Monday, November 25, 2013

It's a knockout

'Brockian Ultra-Cricket is a curious game which involves suddenly hitting people for no readily apparent reason and then running away. "Let's be blunt, it's a nasty game," says The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.'

Indeed it is. A very nasty game. And now there are news reports of such bestial activity being dubbed 'Knockout,' the object of which is to render some random passer-by unconscious with a single punch. A suitable victim seems to be old, frail, female, weak. Cowardly attacks aren't generally made on WWE wrestlers or nightclub bouncers. I’ve seen video footage of such alleged attacks: one member of a gang leaps out from behind his mates and sucker punches some unsuspecting member of the public, and the gang wanders off.

Knockout differs from 'Happy Slapping,'  in which, according to the Urban Dictionary, "...chavs ambush an innocent passer-by, and beat them up while one of the gang videos the whole episode on their mobile phone. The video is kept as a trophy and passed round the class at school." Multiple attackers; sustained attack.

The Urban Dictionary also notes of Happy Slapping that, "In America we call this practice assault and I do believe you would get shot with a gun if you tried it."

There is a story circulating on social media regarding Knockout that a victim shot and killed two of a gang when she was assaulted. It gets a lot of, "The punks deserved it" comments on forums, but the story seems to be a work of fiction or wishful thinking. This is not to say that deadly retailiation to a Knockout assault hasn't or won't occur. One day, a victim will pull out a firearm and render the entire gang dead or injured. Or he’ll fail to fall over and there’ll be a frenzied street brawl. It’s only a matter of time.

I pulled the picture at the top of this post from a Facebook post. At a hypothetical level I concur with the sentiment, “Don’t mess with me, or I’ll use deadly force,” but in the Real World things are a lot more complicated.

My concern is how the courts would deal with such a reaction. The initial blow is straightforward Felonious Assault, there’s an obvious aggressor, and there’s a clear victim. Hopefully, CCTV images will bring the perps to justice. But any less-than-instant reaction by the victim is, unfortunately, difficult to justify on the grounds of self-defence. It’s impractical and obviously illegal to be proactively violent towards every gang of youths. It’s difficult to react immediately in the split-second of a single-blow attack. And reacting afterwards isn’t self defence, but revenge.

When the aggressor and his gang walk away, there’s no follow-up violence or explicit threat. So a wronged victim who shoots his assailant (presumably in the back) becomes the new aggressor. Perhaps a solution is to get the gang member responsible to turn around, plug him in his chest and forehead, and then claim to the police that he was coming back to inflict more violence. Good luck with trying that when you're dazed following a knockout blow.

In 2008 in High Wycombe, UK, a British businessman Munir Hussain and his family were threatened in their home by a gang of intruders. Hussain chased, Walid Salem, one of the intruders from the house and, 'about four Asian men,' according to eyewitnesses, beat Salem with a cricket bat and other implements. The court sentenced Munir Hussain to 30 months in prison for the assault on someone who had, it was claimed in court, threatened to kill the Hussain family in their own home. English law treats Salem’s leaving the house and his subsequent beating as separate incidents. He was no longer an immediate threat to Hussain’s family. The whole case is more complex that my summary. I suggest the References section at the bottom of the Wikipedia article.

I bring up this case to illustrate possible legal consequences of actions by the victim.

My feelings on the subject aren’t entirely theoretical. Many years ago I was walking home from the pub with a few friends. When they nipped into the Chinese takeaway, about four or five local yobs beat me to a pulp. They wanted a fight, which I wouldn’t give them. Mercifully, no weapons were involved.

I realised that to fight back would have the police show up and arrest us all, and there’d unprovable claims on both sides about who started it. I absolutely refused to fight back (but believe me, I so wanted to), and called off my friends when they emerged from the Chinese. Thus when the police eventually did turn up, the deserving mob was arrested, charged, and subsequently sent down for Grievous Bodily Harm, Actual Bodily Harm, and Criminal Damage.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Unpleasant surprice

Holiday season will soon be upon us, and Beloved Wife spent some time on line, researching options for air travel to Foreign Parts. The favourite plan appeared to be to visit her parents over Christmas, and one of the most cost-effective ways to do so was to fly via Munich.

I'll let that sink in for a moment. Separate flights: from Dubai to Munich, Munich to Washington, then home again home again joggity-jog. Cost of all four flights: around AED4200 per person.

These flights are scheduled for every day of the week, and it stands to reason that it costs the airline exactly the same in landing fees, passenger handling, luggage handling, extra take-off fuel, etc., whether our stopover in Munich be four hours or four days. The only additional costs that I can identify are use of the baggage carousel, and having someone inspect our passports. And these costs are borne by the airport, not the airline. They're presumably funded from landing fees and therefore paid for anyway.

I tried many variations to get a stopover in Munich, but every one of them totalled up at the same cost, to within AED100 or so.

