Whisky taking off

This, from AFP via Yahoo, brought a smile to my face, and a longing to my lips:

Japanese whisky will be sent into space next month to test how time in a zero-gravity environment affects its flavour, one of the country’s biggest drinks makers said Friday.

Samples of whisky produced by Suntory will be stored in the Japanese laboratory facility of the International Space Station for at least a year, with some flasks staying longer.

Researchers for the company believe that storing the beverage in an environment with only slight temperature changes and limited liquid movement could lead to a mellower flavour.

I hope they are confident the astronauts won’t be tempted!

More seriously, I would be interested in the science behind the claim that the whisky may have a mellower flavour.


Suntory will send whisky aged for 10, 18 and 21 years as well as a number of other alcoholic substances.

Once they are returned to Earth, blenders will assess their flavours while researchers subject the liquids to scientific analysis, the company said.

“For the moment, we’re not thinking about applying the study results to commercial products,” a Suntory spokeswoman told AFP.

But I presume the returned samples will be worth quite a bit.

Finally, this closing piece adds some context to the whole issue of Japanese whisky:

Whisky demand rocketed in Japan last year after national broadcaster NHK aired a period drama called “Massan,” the true story of a Japanese entrepreneur and his Scottish wife who are credited with establishing Japan’s first whisky distillery.

Sales also soared when Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 was named the best in the world by the prestigious Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015.

Beware the marketing moves. The important thing about whisky is to drink what you like, not what people tell you to like. One man’s pleasure is another man’s poison, and so on. That’s why I am always sensitive to questions about whether a particular whisky is good or not.

All of that having been said, I am intrigued by the apparent quality of that Suntory product. The last time I tasted Japanese whisky – admittedly a long time ago – it was not to my liking. So, I wonder how I can get a hold of some Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013…

The Pollard puzzle

Why did Jonathan Pollard spend 30 years in jail? By all accounts, it is a sentence that far exceeds what spies for enemy nations have ever received, never mind what those of friendly nations incurred. Was it a conspiracy? Revenge? Internal US politics?

Everyone spies on everyone else; the only rule is don’t get caught. Or that’s what I thought until I read this fascinating insight at the Times of Israel: Why Jonathan Pollard spent 30 years in prison.

I thoroughly recommend you read it all. It paints a rather different (but informed) picture of the Pollard puzzle, and the solution is a veritable surprise. I have made no attempt to verify the material, but it rings true. Following his release, perhaps there will be confirmation one way or the other.

Battle at the crossroads

I am playing, and enjoying, the Quatre Bras battle from Didier Rouy‘s Le Retour de l’Empereur game. It has taken me a while to work out some of the kinks, but I think I now have a reasonable understanding of the rules and procedures.

The last of the French artillery joins the line, read to help the coming assault.

The last of the French artillery joins the line, ready to help the coming assault. Note the disorganized French units marked with the turn of their reversal, awaiting the time when they can try and rally.

I made a couple of run throughs of just the opening turns to get more comfortable with the situation, before trying to complete the main scenario. It ended badly for the French, due to a combination of bad choices and bad luck. I am now trying that scenario out again, and am about halfway through.

Cavalry and artillery are the killers, but you need infantry – especially to weed out defenders from fortified farm positions. Failure in combat (melee) takes some time to recover, because you cannot even attempt to rally disorganized units until after a two turn delay. I do like the simple but effective idea of marking the disorganized units with a marker showing the game turn of their disorganization. This makes it easy to track which ones are eligible for rally.

Help for the Allies is on its way.

Help for the Allies is on its way.

I dithered about command and control rules, and in the end decided to stick with basic command control ranges and some self imposed battle plans. For example, when the attacking French forces finally – and I mean finally, after a couple of failed assaults with the attendant delay – overcame an outlying fortified Allied position (Grand Pierrepont), I imposed a one turn delay in them regrouping and heading north to the main battle.

