Goodbye 2013

That was fast. Where did that year go to?

This is Lori's dog, Mac. He doesn't know where 2013 went, either!

Lori’s dog – Mac. He doesn’t know where 2013 went, either!

Well, it’s too late now for regrets. We will simply have to try and do the best we can with the next year!

As always, let’s hope that the new day and the new year will bring in a time of good health, happiness, peace, and prosperity for everyone*. I wish you all a great 2014.

[*For a list of excluded parties, apply in writing to…]

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Gestures

Whatever you think about Nicolas Anelka’s goal celebration gesture, you are unlikely to be impressed by the Guardian‘s whitewash of Anelka’s comedian friend, Mr Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, as disclosed by Adam Levick at CiFWatch.

The Guardian/Observer offers this:

Dieudonné is a controversial figure in France, having been accused of insulting the memory of Holocaust victims. The quenelle is Dieudonné’s signature gesture, although he insists it is an anti-establishment gesture and not against Jewish people

Controversial? Can you imagine them, for example, restraining themselves in such a manner when referring to Jean Marie Le Pen, the notorious past leader of the French Front National (National Front)? Controversial? That’s akin to calling Jack the Ripper troubled

However, credit where credit’s due: the Independent, Mail, and Sunday Times do not dodge the issue and all mention the comedian’s antisemitism.

Why doesn’t the Guardian?

As Adam writes:

The Guardian stands alone in whitewashing the “comedian’s” clear record of anti-Jewish rhetoric – another antisemitic sin of omission at the “liberal” broadsheet which has, by now, achieved a well-earned reputation for such curious moral blind spots on the topic of racism.

There is something rotten at the heart of the Guardian.

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Believing the Lie – Elizabeth George

Ian Cresswell, nephew of wealthy industrialist Bernard Fairclough, dies suddenly in what the coroner terms an accident. Fairclough calls in a favor from a friend in the police, resulting in Inspector Thomas Lynley being sent up to Cumbria to sniff around and see what he thinks.

Lynley, told to keep his mission secret, runs foul of his immediate boss (and lover). But, helped by a couple of his friends, and some support from a colleague in the force, he unearths secret upon secret, and motive after motive.

Was it murder? Was the victim the wrong man in the wrong space at the wrong time? Or was it, indeed, an accident?

First off, this is a series of which I have read none of the preceding books. That didn’t stop me following what was going on, but I probably missed some of the undercurrents.

Second, USA author George prides herself on the accuracy of her backdrop, so there is a ton of descriptive material about the scenery, buildings, architecture, trees, rivers, streams, brooks, puddles and so on. Yes, it’s authentic, but way too much for me.

Third, the author doesn’t short change the characters, and everybody gets a chunk of attention. There are no wafer thin portraits of people well involved in this story, nor those slightly out of the central focus.

Fourth, the plot is heavy in layers, and it takes time to set these up, and unwrap them. There are some surprises.

So, all in all, a long, heavily descriptive book, that delivers a big read, but one that is modest in action. It was too slow for me, but others may enjoy the crafted background, and the range of characters. (I did not find them all credible, but that’s the cynic in me.) Not bad. But not enough to tempt me to try anything else. Time’s too short.

Score: 6/10

 

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Five for Friday

And so we come to the last Five for Friday of 2013. Enjoy the links:

And Shabbat Shalom!

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Man the wharf

puertorico

Amir and I started this week’s session by setting up a two player game – Flux. As we were about to start, Yehuda and Laurie arrived, so we switched to San Juan. As we were about to start that, Rochelle arrived, so we switched to Puerto Rico, and we played it!

Neither Rochelle nor Amir had played Puerto Rico before, so Yehuda did his usual excellent explanation of the rules. Matters were helped by printouts I had of the various buildings; that saved quite a bit of time during the game.

This is one of the games I like, but cannot play well to save myself. Nothing changed. I did manage to stop Yehuda from his usual quarry monopoly, but found I could do nothing with them. And he clobbered my indigo production by always seeming to be able to ship or trade ahead of me. Yes, he knows the game well.

Three indigo, three quarries, and not much else

My three indigo, three quarries, and not much else!

Laurie doesn’t really like it, but plays it better than me. She managed quite a good spread of options, but in my flawed opinion, too often chose the craftsman option when it was to other players’ benefit more than her. Rochelle’s first time performance was not bad at all. And she enjoyed it, despite the layered complexity.

As said above, Yehuda is a master at this game. So, not only was he the favorite, but his stack of points and buildings looked to have given him the win. He had grabbed a factory, a wharf, and one of the big VP bonus buildings, so looked totally in control.

