Eurovision, Israel, and Hamas

And let’s not forget Islamic Jihad…

Eurovision 2019 is done and dusted. For Israel, it appears to have been a huge success. Notwithstanding the sniping from the usual suspects, the event passed off without a major hitch, and injected a real buzz into the Tel Aviv scene for the best part of the week up to and including the final. Supporting events were so popular, the police made public appeals for people not to attend as they were already overcrowded! While much of the crowds were locals, anecdotal evidence suggests that tourists also had a great time. Given the western media’s hunger for anti-Israel stories, it would appear the anecdotal evidence is more persuasive than usual. Continue reading

On the table – Ligny 1815

I am currently playing Ligny 1815. It is the third game in the Eagles of France series  (after Fallen Eagles (Waterloo) and Rising Eagles (Austerlitz)), all designed by Walter Vejdovsky, and published by Hexasim. Turns are  1 hour, hexes are about 200 m, and units are regiment sized with each strength point representing 100 combatants.

I played the first in the series long enough to have a good grasp of the rules, but I needed to pay attention to the tweaks to the system that extended playing has brought about. As usual, I’m supplementing the gaming with some reading on the topic to refresh my knowledge and enhance the experience. Should be good fun.

Silence is not golden

Or, what you won’t see reported by the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the New York Times, and too many others to name.

The Times of Israel reports here on the ‘Nakba demonstrations’ in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria.

Here’s what you wont see in those not so fine examples of the media:

In a speech at the border area, senior Hamas official Fathi Hamad, known for his fiery rhetoric, warned Israel that “The day of your slaughter, extermination and demise is approaching.

“We came to tell the Zionist enemy, its men, army, government and Knesset: ‘Go away from us,’” he said.

“All of you should look for a place in Europe…hell, the sea, the ocean or in the Bermuda Triangle. There is no place for all of you in Palestine. There is no place for you in the land of Jerusalem. There is no place for you in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jaffa, Haifa, Acre or any place.”

What a charmer.

Of course, this is precisely the context that they don’t want to highlight for fear it contradicts their ‘Israel is wrong’ narrative. So they won’t. All part of the invidious campaign they wage to demonize, delegitimize, and denounce Israel. All rock solid proof that when it comes to liberals, they can be as hypocritical and hateful as right wing extremists.

Embers of War – Gareth L Powell

This is a space opera tale of a sentient spaceship, Trouble Dog, that is attempting to repay a perceived sort of debt to society for formerly acting as a warship. Now it is part of the House of Reclamation, trying to rescue spaceships that get into trouble. The crew have their part to play as the current mission starts: to investigate the disappearance of a ship in a disputed star system.

On that missing ship was one Ona Sudak, a poet. Separately, intelligence officer Ashton Childe is ordered to find and rescue Sudak.

Both strands come together and become involved in something more significant than the disappearance of a single ship.

I did not like this. The story is OK. It features some cool stuff, like sentient ships, but I found the writing so clunky and pedestrian that I lost interest. It’s fun in places, but only rarely. And ever so predictable. The characters do not seem believable. The dialog is, to put it mildly, often unconvincing. The futuristic universe has nothing that marks it out as unique or fresh. To put it another way, this is derivative. Now that can be overcome, but there needs to be compensating factors and there are none to be found.

A dead end. Not recommended.

Stalkers – Paul Finch

This is a modern crime novel about a large number of women who have disappeared. All of them have vanished into thin air without apparent rhyme nor reason. One such girl’s sister connects to Detective Sergeant Mark Heckenburg, who is supposedly investigating the disappearances, and off they not so jolly well go.

Inevitably, their investigation puts them in danger, especially as they get closer to the truth of what is behind the disappearances.

Heckenburg is one of these invincible guys, but if you can suspend your disbelief about that aspect, the rest of the tale does have its entertaining and suspenseful moments. The book is also somewhat bloody and, at times, relentless in its violence. Unfortunately, the supporting characters do not amount to much, and there’s nothing of substance by way of atmospheric backdrop.

The writing didn’t work for me. It didn’t connect. Oh, the words all made sense, and the story was clear enough. But the writing never drew me in. I could have stopped reading and would not have cared what happened to the characters.

So, what you have is a lightweight production which is easy enough to read, but ultimately (for me) unsatisfying. It was OK, but I won’t be going any further with the series.

 

 

 

The List – Mick Herron

This is another standalone (short) spy novel by Mick Herron, set in the same backdrop as the terrific Jackson Lamb series, but telling a separate story, though with some passing references to the characters in that series.

John Bachelor works for MI5 and is the handler of Dieter Hess, an old foreign spy. When Hess dies, Bachelor finds out that the old spy had set up a secret bank account. In the world of espionage, that’s a big red warning sign, suggesting the spy was a double agent. So, Bachelor – who is in serious trouble for failing to spot the secret bank account when Hess was alive – has to dig around and find out what the truth is. Of course, this being a spy story, all is not what it seems, and the investigation has to make its way through some murky passages.

This is a short, simply told and effective cracker of a tale, well worthy of your reading time. Herron lights the fuse and it slowly burns away, drawing the reader in.

The characters are beautifully described, and the plot exquisitely told. The world of espionage seems all too real.

