Seven times 007: Sir Roger Moore passed away today


Ours is the loneliest profession, Mr. Bond. So uttered classic villain Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee in one of his best performances) in 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun. He was talking to Roger Moore, of course, who sadly passed away earlier today after a short illness.

Moore played the suave British Secret Service agent 007 seven times across a 12-year span, starring in some of the best known Bond films such as Live and Let Die (1973, Moore’s first appearance in the series), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), and A View to a Kill (1985, his last Bond performance.)

Moore’s take on Ian Fleming’s best known character departed somewhat from the novels’ traditional canon, and differed significantly from Sean Connery’s portrayal. Connery, in fact, was particularly vocal in his criticism about his successor in the part.

Moore’s Bond had a more debonair, almost playboy-ish way about him. These new traits were perhaps designed to conform to the changing tastes of cinema audiences throughout the 70s and 80s, but nevertheless, it became a polarizing issue. He was nonetheless voted as Best Bond in an 2004 Academy Awards poll.

Moore was already well known even before he was offered the part of 007, due to his role as rogue-ish, charming, Robin Hood-esque criminal Simon Templar in The Saint. Based on the long-running book series by Leslie Charteris, The Saint
ran for six series on TV, starting in 1962, and featuring 118 episodes in total. Aside from playing the main character, Moore also produced and even directed some of the episodes. Later, Moore would incorporate some of Templar’s traits and nuances into his portrayal of 007.

Beyond Bond, Moore enjoyed a remarkable film career in his own right. He played tormented city worker Harold Pelham in The Man who Haunted Himself (1970), for instance. Though the film was not successful at the box office, it remained a favorite of Moore’s, by his own admission, and has earned a cult following over the years. Moore also played a significant part in the military-themed The Wild Geese (1978), and featured in many more films.

Off camera, Moore went through a couple of well publicized marriages, two of which ended in tempestuous divorces. He also had several health scares in later years. Moore was diagnosed with prostate cancer back in 1993, and underwent successful surgery. He suffered pneumonia in 2012 and was left bedridden for weeks.

Roger Moore passed away peacefully earlier today, aged 89, after a short battle with cancer. He leaves behind an immortal legacy as a somewhat divisive James Bond, for sure, and he will always be remembered as Simon Templar, the ‘good’ criminal from the classic TV series The Saint.

Rest in peace.

Enemy of his own state: The end of the Trump era is nigh


Donald Trump

‘I hope you can let this go’

So President Trump allegedly told the now ex-FBI Director James Comey, referring to the bureau’s probe into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,’ Trump was quoted as saying in a private meeting with Comey. ‘He (Flynn) is a good guy.’ Comey was cleverly selective with his answer. ‘I agree he is a good guy.’

That one sentence, which essentially amounted to a thinly veiled attempt to shut down an FBI investigation into Flynn’s murky liaisons with Russian personnel, is likely to become Trump’s political epitaph.

The revelation that the 45th President uttered these words came in the form of a memo written by Comey, on foot of the alleged conversation that took place during a meeting back in February, exactly the day after Flynn resigned. Comey was reportedly shocked that the President would ask something that could be interpreted as intimidation, and took down notes after the meeting ended. Comey wanted to ensure that a paper trail existed, as current notes taken by an FBI agent usually hold up in court.

James Comey’s habit of writing down conversations that may later come into question was well known among his associates. In this case, such work practice may very well bring about the end of Donald Trump’s Presidency.

Despite Trump’s attempts to derail the probe into Flynn’s activities, the investigation continued. Indeed, a federal grand jury in Virginia has recently issued subpoenas relating to material involving Mr. Flynn.

Trump shoots himself in the head, politically speaking: The firing of James Comey

Donald Trump pressed the nuclear button and fired Director Comey on May 9th, immediately sending shockwaves across Washington. The official reason given for the man’s dismissal quoted Comey’s work performance, particularly in relation to the controversial decision not to prosecute Hilary Clinton over the use of public email servers during her presidential campaign. According to Clinton, Comey’s intervention costed her the election, and Trump had nothing but admiration and praise for Comey at the time.

But things had changed by May 10th: ‘He wasn’t doing a good job,’ Trump said about Comey on that date, a day after the drama began to unfold.

The official reason notwithstanding, the White House was thrown into disarray over the issue 24 hours later, as conflicting reports about the reason for Comey’s dismissal began to emerge. One spokesperson after another attempted to justify the President’s decision to get rid of Comey, to little avail.