From my perspective, this is good fun, and I am happy to spend more time with the system.

That’s not Judaism; that’s terrorism.

No ifs. No buts. It was terrorism.

It was terrorism when Yishai Shlissel attacked the Jerusalem Gay Parade.

It was terrorism when person or persons unknown – but probably Jewish extremists – firebombed the Dawabsha home in the Palestinian village of Duma, killing a baby, and badly injuring other family members.

I condemn the perpetrators.

I condemn those who excuse their actions.

I condemn those who incite, encourage, or support them.

I condemn the rabbis who do not condemn the perpetrators.

Two separate horror stories, but one common thread: we have an issue in Israel with religious extremism and Jewish terrorism, and we need to deal with it – forcefully, firmly, and fully. And with the same focus, ferocity, and dedication as we deal with other extremism and terrorism. Or else there will, I regret to say, be more of the same.

Corbyn is coming. Will he bring his friends?

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to be the new leader of the UK Labour Party is going much better for him than most pundits and commentators expected.

This Guardian article says:

Corbyn’s campaign for the Labour leadership is gathering a momentum even he did not anticipate at the outset.

Earlier in the week, Guido Fawkes‘ quoted a leaked internal poll that put Corbyn  “well out in front” with a massive 22 point lead.

He might win.


As the registration system for the right to vote in the election is somewhat open to abuse, it’s no surprise there have been calls for Tory activists to join up and vote for Mr C. There are even suggestions this has been done by significant numbers of people. (We may never know the truth.)  The Tory view is that Corbyn as Labour leader condemns them to longer in the political wilderness. I’m not so sure they are right.

Allied to this possibly false spirited wave of support is, on the face of it, the clear political ground between Corbyn and the other candidates. The others are seen (rightly or wrongly) as New Labour. Corbyn is seen, all on his own, as “Old Labour” – the party of Benn, and traditional socialists before Tony Blair came along and made the party electable. So Corbyn can claim to be the alternative candidate; the happening, honorable bearer of the real socialism torch. And that’s an appeal that is bound to be given a sympathetic hearing by political activists. Not voters, but activists.

In the circumstances, this largely overlooked post – The Diplomat of Islington North – is worth reading and noting. In it, David Paxton writes:

Corbyn has repeatedly praised members of Hamas. They kill gays, deny the holocaust and speak of starting a fresh one. He calls them a force for social justice.

He praised the leadership in Venezuela while the oil-rich country was being run into bankruptcy and the freedom of the press was being eroded.

Corbyn asserts that despite the wishes of the Falklands islanders, expressed through the ballot box, and despite a fascist junta invading them causing British servicemen to fight and die, the islands should be owned by Argentina.

Paxton can do that, because he makes a better job than many of looking what Corbyn has said and done. Essentially, Corbyn’s attempts to explain away his “friends” reference is seen as nonsense. Corbyn is an extremist, and Paxton’s conclusions about the man are not pleasant.

The material in that post would be useful to any journalist who wanted to more rigorously interview the candidate. However, the prospects of that are low. Instead, it seems likely there will be more media presentation of the two sided, polarized view that makes the man attractive to the activists: Old Labour v New Labour. Whether that converts into success for him, and failure for his party, remains to be seen. But, it is telling (and somewhat frightening) that someone with such views is still even in serious contention. Who will rescue the Labour Party?

Long apology

I saw this smart dig at the Register:


I suspect Microsoft will be hoping that ‘apology for Windows 8′ label does not catch on.

Click the image above to go to the full article.


This is a sports film that follows a well worn formula, and thereby courts the possibility of being cliched and of little value. However, primarily due to the superb, peerless performance by Jake Gyllenhaal (as Billy Hope, world Light Heavyweight boxing champion) it is a cracking character study, a tale of violence, redemption – Believe in Hope! – and love, and engrossing entertainment. It’s also a real tearjerker.

Warning: Spoiler ahead!

