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DUP views

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that Mrs May has been talking about the DUP and the Tories making an alliance. Like many people who do not live in Northern Ireland I did not know much about the DUP so I took a look online and asked my legal advisor about them. I found out a list of things which senior members of the DUP have been accused of having said. Newspaper reports support these claims which have been made about their statements. When I searched on line for evidence to support some of their claims, I very quickly found newspaper articles supporting the claims made by others.

  1. Abortion should be “ruled out for rape victims”
  2. The Pope is the Anti-Christ
  3. Gay couples “more likely to abuse children
  4. Homosexuality is an abomination
  5. No gay marriage (also see this)
  6. Gays more vile than child abusers
  7. Attempts to reduce CO2 emissions are “Green propaganda
  8. Man-made climate change is a con
  9. Creationism should be “taught in every school”
  10. The 60 million-year-old Giant’s Causeway is only 6,000 years old
  11. Line dancing is “sinful”

As a scientist I can not deal with many of the points, but 7, 8 and 10 are ones which I can deal with. If we consider 10 then we can address this point using radioactivity calculations. If we examine zircon (zirconium silicate) crystals from rocks we can estimate their age.

Zirconium silicate is a mineral which strongly rejects lead when it forms, so it will be lead free when it forms. Before we start we can look at what is in the unit cell of zircon. The unit cell is an important but tiny building block of a solid. I obtained the cif file from here. The unit cell is tetragonal, it is cube which has been compressed in one direction. Thus it is a box which is 6.607 by 6.607 by 5.982 Å. One Å is 0.1 nanometers. Here is a picture of what is in the cell.

zircon cell balls and sticks

The silicon atoms are yellow, the green ones are zirconium while the red-orange ones are oxygens. When the zircon crystals form the lead content is zero as lead does not incorporate into them but thorium and uranium can incorporate into the crystals.

At the start the lead content of the zircon is zero, as the uranium undergoes radioactive decay lead is formed. Using a simple equation it is possible to work out the age of the rocks by comparing the amount of uranium and lead in them.

For uranium we use

NU = NUo e t

and for lead we use

NPb = NUo (1 – e t)

Now armed with these equations we can work out how the uranium to lead ratio will change as a function of time.

While I do not have data for the Gaint’s causeway, I do have data for south east Ireland, I doubt if the rocks there will be very different to the rocks in Northern Ireland. Here the 206Pb:238U ratio was about 0.07:1.00. The 238U decays into 206Pb via 226Ra. Thus 0.935 of the original 238U is left in the zircon crystals. I got the data from “Select Intra-Ordovician deformation in southeast Ireland: evidence from the geological setting, geochemical affinities and U—Pb zircon age of the Croghan Kinshelagh granite. Intra-Ordovician deformation in southeast Ireland: evidence from the geological setting, geochemical affinities and U—Pb zircon age of the Croghan Kinshelagh granite V.” Gallagher, P. J. O’Connor, M. Aftalion. Geologcal Magazine, 1994, volume 131, issue 5, pages 669-684. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0016756800012450.

The half life of 238U is 4.468×109 years, thus the decay constant for this nuclide is 1.551 x 10-10 years-1. Now we have to rearrange the formula for the fraction of the uranium atoms which are undecayed.

NU = NUo e t


NU / NUo = e t

-ln (NU / NUo) = λt

-ln (NU / NUo) / λ = t


-ln(0.935) / λ = 0,06720874969345005314173683498865 / 1,551 x 10-10 years-1 = 433.325 x 106 years.

So we have a age for a rock formed by a volcano in Ireland which is about 433 million years old. Now while the person from the DUP have made a comment about rocks in Northern Ireland I am sure that rocks from the Republic of Ireland of a similar type will have a similar age. Now I hope that you can understand that the rocks of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are much older than 6000 years.

I also have to ask the question of does it matter to a religious person if the earth is older than 6000 years. I know that Bishop James Ussher estimated that creation occurred in 4004 BC, but how much does it matter. I also have to ask “Is an all powerful God any less able to help the humans sort out their lives if they were descended from monkeys and other lifeforms ?”

I know that many people hold the view that “science has replaced religion”. I would strongly disagree with this statement. Science and religion normally deal with different questions.

In the same way that I think that it would be ridiculous and ill advised to attempt to prove (or disprove) the existence of god by means of a science experiment, I think it would be the height of folly to attempt to solve a chemistry, physics or biology problem by reading the bible. I know some chemists who are deeply religious, for their their faith and their science are able to coexist in their minds.

