Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Reading the Riot Act

As an encore to yesterday's return to something approaching a post, I would like to share a little amuse-bouche with you.

In the light of the 'rioting' that has been going on in the UK these past days, you may care to know that there used to be an actual Riot Act in the UK.This from Wiki:

"The Riot Act[1] (1714) (1 Geo.1 St.2 c.5) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain that authorised local authorities to declare any group of twelve or more people to be unlawfully assembled, and thus have to disperse or face punitive action. The Act, whose long title was "An act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters", came into force on 1 August 1715, and remained on the statute books until 1973."

It has since been superceded by the Public Order Act 1986.

In order to have any legal force, a specific form of words had to be read to the assembled masses (or 12) by a magistrate. This took the form of:

"Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably depart to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business upon the pains contained in the Act made in the first year of King George the First for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies.


The said 'pains' were death by hanging and, later, just transportation to Australia.

If the assembly did not disperse within an hour, all hell broke loose. Troops would be called and they could use whatever force they deemed necessary, including 'shoot to kill', to break up the crowd. If an enterprising citizen decided to chip in on the troops' side, he or she was indemnified for any injury or loss of life which be occasioned upon the rioters.

Ah, how times have changed! It's where the English phrase 'to read the Riot Act' comes from.

Now this would be merely a idle curiosity were it not for one fact. The last time the Riot Act was actually read was in 1919; to striking policemen who were insisting that the Government recognise their trade union, the National Union of Police and Prison Officers, along with the usual changes to the Terms and Conditions of Service and better pay. Needless to say, the Government of the day did not capitulate (it read the mood of policemen rather better than the NUPPS) and it is why your average bobby has only a Federation, which is not allowed to ballot members for a strike, rather than a recognised Trade Union.

Does that count as ironic?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riot? Vandalism, arson and theft more like

Being as far removed as I am to what is/has been going on in the past few days in London, it's not something on which I am perhaps qualified to write but I had an email from MG today saying that it had even extended to his local retail park!

Now MG does not live in a 'sink estate'; most of the properties around him are either 'Victorian artisan dwellings' or '30s' semi detached, the vast majority of which are owner occupied or privately rented. There is very little 'social' housing. What land could be used for social housing lay waste for decades until they built the retail parks in an attempt to 'rejuvenate' the area.

So, why 'riot' there?

I should like to say before I begin that there is very important evolutionary issue here. Human males are statistically much more likely to have a violent altercation with another male between the ages of 16 and 23 than at any other time of their lives. You can guess why! Sex! Mammalian males have a tendency to compete in fights over the right to breed, especially in apes, like humans. It's why the cannon fodder in wars are generally the youngest; they are already 'primed' to fight. (I'm not excusing this behaviour, merely pointing it out.

I've tried to do a little background reading on the circumstances which led to the initial riot and it seems that an armed black man was shot dead by armed police who, as far as I can determine, was wanted for 'questioning'. Now the London police are not usually armed, it's a special squad, so there is at least the possibility that the police expected him to be carrying a weapon, which of itself is a crime in the UK.

The police appear to have been initially reticent about giving the full details but they always are, every discharge of a firearm is investigated before they release any more that the 'bare bones'. The family, understandably upset by the shooting, organised a peaceful demonstration to complain about the police's behaviour.

The Tottenham district of London has been prone to periodic outbreaks of rioting. It has a large black population which feels disadvantaged; it has a lot of badly engineered sink estates; a lot of youths have been poorly educated and thus find it difficult to find work; there is furthermore a high level of crime and the police use their 'stop and search' powers to the full, some might say to overflowing. So there is a social backgound to all this.

There are rumours, not reported in the press as far as I can tell, that what sparked the riot was the treatment of a teenage girl when she 'confronted' a police line; a trucheon was used! Whether this was deliberate provocation to promote a response, whether she just wanted to know the time or whether it is all internet fabrication, I do not know. However a riot ensued. In the course of this riot, I understand, Molotov Cocktails were thrown at police and buildings, along with other large objects, local shops were torched and cars overturned; ah, the spirit of 1968! Wholesale looting followed.

I would like to ask but one question. To make a Molotov Cocktail, as everyone knows, you need a glass bottle, petrol or some other highly flammable liquid and rag or paper to provide a stopper and a fuse to ignite the petrol. Who caries such things around with them? Even if you make one on the 'fly', you are going to have to buy a bottle of cheap vodka, drink it or tip it down the drain (milk comes in cartons and other beverages in plastic), a length of tubing so that you can siphon the petrol from a car's tank, a newspaper and some matches if you don't smoke; all in all about £12.50 and that's just for one!

