An alert to the threats to Europe

I found this ‘letter’ and thought it tied in quite well with my previous post regarding Syria – its credited with coming from he famous comedian John Cleese, however a little bit of reasearch has dug up the fact it looks like its actually not by him at all!

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent events in Syria and have therefore raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” The English have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Collaborate” and “Surrender.” The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France ‘s white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country’s military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing.” Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides.”

The Germans have increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbour” and “Lose.”

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be alright, Mate.” Two more escalation levels remain: “Crikey! I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend!” and “The barbie is cancelled.” So far no situation has ever warranted use of the last final escalation level.

— John Cleese – British writer, actor and tall person A final thought -“ Greece is collapsing, the Iranians are getting aggressive, and Rome is in disarray. Welcome back to 430 BC.”

A Victory for Democracy?

Now, I don’t claim to be anything more than a passive watcher of the news; I catch it for an hour in the morning, maybe the headlines at 6pm and then I watch the news at 10. However, I can’t help but feel that the events in Syria, and in the British Parliament, need a mentioning.

For those that do not know, I will give a brief outline of the Civil War in Syria (and it will be brief, I hardly know a barrel of information on the topic!). It began in March 2011 as a chain of peaceful protests, followed by a crackdown by the Syrian Army. In July 2011, army defectors declared the formation of the Free Syrian Army and began forming fighting units. According to the United Nations, up to 100,000 people have been killed and in order to escape the violence, over 1.7 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries of Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey. As of this moment, the civil war has become so out of control that a chemical attack was made on civilians in the city of Damascus. It is currently unknown as to who exactly caused the chemical attack, and while it is heavily suggested to have been the Government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it has neither been confirmed nor denied by the UN Weapons experts who have examined the evidence.

The chemical attack is the cause of the main flux in condemnation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, particularly from the Western World.

President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have both been particularly strong in their words when describing the chemical weapons attacks and it is for this reason that the House of Commons, one of the Two Houses of Parliament, was summoned by Cameron (while not in session) to vote as to Britain’s willingness to take military action against Syria.

Obama_and_Cameron_1657217a
Far from budding friends most of the time, both Obama and Cameron appear to have found a unity over Syria and the outrage of the use of chemical weapons

The Government put forward this Bill with the express intent of having Military action being ratified, however The Labour Party also made an amendment to the Governments Bill. Call me cynical if you will, but I feel they are mainly doing so in an effort to appear as if they have learned from the mistakes of their recent past in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Despite this, what they called for were reasonable measures; military action would be validated when:
– The UN Security Council voted in support of it
– There was undeniable proof that the chemical attack was of Government origin
– The force was to be used only to stop the use of chemical weapons and promote humanitarian support
– The UN Weapons Inspectors could guarantee that it the chemical attack was designed to attack civilians

The Labour Amendment was voted on shortly before the Government’s and defeated by 220 voted to 332. As such, it meant that Parliament was either accepting military action on the facts as we known them to be know (as the Government wants) or declining to accept any use of military force at all.

As it happened, the House of Commons voted to defeat the Governments Motion, 285 votes to 272.

Now, mentioning Labour, there is something I don’t understand; The House of Commons had two votes tonight: one in which Labour put forward their amendment to the Governments ‘militant’ Bill regarding Syria and another in which the Government put forward its Bill for military action to be taken in Syria. Both failed, yet the second fails by a much closer margin.

Despite this, Labour are calling for a General Election and/or the resignation of David Cameron? As much as this is a rather stinging blow to Mr Cameron and his pro-action agenda, its hardly been a staple part of his manifesto. Its a simple fact of office that (probably more often than not) politicians may want one thing, but not be able to achieve it.

The defeat of the Goverment’s motion prompted a, I think, rather nice quote from the PM:

“I believe in respecting the Will of this House of Commons.”

“It is very clear to me the British parliament, reflecting the view of the British people, does not want see military action. I get that and the Government will act accordingly.”