London attacks

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that a group of men drove a white van into people last night at 10 pm UK time (11 pm Europe time) and then carried out a knife attack. I will not attempt to try to compete with the news outlets such as the BBC, the reason is that Dr Foreman does not have a large team of people writing and looking around for information.

I am deeply troubled and unhappy that a group of people should choose to commit such an outrage. I have to ask the question of how can a person make the whole world convert to a religion if they murder everyone who does not practice their religion ? I imagine that the world would become a very empty place if this was taken to its perverse conclusion. I know that people differ in their views and opinions, normally I think that a better way to get the world to agree with you is to persuade people using facts and good arguments for why they should agree with you rather than attempting to change opinion by violence and threats.

What I find interesting and disturbing is that Donald Trump has been reported to have called for a travel ban as a response to the event. I have to question the wisdom of such a ban, Trump wants to restrict travel from 6 countries which are mainly muslim for “national security” reasons. I have to ask if such a travel ban would do any good as terrorists often are willing to break the law and travel using false papers.

Equally troubling I have discovered that some people in the UK are calling for the election to be canceled. One Mark Oxley has been reported by the Daily Mail to have started a petition with the words “to call off the general election for the foreseeable future”. I think that it would be wrong to cancel the election for a series of reasons.

  1. While the event in London is deeply offensive and an attack on British society it is not a sufficient threat to require that democracy be suspended. The IRA bombing and shootings in the past did not make the UK give up democracy, so why should we now give up on it !
  2. Aborting the election would give the terrorists a great victory, they would know in future that by means of violence they can make the British give up on democracy.
  3. The police, security services and the military may be needed to prevent or to mitigate terrorism, the operation of these three things will not (and can not) be changed quickly on a day to day basis by the goverment in Whitehall.

I would suggest that the UK should go ahead with the election later this coming week.

Karlstad fire

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that a large fire occured this afternoon in Karlstad in Sweden, this fire occured in an industrial site on saturday afternoon. In some ways this is the best time / place to have a fire as fewest people will be close to the blaze.

When I find out more about the fire I will post more about it.

Gun safety

Dear Reader,

It is the “end of school” time now, and I am sure many schools are now finishing for the year. There are lots of people who are now finishing school and they are getting ready to move on with the rest of their lives. Sadly in one case a young lady will not be moving on with her life to new and interesting things. She is dead, her boyfriend shot her in the torso in an “accident” with a new gun.

I have to ask the question “was it a true accident ?”, I hold the view that very few gun accidents are events which are truly outside the control of the person owning or holding the gun. In some ways a gun is a very safe object, it is a length of metal pipe. An unloaded gun could be used to knock nails into walls (if you do not care about the damage to the gun that you might do if you use something like a revolver as a hammer). But a loaded gun is a rather dangerous object.

I strongly in favor of drop tests for guns which are likely to be carried while loaded and other tests designed to check to see if such guns will discharge when dropped or otherwise abused. I hold the view that in common with X-ray and industrial gamma radiography equipment that guns / holsters should be designed such that a single inadvertent act can not issue forth bullets or gamma / X-ray photons. One which I think is a smart design is the “grip safety” which is used on some pistols intended for police officers. The idea is that unless a human hand is holding the gun it can not function. For example the french MAB pistols had this feature. Sadly I have never heard of a “nonidiot safety“, this would be one which disables the pistol unless it is being held in the hand of a sober, sensible adult.

I would like to suggest that Twitter should be fitted with an anti-idiot lock, also hold the view that the US goverment needs a similar idiot lock. I find it interesting that their current president is using devolved powers to reject a treaty on climatic change. But I find it interesting that Mr Obama used similar powers to avoid having to use the US parliament for ratification of it. But two wrongs do not make a right, if I was to have a good reason to want the USA to withdraw from the Paris Agreement I would want to do it via their parliament (house and senate) rather than using a devolved power as it is harder to challenge the use of parliament than the use of devolved power and for public relations reasons. But now back to the topic of gun safety.

But even a gun which can not pass a “drop test” will not discharge a bullet if it is dropped when it is unloaded.

I know that guns divide opinion very strongly and some people feel such a strong attachment to their guns that they will resist any attempt at gun control (both unreasonable and reasonable curbs on the ownership / use of guns). But Mark Foreman PhD is able to issue a proscription that will prevent the vast majority of gun mayhem caused by “accidents”. I hope that my advice will be acceptable to both the antigun lobby and the pro gun lobby. I hold the view that Smith and Wesson, Colt, Winchester and the NRA want to avoid accidents with guns.

