Five for Friday

Here we are again. Can you believe it? It only seems like yesterday that we were at the weekend. Now, here we are again. Oh well. Time for the regular selection of links. I hope you get something out of them:

Shabbat Shalom!

Chess tournament in Israel

Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Machabeli playing chess, Saint Petersburg. Source: Wikimedia

Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Machabeli playing chess, Saint Petersburg. Source: Wikimedia

From Chessbase, good news for Israeli chess fans:

The strongest invitational tournament ever to be held in Israel will be hosted by the city of Ashdod, in collaboration with the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) on December 7-10 during the Chanukah holiday. Twelve players will fight three stages of rapid games, in what promises to be a thrilling and intriguing event.

More information, here.

Looks good, I must say. I may try and get down to see some of the action, though watching remotely is probably a more likely event!

Midnight Sun – Jo Nesbo

I always look forward to reading the latest Jo Nesbo book, and Midnight Sun was certainly an enjoyable read. Unfortunately, at just over 200 pages (using a large font) it has to be said that there was also, initially, a certain sense of disappointment at how short the book was. I will come back to that. First, the plot.

Jon has run foul of the Fisherman, Oslo’s crime boss. So, he flees to the far reaches of Norway, where the sun never sets, and awaits the inevitable pursuit. While there, he encounters the Sami culture, the Laestadian religion, and some friendly, and not so friendly locals. Lea offers him shelter in an old hunting cabin, and Jon and her son become close. From there, the action heats up toward the inevitable, bloody, finale.

The author does a wonderful job of economically portraying the setting and the oppressive threat permanently in the background. And he is no slouch when the atmosphere is superseded by the action.

One of the reasons the book is short is that there is virtually no fluff; it’s escape and pursuit and showdown. Nesbo has resisted temptation to add bells and whistles to a simple tale (though there are surprises) and that makes it that much more effective.

So, in summary: short and sweet. Very sweet, indeed.

Heard about the Tweet-Milah?

Only in Israel, as they say, are you likely to see a story like this:

Rabbi sits down on train to Jerusalem, lays out newspaper, opens up box, lifts out parakeet, places on table. Reads calmly.

Authorities recommend: Do not approach. Parakeet considered winged and dangerous.

Situation ongoing.

Check it out, here. I presume it’s a spoof, but it is funny. Brought to you by the ‘It’s important not to lose your sense of humor’ party!

[A tip of the hat to Sarah-Lee for the spot.]

A smart starting place for smart glasses?

Globes has a story (looking suspiciously like a re-post of a press release) about Israeli startup Everysight, and its launch announcement for smartglasses for cyclists.

It’s a cool idea. However, I’m not sure how many people will pick up on the irony that military technology is being adapted for use by cyclists. Why? Well, if you cycle in Israel – especially if you dare to cycle on the roads – you are, indeed, at war. It is damn dangerous.

One to watch.

Oh, and yes, I want a pair!

High level gaming

On the table is MMP‘s Battle Above the Clouds, the 8th game of the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW) series. This one, designed by Ed Beach and Mike Belles, covers the Chickamauga campaign (August-September 1863) and the Chattanooga campaign (October-November 1863).

I have some experience with the system, having played the first three or four fairly extensively, but at some point I stopped playing – but kept buying…

On previous forays into my game collection to select something to play, I have been put off this series by the new standard rulebook. More accurately, the ridiculously tiny font used, is a real barrier. Fortunately, somebody at Consimworld made a Word version, so I can read the rules much more easily. That alone has encouraged me to get the game on the table.


However, that is only part of the story. The other driving force was this:


I also have Mr Powell”s The Maps of Chickamauga. Both are wonderful resources. I plan on buying his other Chickamauga books.

So, meanwhile I am taking my time here; reading the rules, pushing some counters around, reading the history, trying to get familiar with the territory – the maps are gorgeous – and the situation, and generally enjoying myself. I love this hobby!

The Frozen Dead – Bernard Minier

A French bestseller, wonderfully translated by Alison Anderson, this is the author’s debut novel, being a thoroughly decent crime tale, featuring several interesting characters – one of them a Hannibal Lecter type – set in the small Pyrenean town of Saint-Martin-de-Comminges, and the surrounding area. There happens to be a cable car, and a high security lunatic asylum (he Charles Wargnier Institute for Forensic Psychiatry) in the vicinity. Both are central to the story, but more central is Commandant Servaz, the policeman from Toulouse called in to investigate the brutal, troubling, killing of a horse. Yes, you read that right. It starts off with a horse killing.

From that unlikely beginning, the author spins a complex tale that slowly builds up a head of steam. Servaz and his crew are well drawn characters, sharing the limelight with the backdrop setting.

At the asylum, Dr Wargnier has been replaced by the  slimy Dr Xavier. Dr Diane Berg, a newly recruited psychiatrist there, is given a rather cold, unfriendly, and troubling welcome by him at her new place of work. And then there are the batch of highly dangerous criminals incarcerated in the place. The other points of interest include the mega rich man of business, Eric Lombard, owner of the locally situated riding school (from where the horse was taken) and chateau.

It’s a sort of cocktail mix of haunted castle, Silence of the Lambs, and defective detective. And, in the main, it works quite well.

Of course, the horse is not the first to die, and Servaz – ever under pressure from his bosses, given Lombard’s connections – is in a race against time to solve the baffling clues, and track down the killer.

There are some moments of true spine chilling horror, and quite enough plot twists, red herrings, and surprises.

