Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Traveller's Guide to Moral Relativism

You sometimes hear conservatives accuse liberals of "Moral Relativism".  In their accusation, they define "Moral Relativism" as this (according to Conservapedia):

Moral relativism is the theory that moral standards vary from society to society, and from time to time in history. Under this theory, ethical principles are not universal and are instead social products. This theory argues that there is no objective moral order or absolute truth.

Moral relativity is a philosophy that states there is no absolute Right or Wrong, and that anyone can freely use his own conscience to decide what is moral. A moral relativist will not say that theft or murder is wrong, because he believes it is up to the murderer or thief to decide whether his behavior is justified.

I don't believe these quotes from Conservapedia represent the views of most conservatives about "moral relativists", and certainly does not represent the views of moral relativists themselves.  There is a lot of BS out there, making it hard to find real information on moral relativism.  I will attempt to do so here.

All through history, people have noticed that there were different cultures with different values, and that each culture regarded the differences between them and the others as an indication of their own superiority. The concept of Moral Relativism has been known for thousands of years.  But it was popularized during the European colonial period. During the colonization period, where European countries attempted to dominate the rest of the world, this feeling of European superiority reached a peak.  I guess that never before had so many different cultures been touched by any other culture.

As this colonization progressed, a few European intellectuals began to deny that Europeans were superior to all other cultures on Earth.

Let me illustrate with one example.  In many Polynesian islands, and in Africa it was quite common for women to go topless.  Now at the same time, in Victorian England, it was scandalous for a woman to show an ankle, and the rumour was that even table legs were forced to cover up.

So, when the missionaries first arrived in Polynesia, they had their hands full trying to convince the local women that their traditional way of life was scandalous.

The intellectuals who discussed cultural differences, theorized the following.  Since, at various times, different cultures had dominated other cultures, and even the method of dress within each culture changed with time, was it possible that there was no absolute definition of scandalous?  Could it simply be that one culture developed in cold climates where clothing was necessary,and other developed in hot places where clothing was neither necessary nor available?  And what about the institution of slavery, which was responsible for producing most of the cotton that made the clothing?  Was that not just as evil/scandalous as seeing a topless woman?

This argument was the core of the colonial era concept of "Moral Relativism".  On one hand you have religious zealots, insisting that their God was superior to all others and hence, their method of dress was also superior.  On the other hand, you have people who insist that there is nothing inherently evil about foreign cultures, and that their methods of dress and even their types of worship were as valid as European ones.

The moral absolutists (opposite of relativists) fought back, saying that many pagans and primitives engaged in cannibalism, which was evil under any circumstances.  I don't know about every nasty rumour started by conservatives or racists, but you can find plenty of evil in non-European societies if you care to look.  But then you can also find plenty of evil in our own society if you know where to look, and if you are allowed to make up stuff that sounds true.

I believe all cultures have their own ways of doing things, that generally make sense to them.  But these values also do evolve slowly with time, with contacting other cultures, and with changing circumstances.  I think some values are absolute, for example when it comes to killing and eating the still beating hearts of the victims, particularly when that victim is me.  But then some cultural norms I think are "morally relative", especially when they harm no-one.

Picture: Historical picture of native women in Hawaii. I found it on

Further reading: A novel "The Poisonwood Bible" By Barbara Kingsolver, a fictional account of an American missionary in the Congo, but  Barabara lived in the Congo for a while as a child, and so it gives the novel some authenticity.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Testing My Riding Gear on the Freeway in Rain

For my second road test of my rain gear, I went on a 150 km loop that included 80 km of freeway.  It was raining moderately all afternoon, the temperature was 6 degrees C, or 43 degrees F.  Humidity was 88%, good to know for testing the anti-fog spray on my face shield.

I was testing my "two waterproof layer" theory, where I have one waterproof shell on top of another waterproof layer.

I started off with ordinary indoor clothes, including jeans and a light sweater.