In short, if you are a fan of spy fiction, this is a must. If you are not a fan of spy fiction, this may change your mind.

Operation Focus

Operation Focus (Mivtsa Moked מבצע מוקד) was the name given to the Israeli Air Force (IAF) plan of attack for the opening of what became the Six Day War. It began as a surprise attack of a first wave of bombing runs against the Egyptian air force bases and planes. It was a stunning success. By the end of the first day, the IAF had destroyed over 450 enemy aircraft, and had total air superiority on all fronts. From then on, they were able to concentrate on supporting the equally impressive campaign on the ground.

This topic is covered by the first scenario in Elusive Victory. The original scenario is a two player game, but post publication a solitaire version was produced and, after getting to grips with the rules, that is what I used to test out the game.

You have six flights to bomb the target airport runway, planes, and its defenses.

The Egyptians are caught unawares, so their forces cannot do anything until the first bomb attack. In the scenario, that attack is probably the most important one in the game. If you put the airfield out of action, the two flights of ready MiGs will never be able to take off, and so you can concentrate on the ground assets – a nasty collection of light and medium anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), backed up by one Fire Can, a deadlier, directed AAA.

The first flight is about to hit the target…

I played the scenario a few times. Once my dice were so hot, there was nothing left of the runway, and plenty of burning Egyptian aircraft and AAA batteries. On one other playing, the initial bombing run wasn’t too good, but the lead flight managed to shoot down all the MiGs that took off, though not without cost. You play this game and you have a renewed and strengthened sense of how brave these IAF pilots had to have been. All the technology in the world is not much help when the air around you is filled with hot flying lead from AAA batteries.

After playing the solitaire scenario, I came to the conclusion that this was one game that I wasn’t going to enjoy playing solitaire. (Apart from anything else, there are no more solitaire scenarios.) There’s just too much of the game atmosphere and enjoyment caught up in arranging hidden defenses, dummy flights, and so on. On the plus side, I had a look at Downtown, a game on the air campaign over Hanoi in the Vietnam War. It uses the same core system, and the changes are so modest I now feel confident of being able to play that game too, if I ever find a live opponent.

The system itself is an impressive feat because it packs a lot of detail in without being overly complex. Once you have run through the game turn sequence a few times, you can play just using the player aid cards. However, there is a lot of paperwork compared to most games. (You need to set up details of each flight, its payload, and so on as well as plot the flight path for the attacking aircraft, and more. You also keep track of damage and losses using written records, in the main.) That doesn’t bother me greatly, but I can see why it may be one reason these games – fine combinations of playability and historicity – do not seem to be as popular as others.

So, off the table it comes for now.

Yom Haatzmaut

Susan bought us a present for Independence Day (which starts tonight).

The Simpson Family Flagpole!

This is another of those strange occasions in Israel, when the mood moves – without pausing – from somber reflection (Yom HaZikaron) to joyous celebration (Yom Haatzmaut). Although I am still uncomfortable with the switch, I recognize the advantages of the sequence. And, by the time tomorrow we join most of the country, gathered round the traditional mangal (barbecue) the discomfort will have passed. Life goes on. Otherwise, the sacrifices made were in vain. And for sure, they weren’t.

This Yom Haatzmaut, we’ll have our Israeli flag flying high.

Sam Berger Series – Arne Dahl

Watching You is the first book in the series.

Some crime is slow burn. Some crime is relentless. This falls into the latter category, taking hold of the reader from almost the first page, and putting on a fireworks display of a novel that fizzes and bangs as the tale unfolds.

Sam Berger thinks that there is a serial kidnapper/murderer at large. His bosses think otherwise. But as he looks for a young girl, the most recent kidnapping victim, he not only has to keep his theories to himself – because the hierarchy have told him there is insufficient evidence for his wild conspiracy idea – he has to work out why the kidnapper has left a clue behind at the scene – one that is very personal to Sam.

Sam’s main police sidekick is his assistant Deer, and she sometimes keeps him onside when he might otherwise go too far in his bid to find the girl. But, generally, Sam follows the natural trend of defective detectives and has abysmal relationships (work wise) with his colleagues and fellow officers of the law. This will come back to haunt him.

In the course of the investigation, Berger finds a common thread that links all the disappearances. When Berger tracks down and confronts this potential voyeur, witness, or killer, the reader’s perspective is drastically altered. To say more would be a spoiler. Suffice it to say, it’s a big twist among many.

The characters are well drawn, believable, and interesting. The Scandinavian backdrop will have you turning up your heating. The plot will have you scratching your head.

While at times I wondered if the writer was trying to be too clever, I came to the conclusion that was an unfair criticism. The author has put in a ton of work to furnish a complex but polished tale, full of great characters, interesting twists, and pacy adventure. The ending is a stunner.

Which leads on to…

Hunted is the second book in the series.

Mentioning the plot here would give too many spoilers, so I will restrict myself to saying that it continues the Sam Berger story. Whereas the first book was smart, sassy, and sharp, this one tries to be the same but doesn’t quite reach the same (high) standard. There are some more of the great twists and turns before the reader gets to the final showdown.

The characterization is still good, with plenty for the reader to mull over. And there’s plenty of action.

Overall, well worth reading. But the first book is better, and if that doesn’t engage you, don’t bother with the second.