to see magnificent mountains, Devil's Tower, Yellowstone and Teton Parks, the Wind River and Big Horn mountain ranges. Come visit us...you are always welcome. The loud motorcycles are mostly a temporary thing in mid-summer while so many pass through the State to and from the huge Sturgis, South Dakota, rally.
-- Steve York
Riverton, Wyoming

In a recent Forbes interview, the CEO of Harley-Davidson was asked why his bikes are so loud. He replied that they are not, at least not when they leave the factory. He explained that all manufacturers have to comply with the same federal regulations restricting the noise level of their products, and that it is only after Harleys leave the factory that owners (and perhaps some dealers) modify and otherwise mess with the exhaust systems to produce the so-called Harley rumble.

Regardless of whether the rumble is built-in or added-on, most of the non-riding public would likely agree that ear-splitting bikes, and particularly Harleys, are a nuisance...or rather the people who ride them are. Oh sure, it's a blast to watch several hundred of them in a parade. But other than that, sorry, there's no excuse for, or reason to tolerate, the cacophony such bikes create, especially when there are more and more of them on the road each year.

It simply shouldn't be this way, and the fix is simple enough: when such bikes are brought in for annual safety inspections, fail them. Cars with missing or malfunctioning mufflers are failed, so why shouldn't the same apply to motorcycles? Devices to measure decibel levels are cheap, so cost is no excuse.

I used to ride a 1989 Honda CB650. It was a beautiful bike, with all the power anybody but a crazy man could want, and it was nearly as quiet as a Rolls Royce. The only reason I eventually sold it was because the roads were just getting too crowded and way too crazy for my interests in self-preservation.

Harley riders are always quick to talk about the romance of riding down a country road on a beautiful day, of experiencing a sense of oneness not just with the road, but with the whole environment. I understand, I've been there; I loved it, and I miss it. And I would assert that the Zen-like calm experienced in such activity is greater, more pure, and in all ways more enjoyable, when much of the overall sensation is not being blocked-out by an overpowering, sense-killing racket.

But whether these Harley riders can be brought to appreciate the beauty and sense of a bike that hums rather than roars is immaterial. The rest of us simply shouldn't have to put up with such hell-raising hogs.
-- C. Vail

The bumper sticker should read "Loud pipes draw attention" because that's what the whole biker mentality is all about. Why else would you dress in such a fashion and drive a gaudy $20,000 bike if you don't crave attention? Loud pipes are merely a bonus to the "look at me!" factor. It's the same reason the teenagers around here put those "fart can" exhaust pipes on their ancient Toyotas while the thumping subwoofer in the hatch shakes every bolt in the car loose and rattles the dishes in my kitchen whenever they drive by.

Ask the biker who lives a few blocks west of me why he as a pair of angel wings (not an actual angel - just the wings) tattooed on his forehead. I am by no means an expert on these things, but I would think this just might limit his employment opportunities somewhat... I would ask him myself, but I'm afraid to go near the bar he hangs out in since one of his buddies was killed in that big shootout with the 2nd district police a few weeks back.

Yeah, I know... "Most bikers are normal, hard-working people." But the rest of them all seem to live in my neighborhood.
-- Todd Stoffer
Cleveland, Ohio

I grew up in a small town rural Midwestern area with pretty much unlimited freedom to ride motorcycles at will from age eleven until I left for college. With this extensive early experience, in my later teen years I raced motorcycles quite successfully and I have also done a cross-country motorcycle ride or two. I also recently returned from a two family vacation in Colorado where the main activity was seeing how many Fourteeners (14,000 foot peaks) we could climb. Me? Close, but none. My early teen step-kids and their friends? A few. From this perspective I could not agree more about the overgrown adolescents on their Harleys with their loud pipes who were also streaming through and contaminating the wonderful two-lane mountain roads and roadside bars of Colorado.