1. Never point the thing (loaded or otherwise) at other people, animals, valuable property, pets or yourself. Always keep it pointing in a safe direction such as into the floor, into a solid stone wall, a bank of earth or at an oil drum filled with sand which is standing in front of a concrete wall. OK we will ignore the moment when hunting when you might point it at that deer or wild bore.

Now lets assume that your gun goes off “by magic” while you are pointing it in the safe direction. Then if we consider a single 38 bullet then according to a recent test it will pass through about 6 inches of pine wood. Even if the bullet manages to pass through 6 inches of pine it will be travelling much slower and thus will be less likely to cause death / serious injury if it hits some random person. For higher energy pistol bullets and rifles I would expect them to be more able to pass through pine wood and other building materials.

2. Treat all guns as loaded until you know otherwise.

When you pick up a gun assume that it is loaded until you check for yourself that it is not. If you do not know how to do this, then either have nothing to do with guns or learn quickly how to safely check if a gun is loaded or not.

Irresponsible leaking of information

Dear Reader,

When I read the Guardian this morning it come to my attention that Mike McCaul in the USA has made a statement regarding the explosive which the Manchester bomber used. He stated that the bomb contained acetone peroxide. I think that this was a very bad thing to do as it limits the ability of the British authorities to deal with the criminal or criminal network which is behind this outrage.

I am not sure quite how fast the forensic workers can work, I also wounder how accurate the results which he leaked were. Fox news has claimed that a bomb making workshop was found during a raid recently,

I have to also ask the question of “need to know”, what does the public need to know about the bombing. The public should be told that a bombing has occurred and that the police and other parts of the state are dealing with it. But I would argue that the public do not need to see photographs of the wreckage from the bomb or know technical details of the bomb at this stage. I have to ask the question of what good does it do to tell the public the identity of the explosive.

I can not see a reason or purpose right now, I could understand it coming out during the trial of a bomber. My own view is that the trials of bombers should occur in open court, but during those sections of the trial when the design of the bomb is discussed these sections should be held in camera. My reason is that I would rather that the next generation of bombers do not get an education on bombs by attending (or reading about) a trial where bomb design is considered and discussed.

Now the cat is out of the bag, I see no point in not discussing some aspects of the explosive here. The explosive in question is a rather rare one, it is nitrogen free. Many explosives (TNT, ANFO, Picric acid, RDX, nitroglycerine) contain nitrogen. One of the driving forces for the detonation is the formation of nitrogen gas. A typical explosive contains both a fuel and an oxidant. In the case of TNT the fuel is the methyl group and the aromatic ring while the oxidant is the oxygens in the nitro group.

In the case of the London Tube / Bus bombings and the Manchester concert bombing it appears that the bombers used combinations of an organic fuel and peroxides to build their bomb. In the interests of public safety I will not be giving any details of how to make explosive organic peroxides. I hold the view that the UK is going in the right direction with the law on explosive precursors (Control of Poisons and Explosives Precursors Regulations 2015). This law restricts the sale and possession of chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide. The current limit in the law for hydrogen peroxide without a license is 12 % w/w. This is a rather strong solution compared with what is needed for bleaching hair and other household uses.

If we assume that the density of 12 % hydrogen peroxide is 1 gram per ml, then 1 litre of such a solution will contain 120 grams (3,53 moles) of hydrogen peroxide. This would generate 1.76 moles of oxygen gas if it was decomposed totally which would have a volume of 42 litres. An old fashioned way to express the concentration of hydrogen peroxide is to state the number of litres of oxygen which would be generated by the total decomposition of 1 litre of the hydrogen peroxide solution. When I was a boy I used to buy 30 vol hydrogen peroxide to use in my chemistry experiments which I did in the shed. I had set out to buy 20 vol hydrogen peroxide but I found out that the chemist sold 30 vol hydrogen peroxide instead. I once bought some 50 vol hydrogen peroxide, this would now come under the UK law which I mentioned above.

Manchester bombing

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that a bomb was detonated yesterday in Manchester, lets be clear. From the report so far this bombing was an attempt to kill and maim as many people as possible, a cynical and cowardly act aiming at a soft target.