My first (inner) waterproof layer was made up of Gore-tex socks, waterproof/breathable hiking pants, and my Scorpion Commander jacket with it's inner waterproof/breathable liner.

The outer waterproof layer included my lace-up motorcycle boots, Teknic Tornado waterproof/breathable gloves, my NexGen two-piece rain suit, and a full face helmet with Anti-fog spray on the inside of the face shield.

The two layer approach was only for the pants and jacket.  The socks, helmet and gloves were just one waterproof layer each.  I could have put on a second waterproof layer with boot and glove covers, but chose to leave them off to test my Teknic gloves, Gore-tex socks, and non-waterproof boots all by themselves.  Also, I want to test the Teknic glove's built in rain squeegee, which would be covered if I put the overmitts on.

I managed to get all that gear on without pulling a muscle, and started off down the rain soaked street. The anti−fog spray failed within a few seconds.  To be fair, maybe the anti-fog spray was better than nothing, as the humidity was 88% and the temperature was only 6c.  Anyway, I had to leave the shield cracked open until I got on the freeway.

My next problem came from hitting a puddle at 100 kph, which momentarily made the handlebar feel loose, like I was hydroplaning.  I slowed a little and kept looking for puddles after that.  Blame the fat front tire, and the fact that it will soon be due for replacement.

When you are out riding, the faster you go, the heavier the rain feels.  That's because more drops are hitting you per minute, and the drops are hitting you at a higher speed, too.  One inch of rain when standing still feels like about ten inches when moving at 100 kph.  That's why I think that freeway riding is the best way to test rain gear.

At about the 60 km  mark, I could feel water begin to penetrate the index finger on my left glove. I already knew there was a leak in that finger by testing the glove in a bucket of cold water soon after buying it.  It took 45 minutes to discover this problem on the road, but only 50 seconds to find the same leaky spot in a bucket of cold water at home.

After another 40 minutes of riding, I could feel cold water getting into my leather boots.  The boots were not advertised as waterproof, but I found it interesting that they could last over an hour before they started getting waterlogged.  With my Gore-tex socks over two layers of dry socks, my feet were still warm, however.

As my left fingers were getting very cold and wet, I stopped and put the rain cover mittens over my Teknic gloves, and immediately I could feel my hands getting warmer.  They stayed warm all the way home after that.  But as my hands got warmer, my feet were getting colder.

The hot tip for rain riding is to put the gauntlet under the coat sleeve, but I found it too difficult to do.  With the gauntlet over the sleeves, my hands remained mostly dry until I put the rain covers over them.  This effectively ended the glove test after an hour of riding.

After I got home and removed all my riding gear, I had basically no wet spots on any of my inner clothes. Only my top layer rain suit, the leather boots, and gloves got wet through. Except for the one finger where the Hipora membrane leaked, the gloves were only wet on the outside.

I must remark that my crotch did not get wet. That is one of the worst problems with rain suits.  I am not sure why, but it could have something to do with my Airhawk air seat cushion lifting my rear end above any puddles that may collect on the seat.  I didn't have the time or inclination to try another test without the Air Hawk seat cushion.

Picture: from this web site  What might be a faceshield in the rain.  The Teknic glove's squeegee really didn't do much for me.  All the fog is on the inside of the face shield, out of reach of the squeegee.  Also some drops are on the inside too.  And then the outside raindrops can easily be blown away my moving my head to the top edge of the windshield on the bike, where the wind blast is most effective.  The squeegee may be more effective if there was fog condensing on the outside of the shield, as sometimes happens when the humidity is 100%.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

High Visibility Colours for Motorcycle Jackets

Yesterday, Mary Ann got a new motorcycle jacket in a bright green/yellow high visibility colour.  Her new jacket made the hi-viz colour on   4-year old jacket look washed out by comparison.  Apparently, these colours fade with exposure to sunlight, so if you want the colour to stay bright, you should not leave the jacket draped across the bike in the sunlight while you sit at Tim Hortons eating donuts.  Actually that is only one reason why you should not sit at Tim Hortons eating donuts.

