Winging it


Gorgeous package from LBW and GMT, just arrived before Shabbat in time for a weekend’s worth of browsing. On a first read of the rules, the general principles seem clear, and well presented. I need to line up an opponent, for this is screaming out to be played.

What is it about? From BGG:

Wing Leader is an exciting new game system of large scale aerial combat in World War II. Based on a unique side-scrolling view, in which altitude is clearly visible, players can recreate the great air battles of the war.

This first volume focuses on the fighting from 1940 to 1942, with scenarios for the Battle of Britain, Malta, Coral Sea, Midway, North Africa, and Stalingrad. Future games will expand the system to the late war.

Players fly squadrons and flights, attempting to intercept raids or fend off marauding fighters in fast-playing games that take between 90 and 120 minutes.

Wing Leader takes a new look at aerial warfare, incorporating aircraft, altitude, and weather in a way never seen before!

Nitpick: why use ‘squares’ (when they aren’t) instead of ‘boxes’ or ‘spaces’ for example? It’s not material for sure, but I am intrigued by the choice.

Boxcover: one of my favorites. Wonderful. Sign that artist up, now!


Dust – Patricia Cornwell

The twenty first (apparently) of the Kay Scarpetta novels, this is one to be avoided.

The setting and story are standard Scarpetta fare: a young woman’s body has been found, on the MIT grounds, in circumstances that suggest this is the work of a serial killer. The forensic evidence is puzzling, but includes a link to killings in Washington, DC. Although her relationship with her former lead investigator, Marino, is somewhat troubled, both he and Scarpetta’s husband work together (along with niece Lucy, the computer expert) in unraveling the layers to get to the bottom of the case.

First, the book starts off at the pace of a snail. It takes far too many pages for Scareptta to get out of bed, dressed, and on the case. It’s almost as if the author had set herself a challenge of how long she could drag the scene out. Perhaps it is an attempt at another kind of atmospheric scene, other than those of the killings. Whatever, it falls flat. Slowly. Oh so slowly.

Second, the plot has several strands that are quite interesting, and have great potential. Unfortunately, it seems the author lost interest, as some are cut short in an abrupt manner, and some appear and disappear before you can say “Where was the editor?” I got the impression this was a ‘going through the motions’ type of writing. It had its moments, but was largely an introspective bore.

Third, and probably worst of all for those who stay the pace, is the finale. Whereas before there was slow, slow, and slow, the final chapter or three that deal with discovery of the killer, and filling in the gaps, all rush past far too fast.

Incidentally, if the forensic chase is interesting to you, you will find it here, as per usual. If such technical narrative is supported by dramatic narrative, and the right balance is presented, it works. That, regrettably, does not happen here. The forensic encounters are as lifeless as the victims, and the sparks of interesting lines of investigation that might be expected, are faint flickers of false hope. The science bores, just like the rest of the book.

Overall, it is a book that mixes some unbelievably chunky, clunky, boring narrative, with slivers of excitement, and potential that strike the chords of curiosity in the reader (if still awake). But the best shorthand description of the mix is that it is a mess: a disappointing. It should not have been published in its present form. Awful. I would not be surprised if there were a contractual dispute, or a personal episode of crisis for the author that lay at the back of this. She has produced some fine work. This is not an example you could say that about.


Foot in mouth outbreak

This, from the Times of Israel, is dreadful:


I am not referring to the fact the government were discussing military options against Iran. Obviously they were. I am referring to the inability of Barak to keep his mouth firmly shut.

It seems that Barak was not intending the material to be disclosed:

The material apparently comes from conversations related to a new biography of Barak being written by Danny Dor and Ilan Kfir. The former defense minister, who was also previously prime minister and chief of staff, attempted to prevent the broadcasting of the recordings, but Israel’s military censors allowed Channel 2 to play them.

However, that is no excuse. He should not have been blabbing about bombing Iran to a biographer, a journalist, or anyone not constrained by official secrecy laws.

I do want to point out that, as somebody opposed to censorship, I’m pleased there was none exercised here. Pleased, but surprised. Presumably the military censors saw nothing that would harm Israel – militarily – in the disclosures. Or, is there some kind of game being played by the spooks? After all, a sensational set of soundbites like this will undoubtedly appear in the western media, and not in a way that puts Israel in a positive light.

Barak may have other troubles, but this episode does nothing for his image. Would you put your faith in a set of loose lips like his?

[Click the image to go to the TOI story.]


Marder martyrs

Ran and I played Marders not Martyrs, a Ken Dunn designed scenario from Journal No 7, featuring a small Russian infantry and tank force trying to cut through an even smaller German infantry and tank force, on board v. I was the defending Germans, and Ran took the Russians.