I think that I would agree that the Invasion of Iraq in 2003 did haunt this debate, and those who were making the same debate in 2003 when they agreed to the War on Terror; whether or not it was a wise choice, or a fair choice. I don’t know.
Will it stop others from getting involved? Unlikely, as Obama has already made it clear that he is fully prepared to make this a singular American Operation (unlike Bush’s ‘Coalition’). However the effects of the vote on Congress are yet to be seen.

Do I personally think that we should have voted yes to military action in Syria? No. I think it is about time that we realised that just because we may have some degree of power by the size of our Armed Forces it does not mean we have an automatic position as the Worlds Police Force. Not only this, but I think we have to recognise that its simply not possible to solve problems like this with full out military force; it hasn’t worked for use in the last decade, and it wont work here. Saying that however, I do feel that we as human beings have a moral obligation to try and ensure that such heinous crimes as the use of chemical weapons on civilians (or anyone for that matter) are never permitted nor allowed to occur.

To this end, I have no idea what to do about Syria. Its a right old mess.

So. There we have the ramblings on of someone with very few of the real facts and only our (if we are honest) pretty shoddy media to source.

Another attempt at a CountryBall Cartoon

CountryBall cartoon: Attempt 3 – The Anglo-Franco Battle for North America
Despite being an abysmal artist, I decided I’d have a go and make another cartoon myself.

If I had had the time and the artistic skill, this would have been a huge cartoon in which the too-ing and fro-ing of the Battle for the North American continent between France and Britain would have been laid out.

Unfortunately, you have to deal with this

Image

A brief history of: John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich

A brief history of: John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich

392px-John_Montagu,_4th_Earl_of_Sandwich

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, was born on November 13th, 1718 and he died April 30th, 1792. He was a British Statesman who held various different military and political offices throughout his life, such as being British first lord of the Admiralty, however he is arguably most recognisable as being the man after whom the sandwich was named.

 

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The Early Years
As a child, Sandwich studied at both Eton and Cambridge while inheriting his title from his grandfather at the young age of 11. Upon leaving education, he travelled around Europe (taking the ‘Grand Tour’ as it was known in the upper classes).

On his return to England in 1739, he took up his seat in the House of Lords.  Like many of his other Parliamentarians, Lord Sandwich was strongly opposed the deployment of British troops on the European Continent to protect it. He gained attention for his speeches in parliament which earned him a reputation for clearly setting out his argument.

The Politician, the Administrator and the Military Man
It was in 1774 that Sandwich was to gain his first military experience and received a place in the administration of the Navy under the Duke of Bedford (whom Sandwich supported in the House of Lords). Despite having a somewhat successful spell in the Admiralty, Sandwich was moved not long later into a position in the Army (which was small by most other European standards); it was in this position that he would catch a fever, become seriously ill and almost die.

Sandwich also spent time in diplomatic circles, and he represented Britain in the Congress of Breda 1746-48 (where he would utilise the British Secret Service to get one over on the French) and he would also be made British Ambassador to The Dutch Republic at the same time.

In 1748 Sandwich was granted the position as First Lord of The Admiralty, however by 1451 the leading politician of the time, The Duke of Newcastle, had become distrustful of Sandwich and had him dismissed from duty. This provoked the Duke of Bedford (a close political ally of Sandwich and rival for Newcastle’s power) into resigning in protest. Despite spending the next few years in solitude on his estate far from politics, upon the new Government forming in 1763, Sandwich was reinstated as Lord of the Admiralty by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute.

From 1763 to 1765 and 1770 to 1771, he also served as Secretary of State for the Northern Department. In this capacity he took a leading part in the prosecution of John Wilkes (1763), the radical British politician and agitator.

Sandwich then served for a third time as First Lord of the Admiralty in Lord North’s administration from 1771 to 1782. During this period, his critics accused him of using the office to obtain bribes and to distribute political jobs, however although he was frequently attacked for corruption, his administrative ability was been recognized by his earlier successes. Despite the early administrative success in the role however, during the American Revolutionary War (1775 to 1781) Sandwich insisted upon keeping much of the British fleet in European waters because of the possibility of French attack, and he was subjected to considerable criticism for insufficient naval preparedness. Sandwich was accused of not only having too few ships prepared for an ‘inevitable’ war with France (which began in 1778 when France declared war), but his tactics were also criticised, as well as his ability to counteract both French and Spanish attacks when Spain entered the war on the side of France. Despite criticism however, a planned French-Spanish invasion of Cornwall in 1779 was foiled, perhaps as a result of the primary British ships being in Europe.

