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Archive for January, 2009

Big Ben

Big Ben

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is an example of an athlete throwing discretion out the window when riding on a motorcycle with a temporary permit and no helmet.  “Big Ben’s” motorcycle accident and subsequent facial lacerations were severe enough that authorities initially could not identify him.

That was 2006 and this is not a post to bash the non-helmet motorcycle riders of the world. Frankly, I have a bit of a gripe with athletes in general, who decide to risk their health and well being even more than they already do in their respective professions…especially when they have a commitment to the organizations that employ them.

I could cite more examples of athletes’ misfortunes with motorcycles, but there is a point to be made.  I’m thinking Roethlisberger’s emotional state of having lived through what must have been an exhilarating motorcycle accident will play a big part in the Steelers comeback and win on Sunday!

And speaking of the football game…the Boss will host a 12-minute “party.”  The fans will fawn, the press will recite hosannas, but the new album “Working on a Dream” sounds terrible (it’s flat).  I’m a Boss fan, but this album doesn’t demand listening.  I’m not sure what kind of statement Bruce is making, but selling in Wal-Mart implies “My company paid me so much money they can do whatever they want to make their money back”.  I thought musicians were supposed to be about more than money?  Maybe it was the fact that at last years Super Bowl Tom Petty was watched by more than 148M  viewers in the U.S.?  But this isn’t so much about the Boss. This is about our culture.  If something generates a lot of revenue, you can’t say anything negative about it.  “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” has proven that after 3 weeks in the number one spot.

Super Bowl XLIII (43) is here at last, go Steelers.

Photo courtesy Steelers.

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red_yamahar6Today is Data Privacy Day — because building trust and raising awareness about financial, personal data and security is critical.  

Then you have the Wall Street guys who like to talk money “trash”.  They like to make people think they’re the smartest guys in the room and that money management is a very risky business of which few will ever understand.  If you can’t run with the big dogs then you’d better keep your assets on the porch.  But hey you can “trust us”.

As their scams implode they deliver the ridiculous fake suicides.  The “dumbtards” must think if people don’t understand money management they won’t understand the Fake Suicide Club either?!  First there was Florida’s Art Nadel who left a suicide note for his wife and disappeared for a month prior to turning himself in to police.  Then there was “boy-genius” Marcus Schrencker (extra points for faking death in plane crash), parachuting out his plane and made a getaway on a red — RED — sports motorcycle.  I’m not a CSI expert, but I can tell you this much: If you want to blend in with the public you always pick the black Harley, not the red Yamaha!  Marcus’ fake death attempt is eerily similar to The Simpsons’ “Bart the Fink” episode.  Coincident?  I think not.

Then there is Bernie Madoff’s six-degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon fame…everyone knows someone who has been burned.  Don’t worry Bernie they have smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches in prison, right?   Somewhere, Ken Lay must be nodding in approval.

Last and high on the pathetic quotient scale is Jeff Thain, who ran Merrill Lynch when it was taken over in a “fire” sale by Bank of America, resigned under pressure after reports surfaced he dispersed BILLIONS of bonuses just before the BofA takeover (which by the way was greased with billions of taxpayer $$).  The final dagger was the report that Thain spent $1.22M redecorating his office suite while the firm suffered massive losses and was laying off employees.  The area rug alone cost $87,784!!  He must be a Big Lebowski fan and wanted the rug to “tie the room together”…  I previously identified Mr. Thain’s keen sense of reading the public’s temperament HERE.

It’s ego gone wild.  So, here’s the end-game for you financial “disrupter” dudes — the only double shot, extra whip latte you’ll be receiving in the future is prison-issue coffee beans.  Yeah us mere mortals will continue to suck on the fuzzy end of the lollipop for your misdeeds, but we’re very happy knowing you’ll find yourself clinging to the bitter mouthed buzz prison coffee provides.  Oh yeah, one other thing.  When Brutus tries to share a Cohiba delight…he’s not talking cigars!

