Five for Friday

Traffic? I see no traffic. Tel Aviv - February 2012

Traffic? I see no traffic. Tel Aviv – February 2012

For various reasons, this needs to be short and sweet. (A lot like this week, or so it seemed.) Therefore, as we once again arrive at the weekend, here are the regular weekly selection of links for you:

And, because that lot is a bit on the heavy side, here’s a bonus on the bright, bouncy, and musical side:

Sir Elton John promises to give Tel Aviv a ‘wonderful, crazy’ night

Shabbat Shalom!

It’s all in the combination


To start this week’s session, I was joined by Sheer, and we played 7 Wonders: Duel.

Sheer is quick at assessing the value of card combinations, and he put that to good use in this game, by collecting science cards aplenty, and the resultant bonuses. His focus on that aspect forced me to look elsewhere, and I started off with a military strategy. That – eventually – started eating away his finances, and allowed me to get some decent victory point cards. I came close to knocking him out with a military victory, but he fought back, and the game went the whole way. I was pleased with my play, but (pleasantly) surprised by the win, as I was sure his bonuses would have been too much. Great fun. And each time we play this, I am more impressed by how well it works as a short, sharp, and challenging two player game.

Peleg then joined us, and we played Automobiles. Sheer again got a powerful combination together, and soon looked to be out of reach to me. (I had chosen the opposite of a powerful combination.) But Peleg, with a variation on Sheer’s theme, was keeping in touch, and so made it a bit of a competition. We played three laps, and I was consistently in last place and in danger of being lapped. Peleg  kept up the pressure, right up until the last turn or so, when Sheer pulled ahead to win the race.  Then, to our surprise, we found out that we had played some of the cards without taking the requisite wear. That would have changed things, though it is doubtful if it would have changed the result. It simply whetted our appetite to try this game again, because it is a good variation on the Dominion type game.

Speaking of which, we finished off with a regular Dominion game. Peleg and I went into an early lead, with lots of victory points, while Sheer concentrated on getting the right combination so as to maximize the efficiency of his desk, and throw all the Curse cards at us. It worked. Both Peleg and I were slowed down, and Sheer gradually caught up and exceeded our victory points. Damn!

Thanks to Peleg and Sheer for making the session so enjoyable.

Haaretz and Rodes

This is interesting:

An Israeli Echo Chamber? Haaretz and the Iran Deal

Haaretz’s cheerleading for the Iran Deal raises the question: Were they a willing part of Ben Rhodes’ “echo chamber”?

“Echo chamber” — two words that Ben Rhodes uttered to the New York Times Magazine were enough to expose the media’s failure. The issue has been raging in the US for over a week now, since David Samuels’s piece first appeared, but aside from some minimal coverage, it has received almost no attention in Israel. And that’s very strange, because what Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications said about the gaggle of “freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal” is very serious: “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say,” Rhodes bragged.

This was primarily aimed at the American media, but it has an Israeli aspect: Haaretz newspaper.

Those who have followed the Israeli media certainly remember how coverage of the Iran Deal looked from Schocken Street’s perspective: Haaretz did not even bother hiding that it had taken a side, and its reporters constantly echoed White House talking points in Israel. Now, in light of Rhodes’s confession and the storm he caused, very serious questions have arisen regarding Haaretz’s conduct in the affair, its journalistic prestige, and its professional reliability.

So, was Haaretz part of the press echo chamber that did exactly what the White House wanted, and ditched all objectivity and independent thought? It sure looks that way. Read it all, here. (The original David Samuels piece is here.)

Murder DC – Neely Tucker

This is the second Sully Carter novel, the follow up to The Ways of the Dead, continuing the investigative adventures of our intrepid reporter in Washington.

This time around, the story starts with the discovery in the Potomac River of the body of Billy Ellison, the son of a prominent local family. Why was Billy near a known drug trouble spot, and who killed him?

Neely Tucker’s background as an experienced journalist is once again a solid platform for his story telling. He handles the central character well, portraying a troubled, but principled man, challenged by alcoholic tendencies and a tragic past. Yet Carter makes progress, and in between the competing worlds of high society, and local drug lords, somehow gets closer and closer to unraveling the mystery, and exposing the truth.

The Washington backdrop and the other characters are realistic, and believable, though the Ellison family lawyer comes close to being overdone.