So how do high visibility colours work?  Most colours work by reflecting back light that hits them, but they only reflect back the part of the light spectrum that is needed to create the colour.  For example, if you want orange colour, you make a surface that absorbs the non-orange part of the spectrum.  This is quite inefficient, in that most of the light is just absorbed.  Actually, white is the brightest colour because it reflects back the entire spectrum.  All the other colours give off a much lower level of light energy.

High visibility colours are different from ordinary colours in that they reflect back more light than they receive.  This sounds like it might be defying the laws of physics, but not really.  That's because we only can see a narrow range of colours in our visible spectrum. So the high visibility colours absorb invisible light (like ultra violet), and convert it to a colour that is visible, and then emit that colour.  So hi-viz colours can seem unnaturally bright because they are reflecting visible light by using energy they received invisibly.  Another example of this type of colour is a "black light" shining on a white surface, which you may have seen at a disco party.

High visibility colours are especially effective in low natural light situations like fog, and twilight, where they manage to make the most of the sun's invisible colours.  But they don't work at night very well, as most light is artificial (e.g. car headlights, street lights), and may not contain the necessary invisible rays that we always get from the sun.

Here is an explanation from "Dayglow" a company that specializes in high visibility colours.

Are high visibility colours useful on a motorcycle jacket?  Most riders opt for black, and the advantage of black is that road spray, and chain lube don't make it look dirty. Even if black fades, it doesn't look too bad, and black leather can easily be restored to its original blackness. Bright colours (like high visibility) have a tendency to fade, and get dirty easily when used on a motorcycle.  But they do have a beneficial effect, in that car drivers see you more easily.  This is why many safety cones in construction sites have high visibility colours now.  They just don't get knocked down as much.  There is a lesson in this for motorcyclists, who many motorists think of as not much more than a safety cone anyway.

I have one more personal observation on using high visibility colours in a motorcycle jacket.  I have had two situations where I think that my high visibility jacket may have created a dangerous situation for others who did not have high visibility colours.  Last year when Mary Ann and I were riding through Thunder Bay, she was in the lead when a car driver pulled out in front of her. This never happened on the rest of the trip, where I was mostly leading.  Maybe my high visibility colour drew the attention of the driver away from Mary Ann, even though she was closer to the car.  In one other situation, I was leading, a group of four motorcycles.  At one point, I had slowed down for a hazard in the road, then accelerated away.  The second bike was still moving slow, but the third accelerated to follow me, even though the second bike was closer, and crashed into it.  That may be another case of the eye being drawn away from a closer bike by the higher visibility of a bike further away.   I have no proof, I was just thinking that maybe the high visibility colours were not always a benefit if we are not aware of the problem.  But for one bike alone, or two bikes (with the high visibility colour in front or both have high visibility), I think the high visibility colours are a benefit.

Picture: This morning in fog in our back yard.  Mary Ann's new "Olympia AST" jacket is much brighter than my faded jacket. Now if I can just get her to wear it when she is riding her scooter locally.  It seems to me like she wants to save the bright coloured jacket for Newfoundland next year.  Actually, that may not be a bad idea, as I expect many foggy days on that trip.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bankruptcy as it Applies to National Health Care

The word bankruptcy is being used in the news quite a bit lately, referring to how either Obamacare will bankrupt the United States government, or on the other hand, the recent government shutdown could bankrupt the United States.

It's not only in the news, as I hear ordinary people referring to the possible bankruptcy of the US.  As in "Obamacare is going to bankrupt the USA, eh?"  That last quote is from a Canadian. Canada has had a more extreme version of health care for at least 40 years, and Canada is apparently not bankrupt.  So obviously, "bankrupt" is one of those words that everybody thinks they know what it means, but actually nobody understands it any more.

As a public service, I am going to go over the meaning of the word "Bankrupt", and we will see more clearly whether the USA is going bankrupt, and if so, what may cause it.