So, might there be a degree of organistion, orchestration, here? I merely ask the question.

However, what appears to be happening around the country and elsewhere in London is simple mayhem for the sake of it and theft of consumer goods under the guise of a protest against 'rich' people; it would be funny if it were not so dangerous and damaging. Get real, kiddies! When you target local shops, in your High Street, you target not the rich but people who earn about the same as your parents or less. When you target 'big business', do you think they care? They are insured! It's a minor inconvenience if one store out of 1,000 is out of action for a month or so for a refit. They refit stores all the time! It's just one more.

I once wrote a blog about paeodophilia; about how certain individuals prey on the naivite and defenceless nature of the young; is this any different? Only the naive would spout the nonsense that these people are coming out with!

Just a brief aside to Donnacha DeLong, I heartily agree with you; anarchy has been getting bad press ever since Cromwell, perhaps before. Good that the Police retracted it.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Biomimetics, Sandstorms and Geckos

You will have noticed, if you have been paying any attention at all throughout this blog's existence, that I do not have a particularly high regard for Homo Sapiens Sapiens when it comes to planet management. Well, all that could change over the coming years.

You see I came across a small but active field of scientific endeavour the other day, biomimetics, that I thought it might be good to share with you in the absence of anything else to do with my time now that the 'book' is finished. Biomimetics, or biomimicry, is the study of how examining Mother Nature and her solutions to design problems, honed over three billion years, might help humans to overcome design issues with their current problems and concerns.

Have you ever wanted to be Spiderman? Not so much the web-weaving and flying through the air on extruded silk but the ability to climb walls, even glass ones. It has always been a problem for firefighters; their ladders have never been long enough for the kinds of buildings you build nowadays. What if you could climb up the sheer, vertical surface of the building and rescue the damsel in distress; how cool would that be? Well, maybe by studying nature, you might gain the ability.

You see, Mother Nature has already solved the problem! The gecko, a small lizard, is able to run up vertical walls, even glass ones, very fast and can even hang upside on ceilings providing a bit of the gecko is on the wall. MG says that you see them all over Greece doing just that. So, do they have sticky feet? Yes, but not in the way you might think.

The big problem with 'glue' is that it has to be strong enough to hold your weight but weak enough that you do not get permanently stuck to the surface. This is enormously tricky to manufacture since it is all dependent on the size of the gecko; you would need varying strengths of glue dependent on the weight of the individual gecko. This would be difficult for you and just as hard for Mother Nature, however ingenious she may be.

Perhaps the gecko takes advantage of tiny imperfections in the surface? Nope, they can climb a metal sheet smooth to the width of an atom/molecule.

What they appear to do is to take advantage of a fundamental force of nature which humans only discovered in the late nineteenth century, van der Waal's forces, which make up a small set of forces, eg co-valent bonding, which binds molecules together in compounds. The gecko's feet are covered with very fine hair. This hair has the most notorious split ends! Not content with that, the split ends have split ends. The cumulative effect of all the hairs, millions upon millions, is to bind the gecko to the molecular structure of the wall; but only just. The real trick comes when the gecko needs to disengage the foot from the wall!

The gecko 'unpeels' each toe on its foot by progressively bending the toe outwards and back on itself so that the muscular force required to 'unpeel' each section which is to be 'unbonded' is not overcome by the forces present; it, needless to say, does this extremely quickly. What is remarkable is that once the principle was understood, humans mimicked it and, yes, a rock climber climbed a veritcal brick wall using only outsized 'gecko hands' which utilised exactly the same principle as the gecko! Wonderful thing, science, don't you think?

This would, I think, be no more than an interesting curiosity were it not for one scientist's 'take' on biomimetics.

There is an enormous pressure on sub-Saharan communities due to the progressive desertification of those people who live at the desert's edge; how do you stop the desert's relentless march south? The proposal is to use the desert itsef. If you seed the sand dunes with a particular bacteria, and keep it fed, it will metabolise the sand into sandstone, thereby creating a 'wall'. Once the wall is created, you stop feeding the bacteria and the process stops. Such elegance. Such beauty! You can even make dwellings out of the sandstone wall you have created! It would be nice if everyone could agree to put this into place. A Great Wall across Africa to stem the march of the desert! A wall to rival that of China!