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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Just got back from the NFL International game @ Wembley where the Miami Dolphins lost (badly) to the New York Jets. Of course the game could have gone the way I'd hoped except that the Dolphins could hardly catch a thing...... Still, I had a fun day out! Here's to next year.....

Cartoon Time.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Welcome to Monster/Horror Month @ SaLT! Be prepared to shake in your shoes...... 
UK drone strikes subject to legal challenge by Greens

From The BBC

24 September 2015

The use of drones to kill UK citizens abroad is being legally challenged by two Green Party parliamentarians. Earlier this month, David Cameron announced an RAF-operated drone had killed two Britons linked to so-called Islamic State in Syria, describing the action as an "act of self defence". MP Caroline Lucas and Baroness Jones have now sought permission for a judicial review of the policy, claiming that "targeted killing" is unlawful. It is backed by campaigners Reprieve.
Britain is participating in air strikes against IS fighters in Iraq, but not Syria - after the Commons refused to approve the action two years ago. But in what was the first targeted UK drone attack on a British citizen, Reyaad Khan, from Cardiff, and Ruhul Amin, from Aberdeen were killed by a remotely piloted aircraft on 21 August in Raqqa, Syria. Khan, the target of the strike, had been plotting "barbaric" attacks on UK soil, the prime minister told MPs in a statement.

He insisted the action was lawful despite Parliament not having authorised airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria. He said the attorney general had been consulted and agreed there was a "clear legal basis" for the strike. But Ms Lucas and Baroness Jones - the party's sole representatives in Parliament - say there has been a lack of parliamentary scrutiny or approval of the policy and argue there have been conflicting and partial accounts of the justification in statements.

In a letter to the Ministry of Defence and the attorney general's office, they argue that the government has either failed to formulate a policy or, if it has a policy, failed to publish it. Either eventuality, they argue, is unlawful. "If any pre-authorised and targeted killing can be lawful, they must be carried out under a formulated and published Targeted Killing Policy which ensures transparency, clarity and accountability for such use of lethal force," the letter says.

The drone strike is expected to be the subject of an investigation by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the House of Commons, now chaired by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve.

Reprieve, an international human rights charity, said the government's justification of the strike effectively gave it "the power to kill anyone, anywhere in the world, without oversight or safeguards. This is a huge step, and at the very least the prime minister should come clean about his new kill policy," said its legal director Kat Craig. She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was effectively a "wholesale adoption" of the US government's "so-called targeted killing programme".

The drone strikes have been backed by Conservative MPs, who said the individuals targeted posed a direct threat to national security. But Labour has called for the attorney general's advice to be published, something ministers say there is no precedent for.

[It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what (if anything) will come of this. After all we’re still waiting for the report into the origins and legality of the Iraq War. Personally I’m not holding my breath on this one!]

...and I'm Back...!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

So that explains it...............

Just Finished Reading: The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin (FP: 1998)

Moscow, 1876. It wasn’t long before Detective Superintendent Xavier Grushin took pity on the department’s newest and keenest recruit. Young Erast Fandorin was obviously over qualified for his role and itched to be sent out on an investigation rather than being stuck in the sleepy Moscow headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Branch writing reports of what others had done. So when a simple suicide of a disaffected student crosses the Superintendent's desk Fandorin is sent out to ensure that a detailed record is produced for the boy’s family. Keen to prove himself as an investigator the young Erast begins to dig into the student’s background and starts to uncover an apparent mystery. Amused by his obvious naivety Grushin gives his protégée his head in the expectation that his enquiries will soon reach as satisfying dead end. But the mystery behind the student’s death only deepens and slowly becomes something much more – not only a conspiracy against the Russian royal family in far off St Petersburg but a conspiracy spanning Europe and the America’s. A conspiracy involving the great and the good across the known globe (future victims or present protagonists?) seemingly linked to both the outbreak of Nihilist and Anarchist atrocities and the philanthropic activities of Lady Astor and her homes for orphans which have begun to spring up all over the Continent. Can Fandorin uncover his first case before the whole world falls around him?