It’s interesting, but not necessarily fun times that we live…

Photo courtesy Yamaha.

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queen_bookI won’t attempt to make sweeping comments about another outlaw motorcycle “club” undercover “tell-all” novel.  There are so many styles and flavors these days and when a reader interacts with a book they are not only served a story, but often feel connected to the writer.

The Under and Alone novel is different because of movie rights, but more on that in a minute.

The back story is the novel is based on the real life of William Queen, a motorcycle enthusiast who successfully penetrated the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Mongols Motorcycle “club” using an identity of “Billy St. John.”  After becoming a fully “patched” member, he eventually rose to the level of chapter Vice-President and treasurer where he had access to the clubs activity of which some was criminal.  In the book, Queen details how, after 28 months in the club he began to battle the conflicts both within the club and within himself as the isolation of the work made him feel the Mongols were his family.

What makes the story compelling is that Queen spent twenty years as a Special Agent with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).  He was a Vietnam War veteran serving with the U.S. Army Special Forces and was awarded the Silver Star during his 1971 tour of duty. After his military service, he devoted his entire career to law enforcement.  Early operations involved infiltrating the Aryan Nation and the Ku Klux Klan organizations.

William Queen

William Queen

Despite his nickname, “Billy the Slow-Brain”, he was successful in gathering evidence resulting in a series of raids in May 2000 by almost 700 LEO’s in four states.  His efforts led to the arrest and conviction of 54 club members.  Queen was awarded the Federal Bar Association’s Medal of Honor for his successful involvement with the Mongols.  After the club member trials, Queen retired from the ATF, and then wrote the book while in the witness protection program.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  In 2003, while the book was still only a draft, film rights were sold for $1M to Icon Productions, the Hollywood production company owned by Mel Gibson.  The book became a bestseller upon its release in 2005, and the movie adaptation, will have Gibson himself playing Queen.  The movie is scheduled for release by Warner Bros in 2010.  This would be the first project that Gibson takes the lead role in, since the 2003 movie Signs.  Gibson will not direct the movie, instead Gregor Jordan (Ned Kelly) and Antoine Fuqua (Shooter, Training Day) have been hired to direct.  The book is being adapted by Ned Zeman and Daniel Barnz.

Consumer spending drives demand. The profitability of individual companies depends on creativity, marketing, and distribution of quality movie content and time will tell if this subject matter is something the public wants to consume. Gibson has been a lightning rod for controversy of late, but this role could bring him back into the mainstream vernacular like the Vietnam War drama We Were Soldiers and Payback did.  Who knows.

Photo courtesy William Queen/Random House.

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mcqueen_metisseStop.  You had me at McQueen!  You didn’t need to remind me of the Triumph 6T engine and desert racing heritage to make me think it’s cool.

I’m talking about the Metisse Desert Racer.   The original Desert Racer was built by actor Steve McQueen and his friend, stuntman Bud Ekins for off-road competition.  The  photo (above) is of a replica. 

As an avid motorcycle enthusiast and product developer McQueen pulled together the first American team in the Olympics of motorcycle racing (International 6 Days Trials) held in East Germany in 1964.  The team consisted of McQueen, Bud Ekins, Dave (Bud’s bother) Ekins and Cliff Coleman.  Dave and Cliff both returned with gold medals.  McQueen continued to race the Triumph Metisse during 1966 and 1967.  The motorbike was originally built in Carswell Oxfordshire.  The distinctive design proved to be very successful and in 1973 the company received the prestigious Queen’s Award to Industry.

Steve McQueen - Metisse Desert Racer

Steve McQueen - Metisse Desert Racer

In 1980 the Rickman brothers ceased motorcycle manufacture. At about that time the original tooling and the remainder of the stock was sold off.  In 1982, Pat French purchased all of the company’s assets.  Production continued until the mid-90’s when the economic recession forced a decrease in production due to lack of demand.