The plot has its twists and turns, and more than enough to add to the reader’s enjoyment without being overpowering and stretching suspension of disbelief too far. The tension is well maintained, and the whole story hangs together neatly.

It’s a good read, is highly recommended, and ensures I will be looking out for the next in the series.

Intellectual property interlude

And now, a short interlude, featuring two tales of alleged intellectual property theft.

In yesterday’s Globes, there is this:

A NIS 900,000 lawsuit for copyright violation was filed against the “Haaretz” group at the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court. The claim involves a paparazzi photo of model Bar Refaeli. The suit was filed by US photography company Mavrix Photo, which two years ago photographed Refaeli on her vacation with her husband in Greece, and which guaranteed the “Daily Mail” British daily exclusivity for the photos. According to the lawsuit, the photos appeared on the “Haaretz” group’s website. The lawsuit was filed through Advocates Cobi Marcus and Alon Peled.

I find it difficult to believe that such a principled organization as Haaretz would tolerate any form of intellectual property theft. It must be a terrible mistake, or a breakdown in communication. Oh dear.

OK. Having taken my tongue out of my cheek, I will move on to the report from April, also in Globes, about another encounter Bar Rafaeli has had with intellectual property:

Bar Refaeli has posted pictures of herself on Facebook and Instagram wearing a bikini and saying “Now in the stores swimwear collection with my design.” However, one of the first comments on the Facebook post came from a sharp eyed reader who ridiculed Refaeli by posting a picture of an almost identical swimsuit on sale on eBay for $11 including shipping and making no mention of Refaeli’s collection.

The bikini exhibited by Refaeli is part of a new collection for this summer’s season called “Bar for Hoodies.” The campaign for the swimwear will be officially launched next week and the bikini in question will sell for NIS 135 ($36) – more than triple the price of its eBay clone.

Funny stuff.

Poor Bar Rafaeli doesn’t have to go far to find trouble at this time. The poor girl, often lambasted for dodging military service, is also the subject of a current tax investigation for alleged tax invasion.

Truly, that’s life in the fast lane.

Powering to victory


With many games, people who have played the game before have an advantage against those who have never played it. With some games the advantage is small, and with others it is more material. I suspect Power Grid is one of those games that the first time player has a real disadvantage. However, there’s no other way to master the game than by playing it.

Why am I telling you this? Last week, Azriel, Peleg, Roslynn, and Sheer joined me for a game of Power Grid, using the USA map. It is a long, meaty game, with plenty of tough decisions each turn. Sheer and I were the only ones who had played it before, so we had the advantage.

Roslynn made an early mistake that somewhat handicapped her in the first few rounds, but recovered well. I don’t think she ever came close to winning, but was making much better use of her resources the more that time went on.

Azriel took a wind and nuclear power strategy as far as it would go, but he lost out when the power plant draw was not suitable. If he had not concentrated on wind and nuclear power, he might have done better, though there was fierce competition for the other resources.

Of the first time players, Peleg did the best, and really did not put a foot wrong. He might have bid more aggressively for power plants in the last couple of rounds, but there was always the risk of running out of raw materials, so maybe he was right.

Sheer and I were taking turns at leading the pack, all the way up to the last round. Then, courtesy of a little luck in the power plant sequence, and an unusual touch of timidity by Sheer in the auction, I managed to secure the best power plant combination. I duly built up the number of cities to claim the win.

I would prefer the game were a little faster to play, but otherwise it is a fine piece of work. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, so we should be able to give it another spin soon.

Thanks to all who came for making it another fun night.


Big Brother, or Big Bother?

This Mashable piece about the use of face recognition software at a music festival was new to me:

Big Festival Brother? What summer music festivals are doing with your personal data

It’s May and the sun is finally out after a long British winter. For many that means one thing: festival season.

It’s a good occasion to disconnect from technology, go off the grid and enjoy a few days of carefree excitement. Or not.

Along with booze, music and mud — a lot of mud — British festivals may have another feature: mass surveillance.

Last year, Leicestershire police scanned the faces of 90,000 festival-goers at Download Festival, checking them against a list of wanted criminals across the country. It was the first time anywhere in the UK that facial recognition technology — NeoFace — was used at a public outdoor event.

Privacy campaigners — and Muse frontman Matt Bellamy — expressed their fury at authorities after they casually mentioned the use of the surveillance project on Police Oracle, a police news and information website. Police didn’t use any other method to warn festival-goers about the controversial initiative.