However, Amir has a habit of winning games that he is introduced to. And he had also nabbed a factory, a wharf, and a big VP bonus building. Indeed, when it came to the final VP count, Amir had secured the win, just ahead of Yehuda, ahead of Laurie, Rochelle, then me. Well done, Amir.

Thanks to everyone who came for providing another fine night of gaming. Here’s to more of the same in 2014!

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Judge, jury, and executioner

From the Times of Israel:

Many Israelis have long felt that the European Union is biased against them. Two legal scholars – a former Israeli ambassador and an American Jewish international law professor — think they’ve found the perfect case to prove the claim: A new fishing deal, signed between the Europeans and Morocco, which applies beyond Morocco’s internationally recognized borders, taking in the territory of Western Sahara, which Morocco invaded in 1975 and has occupied ever since.

And they are challenging EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to explain why the agreement, which doesn’t exclude Morocco’s occupied territory, doesn’t show that the body holds Israel to a double standard.

The EU insists that any agreement will explicitly exclude the settlements in the “occupied” West Bank, the scholars noted in a letter sent last month to Ashton’s Brussels office. So why don’t the same constraints apply in the case of Morocco? This blatant inconsistency shows “an official double-standard practiced by the EU,” Professor Eugene Kontorovich of Northwestern University and Israeli ex-ambassador to Canada Alan Baker charged.

Last week, the EU responded to the letter, saying, essentially, that Israel’s occupation is different, but we’re not telling you how and why.

Yes, you did read that correctly. Israel’s ‘occupation’ is different, according to the EU. How is it different? They’re not saying. Why is it different? They are not saying. Why are they not saying? They are not saying.

As Kontorovich is quoted as saying:

“Whatever they have identified in their ‘analysis,’ they’re obviously not very proud of it. Had it been substantial, they would have surely not hesitated to provide more detail.”

Further:

“The terseness of Ashton’s statement reflects the general moral superiority of EU officials toward Israel that I’ve encountered in my attempts to discuss these issues with them,” he added. “The attitude is that they are the judges, we are the suspect. How dare we accuse or judge them? As one senior EU official said when I brought these matters up with him, ‘We’re here to talk about you [Israel], not us.’ That is why they do not need to give their reasons: They do not have to explain themselves. We do.”

So, there you have it: the EU is playing the part of judge, jury, and executioner. What price justice? Their blatant disregard for the law, mounted on their high horse of ignorance, is sickening. The only reason they get away with it is that there is no such thing as a truly independent, properly constituted forum to rule on such disputes. But, as I’ve said before, I would always back our lawyers. Probably that’s another reason the EU is ducking and diving. They know they are on shaky ground. They know they are wrong. And they know they are, at least for now, getting away with it. EU = evasively underwhelming.

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Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

After the disappointment of the Republic of Thieves, this was a welcome surprise – a very, pleasant surprise. It is a modern French crime novel, featuring another of those defective detectives that inhabit this literary genre: Commandant Camille Verhœven. The detective, a man on the short side of average, is sent to investigate a kidnapping of a girl off the streets of Paris. No name, no evidence, no ideas. But when he does make progress, it’s the start of twist upon twist.

I won’t give any plot spoilers, but I will say that this story starts off in one direction and then takes a sudden change. And there’s more. It’s an exquisitely unwrapped plot, with fine writing, good characters, great pacing, and a thoroughly satisfying read.

The only disappointment? This is the only one of the author’s books available in English. However, more are coming.

In short, read it.

Score: 8/10.

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The Republic of Thieves – Scott Lynch

This is probably where I part company with Scott Lynch. After the Lies of Locke Lamora, and Red Seas Under Red Skies, I was really looking forward to the third in the fantasy Gentleman Bastards series. Unfortunately, the book was a huge disappointment.

There are two story lines. One is “current” with heroes Locke and Jean on the run, and forced into a job as political fixers. The other is “history” filling in some of the background to the characters. It’s about their mission to go and join a dysfunctional group of actors, putting on a play.

The political fixing job part is OK. But the theatrical story line is boring. What’s more, it’s boring. Did I say it was boring?

The characters seem to have lost something. The dialogue is self absorbed and lacks an edge. There are insults and fiery exchanges, but they don’t work at drawing the reader in to the tale. It’s almost as if the author has lost touch with his characters, and they are left to fend for themselves. They are not up to the job at hand.

For example, there’s a love story in here. But it’s unconvincing. As another example, we are given a new peek at Locke ‘s past. But that doesn’t do much, either, except perhaps extend the life of the series. Finally, there are way too many awful pseudo Shakespearean episodes as the author describes bits of the play. Why? I have no idea. It seemed like one big waste of time.

Despite the length, because of past experience, I kept reading. I optimistically hoped for a change for the better. But it never came.

In summary, this is an over long and tedious drudge of a read. Avoid.

Score: 4/10

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