Time for Turkey?

Recent media reports suggest the rift between Israel and Turkey is on the way to being mended.

Israel Hayom has this:

Turkey says agreement with Israel not finalized yet

“We are working on a draft. There is no doubt that the Israeli state and its people are friends of Turkey. The criticism we have made so far has been about Israel’s extreme behaviors that we don’t deem as legitimate,” says ruling party spokesman.

A spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said on Sunday that a deal to normalize relations with Israel, including the return of ambassadors to both countries, has not been finalized yet.

Speaking at news conference in the capital Ankara, AKP spokesman Omer Celik said both sides were working on a draft document to reach a final deal.

According to the report:

Israel and Turkey have reached a preliminary agreement to normalize relations, including the return of ambassadors to both countries, officials from both countries said earlier this week.

So far, so good.

“Turkey has three precise conditions for normalizing ties: an apology, compensation and the lifting of an embargo on Gaza,” Celik said.

“Our first condition is fulfilled, but the remaining two have not been met yet. Therefore, our people should know we have no doubt that this draft will be shaped within these parameters.

“A deal has not been signed yet. Talks will continue until an agreement is finalized. During this period, we will observe whether these three conditions are met or not. This will be our requirement.”

As proof that I would have been a poor diplomat, I don’t agree with the need to apologize. It seems to me that Turkey is the one that should be apologizing, for joining in the incitement against Israel. And, I would be telling them to take their compensation claim to a place where the sun doesn’t shine.

But the real puzzler for me is this:

“…the lifting of an embargo on Gaza…”

Israel cannot agree to this – not as matters stand. Perhaps it depends how you define embargo. Perhaps what Israel has in mind is putting Fatah forces in charge on the other side. Perhaps this is all empty talk. But, if Turkey is truly going to insist on an end to the embargo, there surely cannot be any hope for restoring diplomatic relations with Turkey.


The play’s the thing


This week’s session saw Peleg and Sheer join me for our first play of Shakespeare, a game by Hervé Rigal, and published by Ystari Games. The packaging suggests it can take 1-4 players (there is a solo variant) and BoardGameGeek mentions that it is best with three players. So, we were well placed to get the best out of it.


Shakespeare uses a worker placement like mechanic at its core, to drive an abstract set of interactions, dressed up (ahem) with the Shakespeare theme. The idea behind the theme is that you are competing to put on a play, with a week to gather your actors, fix up your stage set, and sort out the costumes. At the end of the week, the winner is the player with the most Prestige (aka Victory Points). There are six days (turns) to the game, with the all important dress rehearsals on days four and six. (I’ll come back to these.)

Each turn has several phases. The first of these is determining player actions and turn order.

The worker placement part is as follows: each player has five cylinders. At the start of each turn, players secretly choose any number from 1-5. These are simultaneously revealed. (Players of Reiner Knizia‘s Modern Art game may, at this time, be nodding to themselves, whispering In Die Faust.) The player who chose the least gets to go first. (Ties are resolved by the Initiative Track, and this is set according to the order in which players ‘activate’ actors.)

Each cylinder chosen gives you one action, used to activate your characters. The kicker is that at the end of the turn, you must rest all bar one of the characters you have used. So, if you choose all five cylinders, you will get five character activations, but next turn four of them will be resting and unavailable.


Every player starts with four characters, and can recruit a maximum of one more each turn. The character types available are:

  • Actors: wear costumes and generate advances on the dress rehearsals.
  • Costume mistress: get costume pieces for your actors. Better costumes generate money and Prestige.
  • Set dresser: build the stage set. This is a side track way of getting some Prestige.
  • Handyman: can act like costume mistress or set dresser, but not as efficient.
  • Assistant: adds to the power of your costume mistress, set dresser, and handyman.
  • Jeweler: take gold costume pieces or stage set parts. (Gold pieces all score Prestige.)
  • Queen: take money, or gain an objective. Objectives are bonuses available for fulfilling certain conditions.


Dress rehearsals

After going through your actions, if the day includes a dress rehearsal, you can use your actors (who have complete costumes) to use their abilities to advance on the dress rehearsal tracks. These advances may generate Prestige, or money, or both.


At the end of the game – and not before – you have to pay for most of the characters you have acquired. Failure to do so costs you Prestige.



That’s not all the mechanics, but enough to give you an overall feel.

In our game, Peleg went for a character based strategy. He had the best of these, so Sheer and I had to look elsewhere for Prestige. Sheer concentrated on the dress rehearsal track, and that worked well for him. He was in the lead at the half way stage, and stayed there to win the game. My mix of strategies came unstuck.

We liked the game, though the theme was not as excusable as other games we have played. It did not seem as ‘real’ and that was probably the major issue. Maybe it just did not fit.

Surprisingly for a euro game, there were a couple of rules issues. We figured them out – none were major – but it was an annoyance. One was a typo which we sorted by referring to the German language rules. One was a logical assumption – about the starting place for our Prestige – which subsequent online checking shows we got right. The resetting of the Initiative track is still missing from the rules, but we used our own interpretation, again seeming to get it right. In short, the play is what matters, and this plays well.

