Drone Warfare by Medea Benjamin

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Read 28/03/2015-18/04/15

This fantastically researched book tells the story of the frightening change in military warfare which has been occurring for over a decade.  The book combines excellent insights into the industry whilst also providing the moral implications.

Drones are the ultimate espionage weapon.  They allow you to survey and strike whilst sitting in a room thousands of miles away.  There’s no risk of losing men in battle on the users side whilst they claim that the targeted assassinations reduce collateral damage.  But this book uncovers the horrifying reality of the whole situation in a horrifying and eye opening way.  ‘Suspects’ are defined as males of military age so it can get away with claiming low collateral damage.  Between 2004 and 2011 between 390 and 780 were civilians and 175 children.  Another scary issue is what is called ‘double-tap’, this means shooting the same position twice with rockets after a brief lapse.  This causes many innocent deaths as civilians run to the site to check if there are any survivors.  One humanitarian agency has a policy of waiting six hours before checking sites, probably meaning that any potential survivors are more than likely already dead.

In 2000, the Pentagon had fewer than 50 drones, by 2010 they had nearly 7,500.  Most drones are used for surveillance purposes but more and more of them are being fitted with missiles.  The book shows that the drone killings are illegal because you can’t kill people as ‘preemptive’ self defence.  When you are not in armed conflict, the killing must be necessary to protect life and there must be no other means, such as capture to prevent that threat.  Instead drones have allowed the killing of suspects without the hassle of political pressure that resulted from detaining them in places like Guantanamo.

The US government has largely escaped criticism at home because they regularly referencing the attacks back to the 9/11 attacks.  Citing these attacks, the largest democracy has committed great atrocities with drone strikes, violating international law.  But how can the US justify the drone strikes in Iraq, a country that has nothing to with Al Qaeda or 9/11?  In fact in just three months between October 2001 and January 2002, over 1,000 Afghan civilians were directly killed by US bombing and a further 3,200 died of injury sustained in the flight from war zones.  This represents more people were killed than the number of those killed in 9/11. There is no sense of proportionality in drone warfare.

The book leaves the reader with many questions.  What will happen when these countries have the technology to produce their own predator drones?  Is it not obvious that these same countries and victim’s families will seek retribution?  Is the killing of civilians justified if it means killing the target, and in the end does it make America safer? Can the killing of people from halfway across the globe and without any connection or any idea of the extent of damage constitute legal warfare?

The book was excellently written and hugely engaging.  The authors style makes the book flowing and easy to read despite the horrors presented.  It is relatively short but doesn’t lack fascinating content and is excellently researched.  Almost every page revealed another horror or fascinating statistic or insight, and left me shocked but itching to learn more.  I would recommend this book to everyone because it shows the extent of drone warfare and its implications, something I fear a lot of people (myself included) are utterly unaware of.

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Granola Pot

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This is a perfect and easy to make snack for bringing to work or college!  My favourite part about this tasty little number is that you can make it the night before and leave it in the fridge to avoid adding stress to those busy mornings!

First off is making the granola.  This is surprisingly easy to make and is far healthier than the sugary ones found in supermarkets.  Here is the recipe:

200 grams of porridge oats

3 tablespoons of Coconut Oil

3 tablespoons of Maple Syrup

Half a tablespoon of Vanilla Extract

Variety of Nuts

Fresh berries

The first step is to preheat the oven to 170 degrees.  Then weigh out the porridge oats and set aside in a large mixing bowl.  Get a small pan and chuck in the coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract, stir until mixed (should only be about 2 mins).  After this, pour it all over the oats ensuring they are fully coated.  Then pop a sheet of baking paper on a tray, place the oats on the sheet and pop in the oven!  It takes 40 mins to cook, but toss around the oats at the halfway mark at 20 mins to ensure even cooking!

After cooking allow to cool and then add in any nuts of your choice into the granola mixture.  So far I’ve experimented with hazelnuts, crushed almonds, coconut flakes, walnuts and all have been delightful!  Place the granola in a large jar and now you have enough granola to hopefully last the week!

Now comes the lunch prep part!  Get a small empty (and clean) jam jar and fill the bottom with greek yoghurt.  Then add blueberries, blackberries and raspberries or any berries of your choice!  Finally sprinkle the granola on top!  The idea here is to place the ingredients with the highest water content at the bottom so that the granola doesn’t go soggy over night or during the day.  And place the lid back on and now you’ve got yourself a snack to keep you going during the day!