Now right now the UK goverment need to do something, they need to find out if it was a lone criminal or a criminal acting with help from others. Now one of the things which I think is important is to identify the explosive used.

The nature of the explosive will give some clues as to how it was done and the level of help which the bomb maker had. Paul R. Haddad et. al. in Journal of Chromatography A, 2008, 1182, 205–214 explain how to use ion chromatography to identify homemade inorganic explosives such as ANFO, black powder, sugar / chlorate and sugar / perchlorate. In the interests of public safety I will not suggest which of these is most suitable for making bombs. But I can tell you that it is possible from the post detonation fragments to sometimes work out which explosive was used.

For example nitrate anions are characteristic of ANFO (ammonium nitrate / fuel oil) and black powder, while sulfate and thiosulfate are characteristic of black powder. Black powder is the technical term for the “gun powder” made from potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur.

From the chlorate / perchlorate explosives it is possible to detect chloride and either chlorate or perchlorate respectively. The information about the nature of the explosive will help the police trace the bomber backwards. In some ways it is similar to an arson investigation. I know that with careful gas chromatography it is possible to identify the brand of petrol used to light a fire. This is a useful thing to know as it is sometimes possible to recover a petrol can from a suspect or obtain CCTV film of them buying petrol shortly before the fire is lit.

Joseph Almog et. al. in Journal of Forensic Sciences, 2007, 52, 1284-1290 does consider the question of how to detect urea nitrate which is another explosive which is sometimes made at home by terrorists. One option for the detection of this explosive is to use para-dimethylamino cinnamalaldehyde, this forms a rather interesting red coloured substance with the explosive. This is reported by Rinat Rozin and Joseph Almog in Forensic Science International, 2011, 208, 25-28.

I downloaded the details of the crystalline solid from the CCDC and here it is. What you should note is that the dimethylamino group is flat, this is an indication that the nitrogen is sp2 hybridised and thus the dimethyl amino group is part of the pi system of the molecule. I think that the nitrogen lone pair is part of the pi system.

molecules of the urea and paradimethylaminocinnamaldehyde thing

Acetone peroxide has also been the subject of some research, this is an explosive which has been used in the past by terror bombers, the explosive is a too sensitive for it to be attractive to the military or the legal explosives industry so when it is found then it is a sign that some “lone wolf” terrorist or other person who can not gain access to “normal” explosives such as TNT has been going about their horrid activities. Likewise I think that the use of urea nitrate and the fuel / chlorate (and perchlorate) mixtures suggests that it is an explosive made by the bomber themselves (or by someone close to them).

Black powder and ANFO are not so clear these are explosives which have legal purposes which can also be made illegally. Black powder is used in fireworks and also sometimes in firearms. Already one group of terrorists (Boston marathon bombers) used fireworks as their source of explosives.

The use of nitroarene and nitroamine explosives such as TNT / picric acid and RDX would suggest to me that the bomber had outside help in the form of someone who could supply explosives such as Semtex to them. It is not uncommon for some trace of the explosive to survive the detonation event so even if a readymade high explosive was used it may be possible to work out what the explosive was. What this means to society is that even while the bomber is dead it maybe possible to work out from physical evidence some clues to what happened and where the bomb came from.

Forgive what ?

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that the Swedish prosecutors have chosen to give up on the Julian Assange case. Now Julian is upset and angry, he is saying that he will not “forgive and forget”. I have to ask the question what has he to “forgive”.

My understanding of the word “forgive” that it is a verb (action word) which means to decide that someone or something which has done some wrong to you should not be punished or pursued for that wrong. Instead you have chosen to allow to let the thing go. For example if you catch your child eating your slice of cake out of the fridge, rather than holding it against them for the rest of time you might (and I hope you will) choose to forgive them for this act of theft instead of chasing them for it for the rest of time !

So my reasoning is that to be able to forgive you have to be the wronged party, I have to ask the question of “how has Julian been wronged”, and “who has wronged him ?”.

He complains about having his name “slandered”, being detained for seven years and having his family life disrupted. Now I will go through these points one by one.

Now Mr Assange has been accused of a serious crime which is quite rightly repulsive to decent people, I am not able to make a judgement in a legal sense here as legal judgement should be made in a real court with a real judge and not in the “court of public opinion”. Thank goodness we do not have trial by media !