Although still very much an ASL learner, my setup wasn’t too bad. I discussed some ideas with Ran, and he pointed out the weakness of most. I put my two Marders on a hill, with a good field of fire. I split the infantry into a front line, and a backstop of 9-1 leader, squad, and HMG in the top level of the building on M7. The latter gave it a commanding position, but also made it an easy to see target. Tough choices all round.

Good things: I remembered to get hull down positions for my tanks.

Bad things: I stuck the armor leader on board. It wasn’t crucial, but the right approach is to assign it using a side note, and only reveal it when it makes a difference.

Ran’s setup featured sticking his mortar where it could fire on the Marders, and the rest of the infantry as far forward as permitted. Time is one of the enemies the Russians must overcome in this scenario.

At start

At start

The scenario opened with Ran’s mortar homing in one of the Marders, and making a right nuisance of itself. In the movement phase, on came the four Russian KV tanks, staying out of line of fire for now. The infantry advanced up close and personal to my thin front line.

In my turn, I decided to fire on the mortar with one of the Marders. That was a mistake. I did break the squad (and reduce it) but ran out of HE ammo for one of the Marders. Ran pointed out I should have used the HMG to keep the mortar quiet.

My front line skedaddled, and took up positions further back.

In turn two, the Russian tanks came into view of one of my tanks – they were cleverly positioned so only one of my Marders had a view – and a firefight ensued. I managed to shock one of his tanks, but it later recovered.

After this, I made a fateful mistake. With all the Russian tanks and the mortar having acquired one of the Marders, I decided discretion was the better part of valor, and tried to reverse out and re-position that tank. The starting MP alone forfeited the hull down cover, and defensive fire turned it into a wreck. As Ran gently chided me, I should have stayed and swapped gunshots, knowing the tank was going to be eliminated anyway.

Next up, Ran tried to defeat my remaining Marder by applying all four of his tanks to that mission, and moving up close. However, in retrospect, that may have been a mistake. The Russian infantry was now in range of the Marder and threatening it. So, he could have waited another turn. To add insult to injury, although my remaining Marder broke its main gun, it did manage to eliminate three of the KVs. And, to further torment Ran, my infantry was having great success in breaking his attackers. Although my Marder repaired its main gun, this was just in time for it to be wiped out. Ran did a quick count and reckoned he could not win, as he did not have enough VPs available to exit the map.

A battlefield littered with destroyed Russian tanks (OK, and German tanks) and broken Russian infantry

A battlefield littered with destroyed Russian tanks (OK, and German tanks) and broken Russian infantry

I think that is my first win against Ran, though it was achieved with his help so I avoided some bad play. That having been said, even if I had lost – and it could have gone either way – once again, it was a wonderful, intense, and enjoyable gaming experience. Just damn great fun.

Thanks to Ran for the hospitality, the game, the experience, and his patience!


Five for Friday

This was supposed to be a quiet week. It wasn’t. Too much to do in too little time, and the rumblings of an oncoming cold or flu or something-or-other, all combined to make me happy to crash out earlier than usual on Thursday night. But sleep refused to come. I even tried reading some Hebrew, but that didn’t work; instead I got a headache.

So, I was feeling slightly sorry for myself when I struggled out of bed this morning. I looked at my list of things to do, and sighed. But somebody was looking after me, because I got my stuff done in record time, and even managed to get the car cleaned. (As an aside, while I never worried about using water to wash my car, back in Scotland, for some reason, it doesn’t feel right in Israel. No, I cannot fully explain it.)

Now, it’s the calm before the calm, and I have some time to offer up the usual weekly selection of links. I hope you find something for you in them:


I saw the following video at Anne’s Opinions, and thought it deserved sharing. There’s a certain Roger Cohen who comes out of this looking like an idiot.

And here’s the other excellent video from the creator, Ezri Tubi.

Shabbat Shalom!


Gordon’s not doing so well

Gordon’s Gin that is:

“Budget price supermarket gins – some a snip at less than a tenner a bottle – have trounced their more expensive and established rivals in a consumer taste test.

The supermarkets’ own-label crisp dry white wines were also rated more highly on taste than popular high street brands.

Drinks experts from the consumer group Which? rated 12 standard-range gins and 10 crisp dry white wines from a selection of supermarket own-label products and popular brands.

Own-brand gin was the resounding winner. Gins from Morrisons, Lidl and Waitrose were all rated higher than established brands Greenall’s and Beefeater, while market leader Gordon’s – which accounts for half of all gin sales in the UK – trailed behind in a disappointing ninth position.”

This way to the Guardian article with the complete listing.


The hundred year old lynch


Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank.