For this you can thank one of the lesser moments of the late great Ronald Reagan in signing one of the most stupid trade protection laws of all time. I am referring to the tariff law giving Harley Davidson and their at the time poorly engineered and unwanted relics a new lease on life by granting them by a wide margin of advantage over their foreign rivals. The motorcycle world has never been the same. With all due respect to late Malcolm Forbes, the result is all the pseudo tough guy characters playing dress-up (most by the way who don't know how to ride), clogging our highways and disturbing our peace. I haven't ridden in a long time but give me a brilliantly engineered and quiet BMW or even a newly re-engineered remake of those British classics like a Norton or Triumph any day over the Harley.
-- Tom Fry
St. Louis, Missouri

Harleys are manufactured to meet the same EPA noise standards as every other motorcycle and left stock they are an irritant to no one except perhaps Joan Claybrook. So they don't need a "different exhaust system" but merely need to be left alone. The owners of the loud bikes chose for them to be loud and pay approximately $500 to be so. I ride a Harley and it's quiet.
-- Scott Forrest
Anchorage, Alaska

WAFFEN GRASS
Re: Jacob Laksin's Shattered Grass:

Anybody who has studied or read up on the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, and German social history during the Nazi era would question the veracity of either of Günter Grass's statements. Even as late as 1945 the Waffen SS was a home for Nazis fanatics. Their record was one of both unparalleled brutality as well as military achievement. It wasn't unusual for one SS mechanized division to hold the line against 3 or 4 Soviet armored brigades. Hitler and the Wehrmacht relied on the SS to perform under for harsh and almost impossible conditions. This was well known to all Germans, especially the youth. One didn't volunteer for the SS on a lark. Every recruit knew how desperate their situation was; joining the SS was a sure ticket to an early death or worse: a Siberian POW camp. Only the true believers volunteered. The training and indoctrination of the SS was brutal even by German standards. Only a certain human type could survive their training, and combat on the Eastern Front. One does not go into the SS, survive their brutality, and then come out a pacificistic communist.

One wonders what Grass is up to.
-- JP
Indiana

ROOTS OF SOCIALISM
Re: David Hogberg's Netroots Armies:

Mr. Hogberg's column suggests once again a question that I cannot get out of my head, because I can't seem to get anyone to answer it. Mr. Hogberg nicely describes the worldview of the Netroots, but refuses to use the perfectly good word for their philosophy and beliefs. Sir, they are Socialists. Why will you not call them by their name?

Elaine Kyle has several times posed the question of why writers continue to call the Leftist party the "Democratic" party, instead of the "Democrat" party. She is 100 percent right, you know. It is something that has long bugged me also.

Jorge Boosh insists that we are fighting a "War on Terror". Bovine Excrement! We are fighting a war against Islamic Jihadists that happen to use terror as a main tactic in the fight. Depending on you viewpoint, this war, against this same enemy, has been being waged for between 27 and 90 years almost continuously.

What is it with the journalists, columnists, analysts, and politicians that they absolutely refuse to use perfectly good, and definitionally correct, words? These words are not obscenities. Those are use liberally today in many writings. Mr. Hogberg, Markos and the Netroot minions of the Democrat party are Socialists. Quit pussyfooting around and call a spade a spade. Get some calcium in your spine and be a man, instead of some kind of PC wimp. They are a bunch of one-world, open borders, Socialists. There, see, now that wasn't so hard, was it?
-- Ken Shreve

Having proved that the Republicans are the party of budget deficits, pork barreling and waste, David Hogberg wants us to believe that the Democrats will stand for bigger government and higher taxes. Here's the reality: The Republican Party has proved since 1994 -- and there is no dispute about this -- that it is the party of Big Government. And tax cuts are of no consequence if the Big Government can't cut spending and bring reduced budgets to congress. If Lamont and his crew are weak on terror, then Republicans are weak on the economy, and since Lamont hasn't been elected to office yet, it's a bit unfair to pre-judge what he would do in the Senate. As for the Republicans, we KNOW this: They are weak on the economy.
-- Nathan Maskiell
Victoria, Australia

STATE FAIR
Re: Jeremy Lott's Fair Play:

Thank you for awakening memories of the real thing!

