Sunday, 16 July 2017

Destabilisation Campaign

This is a link to a BBC article about campaigns of trolling, intimidation, vandalism and actual violence directed at MPs and election candidates in the UK. This has been an issue for quite some time, and the BBC has studiously avoided reporting it up till now, possibly because they wanted to have a victim on the hard left first. The BBC article doesn't report the half of what has been going on, for that see the Daily Mail, which has been on the case for much longer.

The point that most commentators on this issue have been missing, is that people can make money by trolling, by intimidation and by vandalism and violence. This means that a nerd who trolls Conservative candidates on behalf of the hard left, can double his income by having a second set of online profiles and trolling Black and hard left candidates on behalf of the extreme right. Vladimir Putin may have led the way with his army of paid trolls, but now others who have his sort of money are doing it too. What gives the game away, is that some of the abusive comments directed at Conservative candidates have been intensely racist in nature, which really ought to have been taboo for anyone of a socialist disposition. All this means that there are probably rather fewer people carrying out these campaigns of abuse and intimidation than it might seem at first: they use multiple personas and the money they get paid for it allows them to act like complete and utter bastards the whole time (doubtless a major attraction for them.) But it also means that somebody is investing a lot of money in abuse and intimidation: who and to what end?

Well, because it's all clearly designed to set left and right at each other's throats in the United Kingdom, rather than to allow either side a clear victory over the other, it is either somebody with no stake in the future of the UK, who simply wants the UK to dissolve into violence and chaos to the benefit of another country or multi-national conglomerate (or even currency speculators), or it's somebody in the UK who intends to launch a new political vehicle that will power through the centre of politics to "rescue and unify" a country torn apart by the destabilisation campaign that they are funding. We've already seen something like this happen in France, where a supposedly moderate candidate was voted in by people who didn't really like or trust him, in order to deny power to left and right-wing forces which were portrayed in the media as offering nothing but chaos.

The actual reality of the Macron government, is, as some feared, utterly fanatical Euro-socialism, which very few French voters actually wanted, and a nakedly Anglophobic foreign policy intended to do the UK as much damage as possible, even if France derives no actual benefit from this. French voters didn't vote for Anglophobia for its own sake, but some of them might possibly have voted for judicious Anglophobia if that yielded good profits for France. Despite being officially "centerist" there is nothing truly moderate about the Macron government.

There won't be anything moderate or genuinely democratic about the new "Centerist" party and leader which suddenly emerges to "save" the UK from the escalating battle of the trolls and thugs between left and right, either. And some of its leading "elder statesmen" backers may be very, very familiar, even if they have the low cunning to put up a somewhat less toxic "leader" as figurehead.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Summerland and Grenfell Tower: How to Learn A Lesson And Then Forget It.

The Summerland disaster involving a leisure centre on the Isle of Man, occurred on the night of the 2nd of August 1973, about a year before Grenfell Tower was opened. As built, Grenfell Tower had none of the key defects of the Summerland building. The public inquiry was opened in September 1973 and concluded in February 1974, which is the sort of prompt and efficient timescale that the Grenfell Tower residents seem to be looking for. The inquiry's basic conclusion was "misadventure" but it did blame the materials used in the novel building, which was also criticised for having "chimneys" in the form of atrium areas where there was open space from the ground floor to the transparent roof. 

Subsequently, information emerged that there had been prior knowledge that two of the materials used in the building were combustible, and that a waiver from building regulations had been sought for one of them "Galbestos." Other combustible materials, such as softwood instead of concrete, bituminous felt, logs and even polystyrene, just found their way into the actual building (but not the approved plan!) often as part of the decor, decided at the last minute. There are drawbacks to holding the inquiry too promptly and too efficiently! The truth sometimes takes time to percolate to the surface in these cases.