This was a highly entertain tale of intrigue, races across Europe by train, dangerously alluring femme fatales, fanatics and common criminals, double crossing and the fate of the world held in the balance within the contents of a single letter – oh, and love (of course!). Aptly referred to as Russia’s 19th century equivalent to James Bond this is indeed a crackling little tale which manages (mostly) to stay this side of believable – with the possible exception of the number of times the hero escapes certain death! Deeply mysterious (you’re never quite sure exactly what’s going on or who can be trusted), full of great characters – both good and bad – and with a satisfying (if quite horrible) ending I loved just about everything about this book. It’s certainly one of the best I’ve ever picked up from a left-over jumble sale. Fortunately it’s the first book in the series and after the rather dark ending I really need to know how Fandorin will revenge himself on the remaining members of the conspiracy – and especially on the Winter Queen who brought him so much pain. Definitely recommended for any historical crime fans.

Translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

My Favourite Movies: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

The teaser trailer for this certainly intrigued me but I thought ‘oh, another alien invasion flic’ and moved on. Then I heard some of the criticism: that it was like watching over someone’s shoulder as they played Call of Duty (a game I was actually playing at the time) or that, after the obligatory 10 minutes introducing the characters we had 2 hours of unrelenting combat…. OK, those ‘criticisms’ sold me and I arranged a ‘boy’s night out’.

As with most of these things the movie did exactly what it said on the tin (or trailer). A comment ‘Black Hawk Down with Aliens’ kind of encapsulates the whole thing – except BHD was better. At the start we see US Marine Staff Sargent Nantz played by Aaron Eckhart who, I must admit, I have a soft spot for despite his unfortunate tendency to indulge in overacting, just about the jack everything in after getting his unit combat ready and shipped off to Afghanistan/Iraq. Everything is put on hold when they’re called to aid in an evacuation of Santa Barbara because of an expected meteor strike off the coast. What they realise very quickly (thanks to NASA) is that the meteors are landing/impacting at less than terminal velocity – they’re slowing down. All across the planet things are landing and moving inshore in an organised military style attack – we are at war! As coastal areas are quickly overrun the marines are sent in the hold the line. Nantz’s group (led by newly minted 2nd Lt Martinez – played by Ramon Rodriguez) is sent into the combat zone to recover civilians trapped in a police station. On the face of it it’s a simple in and out operation. But almost immediately the squad come under enemy fire and are taking casualties. Everyone, including Nantz, need to man up and grow up very quickly indeed if they are going to complete their mission and get back to the FOB (Forward Operating Base) alive before the whole of Santa Barbara is levelled by the Air Force.

Right, first the criticisms…. The acting is variable to say the least and rarely gets above the average. There’s a lot of over-the-top patriotism throughout the movie and a reverence (and I don’t hesitate to use that word) about all things Marine. Often this goes right up to the edge of sickly sweet acceptability but only just manages to restrain itself from going too far and descending into farce. The emotional outbursts of the soldiers I found deeply irritating. OK, they’re in combat and under stress but they caused so much noise that the enemy had no problem at all finding them blindfold. Such behaviour might be normal in the Marines but it doesn’t make it any less irritating.

Now the good bits….. The storyline was pretty good once you get over the idea that they’re here to steal our water. I can go with conquer us to get at our resources and I ignored the water idea – especially when on day ONE reported sea levels are already dropping! I liked that we were kept informed of the larger picture/storyline from TV reports & the Internet. That felt real. I really liked the combat elements which felt graphic, messy and realistic from what I’ve seen on TV news. I liked that the aliens where pretty alien but close enough to us (roughly humanoid) not to be completely silly. Their technology was quite believable too except maybe their lack of much in the way of armoured vehicles.

This is essentially a 21st century war movie that happens to have aliens in it. Much superior to Independence Day which it resembles at times this is a down in the dirt, front line view of fighting an unknown enemy where the price of failure is the loss of everything. A little silly, a little overblown, somewhat over sentimental and probably too self-aware (and not always in a good way) this is still an entertaining film despite its many faults. Have a good few pinches of salt handy and a big bowl of popcorn and you should enjoy it too. Oh, and before I forget Michelle Rodriguez is in it as Tech Sargent Elena Santos. Needless to say she kicks alien butt – if they have butt’s to kick.