So intense was the fallout that the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, was seen hiding from the press to avoid questioning. This would later be lampooned by Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Spicer on the SNL show. A newspaper went as far as saying that Spicer ‘hid in the bushes.’ The paper was later forced to issue a retraction to change ‘in‘ for ‘among.’

Yet, all attempts to protect the President would be swiftly dismantled by the President himself, when he revealed during a TV interview that he targeted Comey over the probe into collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign.

Trump said during the interview that ‘this Russia thing‘ was one of the reasons he fired Comey, adding that the whole Russia issue was a ‘made-up story.’ This revelation pretty much destroyed whatever little credibility the White House had managed to hold on to up to this point. To add insult to injury, Trump referred to Comey as “a showboat” and “grandstander.” Both the press and the Trump camp were left aghast at the statement.

Architect of his own demise: Trump reveals classified information to Russia

When it comes to torpedoing his own tenancy as President of the United States, nobody does it better than Trump himself.

Still reeling from the Comey scandal, the latest shot under the White House’s waterline came in the form of highly classified intel openly spoken about in the presence of Russian representatives.

The top secret material, relating to an intelligence operation against ISIS, was discussed in plain English during a meeting between Trump and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Trump was on a roll at the time. The fateful meeting took place less than 24 hours after the termination of FBI Director Comey.

The White House, and the intelligence community as a whole, was left speechless after Trump’s blunder. The President’s basic competence was quickly called into question.

Trump’s fundamental ignorance about history is well documented. The President, a self-confessed TV addict, openly admitted that he believed Frederick Douglass to be still alive and that ‘he is doing an amazing job,’ for example. And he has also made some bizarre comments about the Civil War.

But despite these obvious academic shortcomings, one would think that Trump, as a security-obsessed American and as President, would have enough intellect to mind his mouth when it comes to matters of national security. Not so, apparently. The untold damage caused by the security breach is likely to ‘cost American lives,’ according to security analysts.

Obstruction of Justice and possible impeachment

It is hard to see Trump’s alleged attempts to meddle into the Flynn investigation first, and then into the probe of whether or not Russia had any role to play in the presidential election, as anything other than interfering into the FBI’s and Department of Justice’s dealings with these matters.

Comparisons have been drawn between these issues and the Watergate, the scandal that culminated in Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, days before an imminent impeachment.

Back then, journalists and law enforcement organizations untangled a complicated trail of illicit activities that led all the way to the White House.

With the scandal out in the open, Nixon and a few other top political associates were accused of obstruction of justice, after it emerged that Nixon planned to use the CIA to stop an impending investigation by the FBI.

Nixon was pushed into a corner, and with the threat of impeachment looming closer, he chose to resign. Though later pardoned for his involvement in the shady affair, the Watergate legacy stayed with Nixon until his death in 1994.

Impeachment proceedings have been initiated against several US presidents, though only two -Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton- have ever been successfully impeached.

There are now sufficient grounds to impeach the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, in light of his alleged intervention in the FBI’s affairs, and the recent alleged leak of classified information.

The seventh trumpet is about to blow for Mr. Trump.

Plastic island: Uninhabited Pacific island covered with 18 tons of plastic waste


Henderson Island is a tiny landmass in the middle of eastern South Pacific.

It is uninhabited, merely a rock in the ocean, a coral atoll far away from any populated areas.

Yet, a recent expedition found that Henderson Island has been turned into a sort of ocean dump covered in almost 18 tons of plastic waste.

Scientist believe that no less than 38m individual pieces of plastic litter every corner of the island. A large percentage of this amount is buried in the subsoil.

Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn Island group. It is also listed as a Unesco World Heritage Listed site, and due to its remoteness, it was believed that the ecosystem would remain mostly untouched by human activity.

Despite this, the sight was one far removed from an idyllic paradise island with long, sandy beaches and azure waters.

The level of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has been steadily rising over the last decade, and the recent discovery at Henderson Island is only a sign that it’s getting worse.

Depending on its composition, plastic material can take up to 1,000 years to completely degrade. Thus, most of the plastic ever made is still present on the planet, and will be around after many generations have come and gone.

There are environmental concerns that plastic pollution will soon reach intolerable levels, and places prior considered ‘safe’ from human activity may not be so, after all. Last February, underwater research found staggering levels of pollution in the 10km-deep Mariana Trench, for instance.

