About that student essay of yours…

From the Herald:

US seeks Rouhani’s GCU essays

UNIVERSITY essays written by the new President of Iran who studied in Scotland are being sought by the Pentagon.

Days after Dr Hassan Rouhani’s election win on June 14, officials from the US Defence Department contacted Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

Dr Rouhani, 64, studied in Glasgow in the 1990s and gained a Masters and PhD from the university’s Law department. He would have to give his permission for the work to be made public.

GCU’s principal and vice- chancellor Professor Pamela Gillies said: “I would like to congratulate our alumnus, Hassan Rouhani, on being elected president of Iran, a truly significant achievement. I hope his period as a scholar at Glasgow Caledonian University will prove beneficial as he assumes office, and I wish him every success as he works towards a positive future for Iran and its people.”

Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

[Note: the report says “He would have to give his permission for the work to be made public.” However, that has no bearing on security considerations. For example, if MI6 obtain the essays, that does not make them public. Do they have the right to access the material? What’s your guess? And if MI6 have them, the US Defense Department will have them. What use will these essays be? Well, if they are anything like my university material, words like “drivel”, “useless”, and “who wrote this rubbish?” spring to mind.]

Happy birthday Boris!

Israeli chess player (grandmaster), and former world champion finalist, Boris Gelfand is 45 today. His celebrations may have an extra kick, as yesterday he won the prestigious Tal Memorial in Moscow, a tournament that honors the memory of the former World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal. The field included seven players with higher ratings than Boris, one being the current World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand, so it was no mean achievement.

You can read more here and here.

Well played, Boris. And have a happy birthday!

Rami Hamdallah’s parting gift

Courtesy of BBC Watch, this set of tweets from Rami Hamdallah, Palestinian PM:


Conflicts? Confusion? Corruption? Whatever can he mean?

As Hadar Sela says in the BBC Watch report:

“In the meantime, the final message of his equally short-lived venture into social media might perhaps give the BBC inspiration for some real investigative reporting which could bring valuable information and insights to BBC audiences.”

Don’t hold your breath. Based on past experience, the closest to investigative reporting is likely to be a feature on potential Palestinian contenders for the next series of Arab Idol.

He’s gone

Yes, he’s gone. As the Times of Israel now reports the latest:

Abbas accepts resignation of Palestinian PM

Rami Hamdallah will leave his post after less than two weeks as prime minister

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally accepted on Sunday the resignation of newly-appointed Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, official news agency Wafa reported.

Hamdallah had served only two weeks before he abruptly resigned last week over a conflict of authority. He reportedly met with Abbas on Friday afternoon, and although neither Hamdallah’s nor Abbas’s offices made any statements, a high-level government official said Abbas made intensive efforts to persuade Hamdallah not to resign.

However, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh was quoted Sunday by Wafa as saying the resignation was accepted. Hamdallah will remain head of a caretaker government until a replacement is found.

What was that about a week being a long time in politics?

He’s back

Yes, he’s back – for now. As the Times of Israel reports:

Palestinian PM withdraws resignation a day after quitting

Senior PA official says Abbas made intensive efforts to persuade Hamdallah to remain in office

Intensive efforts? I do wonder what that actually means.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Friday withdrew his resignation, which he tendered to President Mahmoud Abbas just a day earlier, Ma’an News Agency reported.

Hamdallah, who was sworn in to office two weeks ago, reportedly met with Abbas on Friday afternoon. Though neither Hamdallah’s nor Abbas’s offices made any statements, a high-level government official said Abbas made intensive efforts to persuade Hamdallah not to resign.

The Circus of Palestinian Politics delivers continuing entertainment.

Pardon? Leadership? Responsibility? Direction? Maturity? Peace building? Statesmanship? If you are looking for that, you are definitely in the wrong place.