But if Julian had wanted to he could have gone to Göteborg or Stockholm to get the matter over with. If he had been so sure that the case against him was a tissue of lies then he could have made steps to clear his name, I am sure that in terms of reputational harm that his cooperation with the police / legal system would have counted in his favor. He could have painted himself as the sad victim of a malicious accusation, rather than a person who attempts to avoid justice.

Mr Assange has been involved in a thing called Wikileaks, and he wants openness in goverment. Now a intellectual hero of mine (Louis Dembitz Brandeis) who was a Judge in the USA commented

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants

Now I am sure that it would be hard for Julian to disagree with the idea that a goverment official accused of some crime should cooperate with the criminal justice system and either clear his / her name or accept whatever fate (sentence) they get if they get rightly convicted. Consider Jonathan Aitken, he was an immoral man who lied in court and he was sent to jail. But he did clean up his life in jail. Equally it is hard for anyone to argue that Jeffrey Archer should have been allowed to escape justice.

I am sure that if Jeffrey Archer had run off and hidden someone rather than going to court that Wikileaks would have been unlikely to have approved his action. I reason that if Julian is so keen on openness that he should have applied the principle of openness to himself and cooperated fully with the legal system.

The next thing which he complains about is his “detention”, some UN body (a rather misguided one) has stated that “Mr. Assange had been subjected to different forms of deprivation of liberty: initial detention in Wandsworth Prison in London, followed by house arrest and then confinement at the Ecuadorean Embassy

The “confinement at the Ecuadorean Embassy” was not ordered by either the Swedish or UK state, it was self imposed.  hit the nail on the head perfectly when he pointed out that Mr Assange has hidden himself away from justice rather than having been confined by the state.

Maybe by the same logic of most of the panel I have also kidnapped myself by going for a walk, a walk I wanted to go for. To my mind the logic of the UN panel is deeply wrong and twisted. It is interesting that one member of the panel (who disgreed with the others) Vladimir Tochilovsky who is a law academic quite rightly expressed the view that “Mr Assange’s situation amounted to “self-confinement” – and was therefore outside the panel’s remit” (Summary on the Telegraph‘s site).  It is at the end of the opinion issued by the UN panel. For anyone who wants to read it here it is

“Individual dissenting opinion of WGAD member Vladimir Tochilovsky

  1. The adopted Opinion raises serious question as to the scope of the mandate of the Working Group.
  2. It is assumed in the Opinion that Mr. Assange has been detained in the Embassy of Ecuador in London by the authorities of the United Kingdom. In particular, it is stated that his stay in the Embassy constitutes “a state of an arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”
  3. In fact, Mr. Assange fled the bail in June 2012 and since then stays at the premises of the Embassy using them as a safe haven to evade arrest. Indeed, fugitives are often self-confined within the places where they evade arrest and detention. This could be some premises, as in Mr. Assange’s situation, or the territory of the State that does not recognise the arrest warrant. However, these territories and premises of self-confinement cannot be considered as places of detention for the purposes of the mandate of the Working Group.
  4. In regard to the house arrest of Mr. Assange in 2011-2012, it was previously emphasised by the Working Group that where the person is allowed to leave the residence (as in Mr. Assange’s case), it is “a form of restriction of liberty rather than deprivation of liberty, measure which would then lie outside the Group’s competence” (E/CN.4/1998/44, para. 41(e)). Mr. Assange was allowed to leave the mansion where he was supposed to reside while litigating against extradition in the courts of the United Kingdom. As soon as his last application was dismissed by the Supreme Court in June 2012, Mr. Assange fled the bail.
  5. The mandate of the Working Group is not without limits. By definition, the Working Group is not competent to consider situations that do not involve deprivation of liberty. For the same reason, issues related to the fugitives’ self-confinement, such as asylum and extradition, do not fall into the mandate of the Working Group (see, for instance, E/CN.4/1999/63, para. 67).
  6. That is not to say that the complaints of Mr. Assange could not have been considered. There exist the appropriate UN human rights treaty bodies and the European Court of Human Rights that do have mandate to examine such complaints regardless whether they involve deprivation of liberty or not.
  7. Incidentally, any further application of Mr. Assange may now be declared inadmissible in an appropriate UN body or ECtHR on the matters that have been considered by the Working Group. In this regard, one may refer to the ECtHR decision in Peraldi v. France (2096/05) and the reservation of Sweden to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.
  8. For these reasons, I dissent.”

The comments about his family life are rather silly, Mr Assange choose to isolate himself from his family. I am sure that if he was sent to a Swedish prison that he would be allowed to be visited by his family.

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