Under license and the endorsement of the McQueen estate, the company will hand-build 300 authentic motorcycles.  The completed bikes use a fully reconditioned period Triumph TR6 engine and faithfully include the ideals employed by McQueen from years ago. They include items like the styled footrests, 35mm Ceriani forks, with seven inches of travel and the yokes are from BSA which is what McQueen preferred as the handlebar position was set behind the steering stem for better control.

It’s great to see the company bring back some of the magic and easy to visualize a clear sunny California morning – a perfect day to go racing in the desert on this bike!

Photos courtesy of Metisse web site and Flickr.

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lmcJohnny is a veteran member of the LMC…aka… The Lost, a notorious biker “club”. Johnny has been rather busy these days creating “business opportunities” for the LMC in Liberty City.  His loyalty is to the club’s patch and to Billy Grey, the club’s President.  Billy just returned from rehab and is hell-bent on jacking up the level of debauchery.  The LMC is in the middle of a vicious turf war with rival clubs for control of a city torn apart by violence and corruption. Can the brotherhood survive?

Does intimidation, drug possession, trafficking, homicide, drive-by shootings, child endangerment, and gang land struggles sound familiar?  Whether it’s life imitating art or vice-versa this is the new story line developed by the creator’s of Grand Theft Auto IV  (GTA4) – Rockstar/Take2 — the “Lost and Damned” add-on for the game features a new main character, Johnny Klebitz, and an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang plot that some might debate merges with reality. 

As you may recall, Rockstar/Take 2 became world famous for developing the capability of letting players enjoy booty-bouncing lap dances in strip clubs followed with prostitute sex.  Then afterward you could run her over with your car (and now your motorcycle?) or riddle with bullets – it all depends on how you roll.  I’ve written previously HERE about how motorcycle clubs have become the new media darlings of the entertainment industry and this is nothing more than a gaming extension of that trend.

lmc_membersSo, what’s next in the Rockstar/Take 2 gaming world?  Outlaw motorcycle clubs sharing methamphetamine recipes and “how-to” online cooking guides via the in-game chat sessions?!  Where does it end?  Society is bombarding kids with music, movies and video games that glorify all types of gang lifestyle and criminal acts.  Now it’s the outlaw motorcycle clubs time to shine in the spotlight.  Sure it’s a mature rated computer game (meaning all 12 year olds will own a copy), but visit a suburban mall in any size city and you’ll find surprisingly large numbers of teens mimicking real gangs.  From flashing signs to wearing the clothing culture…all of which contributes to the misidentification (false positives) of today’s youth.

I’m not on a motorcycle club witch hunt or attacking all video games.  I acknowledge that this post could be viewed as capitalism at its best – my lamb blasting the lack of social morals at Rockstar/Take 2 will be viewed by many as marketing meant only to drum up parental outrage and make the game even more irresistible to kids.  The video game market is a $20B industry (more than Hollywood box office receipts) and maybe it’s time to establish a motorcycle club advisor role/organization?

Job #1 would be to make sure that all motorcycle club colleagues are portrayed honorably, that no one would be embarrassed by the games portrayal and they would advise gaming companies to be as accurate as possible.  On second thought,  a game based on Hospital Toy Run’s or a Veteran’s Ride is unlikely to garner much sales volume from the teenage buying public, but it sure would have a lot more social redeeming value!

Photos courtesy of Rockstar web site.

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no_colorsSomewhere in a windowless, cinder block room in the basement of an institutional building in Olympia, Washington police officers are passing on secrets.  Meanwhile the folks on the 2nd floor might look at introducing strict anti-biker legislation which would allow organizations to be banned and people prevented from associating.  And in the Capital parking lot the WSP decides this is the “right time” to send a message to motorcyclist and started photographing everyone who arrived including clubs, motorcycles and license plates.