In brief, Billy (complete with wife, child, and entourage) is at the top of the world and his profession. But a moment of madness sees his wife killed before him, and that sparks his fall to the bottom of the pit. He loses his way, his self-respect, and his daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence).  Oh, and he loses his house, his cars, his superstar lifestyle, and his boxing license.

In the fall, we see Billy’s character exposed with many of its failings. He is quick tempered, violent, impatient, and intoxicated. He is also deaf to reason.

One of his hangers on remains a true friend, and steers him in the direction of salvation: a gym run by Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker).  And so, slowly, the crawl back up begins.

Gyllenhaal was a thin wimp in the excellent Nightcrawler. Here, he seems to have undergone an amazing workout regime; he looks like a real boxer. Further, somebody who knows the sport has ensured that he moves like a boxer. It is an incredible commitment to have been made by the actor, but it pays dividends for us viewers. And the icing on the cake is that his acting is simply spot on. It’s a fine, fine performance. It’s not Raging Bull, but it’s close. I’m beginning to think that any film he does will be worth watching.

I should also commend Forest Whitaker. Although I think he is just playing Forest Whitaker at times, he has a presence and a quality that adds to the film’s depth. That having been said, I thought the belated bonding of the Hope and Wills characters was the weakest part of the film. It appeared to me that the editing may have been to blame, as the whole episode was uneven.

And then there’s Oona Laurence and Rachel McAdams (as BIlly’s wife). Both are good, though I thought Ms Laurence grabbed her opportunity with the more extensive, endurable role of the daughter, and she and Gyllenhaal were pretty near perfect together.

The fight sequences are tense, sometimes hard to watch, but gripping. You may squirm with some of the punches.

The story is a tad predictable, but holds together. You are not watching this for the plot twists, but the experience. And it is an experience well worth having.

[Footnote: the Hebrew title is literally “Without Gloves.”  I guess there’s no direct translation for southpaw, but Without Gloves doesn’t do it for me.]


Winning walls


This week’s session saw Nechamiah, Rosalynn, and Sheer join me for two classic games and a heap of fun.

First up was Alhambra, the game where you try and build a structure that has a long wall, and a majority of the different types of building. I was the only one who had played it before, so it was no surprise that by the time the first round of scoring came around (there are three) I was in the lead. At that point, as we used to say back in the Old Land, the penny dropped for the others, and I was demoted to last place. Nechamiah and Rosalynn improved their building decisions, and rapidly upped their score. Unfortunately for them, Sheer was a tad better, and so he was the eventual winner. Everyone liked the game, tending to confirm its status as a classic worthy of repeated play.

Next was San Juan, a smart card management game. Again, I was the only one who had played it before, but that was absolutely no use whatsoever to me, and I finished well out of the reckoning. Rosalynn and Nechamiah did quite well, but winner Sheer did better. The game was well received, with people keen to try it for a second time, having properly assimilated what was required for success. I would expect subsequent games to be closer contests. I might even get a respectable score…

Thanks to the visitors for making my night.

Israel in a good light

There is an IDF scholarship program in the name of a former Druse soldier, Salim Shufi . Recipients of awards from the program recently met Bibi, and according to this report in the Jerusalem Post, “the event with the prime minister and other important figures had given the students a sense of pride.”

This is just one small story. But it’s one of a countless number of such stories in a similar vein – about Israel and its people – that are out there, every single day.

Similar, in that they show good things happening.

Similar in that they make a mockery of the demented demonization of Israel.

Similar, in that they are ignored by the western media, because they do not fit the pattern of their message: Israel is bad, bad, bad, we tell you. And if we are ever at risk of seeing or hearing anything about Israel that is good, we are going to shut our eyes, and stick our fingers in our hears. You will note that small stories which are critical of Israel, are far more likely to appear in that same western media.

Thankfully, no matter the extent of that media madness (and badness) we survive, thrive, and confound the conspirators. Long may it continue.