Alien: Covenant review


Photo credit: Fox

Of neomorphs and duplicitous synthetics

There is a moment in Alien: Covenant when David, after having taught his synthetic counterpart Walter how to play the flute earlier, hears him play a tune. David walks in and says “Whistle, and I’ll come.’

This is of course a reference to the classic ghost story ‘Whistle and I’ll come, my lad,‘ by English author M.R. James. Such reference is bound to be missed by all but the most hardcore of horror & classic literature fans, but it is a shining moment in the somewhat derivative and cliche-ridden script that underlies the latest chapter in the long running Alien story arc.

Covenant‘s main flaw is that a ‘seen-it-all-before’ sense pervades the entire movie. From the opening credits (a revisit of Alien’s original piecemeal lettering credits), to the final 20 odd minutes (a shameless reimagining of the classic final showdown scene in Aliens, where Ripley kicks the Alien Queen’s spiky ass with a Power Loader, replaced with a loading crane here), we can’t help by feeling that it’s all been done before. Scott played it safe, and used (perhaps overused) the most recognizable moments of the movie’s predecessors to convey his own story.

Bar Walter/David (by far the most interesting thing about Covenant), the characters here are unashamedly one-dimensional. Alien fodder, if you will, to be gruesomely dispatched one by one to whittle down the crew to the Final Girl (Daniels, played with great talent and intent by Katherine Ross). There are attempts to imbue some characters with an extra layer of depth. Oram, for instance, is a religious man (which is why the Company did not allow him to lead the mission, as his religious views might cloud his judgment). This also serves as a conversation point between him and David, after we learn of David’d activities since landing on this planet. But by and large, the crew is there to be offed by the alien creatures, deemed ‘neomorphs’ here. If you are seasoned enough, you can almost tell the order which they will each die in.

Covenant is full of common tropes of the horror genre, down to the ‘sex equals death’ one. I mean, when are people going to learn that nookie in deep space with an alien menace lurking around probably won’t end well. One could safely replace the classic line with ‘In space, no one can hear you come,’ (cause you will die before you do.)

We have touched upon the Walter/David duality, both roles played flawlessly by the solid Michael Fassbender.

As Walter, he is the Bishop-type. A synthetic tasked with looking after the ship and its crew, and prevent either from coming to harm. Crucially, this new-generation synthetic is purposely devoid of the willingness and ability to learn, instead being consigned to serve its masters and creators. David remarks upon this point during one of the movie’s best scenes, and a rather intimate one, too, as David teaches Walter to play the flute (I’ll do the fingering, David says,) while Walter blows down the pipe.

We also learn about the fate of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, from Prometheus, and what happened when the Juggernaut reached the Engineers homeworld. David has been up to no good.

But Covenant’s most critical flaw is its final twist, which you can see coming from about the movie’s halfway point. It won’t be revealed here, but think of the switcheroo, and you won’t be far from the truth.

Overall, Covenant is a solid, if somewhat cliched alien-by-the-numbers yarn. It is much more cohesive than Prometheus’ disjointed proposition for sure. But it is also not a huge departure from the series as Aliens was to Alien, for example, which turned out quite the better for it. David Fincher’s Alien 3 attempted to be different and ended up disappointing because of immense production troubles, and the less said about Alien: Resurrection the better. Not even the presence of the wonderfully underrated Brad Dourif could save it from imploding.

Covenant’s ending nicely sets up the next instalment (sequel to Covenant, prequel to Alien), provisionally called ‘Alien: Awakening.

We might see something different by then. For now, it’s alien business as usual.

Cassini probe captures spectacular images of methane clouds rising over Saturn’s largest moon


The Cassini spacecraft has captured spectacular footage of gigantic methane clouds swirling over Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Cassini is on the final stage of its 20-year long spacefaring mission to the farther reaches of the Solar System. The probe captured the footage during its final orbit of Saturn and Titan.

Saturn’s largest moon is an inhospitable world, about 50% larger than Earth’s own satellite, and the second largest in the Solar System. It orbits Saturn once every 15 days and 22 hours. Scientists believe that Titan holds massive amounts of liquid hydrocarbons, amounting to more than the known oil and natural gas reserves here on Earth. During an earlier fly-by in 2013, Cassini beamed data back to Earth that enabled astronomers to elucidate that Titan’s deep canyons were carved by liquid methane.