In my youth I would have been overly alarmed, but there is more to aging than just gray hair.  Wistful yearning for something past or nostalgia as it is known, is also part of the aging process.  I should have been a cowboy.  At least they have remained true to their lifestyle.  Cowboys are still respected and no attempt has been made to take their freedoms away.  They can wear a cowboy hat, a bandanna or whatever they choose and have never been made part of gang legislation.  Their ride, the horse, has not suffered the embarrassment of their counterpart, the motorcycle. It still has four legs and the mechanisms for riding has remained the same for a lot of years.  No attempt has been made to legislate an air bag, legislate noise, legislate riding attire or have it talk to you!  A cowboy has not been banned from a bar because boots and a PBR buckle were deemed clothing symbols representing a banned “group.”  Cowboys have no profiling concerns, no harassment or false pre-text stops like many motorcycle enthusiasts.

You see we’re slowly allowing the government and law enforcement agencies to take away our rights and dictate to all motorcycle enthusiasts what we can and can’t wear and who we can associate with.  Today it’s biker clubs then tomorrow they will target the Lions Club or whoever else they “feel” like making out to be a bad organization.

cowboy_coffeeDo you think I’m off base or headed in the wrong direction?  Then consider this.  People make decisions that carry extremely different levels of healthcare risk. For example, fatalities on motorcycles are far more likely than in cars (35 deaths/million miles vs. 1.7 deaths/million miles) (1). Motorcyclists are also four times as likely to be seriously injured (2).  Many legislators don’t thing car drivers should subsidize the costs for the increased risks taken by motorcyclists.  But when you really look at this situation it’s employers who purchase health insurance so they can decide what to cover. And guess what?  Companies have exclusions for items that the executives considered unwise: no coverage for treatments resulting from motorcycle accidents, sky-diving etc., (3).

In short, “Black Thursday” was represented by over 100 riders with the same goal.  There were independent motorcycle enthusiasts, Veteran clubs as well as 1%ers all focused on exercising their constitutional rights as citizens to actively lobby representatives who control the destiny of Washington state motorcycle riders. 

Congrats to WAC.o.C. and ABATE on a professional and well attended day in the democratic process.

References:

  1. Trends in Motorcycle Fatalities Associated with Alcohol-Impaired Driving-United States, 1983-2003. JAMA. 2005;293:287-288. MMWR. 2004;53:1103-1106
  2. U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts 2001 DOT HS 809 473
  3. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services. Nondiscrimination and Wellness Programs in Health Coverage in the Group Market; Final Rules. Federal Register. December 13, 2006;71(239):75013-55 

Photo courtesy American Cowboy Coffee.

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leisure_seekersThe upcoming riding season has me contemplating a “Route 66” road trip…and this version of the famous song which spotlights steel guitarist Herby Wallace will have any country/swing fan smiling at the classy display of talent.  Or if you’re a Jazz aficionado then you’ll really appreciate this piano version from Japan.

But my story starts with John and Ella Robina.  An elderly couple from Chicago.  He has Alzheimer’s.  She has an incurable case of cancer and stopped taking her treatments.  He’s driving the family’s late-1970’s RV.  She’s riding shotgun and popping pain pills.  He has random outbursts of anger mixed with confusion…she’s cynical.  Ella calls all the shots and decided they should take a final vacation together — to Disneyland — on Route 66! 

Are you troubled with where I’m going on this? 

It’s the story from Michael Zadoorian’s new novel, “The Leisure Seeker” which arrives in book stores this week.  It’s quite the “geezer” adventure on the “mother road” in search of a past that they both are likely having a hard time remembering.  Even though the book is fiction, the idea of mixing geriatric-age couples with motorcycles on a two-lane road raises the question again of “When is too old to Drive?”  I’ve blogged about this previously HERE.  I’m thinking about camper after camper loaded up with “recliner drivers” — drugged up on meds — in need of hourly naps — yet damn determined to rediscover life in their golden years.

Scary…I may need to rethink this?

Photo courtesy Flickr.

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