Buzz Aldrin: Magnificent Desolation

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This book opens with a few chapters on how Buzz Aldrin and his two team members Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong became the first humans to visit the moon.  This section is obviously fascinating.  It provides small unknown features of the voyage that I wasn’t aware of and gives the reader an insight into how close the trip was to failing on so many occasions.  As someone who has seen brilliant documentaries such as In the Shadow of the Moon, much of this wasn’t new.  It is the remainder of the book that served to change my perception of the second man to walk on the moon.

For many people the story of Buzz ends with how he was the second man on the moon, naturally that is what he is most known for and most interesting because of.  We fail to consider the huge difficulties and challenges that must have come with this.  This autobiography reveals these challenges in an honest and humble way.

Buzz tells the reader how he struggled with alcoholism and the media spotlight.  He explains how he lost his wife and family through his addiction to alcohol.  He also speaks of the difficulty he had in finding purpose in his life.  How can you top walking on the moon?  The book shows the reader how he went through various jobs, but struggled to keep his life around him together  whilst dealing with his drinking habit.

Buzz never tries to defend his actions or hide what he did.  One part in particular where he tells of how he was cheating on his wife is a good example.  This is what makes the book so interesting and gripping.  It must have been hard for Buzz to talk about his issues and problems, but he exposes all in his autobiography.

I would recommend this book for people like myself, who know about the actual Apollo 11 mission, but want to know what happened to the people afterwards.  The book is quite long and some chapters are not very interesting, but it gives a whole new view of one of the most important voyagers of our time.

Leinster 34 – Glasgow Warriors 34 (27/03/15)

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This was truly a game of two halves!  In the first 40 minutes Glasgow raced ahead to a 27-7 lead, with Stuart Hogg looking particularly dangerous.  Glasgow went in at half time one try away from a bonus point and from delivering a disastrous blow to Leinster’s top 4 aspirations.  The scoreline seemed to be a combination of two things.  Firstly, it has to be said that Townsend’s side play some extremely entertaining and effective rugby.  They are willing to keep the ball in hand and run exciting lines to find gaps in the opposition’s defensive structure.  They are top of the table for a reason, seemingly able to attack and score from anywhere on the park.  The second factor of their high score was Leinster’s defence.  Leinster players didn’t attack the line quickly and slipped off tackles far too easily.  From one Leinster kick off deep into Glasgow’s 22, I counted four phases of play until they were inside Leinster’s 10 metre line.  That is simply not good enough for a team of this calibre.

The second half was a complete turnaround with Leinster scoring a try almost instantly through an Isaac Boss chargedown.  Boss added another after Jordi Murphy scored a terrific try.  This grabbed Leinster the four try point and they looked set to win a dramatic turnaround.  However Glasgow showed their class and adventure when they went to the corner and scored through a maul, meaning the match ended in a draw with an extra try bonus point for each side.

Some Talking Points:

Missing Players:

Leinster were the hardest hit of any club side in Europe during the 6 nations.  Under the Irish management this meant that lots of Leinster’s frontline and best players couldn’t play in this game.  Glasgow weren’t constrained and were able to field almost all of their Scottish internationals.  The rule makes sense for players like Heaslip and Ross etc. but for players like Sean O’Brien and Luke Fitxgerald who have only recently returned from injury, would it not make more sense to allow them to have game time?  The rule generally makes sense, but I feel that allowances could have been made given the importance of the fixture.  Before the introduction of players like Healy and Croinin, Leinster seriously struggled against a top class side.

Top 4 Hopes:

Now a top 4 finish for Leinster is looking increasingly difficult.  With difficult fixtures like Ulster away to come, it looks a daunting task.  Each remaining game needs to be won to be in with a sniff of finishing with a play off spot.  Leinster are more than capable of competing if they do secure the top 4 finish, but there are doubts whether they have left themselves with too much to do.

Bath next weekend:

In the new European Championship quarter-finals, Leinster will play Bath at home.  It is going to be a very tough game for Leinster.  Having missed their international players for so long, it will very difficult for them to gel come this game.  Also Bath have looked very dangerous this season, beating Toulouse away comfortably.  They have a seriously talented back line buoyed by George Ford, who had a great 6 nations tournament.  It is sure to be a great spectacle and hopefully we can progress to a semi-final.