Why, then, does stopping in Munich on the way west cost AED8250 per person? That's almost twice as much money for exactly the same effort. Anyone would think that Lufthansa didn't want people to visit Germany, to stay in German hotels, ride on the German rail network, drink German beer and Glühwein, eat German Wurst, or buy German Christmas ornaments; in short, spend money in Germany.

So we won't be stopping over in Munich after all.


Thursday, November 07, 2013

Doing the splits

I am not going to be an apologist for the motorcycle buffoons who scream through tiny gaps in traffic, removing mirrors in the process, nor those who zip along the white line at R17 when the main traffic streams are doing close to the posted speed limit. Neither will I defend high-speed zig-zagging across multiple highway lanes by anyone, not just bikers. My point is limited to the well-known motorcycling practice of filtering between queues of cars.

In this discourse, I'm treating 'filtering' as riding a motorbike between queues of stationary cars; 'lane splitting' is a similar thing, but the cars are actually moving.

Whether the practice is legal or not depends on where in the world you are. It's legal in California, but nowhere else in the USA as far as I know. Filtering and lane splitting are both legal in the UK and mainland Europe. In the UAE, where the legality of most things on the road seems to be decided ad hoc, it's apparently not allowed in Abu Dhabi, but may or may not be permissible in Dubai. Not that this stops most motorcyclists from doing it anyway.

The UK's Highway Code (Rule 88) includes the phrase: 'Additionally, when filtering in slow-moving traffic, take care and keep your speed low.' OK, I know that this rule is specific to the UK.

The definition of 'low' speed in this context is a grey area. Personally, I slow to a crawl so I can stop if the taxi driver in front of me suddenly opens his door to spit in the road. Random door opening seems less likely when traffic is moving, but sudden lane changes become more likely. Hence 'take care'. Various highways experts and driver pressure groups have opinions published on the internet and elsewhere, but the consensus seems to be not to lane split at more than 30mph above the prevailing traffic speed. This seems on the high side to me.

From a motorcyclist's point of view, it's only reasonable to move to the front of a traffic queue and be away with the green light, rather than to sit in temperatures in the forties Celsius with the engine blowing more hot air on his legs. Cars, at least, usually have air conditioning. This option should always be available on normal roads where a car is typically 1.8m wide in a 3.6m traffic lane. At roadworks, for example, traffic lane widths may be reduced, and my monstrous 101cm wide bike won't fit through the gap. I have to queue and watch the pizzas speed past me.

The advantages of allowing filtering and lane splitting don't stop with preventing bikers from getting hot legs. From their perspective, not getting stuck in traffic queues speeds their journeys and they're presumably not late for their appointments. This alone should make motorcycling an attractive proposition for commuting. A modal switch from cars to motorbikes offers advantages for everyone else on the road:

  • When traffic is moving freely, a motorbike takes up pretty much the same amount of road as a car. That is one whole lane width, plus a gap in front and a gap behind. As congestion develops, the bike moves into its own narrow lane between queues of crawling cars and the space the biker was occupying becomes available for a car. The bike essentially disappears from the traffic volume.
  • There's a safety issue. A bike is invisible in the middle of a traffic lane behind a bus or truck, and it's to everyone's advantage if the biker moves to one side so that the machine is visible in the mirrors of the vehicle in front. Moving to the side is also likely to reduce the chance of the bike being rear-ended.
  • A motorbike, even one with a big engine, usually uses less fuel than a car. It uses a lot less than a car of comparable performance. Although motorcycle exhaust emissions are dirtier than those of modern, cat-converted car exhausts, it is fundamental that if you burn less, you pollute less. If you're not sitting in a traffic jam for half an hour, you're not polluting for 30 minutes at zero miles per gallon.
  • Having arrived at his destination, perhaps his office, our hypothetical biker can park his machine in a much smaller space than a car. You can get three or four large motorbikes into one car space, and if the bike's parked in an alley or on a hardstanding where cars can't go, it's taking up no car spaces at all.

You can achieve these last two by car sharing. Four commuters in one car take up only one parking space, and quadruple the effective gas mileage. But you lose convenience and flexibility in travel arrangements.

Whether lane splitting is legal where you ride or drive, it isn't the job of car drivers to act as unpaid Traffic Policemen. Bikers are familiar with the scenario in which a driver sees a bike riding up the gap between queued cars. He becomes envious and resentful, and deliberately moves his car to block the biker's path. The biker simply rides around the other side of the car. If he's of the rude and vulgar type, the biker might choose to hurl abuse at, or to flip off the car driver for being a selfish pillock (which I cannot condone, but it happens). The car driver takes offence, having been rebuked for driving like an arse, and thinks, "Bikers are all ignorant, knuckle-dragging morons. QED."

Motorcyclists are, by and large, not knuckle-dragging morons. We are people, going about our daily lives the same as everyone else. Don't be envious if motorbikes pass you in a traffic jam. Just imagine how much worse that queue would be if each biker were driving a car.


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