The Later Days
Sandwich retired from public duty in 1782, and lived another ten years in retirement; he married Dorothy Fane, daughter of the 1st Viscount Fane, by whom he had one son, John, Viscount Hinchingbrooke (1743 – 1814), who succeeded him as the 5th Earl.

Lord Sandwich was also great supporter of Captain James Cook. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Sandwich approved Admiralty funds for the purchase and fit-out of the Resolution, Adventure and Discovery for Cook’s second and third expeditions of exploration in the Pacific Ocean. As a result of his interest in naval affairs and his promotion of exploration and in honour of Sandwich, Captain Cook named the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) after him, as well as Montague Island off the south east coast of Australia, the South Sandwich Islands in the Southern Atlantic Ocean and Montague Island in the Gulf of Alaska.

The origin of the Sandwich

sandwich-1The modern sandwich is named after Lord Sandwich, but the exact reasons and causes of its invention and original use are still uncertain. One rumour that formed was the popular myth that bread and meat sustained Lord Sandwich at the gambling table. A very dedicated gambler, Lord Sandwich did not take the time to have a meal during his long hours playing at the card table. As such, he would ask his servants to bring him slices of meat between two slices of bread; a habit well known among his gambling friends. Because John Montague was the Earl of Sandwich others began to order “the same as Sandwich!” and hence the ‘sandwich’ was born.

Another alternative is provided by Sandwich’s biographer, N. A. M. Rodger, who suggests Sandwich’s commitments to the navy, to politics and the arts mean the first sandwich was more likely to have been consumed at his work desk.

Either way, while these do show that the sandwich does indeed get its name from The 4th Earl, the fact remains that Arabs had already started stuffing meat inside pita bread centuries before the Earl was even born!

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes: A Review

Being quite the ‘Holmesian’ (a fan of things Sherlock Holmes) this was naturally one of the few games I actually desired to get on release day, and what is there that can be said about the Testament of Sherlock Holmes? Well quite a lot as it happens.

Consider this your warning that there will be spoliers within this review

The game centers on the master sleuth Sherlock Holmes, framed for all the crimes he’s ever helped solve, turned on by Scotland Yard, hounded like a criminal, and with only his (slightly faltering) loyal dog companion Dr John Watson by his side as he attempts to foil the dastardly plan of his nemesis Professor James Moriarty.

Testament of Sherlock Holmes 1

For those familiar with Sherlock Holmes, the story/theme of Moriarty trying to discredit Holmes and his crime-solving prowess, won’t be particularly new as it was the focus of the final episode of Series 2 of successful BBC One program ‘Sherlock’ (and a fine episode it was too)*. And personally, I quite liked the story; the subtle hints and references for people well versed in the story of Sherlock Holmes come across very nicely. Personally, while I’d have liked to have seen Inspector Lestrade, the throw-away mentions were nice and probably more suited to the game.

One weakness I did feel about the story is that Moriarty’s great scheme almost feels like an afterthought; something which only really takes notice in the very last part of the game. A large portion of time is given to what is, in reality, only a couple of crimes and Holmes’ deteriorating reputation. Although this does make for an engaging experience, the whole ‘master crime’ seems to be undone rather quickly; I almost wish that these were two games, one dedicated to fighting Moriarty, and another for really developing a ‘fallen’ Holmes.

Holmes turns on Watson

This scene makes for rather poignant viewing – especially with what happens the second time around!

One thing which can’t be understated about this game is the way it looks: very nice. It’s not perfect, and compared to games which really emphasis character looks, such as L.A. Noire, it’s soundly beaten; however for a game centered on its story it looks grand. This transfers onto the various different crime scenes which you have to explore; dead bodies and intricate puzzles look very clean and copacetic on the screen and this only adds to the experience. However, although the characters of Victorian London look good, the same cannot be said of the modern day children in the attic – at times, they look frankly disturbing!