The Summerland disaster claimed between 50 and 53 lives: this should be taken as a warning that the ultimate death toll for the Grenfell Fire disaster may be expressed with a similar margin of error. The Wikipedia article mentions that there were 80 seriously injured: it does not mention that amongst the nearly 3,000 survivors, there were many less serious, but excruciatingly painful, injuries caused by drops of molten plastic falling on the crowds all trying to flee through the only unlocked avenue of escape. Some of these people might have been considered serious injury cases if the hospital had not been forced to confine itself to treating only the worst cases. Lesser casualties were treated by the island's citizens (at the request of desperate police officers), at the scene and in their own homes, and probably aren't recorded in any official way at all. Many were subsequently evacuated for treatment in Liverpool and Blackpool.

Given the difference between the emergency resources available on the IoM in 1973 and those available in London in 2017, the IoM shouldn't really be criticised  for the response, which did include relief fire crews being brought over from the mainland by the Steam Packet Company, which is something else not mentioned in the Wikipedia article. There was a delay in reporting the fire to the authorities, though, for which the Leisure Centre's management really should have censured.

Three types of material were blamed for the Summerland fire:

"Oroglas" a type of transparent acrylic sheeting; there were also opaque or "smoked" versions of similar material, used throughout the seventies and early eighties for everything from rulers, plates and coffee tables to large buildings, such as the "old" Bletchley Leisure Centre (replaced in 2009 by a new one.)

"Colour Galbestos" described in a report by the University of Birmingham as "plastic-coated steel" and by Wikipedia as steel coated with asbestos and bitumen. The tradename heavily implies an asbestos material, which people would associate with fireproof material, but in practice the outer layer of this stuff seems to have burned up and across in a self-supporting fashion -and enough heat penetrated through to ignite soundproofing material on the inside of the building. Steel does not burn easily, except in pure oxygen, but it does conduct heat.

"Soundproofing material" apparently polystyrene (according to the University of Birmingham). 

There was also a disco with a fairly improvised reflective ceiling. There were bean bags stuffed with polystyrene beads in the sunbathing facility. There was a rustic staircase built of logs and an artificial waterfall that was actually made of bituminous felt. Apart from the obvious fire risks, people in the (concrete) basement disco simply didn't believe a person who warned them of the fire, because nothing could be heard. It was only when the same person reappeared with singed clothes that the disco was evacuated. At Summerland, as at Grenfell Tower, alarms did not sound.

The building contained a safety feature that was never mentioned in the public inquiry or press reports at the time: the bottom ten feet of the transparent Oroglas walls were actually made of conventional tempered silica glass in hardwood frames, because the building operators and the architect were worried about the sort of vandalism that had happened on the mainland, with small fires being kindled against the walls of public buildings. This possibility was eerily similar to what actually happened, although the small external fire in question was accidental.

The actual fire: this started in a small plastic kiosk outside the main building, close to the part of the wall that was composed of "Colour Galbestos." Prefabricated kiosks made of moulded plastic (polypropylene?) sections were a common solution in the seventies, when a place to take money and issue tickets was needed in the open air, for part of the year. They were to be found all over the country, in public parks and in zoos and safari parks. If this one had been a few feet further away from the main building, the disaster would not have occurred (at least not in the form that it did.)

Three boys broke into the kiosk (the lock was a pretty token affair, as witnessed by the minimal compensation magistrates imposed on them for breaking it) and had an illicit smoke. A fire started, by what the authorities accepted was an accident. The only criminal charge raised against the boys was for breaking the lock, because that was the only deliberate harm that they did. The fire took hold of the materials inside the kiosk, and the material of which the kiosk was made, quite rapidly, and as it did so, the plastic structure slumped in the heat, and crucially, it slumped against the Galbestos wall, the outer layer of which caught fire, the fire spreading across it. The heat of the fire on the outside layer penetrated the steel core and ignited polystyrene soundproofing on the inside. 