The article then goes on a wayward route – I’m not sure where to – as it skates over the topics of surveillance, privacy, and the use of personal data. However, it is this “controversial initiative” that is the cornerstone, and I think it’s badly directed.

Let’s examine what appears to have happened. The police used software that would help them find wanted criminals. What is wrong with that? Would there have been less protest if there had been police stationed at every entrance doing a personal check of the incoming faces? There was no intrusion into privacy. It was, after all, for the benefit of society. How many would complain if, for example, a rapist or a murderer committed more crimes because the police failed to arrest him when he turned up to see his favorite rock band? And as for giving a warning… “Calling all criminals. Please note that if you go to this festival, you might be recognized and arrested.” Ahem.

Sure, there are issues about the use of personal data. For example, if the police used these records to create profiles about innocent civilians, and kept these records for no good reason, that would be an abuse of power. But what if they were profiling potential terrorists? Why wouldn’t we want the police to be able to do that?

The irony is that private companies (not least Google) take a whole lot more intrusive steps into our private lives. To be fair, the article does mention the affect of apps, and the potential abuses. But were I a privacy campaigner, I think I would want to avoid creating a problem for the police in protecting society in the circumstances as described. As far as I am concerned, they can use face recognition on me anytime. I have nothing to hide.

Social experiment surprise

Or not, as the case may be.

From AntiSemitismWatch:

How is this for a social experiment? Last week, some students at University of Chicago proposed a resolution to the College Council to divest from Chinese weapons manufacturers, in protest of China’s severe human rights abuses and its long-standing occupation of Tibet.

Members of the council were quick to condemn the resolution, and for good reason. The members noted it was political, and disrespectful to Chinese students. Other members noted that Chinese students should be given time to respond to the presenters with a counter-presentation. One representative even suggested that the College Council issue an apology to Chinese students for even considering the resolution. The resolution was tabled indefinitely.

Can you see what’s coming?

Curiously, when a few weeks earlier the same College Council passed a nearly identical resolution condemning Israel, no one suggested an apology. These same representatives argued why it was their moral imperative to condemn Israel. They were determined to push this through at all costs, and despite requests, they didn’t even offer the other side an opportunity to present.

The details are worth reading (see here) for they clearly illustrate the inbuilt bias being expressed towards Israel and Jews. Maybe it’s shocking. Maybe it’s expected. But for sure, it is at the core of BDS.

A goodly state of war?

At the Yom HaAtzmaut barbecue last week, one of the other guests – a native Israeli – introduced himself, and after a bit of chat asked Susan and me what we thought of Israel. Before we could reply, he said something like:

“You should know, as far as I am concerned, Israel is paradise.”

There then followed a light hearted conversation about Israel as paradise, and the minor blots we might protest about.

Over Shabbat, I was discussing this amusing encounter with somebody who agreed with the description of Israel as paradise. But there was a kicker: according to this person,  Israel is in such a good state, at least partly because of the wars, because of us being constantly in a state of war (or constantly in a state that is not peace), and because of the army.

Without the wars, so the reasoning goes, people wouldn’t support the need for the army to exist, and to be so well funded.

Without a well funded army, we wouldn’t have those amazing breeding grounds for cyber warriors, and security expertise.

Without the army, we wouldn’t get all that entrepreneurial spirit, and “can do” attitude.

And so on.

It’s an interesting perspective.

If it’s right, does it mean there would be no such thing as a peace dividend?

Five for Friday

Bikers coffee shops the world over; coffee, chocolate, bikes, and flat tires. Tzuba, near Jerusalem - May 2016

Biker coffee shops the world over; coffee, chocolate, ice cream, bikes, and flat tires. Tzuba, near Jerusalem – May 2016

That’s another Yom HaZikaron, and another Yom HaAtzmaut. This year, it was a very Israeli Yom HaAtzmaut, spent with Susan’s Israeli family in Ra’anana, and our future machatunim in Olesh. Not much English spoken! Great times were had by all.

This morning, Susan and I had an early start as we went off to meet Shosh and Mona for a ride around Sataf and then Tzuba. It was glorious weather, a challenging set of hill climbs in places, and a good, solid few hours of exercise. (Thank you, Shosh!)

Now, it’s time to crash out. But first, the regular weekly selection of links:

Shabbat Shalom!