On the other hand, as it were

Never mind Palestinian Presidents, what about this – from the Times of Israel – for a Chief Rabbi headline:

Chief rabbi arrested over theft, bribe-taking suspicions

Police raid Yona Metzger’s home and office, suspect he took bribes from nonprofits and distributed them to family members

The chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel was brought in for questioning by police Thursday after suspicions arose he was involved in pocketing donation money.

Members of the financial crime unit of the police raided Rabbi Yona Metzger’s home and office Thursday afternoon after a two-month investigation into suspicions that Metzger was involved in fraud, theft, money laundering and bribe-taking.

They also held another senior member of the chief rabbinate and two senior officials from non-profit organizations.

Metzger was questioned under caution by the unit and it had not been decided as of 5:30 p.m. whether to free or arrest him.

According to details of the investigation released to the media, police suspect Metzger was given hundreds of thousands of shekels by various nonprofits, which he pocketed or distributed to family members.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and state prosecutor Moshe Lador both signed off on the raid earlier Thursday, allowing it to go ahead. Police confiscated several papers, computers and other property belonging to Metzger, and froze bank accounts under his name.

Metzger was questioned in 2005 over suspicions that he took bribes from a Jerusalem hotel, but the case was closed for lack of evidence.

His 10-year term is nearly at an end and he is due to step down once a new chief rabbi is chosen in the coming months.

OMG. Innocent till proven guilty, of course. But still. OMG.

Hello Mr President. Goodbye Mr President.

As seen at the BBC, this didn’t take long:

New Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah ‘offers resignation’

Rami Hamdallah had not previously had a high-profile role in Palestinian politics

Newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has offered his resignation to President Mahmoud Abbas, government sources say.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr Abbas had accepted the resignation, nor the reason behind it.

Mr Hamdallah, a British-educated academic and political independent, was sworn in on 6 June.

He replaced Salam Fayyad who stepped down in April after a long-running dispute with President Abbas.

A BBC correspondent says there are said to have been disagreements over his mandate.

Mr Hamdallah was given two deputies, one for political affairs and one for economic affairs, and Mr Hamdallah’s office said he submitted his resignation because of a “conflict over authority”, reports say.

Mr Hamdallah’s cabinet had only met for the first time last week. It consisted mainly of members of the Fatah party, one of the two main Palestinian political factions, led by Mr Abbas.

The other main faction, Hamas, described the appointment of Mr Hamdallah as “illegal” because it was not a unity government formed as a result of a reconciliation agreement.

When he was appointed, Mr Hamdallah stated his administration would rule only for “a transitional period” until a unity government was formed.

There has been a deep rift between the two main Palestinian factions since 2007, when Hamas set up a rival government in Gaza after ousting Fatah in clashes.

The two factions are currently engaged in drawn-out reconciliation talks. Last month, officials on both sides announced plans to form a unity government by August that would then prepare for new elections.

Before his appointment as PM, Mr Hamdallah had been known for his 15-year tenure as head of the al-Najah National University, and did not have a high profile as a politician.

Fatah. Hamas. Made for one another, except they do not see it that way. What a bloody mess. There may be perfectly good reasons for the man to offer his resignation, but for it to happen so quickly – is it a world record – does not inspire confidence. What could have happened in that short time that he did not know about before? Surely knowing your mandate in fine detail would seem a basic prerequisite. Oh dear.

I pity the Palestinian people for the state (ahem) of their leadership. (Leaderships?) They are a woeful, hateful, useless crew.

Maybe on reflection they are not completely useless. They do serve to demonstrate the chances of success of any Palestinian state with any of them in charge. When Naftali Bennett says the two state solution is dead and buried, the Circus of Palestinian Politics does nothing to persuade me he’s wrong. Who can save the day?

Small world, free of zombies

[Crossposted from the Ra’anana Boardgames Group blog, here.]



We – Ben, Laurie, Peleg, Yehuda and yours truly – started off last night’s session with a five handed game of The Walking Dead Card Game. This is a reworking of 6 Nimmt, a game where the objective is to score as few points as possible. You score points by being forced to take cards from a central display according to a simple set of placement rules. Essentially, you have to try and work out – or guess – what the likelihood is of a particular card you play triggering a pick-up.