First, let's try to understand what bankruptcy is.  When a person or a company gets very very much in debt, they sometimes reach a point where they will never be able to repay the money.  In the olden times, this is when the lenders would seize their person and sell them into slavery, and be done with it.  The money they could fetch as a slave was often not as much as their debts, but the lenders were thinking that it was better than nothing.

The key thing to remember is that bankruptcy is not another word for "broke", or "got no money".  It is caused entirely by a decision that the lender makes, whether to give up on the loan, grab whatever assets they can, sell them and be done with it, or to continue on, hoping to be repaid one day.

The concept of bankruptcy really only applies to individuals and companies, and apparently in some cases to municipal governments (I live not too far from Detroit). The USA is a country. What about a country going into bankruptcy?  What is the difference between a country and a company or individual, or local government?

There are a few ways a country can go "bankrupt".  (or we can use the term "sovereign default")

One is where the country itself decides to stop honoring any agreement to repay debt or service foreign or domestic loans.  The other is where another country "B" or "C", who is a big lender to country "A", decides they will never get their money back, and so they seize country "A"'s assets.  They can readily seize any assets like bank accounts that are held in country "B" or "C" banks, but they cannot seize important tangible assets without declaring war, and so that is often the way things go.  As an example, the USA sent marines to seize Haiti's assets when they decided that Haiti could not repays its debts.  (July 28 1915)

The USA national debt is well over a trillion dollars, check the national debt clock website.

Also, each American's share of the national debt is $52,000 more or less. (mostly more)

But because the US government can raise money through taxes, most lenders assume they will be repaid eventually and let it ride.  The alternative, of course is either war or at least a break in relations.  By the way, a break in relations usually means a complete trade shutdown.  Which means (probably) no more foreign oil, and so no more giant pickup trucks and Hummers running around at top speed.

Now what will cause the USA to actually go bankrupt?  Obamacare?  Not likely.  The refusal of the US government to pay interest on its loans? Getting warmer.  A complete shutdown of the US government, including the Revenue department?  That starts to be worrisome.

I think the Republican slogan that they want to put an end to big government is more of a problem for bankruptcy than the watered down version of health care that Obama has proposed (actually, not only proposed, but passed into law.)

Back to motorcycling, I was reading on the Advrider site about an American rider who crashed, and would not go to see a doctor partly because he had no insurance.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Motorcyclists Do Try to Improve their Image

Motorcyclists try to improve their image.  Anyway, most do, but it seems there is a small minority always screwing it up for us.

This is my third blog on the same subject, the Hollywood Stuntz incident, where bikers pulled a man out of his car and beat him up.  This time, my blog is about what got the incident started.

I will start by comparing an authorized motorcycle group ride, such as a toy ride, pictured here.  Charity rides like this have been going on since the eighties to improve the often negative image of motorcyclists. Usually these rides are organized by a club, which invites any other motorcyclists who wish to participate.  A permit is obtained from the police, and a route is decided beforehand.  A large number of motorcyclists usually gather at the start-off point. The police, who have been notified in advance through the permit process, send officers to control traffic.  The ride leaves the parking area, and everyone follows, sometimes two hundred motorcycles may be in attendance.  The police temporarily block traffic at each intersection along the way to allow the procession to pass through without getting mixed up with cars.  It may last 5 minutes before the whole group goes by. Then normal traffic resumes.

At the final destination for the toy ride, each motorcyclist donates a brand new toy to the organizers, and these are then presented to a childrens' charity. Result? Some happy kids at Christmas.

There are sometimes problems on a toy ride.  For example one motorcyclist may crash into another, and somebody may get hurt.  I was on one ride where a police motorcycle officer crashed as he was rushing from one intersection to the next to block traffic.  Some of the public get steamed up waiting five or even ten minutes for the entire procession to pass, although I never heard of anyone getting so mad that physical violence was done.

Here is an article from an Edmonton toy ride with 3,500 participants.  These toy rides and other types of charity rides, have done a lot to improve the image of motorcyclists that were left in tatters by Hells Angels in the fifties and sixties.