Although Sheer thought otherwise, it seemed to me that we had played in a too friendly fashion; to win, I suspect you have to be more aggressive towards your opponents. There are lots of ways you can interfere with other people’s plans, but you have to balance that with the need to advance your own.

This is a clever game, with a fair mix of options, a slice of luck, and a dead in the water theme. It is fun to play, and we will return to it again, I am sure.

Thanks to Peleg and Sheer for their participation.


Postal blues

The Times of Israel has this:

Israelis go postal over failing mail system, but it could be a lot worse

Worse? Really?

Oh yes:

An international study ranked the Israel Postal Company 35th out of 159 countries, behind the US and Algeria but ahead of France and the UK


While I am highly skeptical of the Israeli ranking, maybe I am not objective enough. My experiences in Ra’anana have been bad, bad, and bad. And then some more bad. The Post Office is too small, there are not enough tellers, and items take far too long to get through the system. And don’t get me started about the queues and how not to introduce a ticketing system…

But, back to the article:

Just how bad is Israel’s postal system? Pretty bad, if you judge from posts on Israeli social media.

“Is this Russia in 1991 or Israel in 2015?” reads one post accompanied by a photo of a long line outside a post office.

An image of a turtle posted December 6 with the words, “You buy clothes for a 3-year-old girl and get them when she turns 4,” was liked over 12,000 times.

Comedian Gadi Wilcherski recently camped out in a post office with a tent, sleeping bag and barbecue to protest the long lines.

Despite this, Next is doing a lot of business in Israel. So is AliExpress:

…Maya Avishai, the post office spokeswoman, singled out Next and AliExpress as companies that send a huge volume of packages to Israel.

“We’ve seen a 40 percent increase in packages from Next,” she says, “and people buy all kinds of things related to cell phones from AliExpress.”

Read it all, here, and make your own mind up. But I suggest you email me any comments, rather than post them…


Christmas. Time to demonize.

And among the many perpetrators, the Financial Times, and Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the PLO.

UK Media Watch notes the behavior of the FT with:

Financial Times amplifies Palestinians’ exploitation of Christamas*

In brief:

So, for three years in a row the Financial Times has amplified Palestinian efforts to misleadingly suggest that Israel is oppressing Christians in the city believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Presumably it’s intentional. Explanations of other reasons for this shoddy behavior gratefully received.

Meantime, the Elder of Ziyon spots Saeb Eerekat up to his old tricks. At the PLO’s Christmas Dinner, Erekat said:

“The first thing we need to do to defeat ISIS is to end this occupation.”

Eh? Apart from a much needed debate about “occupation,” the suggestion that solving the issue of the Palestinians will solve the issue of ISIS is totally disconnected from reality. If the Palestinians were the front and center of the issue, there wouldn’t be the dreadful bloodshed in Syria and Iraq that is currently ongoing.

I do wish we could see these people subjected to proper interviews and a modicum of cross examination.

“Two-thousand sixteen will mark how this region will go for the next part of the 84 years remaining in this century,” he said in conclusion. “Do we enter in the vehicles of democracy and peace or do we enter it in the vehicles of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi” — the head of the Islamic State — “and Benjamin Netanyahu?”

As the Elder points out, there’s more than an element of outrageous chutzpah for Erekat to suggest he is better placed to judge a democratic perspective:

And it is funny that Erekat is calling Israel undemocratic, since he has not been elected to his current position and his boss is entering the 11th year of his four year term leading a government that lost its last election.

The festive season is, for some, just another season to demonize Israel. No break from the hate, eh?

(*I think they mean Christmas…)


Five for Friday

Simcha! - Jerusalem, April 2009

Simcha! – Jerusalem, April 2009

Friday! What a surprise. What a welcome surprise. Our plan is to have a restful Shabbat – no, they are not all restful! – and chill out on our own, in between a couple of trips to shul. Of course, ‘trip’ rather overstates it, given we have never lived so close to our house of prayer; we can almost roll out of bed, do a hop, skip, and jump, and be grabbing a siddur from the shelves.

But before any such spiritual encounters – and the Friday night service is often a wonderful, spiritually uplifting experience – there are some mundane, earthly matters to be dealt with. Like links. So here you go:

Shabbat Shalom!


The Paris attacks and the exploitation of fear

Bruce Schneier has an excellent blog piece entitled Policy Repercussions of the Paris Terrorist Attacks (which I have only just come across) that is the usual breath of fresh air about terrorism, security, and surveillance.

For example:

The politics of surveillance are the politics of fear. As long as the people are afraid of terrorism — regardless of how realistic their fears are — they will demand that the government keep them safe. And if the government can convince them that it needs this or that power in order to keep the people safe, the people will willingly grant them those powers.

In short, governments use fear as a justification to acquire more intrusive powers.

It doesn’t matter that mass surveillance isn’t an effective anti-terrorist tool: a scared populace wants to be reassured.