This internal fire spread even more quickly that the fire on the outside layer of the Galbestos, and communicated with the "Oroglas" transparent wall, above the ten foot high firebreak of non-flammable silica glass. From this point on, things happened very quickly:

The fire raced up the Oroglas wall and into the Oroglas roof, where it rapidly spread across the whole roof area, raining drops of burning plastic down through the building's atrium areas onto the 3,000 people trying to escape. (The fire should have been detected and an evacuation commenced before this point, if the management and fire detection systems had been up to scratch.) The shower of burning droplets also started fires down throughout the building, except for the basement levels, which had concrete floors. (There should have been concrete floors at high levels, too, but these were replaced with softwood during construction, without those who'd passed the original plan being told of the change. One man thought his memory was playing tricks when he saw the wood!) The Oroglas panels spread the fire in two ways, therefore: from one panel to the next and by raining fire on everything below. The untested theory behind the structure was that in a fire, Oroglas panels would fall out of their frames from the heat before they ignited, this definitely did not happen.

Relevance to Grenfell Tower: First and foremost, neither building at the time of its fire, reflected the design and specifications which had been examined in detail and approved by planners and regulators. Summerland was heavily modified on the hoof as it was built, Grenfell Tower was built to specification, but modified and its fire-resistance completely compromised, several decades after it was built. 

Differences are that at the time Summerland was built, there wasn't a widespread awareness of the flammability of Oroglas and Galbestos, although something was known to some of the people involved in both cases: the manufacturer of Oroglas acrylic sheeting had admitted that it could prove highly flammable in some conditions, and a waiver to building regulations had been sought for Galbestos because it was known not to pass two of the tests specified in building regulations. (Allegedly, in the regulation-compliant plan which the Manx Parliament actually saw, the Galbestos wall was a concrete wall, and if it weren't for the waiver, which the Parliament didn't know about, it would have stayed a concrete wall.)

At the time Grenfell Tower was being built, the Ronan Point disaster had already turned the spotlight on building standards for high-rise buildings, and by the time it was completed there was great public awareness of the danger posed by careless choices of plastic panel materials, which had led to the Summerland disaster. The Daily Mail righteously declared that no structure such as Summerland could have been built in England, and at the time Grenfell Tower was built, this was true.

However, by the time Grenfell Tower was modified, with the addition of external cladding, it clearly was possible for a duplicate of Summerland to be created in England, because this is precisely what Grenfell Tower then became, in terms of flammability.  In the intervening years, the lessons about design integrity matching building integrity, which had been genuinely and sincerely learned in the aftermath of Ronan Point and Summerland, had been completely forgotten.

There is also a striking parallel between Galbestos, a thin sheet of steel covered in plastic or bitumen (depending on which source you believe) and "ACM", a sheet of aluminium covered in plastic, as in the skins of the cladding panels fitted to Grenfell Tower and, it now appears, a great many other buildings. Since aluminium has both a greater thermal conductivity than steel and a much lower melting point, it is screamingly obvious that if a small fire could be transmitted through steel-based Galbestos, a small fire can get through aluminium-based ACM without any difficulty whatsoever.

Re: Original Post on Grenfell Tower

That post had been amended and appended and become quite long, and it unwittingly included a widely-published bit of misinformation, that the plastic filling in the panels was polyethylene, which could not possibly have evolved the cyanide gas that survivors were treated for, as is mentioned in some of the updates. It now turns out that the plastic filling was some variation on polyurethane or polyisocyanurate foam, which definitely would create cyanide. But it isn't yet totally clear that this is really what the plastic filling was, and lots of early reports said polyethylene (which would have to be have been in the form of fibre rather than foam.) The structural panels mentioned in the post ARE recycled polyethylene, but the tooling that makes them could be adjusted, via an appropriate mould-heating "profile" to use polypropylene or other plastics that might available in bulk as waste from some other process.