I grew up with the spectacular Minnesota State Fair. I would attend one day with my friends, mostly for the midway, and return the next day by myself. I'd wander the livestock barns, envying those lucky 4-H kids who actually got to live in the dorms above their stock or even get to curl up next to their heifer. Building after building of Home Ec arts, food, furniture, even a cow sculpted of butter. Such riches!

Washington State is blessed with at least 4 State fairs, Yakima, Monroe, Lynden and Puyllup. When we lived there, we would attend at least 3 of them. Granted, they aren't as big as the MN. extravaganza, but they have grilled onions, corn dogs, and Fisher Scones with raspberry preserves.
-- Marcia Fox
Stockton, California

NEW LIGHT
Re: Brandon Crocker's Were the Dark Ages That Dark?:

I am writing in response to the review by Brandon Crocker of Brian Ward-Perkins' recent survey of the archaeological material in the period c. 400-c.700 that Professor Ward-Perkins claims demonstrates the fall of Roman civilization. Mr. Crocker would have the readers of the Spectator believe that scholars who oppose the doom and gloom scenario proposed by Ward-Perkins are motivated some type of "PC" agenda to see the "good" Romans succeed in face of the "bad" Germans. This type of nonsense is not worthy of a respected journal of public opinion such as The American Spectator.

I write both as a conservative and as a specialist in medieval history. The Late Roman empire was particularly aggressive in pursuing policies that would be characterized today as statist. The central government imposed an enormous tax burden on both labor and capital to maintain an imperial superstructure that consisted of not only an enormous army, but also an exceptionally large welfare state. To take just one example, in the neighborhood of 250,000 people in the city of Rome, itself, were supported by public allocations of grain, oil, and wine that were paid for out of taxation from the provinces. The collapse of central control over the western provinces over the course of the fifth century led inter alia to an enormous reduction in the tax burden imposed on the population. This led, in turn, to a sustained period of economic growth throughout the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries. The archaeological evidence, far from showing populations declines, as Ward-Perkins would have it, shows rather consistent population expansion, in both the urban and rural context. Moreover, a thorough reading of the surviving written sources from this period also shows continued prosperity. The tendency of scholars such as Ward-Perkins to cherry pick quotations from sources out of context in order to support the doom and gloom model has been the subject of numerous scholarly studies, with which Mr. Crocker apparently is unfamiliar.

To provide just two examples of the misleading nature of both Ward-Perkins' study and Mr. Crocker's review, it should be noted that the sixth century saw the foundation of not fewer than 150 major monasteries within the former provinces of Gaul. Each monastery required vast wealth to support the monks and their large numbers of slaves, servants, and dependents. This wealth was generated, in large part, by donations from the laity. In addition, the sixth century saw the construction of enormous cathedral complexes in dozens of cities in the Gallic provinces. The buildings in these complexes were more numerous, larger, and more expensive than any construction efforts over a comparable period of centralized imperial rule in the cities of Gaul. Of course, building projects of this type, which required very large numbers of both unskilled and skilled workman as well as huge amounts of capital, were only possible in periods of economic growth, when resources could be diverted from the basic effort to feed the population.