The story, briefly, is that Leo Frank, a New York born, Jewish businessman in the south, was convicted of murdering one of his employees. The body of Mary Phagan (13 years old) was found in his factory, at a time for which he had no alibi.

The conviction is generally recognized to have been unsafe, to put it mildly. Antisemitism loomed large over the proceedings. For the sake of completeness, Frank’s lawyer was guilty of some dreadful racism too, in trying to shift the blame to the black janitor. It may have been the janitor who was the killer, but that does not excuse the dreadful (and possibly damaging) racist tactics used by the defense.

Convicted and sentenced to hang, and having lost all his appeals, the principled (and brave) Governor of Georgia, John M. Slaton, commuted this to life imprisonment.

“Feeling as I do about this case I would be a murderer if I allowed this man to hang. It may mean that I must live in obscurity the rest of my days, but I would rather be plowing in a field for the rest of my life than to feel that I had that blood on my hands.”

Then, Frank was lynched.

Haaretz has a pretty decent article on it, here, though their English proofreading and historical knowledge let them down:

Supreem? And who the hell is Olive?

Supreem? And who the hell is Olive?

One extract from the article is worth highlighting:

In the end, the outraged citizens went the way of tradition. The most famous convict in the country was taken from his cell in the dead of night. Not a single official there is recorded as having objected as Leo Frank was led away to his death, on August 17, 1915.

This was not some angry mob with pitchforks. These were the well-to-do of Atlanta, civilized people who drove up to the jail in their cars, at a time when few people in the city had cars. The lynch party consisted of upstanding members of the community, including a former county sheriff and a judge. The latter read Frank his original death sentence before he was hanged.

It was an establishment lynching. Chilling.

It was a bad blow for the Jews of the south. And it highlighted just how close to the surface in southern society – perhaps all American society, or all society – the dark demons of hatred and bigotry lay in waiting for the right moment. Has anything changed?

[For extra insight, here’s the Wikipedia page on that giant of the USA legal system, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.]


Economical with the truth

It may be a sign of the dumbing down of political discourse, that little – if any – of the British Labour Party’s leadership election race has featured a proper discussion of the economic theories and practices of the candidates. It’s slogans, sound bites, and general mumbling and mumbo jumbo. So, even if it is probably unfair to pick just one out (because it’s the only one I could find), I read Tim Worstall‘s piece at the Register – Hey, folks. Meet the economics ‘genius’ behind Jeremy Corbyn – and was hit by a proverbial breath of fresh air.

In brief, it’s an attack piece about Richard Murphy, the source of Corbyn’s thinking about economics. It is fascinating to see what is going on (or has been going on) behind the headlines, and largely ignored by the media. They are otherwise engaged, it appears.

Here’s an exert to give you a flavor:

He [Murphy] is rather proud of claiming that he ignored his university economics lectures because they were obviously all neo-liberal-inspired. So he worked the whole lot out on his own, from first principles. This rather reminds me of Bitcoin, for as I’ve said, the whole alt-coin scene has seen the fast-forward replay of every monetary and banking mistake, fraud, scheme and scam that humanity has managed to cook up over the millennia in a mere few years.

Murphy’s economics – ignoring, as it does, what tens of thousands of very clever people have found out over the past few hundred years, namely that we’ve really had “economics” – falls into the same error. It’s just too large a subset for any one brain, however large, to be able to encompass from first principles without error.

Even if economics bores you, and quantitative easing sends you to sleep, it is worth reading this piece. Then take a look at the coverage of the leadership race, and wonder when there is going to be a proper discussion of the issues. Shining some light on Corbyn’s dark places is long overdue.



Background noise

From the Times of Israel, earlier this week:

Hamas-Israel deal imminent,’ to the dismay of Palestinian factionsLong-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel would tear Gaza away from West Bank for good, claims Palestinian communist party official

mas is about to sign a “comprehensive” agreement with Israel for the lifting of an eight-year blockade placed on the Gaza Strip in return for a long-term ceasefire, a senior Turkish official said on Sunday.

But the agreement is facing domestic opposition from without, as Palestinian factions consider it a potential danger to the political unity of Gaza and the West Bank as stipulated by the Oslo Accords.

Now Ynet has this snippet:

PMO: Israel not holding direct or indirect talks with Hamas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office issued a statement Monday clarifying that Israel was not holding any kinds of meetings with Hamas, neither directly nor indirectly.

What is going on?

It is possible that the suggestion of talks in progress is simply trouble making by Palestinian factions to create aggravation for the PLO. It’s also possible there are ongoing talks, despite the denials. However, quite how Bibi might think he would get a deal approved by his coalition is more of a mystery. We will just have to wait and see.