Titan and Earth are similar in many ways, in fact. Both worlds have seas and rivers, and a rain-producing atmosphere. The major difference is that while liquid water flows through our planet’s river systems, Titan’s are filled with a dark fluid that scientists believe to be liquid methane.

Cassini’s final journey will take place on September 15 this year. The craft will fly straight into Saturn’s atmosphere, where it will burn up in a blaze of glory. By then, Cassini will have completed an epic voyage of some 2.2bn miles across known space.

Wanna Decryptor cyberattack: All you need to know about today’s malicious ransomware onslaught


The event

A global cyberattack launched this afternoon took entire networks down, infecting large numbers of computers around the planet.

Cybersecurity experts have so far detected over 75,000 instances of the Wanna Decryptor 2.0 strain ransomware worldwide.

The attack began this afternoon, hitting the UK and Spain hard. At least 16 NHS trusts in the UK were successfully infected, along with the network of Spanish technology giant Telefonica.

The virus quickly spread like wildfire, laying waste to many machines in its path.

The culprit?

Wanna Decryptor (a.k.a. WCry, WannaCry, WCry, WanaCrypt and WanaCrypt0), a particularly insidious piece of malware intended to extort money from the owner/s of the infected machines.

The so-called ‘ransomware’ works by copying certain files, encrypting the copies and renaming them with extensions wnry, .wcry, .wncry and .wncrypt, and then deleting the originals, leaving the user with a series of inaccessible files. The virus then displays a note asking for money (‘ransom’) to obtain the decryption information. Payment is demanded in Bitcoin currency.

WCry utilizes AES and RSA encryption ciphers , which means the hackers can directly decrypt system files using a unique decryption key.  It exploits a known Windows vulnerability (MS17 -010). This vulnerability, discovered some way back, allowed remote code execution if an attacker sent certain messages to a Microsoft Server Message Block 1.0 (SMBv1) server.

Microsoft released a patch to fix MS17-010 in March, but it is likely that some organizations may not have yet updated their networks, leaving them vulnerable to such exploit.

Who did it?

Hackers are usually professional, well organized groups that go to great lengths to cover their tracks, for obvious reasons.

This latest attack is believed to have originated in China, and is targeting mainly Russia and Taiwan, though the malware spread rapidly
elsewhere. Some reports quote that the malware has popped up in 74 different countries so far.

Though it is only speculation, experts believe that the current strain evolved from a cyber weapon linked to the NSA, and obtained by a shady hacker crew called Shadow Brokers, who in turned released it into the darknet.

The consequences

Once the virus shows itself, it is already too late. Files inside your computer have become encrypted, and only the hackers can provide the decryption key.

For a single user, this may be a mild annoyance. For large corporations, it can spell disaster, and may even put lives at risk. Local sources said that patients had to be turned away from medical facilities in the UK as the malware shut networks down, causing widespread disruption to services.

Unless you have a strict data backup policy, payment is usually the only way out.

Experts also believe that this is only the beginning. Wanna Decryptor keeps scanning the net for vulnerable machines, and the situation is bound to get worse over the weekend.

Large-scale evacuation underway in Hannover, Germany, after the discovery of several unexploded, Second World War-era bombs


Up to 50,000 residents in the German city of Hannover are being temporarily evacuated due to the discovery of five Second World War-era explosive devices near heavily populated areas.

The evacuation commenced at 9.00am local time, and bomb disposal teams moved in shortly afterwards. Residents may not be allowed back into their homes until Monday morning.

This is the second largest such operation in Germany in recent times. Up to 54,000 residents in the city of Augsburg had to be evacuated on Christmas Eve 2016, after a large, British-made UXB was discovered during construction work.

Hannover suffered heavy bombardment by the Allies during Second World War, particularly on October 8-9, 1943, when hundreds of thousands of homes were flattened in just under 48 hours.

Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $110m in landmark ruling over talcum powder controversy


Pharma giant Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay over $110m to a woman who claimed that talcum powder from a company’s product caused her to develop ovarian cancer.

The ruling is the largest in a long string of legal actions against Johnson & Johnson, which is facing upwards of 2,400 lawsuits related to its talcum powder products. So far, the company has been hit with verdicts of up to $200m.

The cases center around the company’s failure to provide enough warning about possible risks incurred by long-term use of talcum powder.

Evidence on the issue remains inconclusive, with some studies stating that females using talcum powder products on a long term basis may have an increased risk of developing certain types of cancers, while other research leans to the contrary.

Johnson & Johnson has announced plans to appeal the ruling.