Simply put, the end of the Roman empire in the West provides an exceptionally clear example of the economic consequences of taxation policies that in the twentieth century were adopted by J.F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, and which undergird the period of growth that we are enjoying at present. To claim that the end of centralized imperial rule had negative consequences for the people of the western provinces is essentially an argument for the Nancy Pelosi model of state control over all aspects of human freedom.
-- David S. Bachrach
Asst. Professor of Medieval History
University of New Hampshire

Brandon Crocker replies:
Neither Professor Ward-Perkins, nor I, argue that the late Roman Empire followed enlightened, pro-growth economic policies. It was, indeed, a "statist" enterprise with high and often capricious taxes, and the welfare state that existed in Rome demonstrated perilous consequences. To argue that the Germanic kingdoms that succeeded the Roman Empire in the West, however, followed supply-side tax policies a la JFK and Ronald Reagan is rather a push. Certainly, the new German administrations lacked the taxing infrastructure of their Roman predecessors and this probably did result in lower effective taxes at least in some areas (though many of the rich and even some poor land owners were the victims of significant expropriations of land and wealth, at least initially). But taxes alone do not determine economic health. And the claim that the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries were a time of significant economic expansion in the West, as Professor Bachrach claims, is hardly an accepted notion (the argument that building programs during this time were larger and better than they were in the Roman period is also a rather controversial one). We don't know for sure, of course, exactly what conditions were like, but Professor Ward-Perkins makes a strong argument for his case -- again, using primarily archeological evidence, not "cherry pick[ed] quotations from sources out of context," and I think those opposed to Ward-Perkins' conclusions, such as Professor Bachrach, will find Ward-Perkins' study interesting and worth the read.

LATER, KID
Re: Reader Mail's Haylie's Comment:

Having laughed myself semi-conscious after reading the marvelous 15-year-old's letter to TAS, I was reminded of a quote from Mark Twain that dovetailed quite nicely with the commentary of this "liberal hootenanny" (whatever in the universe THAT might be).

Twain once said, "When I was sixteen I thought my father was the dumbest man alive, when I turned twenty-one, I was surprised to see how much the old man had learned in five years".

I hope dear Haylie Renae returns to us in 5 years so we can see whether SHE'S learned anything in that time period. Maybe she'll have developed a brain. Otherwise, she'll have proven that "Generation X" has now evolved into "Generation X'd Out."
-- Jim Bjaloncik
Stow, Ohio

The obviously ill-educated Miss Renae probably didn't intend to identify herself as a "liberal hootenanny," a hootenanny being a type of musical performance. I think the child meant "liberal hoot and ninny" i.e. a "liberal, hilariously funny, simpleton." I bet if Dan Rather could prove that Haylie was in fact the nom de plume of Chairman Dean, he could get a job at CBS as Katie's war zone stand-in.

NEVER TOO NICE
Re: Christopher Orlet's War Eternal:

I'm surprised that this philosophical conundrum has not been brought up before now, and that it was not brought up in the aftermath of Vietnam (maybe it was, and I just don't know about it). This could well be the most important question of the century for those nations that call themselves The West. Are we too "nice" to win wars anymore? Has our "evolved" concern for our fellow man drained us of the will and determination to defend even ourselves, much less our friends? Does the contestant who is willing to commit the most barbaric atrocities automatically have the upper hand? Do nice guys really finish last?

It would seem to me that, aided and abetted by a mass media that seems more concerned about readership and ratings than about national pride or even national security (or if it is concerned, it's concerned in a Marxist sort of way, i.e., more for the ""oppressed masses" than for the civilizing forces that keep our world from imploding), we are drifting towards a kind of liberal socialist utopianism that began long before the hippies and communes of the '60s, perhaps with philosophers like Rousseau, with his nature-utopia visions, and Marx, with his egalitarian workers' paradise. But before the influence of radio and television, and now the Internet, these kinds of thought were mostly confined to college campuses or salons, or cafes in Paris. But, since the '60s we seem to have been infected with a kind of utopian pacifism that is unable to rouse itself sufficiently to confront evil (as a matter of fact, with moral relativism, it denies that that evil even exists, or, if it does, the evil is us, not them). When I try to think of where those who advocate this line of thought seem to want to take us, I cannot help but think of such books and movies portraying "nice" societies, utopian dystopias, as Brave New World, Logan's Run, Country of the Kind, A Clockwork Orange, and The Stepford Wives. If the reader or watcher recalls, the most outstanding aspects of these societies was not how "nice" they were, but how inflexible they were, and how ruthless they really were, under the nice surface, to those who disagreed with them or did not fit in. The hypocrisy, then, is that it is no Utopia for you if you don't tow the party line.