Now let's examine the difference with a Hollywood Stuntz parade. In some ways it is the same as toy rides, in that maybe 200 bikers go for a ride in a group.  But there are differences. The Stuntz rides do not have permits, because their only purpose is performing illegal acts on public roads.  It goes without saying, that the purpose of the stuntz rides is NOT to improve the image of motorcyclists.

The lack of a permit for a Stuntz ride is the first problem, and starts a cascade of other problems.  I suppose this could have been worked out in advance with the authorities, but we are probably a long way from the authorities providing police escorts to permit stunt riding on public roads.  In any case, the way it stands today, the stunt riding parades have no police escort. But the need is still there to control non-parade traffic.  In fact it's even more necessary to stop traffic, since the riders will be performing dangerous stunts on the roadway.

I suppose in the minds of the stunt riders, there is not much difference between going on a motorcycle parade with or without a permit.  They appear to be quite excited to take over the job of the police officers stopping traffic.  Unfortunately, it is not that easy. All that the ordinary motorist sees is some hoodlum-looking biker trying to block his progress.  The car or truck driver may eventually realise that this is some kind of "event" with hundreds of motorcycles, that they does not really want to get into.  So most motorists, faced with a situation where their progress is blocked by bikers, will stop and wait it out.

There remains a huge difference between trained, disciplined, uniformed police officers stopping traffic, and mad-max-looking, untrained, and angry bikers stopping traffic.  Sooner or later some car driver is going to get scared at what is going on all around his or her car, and try to run for it.

A trained police officer would not (I hope) try to stop a car by riding a motorcycle in front of a moving SUV, then hitting the brakes.  A trained police officer would especially not try this when out of uniform, and with an unmarked motorcycle.  A trained police officer would not throw themselves in front of a vehicle to make it stop, or stand in front of it.  And hopefully, a trained police officer would not lose their temper and start screaming at a car driver while driving alongside them.  And unless this was the end of a long and dangerous chase, they would also not be smashing windows or breaking mirrors, or reaching in through an open window, or grabbing door handles.

Unfortunately all this is predictable when an unruly, undisciplined mob of bikers gets together with the sole purpose of having a large parade, without the assistance of the police to control traffic on public roads.

I hope that all the good done by hundreds of well organized charity toy rides is not undone by illegal Stuntz rides which end up with ordinary car riders getting beaten up.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

More About Hollywood Stuntz

This is a follow up to my comments on the Hollywood Stuntz.  This time, the website "Slate" has put up a page with this misleading headline.

"Yes, “Motorcycle Gangs” Still Exist. No, They Didn’t Attack a Man in New York"

You can read it yourself at the link above.  Hopefully you will see as I did that their argument is basically that "Hollywood Stuntz" is not technically a motorcycle gang, and therefore a "Motorcycle gang" did not attack a man in New York.  But that the Bandidos and Hells Angels and others like that, are the true and only real motorcycle gangs.  Therefore motorcycle gangs, though they still exist, did not attack a man in New York.

This attitude really gets at the heart of the public's misunderstanding about motorcycle gangs.  Slate puts a picture on their article, of a Bandido member wearing their colours on the back of his jacket.  I have already pointed out that the Bandidos are a criminal gang that does not require motorcycle ownership, or any ability to ride a motorcycle, to join up. Their central activity is crime, motorcycling is an optional sideline. The Hells Angels criminal activities rarely if ever involve motorcycles any more.  And it has been like this for some 30 years now, where groups of people riding motorcycles, even if they are criminals in real life, are not aggressively trying to terrorize ordinary citizens, and in fact are pointedly polite while riding.  (Maybe some cases to not draw attention to their criminal activities, I suppose).  While doing crime, they drive around in cars, SUV's vans, Escalades etc., with not a motorcycle in sight.