It is also worth noting that if the (different) plastic used in the Aluminium Composite Material skins of the offending cladding panels was any relative of PVC, then the toxic smoke will have included dioxin as well as cyanide. This is very important, as dioxin is a long-term poison, sometimes producing skin problems in the short to medium term, and, eventually, various cancers. From very small doses: it may be slow-acting but it is many times as toxic as cyanide. Survivors (and bystanders/neighbours) of the Grenfell Tower fire, need to see their doctors if they suffer skin problems or other unexplained illness, so that the possibility of dioxin poisoning gets entered onto their notes so that in the future, the right actions are taken if any of the possible cancers crop up. These can be difficult to diagnose early enough for effective treatment if doctors don't have some sort of a clue as to what is going on, so survivors need a prominent comment in their medical notes.

An edit is needed, which will be done when the truth about the filling becomes clearer. The post has been reverted to draft, but not deleted, pending this. In the meantime, there will shortly appear a new post on an earlier disaster in the British Isles (though, "outside London"). See above.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Northumbrian Lynx?

This is now a plan, to reintroduce the Eurasian Lynx to the Kielder Forest in Northumberland, to "control the deer".

There is a need for some method of deer control in Southern England, which is heavily populated (by people as well as deer), that does not involve high-powered rifles, but there is actually no problem controlling deer in the remote and lonely Kielder Forest by this method: it just needs organising in a sensible way.
Red Deer
Lynx are very efficient hunters of deer, providing they are the right sort of deer: Roe Deer or Reindeer, or possibly even Fallow Deer (though Medawar hasn't heard of an instance of a Lynx catching a fully-grown Fallow Deer.) The deer in the Kielder Forest are Red Deer, the largest species found in the British isles, and the Northumbrian population of Red Deer tend to be larger than Red Deer found elsewhere in the British Isles. Archaeological evidence suggests that in the past, Northumberian Red Deer were about a foot taller than they are today, but they are still the biggest completely wild land animal in the UK. Roe Deer, which Lynx do catch, are much smaller, and Reindeer, which Lynx in Scandinavia sometimes catch, are also smaller than Red Deer.

Red Deer in the Kielder Forest are almost certainly going to prove too big and tough for Lynx to tackle, and, since there aren't anything like as many Roe Deer in Northumberland as there are in Surrey, for example, the Lynx will have to catch rabbits to survive. This means they will move out of the rabbit-free dense forest, where they will encounter sheep. And eat them.

Introduce Wolves instead of Lynx, and it will be discovered that a single pack of wolves requires a hunting territory much larger than the Kielder Forest, and again, the sheep will cop it. Wolves invariably go for the easiest possible prey, and that is not a description of any Red Deer that Medawar has met.

Introduce Lynx to the Home Counties, where woods (and gardens) are being devoured by Roe Deer and the similar-sized introduced Muntjac Deer, and progress might be made. The experiment in the Kielder Forest will probably fail, though.

There have been some records of Sika Deer, presumably escaped from Deer farms, in the Kielder Forest, but the main species there remains the Red Deer. Sika Deer are remarkably difficult to stalk, too.

Addition: 10/7/2017
Video embedded, which will give the reader an idea of how densely populated the central Northumberland region is...

Grenfell Tower: Fire Appliances

In his tireless search for the killer revelation that will set an angry mob on a path to storm Downing Street, lynch Theresa May and sweep Labour to power, The Mayor of London,  Mr Sadiq Khan, has seized on the fact that the 67metre "Aerial" platform needed at the scene of the Grenfell Tower fire arrived late, "because it belongs to Surrey Fire Brigade and had to come from 'outside London.'" (A place which none of the metropolitan elite can actually visualise.) He has demanded an immediate investigation into this arrangement, obviously thinking that it must be due to recent "austerity" measures that can be blamed on the government in power.

Medawar thinks that if this matter is investigated, fully and truthfully, rather than simply stopping with the procurement of the existing appliance, it will be found that this arrangement goes back decades, perhaps even to the nineteen seventies when high rise buildings such as Grenfell Tower were being built. Far more commercial high rises have been built in London in the last ten years than were built back then, so the need for such appliances is probably greater than it once was, but to return to the reason why London Fire Brigade does not own the appliance which seems key to fighting fires in tall buildings, many of which are in London:

Medawar saw a predecessor of the same appliance, being demonstrated on a children's TV programme, and it, too, was owned by Surrey Fire Brigade. Medawar stopped watching children's TV in the nineteen seventies...