I enjoyed the book, though some may complain it was unnecessarily long. I didn’t see it that way, because the pacing seemed appropriate, and the combined effect of what the author has produced worked well for me. Also, it came across as somewhat different in its tone and its perspective, and it stood out from the crowd. I would recommend it. And I will be following the author to see what he does with the characters.



They just don’t get it

David Horovitz has an excellent op-ed at the Times of Israel here. It’s a must read. If you are too lazy to do that, at least note the following extract, starting with the situation of the Second Intifada:

As bombers and gunmen targeted our buses and our shopping malls and our hotels and our colleges and our restaurants, we did two things that France, the US and the rest of the free world will have to do if they want to defeat this latest, particularly despicable Islamist terror iteration: We learned how to reduce our vulnerability to terrorism, and we tackled the killers in their centers of operation. Short-sightedly, hypocritically, and abidingly, the international community, including most of the Western world, barely understood the need for the former strategy, and castigated us for the latter.

Note, in particular, the last point. I would express this as a continuation of the theme They didn’t understand then.

He continues:

We made it harder for terrorists to kill us by doing what those CNN experts are saying is impossible: yes, protecting all our cafes, and restaurants, and shopping malls, and hotel entrances, and buses, and every other public place where our citizens gather, with barriers and metal detectors and security guards; all these years later, suicide bombers still can’t just walk into our theaters and concert halls. We bolstered our intelligence-gathering in the viciously hostile Palestinian territories, notably including the West Bank cities from which we had withdrawn years before in the vain quest for peaceful coexistence. And to the ongoing fury of misguided critics everywhere, we built a security barrier — a mix of fences and sections of wall — so that Palestinian suicide bombers could not just drive into Israel and blow us up. We became a nation of domestic security analysts, gauging where to shop and whether or not to take the bus as we sought to minimize our exposure to the killers. And we toughed it out.

Who remembers the wall? The life saving wall. Every person opposed to it, was in effect against the protection of Israeli citizens. Unforgivable.

He also says this:

At the very least, however, I do recommend that the leaders and security chiefs of France and the rest of Europe and North America reach out to those Israeli counterparts they’ve so often judged and critiqued, to benefit from our bitterly accumulated experience in fighting Islamist terrorism.

And his piece is entitled with a question:

Will the West now adopt Israel’s anti-terror strategies?

I’m guessing they won’t. Why? It’s that theme, brought up to date: They didn’t understand then, and they don’t understand now. They just don’t get it.

Escape from the Dark Valley


Ted Raicer‘s Dark Valley, published by GMT, is a fresh approach to tackling the eastern front of WW2. Out of the box, there are some issues (see my initial post, here) but it is worth persevering, especially if the topic interests you. I would neither recommend this to a novice gamer, nor a gamer whose playing style is to seek the ‘perfect plan.’ First, there is a lot of game to digest, and yet the game can be won or lost in the details of an encounter at one of several key points on the map. Second, the chit pull sequence of play can – and generally will – cause havoc with plans, challenging you to perpetually weigh  your options and your risk taking.

I have played the first (8 turn scenario) through to a conclusion once. I made several attempts at getting the crucial turn one right, and know I got nowhere close. (I decided to pack the game away, for now, intending to return to it in a Vassal format.) My comments are based on that limited solitaire experience:


  • Apart from the needless difficulty with the Soviet Military Districts, the graphics – map and counters – are good.
  • The different chits and the chit pull system produce a great, fun, exciting gaming experience. The emphasis here is on the game.
  • Logistics is not a phase; it’s a chit. Adds chaos, friction, and enjoyment.
  • Even at high odds, there is no guarantee of eliminating a defending unit. So, the initial Axis offensive is unlikely to wipe out vast numbers of Soviet units, unless the Axis recreates the historical practice of pocketing the enemy, and letting the lack of supply kill the pocket. A welcome change.
  • Not every unit has a zone of control. Maintaining a  front line can be a challenge, as it was in the campaign.
  • Simple, but effective supply system. There are depot units for the Axis player, with a variable movement allowance. That can really screw things up!
  • High replayability.


  • Different air unit rules – some have bases, some don’t have bases. I would have preferred a simplification here.
  • The rules are full of exceptions tied to game turns. The drag is exacerbated by the way the information is presented. Fan resources partially offset this, but it remains annoying.
  • Lack of setup sheets in the box. Again, fan resources to the rescue.


  • The game system does not have an overrun (combat while moving) and at times that was very frustrating. This is probably due to my inexperience with getting the best out of the existing system, but it is an aspect I will be looking at again in future plays.
  • I cannot help wondering if, for a future design, it would be possible and worthwhile to enhance the different chit system, whereby available chits are dependent on economic resources, rather than just the game turn. In other words, the sides could buy chits with resource points.
Dead pile at the end of turn 1.

Dead pile at the end of turn 1.

This is one I will return to. It is a mini monster, and to get the best out of it, I need to have lots more time available to play than I do just now. I can certainly see why it has been popular at Consimworld Expos.

Shabbat with Rembrandt


I wanted to mention an outstanding shiur given last Shabbat at Ohel Ari by Richard Rinberg. The subject was Rembrandt‘s painting Belshazzar’s Feast, and particularly the writing on the wall.

Richard took us on a magical tour of the original source material (The Book of Daniel), commentaries, the connection with Menashe Ben Israel, the historical and religious context, and gave his own fascinating insights. It’s thanks to the shiur I can point to the Wikipedia article and see there are two factual errors. (Frightening, really.)

It was thoroughly enjoyable, a measure of which was that I did not realize how late it was when he finished.

Well done, Richard, and thanks.