That point is worth emphasizing, too. For example, there already was surveillance operating before the Paris terror attacks. Increasing it wouldn’t have increased the chances of preventing the attacks. Mass surveillance does not work in this arena. It does work in terms of keeping tabs on your political opponents…

So far as the opportunities and politicians are concerned, Schenier writes:

And politicians want to reassure. It’s smart politics to exaggerate the threat. It’s smart politics to do something, even if that something isn’t effective at mitigating the threat. The surveillance apparatus has the ear of the politicians, and the primary tool in its box is more surveillance. There’s minimal political will to push back on those ideas, especially when people are scared…

…Terrorism is singularly designed to push our fear buttons in ways completely out of proportion to the actual threat. And as long as people are scared of terrorism, they’ll give their governments all sorts of new powers of surveillance, arrest, detention, and so on, regardless of whether those powers actually combat the threat. This means that those who want those powers need a steady stream of terrorist attacks to enact their agenda. It’s not that these people are actively rooting for the terrorists, but they know a good opportunity when they see it.

So, even though it does not work, the politicians are going to keep trying to secure more surveillance and other intrusive powers.

Do read the whole post (which includes some excellent links to other material on the same issues) here.


Elder wisdom

It’s difficult, sometimes, to avoid being in awe of the Elder of Ziyon. Here he is, in a post about a daft BDS resolution being overturned, hitting the nail firmly on the head:

“Israel’s enemies are fixated on symbolic victories, like voting for a resolution that is meaningless or refusing to be in the same building as an Israeli flag. Meanwhile, Israel quietly works on real things like scientific and medical breakthroughs.

So let’s recognize the symbolic state of Palestine, which takes up no land and has only symbolic citizens. It can have a symbolic Olympic team and symbolic currency and symbolic passports.

The plan would work, too, if this symbolic people weren’t so supportive of killing real Jews.”

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.


Haaretz and its conference

I’m talking about the HaaretzQ Conference, complete with Rivlin, New Israel Fund, the Israeli flag, and Saeb (I see no lies) Erekat.

The following is from today’s print edition of Haaretz*:


Shame about the second “it’s,”** but Mr Bowman does not miss the target with his closing sentence.

“…delusional, arrogant and extreme views…”

And it is good to know there are people like him.

(*No. I did not buy it. Honest, guv.)

(**This post is partially sponsored by the Apostrophe Protection Society.)


Selling books, killing booksellers

As someone who loves books, loves browsing bookshops, but also loves buying from Amazon – books and ebooks – I recognize the conflict of interests. The more I patronize Amazon, the more I kill off traditional bookshops, at least in theory. I can now comfort myself with the excuse that browsing (English language) bookshops in Israel is not possible, so I am free to indulge my online habit. And, as Susan and the girls will testify, I make substantial efforts to balance the situation (I nearly said balance the books) on my overseas trips.

In those circumstances, I found the Slate piece by Stephen Heyman, entitled Big-Box Bookstores Don’t Have to Die, fascinating. It’s a comparison between the state of the USA’s Barnes & Noble, and the UK’s Waterstones – both book chains, both at one time struggling to cope in the internet world.

As Heyman puts it so well:

In a 1936 essay, George Orwell, a former bookstore clerk, complained about loiterers like me, who alight on bookshops simply because they are “one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money.” The digital revolution has of course turned this charming vulnerability into a lethal one—witness the fate of Borders, Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, et al.—by converting the chain bookstore into little more than an air-conditioned showroom for Amazon.com.


Barnes & Noble is still struggling; really struggling. But Waterstones, apparently, led by former independent bookseller James Daunt, is thriving. Mr Daunt

“…just announced Waterstones’ first annual profit since the financial crisis. How he pulled that off is a long story, involving old-fashioned business cunning, the largesse of a mysterious Russian oligarch, and some unexpected faith in the instincts of his booksellers.

It’s a story worth reading. But before offering you the link, I will note that part of the success is down to Daunt trusting the people in the branches to buy for their local market, instead of following a centralized, publisher driven, common approach to purchases, displays, and marketing. Common sense. But it goes against the trend – because of publishers paying for prominent shelf space. I was told that something like that doomed the Borders chain in the UK. They had centralized buying. For example, the Head Office went big on the Bobby Moore biography. The store in Glasgow received a ton of copies, and – apparently – had to return 99.9% of them unsold. Doubtless there were other similar acts of folly.

I wish Mr Daunt and Waterstones every success. It’s a heart warming story, and I hope they continue to do well.

Read the whole Slate article, here.


Killing Palestine Killing Israel

The title is that of a well worth reading, blog post by Marc Goldberg at Harry’s Place

I liked this for its clarity of vision:

“At the moment in New York City members of the Israeli left have come together to answer questions about the Israeli Palestinian conflict under the joint banner of Haaretz and the New Israel Fund. The reason the HaaretzQ conference and the release of this latest poll are worth looking at together is because they show both the view from the ground and the airy fairy vision that has seen Israel’s peace camp shrivel up to the extent that it has to go overseas for a successful conference.

While HaaretzQ discuss such philosophical issues as whether Israel will be Jewish democratic or Jewish fanatic? or whether Israelis have the right to deny Palestinians their freedom Israelis are being killed by a few of those Palestinians while the majority watch on cheering.”

I don’t agree with all that he says in the post, but Marc is a good writer, and what he has to say is interesting, challenging, and very relevant.

Please do read it all, here.