Is this what we in the West are headed for? Is this what we really wish for; a world free of the noble struggles and tribulations of war and conflict? It would seem so, with all the emphasis in our schools on "conflict resolution" and the violent reactions we have to even the most modest casualty figures in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as our relentless and shallow materialism, and the turning away of our schools from education about history and geography, to more "relevant" topics like self-esteem and multiculturalism.

All of us hate war, and the pain and sacrifices it brings with it. War is indeed hell, as General Sherman said, and we should not grow too fond of it, as General Lee said. But wars are fought, and will continue to be fought, because evil exists and it must be defeated wherever it raises its ugly head. Whether it was the evil of British taxation, slavery, imperial German aggression, or Nazi and Imperial Japanese tyranny and genocide, or Korean Communist aggression, we Americans have fought evil, at great cost to ourselves, and have prevailed. The narcissism and drug cultures of the '60s and '70s seem to have planted within us a fascination for pleasure and material gain, and a repulsion towards conflict and even competition (witness the dumbing-down of school standards and children's sports). Indeed, if Brave New World or Clockwork Orange is what we are willfully heading towards, then the ruthless enemy, which was the Viet Cong and NVA, and is now Islamic Jihadism, does indeed have the upper hand; it is willing to fight to the death to achieve its aims. The goodness of our cause vs. theirs will not save us if we are not able to summon up the same determination to win that the enemy has. The enemy will not stop until we are all dead or enslaved; there will be no Brave New World if Jihadist Islam is handed a victory by the would-be Neville Chamberlains and Marshal Petains among us. "Nice" folks who like peace and hate war will find themselves first to be marched off to the labor camps, torture rooms and gas chambers. And "nice" folks will be included with those incinerated by an Iranian H-bomb. Perhaps some, like misguided pacifist Christians I have talked to, see this kind of suicidal niceness as a kind of collective "turning the other cheek". Well, when Jesus spoke that phrase, he was talking to individuals, not nations. Though needless fighting and arguing amongst ourselves can, and should, be avoided if at all possible (which is not always the case, if our life is at stake and the opponent is truly evil; Jesus did not forbid us to defend our lives). To allow our nation to collapse because we are unwilling to defend it is not the courageous resistance to needless revenge that Jesus was speaking of; it is the worst kind of decadent cowardice and slothfulness. If this is what we have become, or are becoming, then we do not deserve to survive, and a new age of darkness is approaching.
-- Thomas Sebring

STEP ON IT
Re: Eric Peters's Statistical Shuck and Jive:

This is a great article but it focuses on only one aspect of the push to lower speed limits. The other, of course, is "fuel conservation." Although I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to support it, my feeling is that the "conservation" argument is as bogus as the safety argument. I check my gas mileage on a regular basis, and have found that
with at least one car, gas mileage improves as speed increases (!) over 55, up to at least 75 mph! Other people I've talked to have similar experience.

Just because some speed-Nazis want us to believe the "double nickle" saves gas doesn't make it so. Is there anyone out there who can get to the truth?
-- Bill Kriebel
Hopewell Junction, New York

Eric, nice piece. I've been a Correctional Officer in the California Dept of Corrections for twenty-six years and sober nine. I think tougher laws regarding driving under the influence and putting people in prison for repetitive infractions has.

The bill for DUI is horrendous. Prison is served up sooner. There aren't as many drunks to be seen on the highway as there once were. I believe they skewed the data more yesterday than today.

I wonder if people pay more attention when they are traveling faster.
-- Steven

Eric Peters said, "We could all just sit on the porch and never move again. Or stay in our beds. That would be the 'safest' thing of all." No, no, no, that will never do. As Mark Twain reminded us, most people die in bed.
-- Forrest Radley

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