The Hollywood Stuntz, even though they do not ride "Harleys" with ape hangers, and do not wear black leather jackets with chains, or Nazi insignia, are still the original definition of a gang of motorcycle riders.  And while riding motorcycles, they do terrorizing people.  That is why people still hate  motorcycle gangs, although the criminal so-called "motorcycle" gangs have moved on to drugs and guns and prostitution. They are still remembered for the bad old days when they acted like the Hollywood Stuntz do today.  Any motorcycling the Hells Angels do is now very polite, safe and reflects well on the motorcycle community.  So all semantics aside about whether or not Hollywood Stuntz are a "real" motorcycle gang, they are a gang of people riding motorcycles going crazy, threatening and beating up people.  And this is not the only time this type of behaviour has happened with this type of crowd.  And if history is any judge, it will reflect badly on all motorcyclists.

In the video above, you will see a Prius being surrounded.  Apparently one biker reached into the window, the driver rolled up the window on the hand, and the outside mirrors were knocked off in retaliation.

In Port Dover Ontario, we can have a hundred thousand motorcycle riders show up Friday 13 without any of the stupidity I see in this video, let alone attacking a car driver.  How long until we get some idiot copy cats riding motorcycles wanting to duplicate the feats they see on Youtube?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hollywood Stunz gang Gives Bikers a Bad Name

How bad are you when the Hells Angels complain that your motorcycle gang is giving bikers a bad name?

Hollywood Stuntz is a loose gang in New York, who do illegal stunts on motorcycles, on public roads.  They ride in large numbers, seemingly for protection, and to assure a ready made appreciative audience for the stunts.

A video was posted on Youtube, showing this gang assaulting a driver in New York who was driving in an SUV with his wife and child.

The above video was preceded by an American Express commercial, wonder if they know what their commercial are being paired with?

Anyway, opinions are starting to fly about what went on.  As I mentioned, the Hells Angels think this incident is giving motorcycle gangs a bad name.  And they should know something about that, being one of the original motorcycle gangs whose image we are still trying to live down.

The Hollywood Stuntz blog has disappeared (I can't say if it was official or not).  So I had to check a few others for some opinions.  (no longer there, but you can use the name if you are quick enough, and you want your blog to have that name.)

I checked one other (Maybe) Texas based military interest blog, where the main opinion was that if New Yorkers simply got used to  driving around with heavy caliber automatic rifles, and sufficient ammunition to take out about a hundred bikers, this would never happen.!)

And another opinion comes from a white racist blog, Nicholas Stix "The Wild Ones: Racist Brown and Black Motorcycle Gang Hollywood Stuntz Terrorized NYC All Summer"

I don't want to get into a racist dispute, but it seems obvious to me that some people with whitish-toned skin are clearly permitted in the club.  Obviously this leads to counter claims that they either painted themselves white, or they are albino black guys, or they are Puerto Ricans, who may or may not be the "browns" that are referred to.  In any case, after the title the next line refers to the club as "black and brown dominated", making it harder to prove that it is not a racist club, because if blacks/browns are dominating the whites in the club, it would technically still be racist even though they clearly admit whites.  OK That's why I should not have even started into this stupid line of reasoning, it's even less productive than arguing evolution with a Born-Again Christian.  Also, this seems to be a very loose "club" along the lines of "whoever shows up that day is in".  I suspect there is no fixed membership or dues, but of course I could be wrong.  It is also referred to as a "Pop up club".

While I'm at it, I would like to take a shot at the pro-gunners who claim that this proves you can not trust the police to save you and you should simply arm up with the baddest guns you can find before taking your family for a drive.  Obviously, the logical answer is that trying to mow down 100 bikers who themselves may be armed is not going to make this situation any better than calling the cops on your cell phone while you lock your doors (was not done by the SUV driver apparently, watch the video if its still there.)

In summary, I am going to have to side with the Hells Angels for the first time (I think). But not the gun nuts, and not the racists.  This kind of stuff is going to revive the bad name the bikers got during the fifties and has not completely faded to this day.