It’s light, easy, and quick, but I would argue there’s a fair bit of skill involved. In other words, over the piece, more skillfull play will triumph despite the inevitable vagaries of luck in a card game. Did I mention I won? In fairness, Yehuda spotted we had been playing with one wrong rule interpretation. However, as I was the only player who picked up zero cards, it was – IMHO – a moot point. But no doubt a revenge zombie outing is being planned.

After that, Ken joined us and we played 7 Wonders. I had Peleg on one side and Ken on the other. Both killed me with military strength. And although I had a good, balanced hand, I was well out of the running. Peleg took the right Purple cards in the last round to produce a great score. Unfortunately, Ken sneaked the win by a single point. Well done Ken.

After that, we split into two tables with Ben, Ken, and Yehuda playing Steam. How did it go, guys?

Diplomatic Sorcerers sweep all before them; except Commando Trolls, Flying Amazons,...

Diplomatic Sorcerers sweep all before them; except Commando Trolls, Flying Amazons,…

Laurie, Peleg and I played Smallworld – the first outing for all of us of this wargame style euro. There are several fantasy races. Each has a special trait. For example, some get bonus points for capturing mountainous terrain. Others are more effective in attacking hill terrain, and so on. And alongside the races, there are special abilities which are randomly allocated. For example, Flying, or Commando. So you get Flying Amazons, and Commando Trolls. The combinations are part of what makes the game fun.


The races are competing over an area map to score points for controlling territory. When you think your race has done its bit, you put it into decline and go for another.


One thing I really like is that there are different boards for 2, 3, 4, and 5 player games. That helps me believe it has been well played and tested and is balanced. Of course, because I won, I could be biased…

It’s a quick game, with plenty of opportunities for double dealing and back stabbing, and neat moves. I enjoyed it and I know Peleg did. I think Laurie found it not so light, but I hope to persuade her to try it again when she is less tired.

Thanks to Laurie for hosting.

Economic reality

Warning: understatement on the way.

The situation in Egypt and Syria is not good.

Behind the political and factional moves in Egypt there is a simple economic reality: the country is bust, has awful infrastructure, and depends on external aid for its survival. No matter whether Morsi holds on to power, or a more or less jihad inclined person takes over, it’s unlikely there will be any meaningful improvement until the economic situation is tackled. And that won’t be easy.

Behind the civil war in Syria, there is the strong beating heart of religious hatred: Sunni v Shia. Syria’s economic problems are probably not quite as bad as those of Egypt – it did make an attempt to modernize its agriculture – but the differences are probably moot if you are a starving citizen. So, finding a solution to the insoluble civil war would not end the problems in Syria. Arming one side, or the other, or imposing a no-fly zone, seems a bit like shuffling chairs around on the Titanic.

What to do?

I wish I had a solution. I don’t. But I do have a suggestion that people in positions of power and much more talented than me, might consider: focus on the end result that would deliver the best for these failed states. Ignore the politics. Tackle the economics.

What do the people want? A roof over their heads, food to eat, and education for their children would be a good start. Employment would be more than helpful. How can these be delivered? By economic solutions. Aid may play a part, but it will (arguably) be wasted unless it is tied into real change. Not so much political change, but economic change. Maybe they need to ditch their currency. Maybe they need to slash bureaucracy (a classic home for corruption). Maybe they need to start again.

In other words, take a different perspective.

I’m an optimist. We have on this planet immense resources of invention and ingenuity. I believe that somewhere out there, there is an economic driven initiative that can help work towards improving the situation in these places. And with real improvements, the political benefits – or possibilities – will be for the common good. Ok; I’m a naive optimist. But isn’t it worth a try?

If you want some background reading on the matter, I commend this piece by Spengler (aka David P Goldman). He may not share my optimism, but he does highlight – authoritatively – the economic issues.