The depth of the characters doesn’t rest with the appearance however, and the voice work for both Holmes and Watson works well; the jokes and humorous one-liners (usually at Watson’s expense) are sometimes actually quite funny. However I still finished the game feeling that it wasn’t quite as developed as it could have been, and I would have liked to explore that relationship a little more. While on the topic of John Watson, I can’t help but feel that he wasn’t put to his best use in this game. There were times when his only task was to simply walk around following your every step and, when prompted, offering nothing more to the scenario than the frustratingly unhelpful ‘What next Holmes?’.

Toby
For the unobservant player, you may not even notice the point where you take over Toby the dog (a reference to Basil the Great Mouse Detective perhaps?) rather than controlling Watson.

One thing I will say is that the game does not transfer well from PC to console. I played the game on PS3, and there were points where it was so frustratingly slow and jumpy that I considered turning it off. Despite this, I did find the first person to third person camera switch a nice touch. The core mechanics of the game (investigating clues, exploring locked boxes ect ect) work well, but when it comes to actually moving around in the game it felt, to me, quite poor.

Talking about core game mechanics, I lost count of how many times I had a locked box which had to be opened in some such unique fashion. Don’t get me wrong, there was never a box locked in the same way twice, and every puzzle had its own way of being completed, but it doesn’t get around the fact that you are just trying to open yet another box. If one career was really flying in Victorian England, it was clearly being a locksmith. However, to complain about this would be churlish – you don’t pick up Fifa and complain about playing match after match; the puzzles are very interesting and there was more than one which boggled my mind enough I did have to sneak a look at a hint so it fulfills its purpose admirably.

Deducting
Personally, this was one of my favourite puzzles; it certainly broke away from the normal locked box/door/object routine

Now, as far as hints go, I must also say I did find it difficult to understand exactly what I was doing at some points in the game. Occasionally you may miss a crucial piece of dialogue and then spend the next 20 minutes wandering around the room and examining the box you’ve already emptied before you finally find out you were meant to leave the building. The jerkiness of the game, when I played it at least, also meant that a few items would be overlooked – as such, when it came to needing them I’d have to spend yet another half an hour re-examining ever room for that one thing I missed. Again however, while it may be irritating (bordering on boring) to have to do this at points, this is what you expect from a Sherlock Holmes mystery game.

Not to end on a slightly deflated note, one aspect I really enjoyed was the deduction board. This was the process of not only finding all the clues and having them pieced together in a cut-scene, you actually get to follow the logic and reasoning behind each conclusion; you are effectively actually becoming the detective. However, again this is something I think the game really hit on as being brilliant but underused! There were only three separate deduction boards – when Frogware make another Holmes game (which is highly likely, I think this is their seventh!) – I really hope they put this in again.

Deduction Board
The Deduction Board: Criminally underused, but fun to work out all the same

As such, to conclude, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a game for any fan of the Worlds Greatest Detective (Batman who?). It covers the ever-enigmatic Holmes as very few interpretations have ever tried to; beaten. Its not everyday you get a story of a brilliant mind who has been pushed from their position of grace, and the game covers the darkness and pressure of this fall perfectly. The puzzles are enlightening, the story line pitch perfect and even a few of the jokes come off well.
If you aren’t a fan of Sherlock Holmes, if you’ve never watched Jeremy Brett, then this game is most likely not for you, as the puzzles become slightly repetitive and the game jumps an lurches around you will probably tire rather quickly. But for the true aspiring Consulting Detective; this game is more than worth a look.

Pros
– Immersive story with a unique ending
– Genuinely interesting puzzles
– The characters do look very nice

Cons
– The game mechanics struggle occasionally (at least on my console they were evident)
– Watson did, at times, feel a tad useless just following you around
– It does fall into several of the pitfalls of being just like the traditional adventure/crime game

Score out of 10? A strong 7.5

* I do know ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ aired after this game was released; however I would imagine the show is a tad more successful than the game and as such more people will understand the concept from it.