At the time, the Fire Brigade, like the government, was still adjusting to the existence of what seemed like lots of high rise buildings (still nothing compared to what there is today!) and the Home Office advice to fire brigades struggling to purchase very expensive pieces of capital equipment, which they might not use very often, was to share them between adjacent brigades, basing them in a position where they could get to the largest possible number of different target buildings (in this case, high rises) as quickly as possible. I think that the children's TV programme actually said that the appliance could get to large parts of London faster from Surrey than it would have done had it been based in the middle of London.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service have a number of specialist vehicles, including an aerial platform (not as high reaching as the Surrey one, but suitable for the tower blocks found in Bedfordshire and neighbouring counties) and these are based at Kempston, sited for a quick scramble onto the A6, M1, A421, A428 etc. In parts of Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire, it will be this equipment that arrives at a fire, if the controller actually calls for it. In other parts of Hertfordshire, it may be equipment from Cambridgeshire or Surrey that arrives, but only if the controller asks for it! The main factor behind the Aerial Platform being late at Grenfell Tower was that the controller's checklist didn't include asking for it on initial reports of a fire in a high-rise building. This has already been changed, as an obvious management error.

Formal and informal arrangements to pool key resources and provide mutual support are part and parcel of how the fire service in the UK actually works on a daily basis, and it is becoming painfully obvious that the people who want to run the country have no clue that this is so. The "culprits" they need to look for are Roy Jenkins and Merlyn Rees, Home Secretaries in the relevant period, both Labour, and just possibly Reginald Maudlin, Conservative. During the seventies, Home Secretaries were struggling with a fire service nationally that hadn't really been properly organised since the second world war, and there were still tiny private fire brigades belonging to local factories, dotted all over the country. 

Most of the pooling and sharing arrangements still in force, actually go back to those reforms, although they may have been "renewed" more recently, allowing spin doctors to claim they are actually recent. 

It is also worth noting that a 67 metre Aerial Platform is a very large vehicle indeed and access roads around Grenfell Tower, and quite a lot of other high rise buildings, are restricted and awkward. If Mr Khan wants vehicles like this to be based in Central London, he's going to have to find a few billion pounds to reconfigure the road network.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Coercive Diplomacy: The Blair Way

See link to BBC article.
Sir John Chilcot is not the first person to mistake a vicious pathological liar for someone with very strong self-belief.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Russian Readers and LPS buildings.

In this past week, this blog has had more readers from Russia than from the United States or the United Kingdom. This is the first time this has happened in the history of the blog. It may be because the post on Grenfell Tower mentions the Large Panel System for large buildings. The former Soviet Union built a lot of these, many under twelve stories high so that they are not officially "high rise" but are still capable of the same kind of cascade failure as Ronan Point, at least in columns if not all the way across.

In some of the new provincial cities built in the USSR to house strategic industries or research facilities, great tenement blocks were built: not as high as Grenfell Tower or Ronan Point, but often hundreds of metres long. Cascade failures in these will lead to a collapse going from ground to roof, but probably not proceeding along the building like falling dominoes. This will still suffice to kill dozens of people, though, and it may have been what Chechen terrorists were seeking a few years ago, when there was a spate of rucksack bombs being placed in the entrance foyers of tenement buildings. 

In the smaller LPS tenements, three to six stories high and like a Czarist era Mansion in size, of which there are many in Moscow if not elsewhere, a rucksack bomb in the foyer would probably destroy the whole building. In a concrete cell or steel-framed structure the same size, such a bomb would basically just destroy the foyer and cause blast casualties in adjoining rooms.

 Chechen terrorists probably had an expert knowledge of the weaknesses of various standard Soviet era buildings, from the fighting that went on in Grozny, and they chose to exploit the weakest point in the weakest type of building.