The Prisoner at 50

Patrick McGoohan Source: WikiMedia

Patrick McGoohan <> Source: WikiMedia

The Prisoner is one cult TV show from the 1960s that I remember, and enjoyed. I think my brother has the whole thing on video tape, and we have occasionally reminisced about it. Thanks to the national Bnei Akivah Conference being held nearby one year, I have also been to Portmeirion, the main setting for the series, and that somewhat cemented my fondness for the show.

Apparently yesterday (5 September) was the 50th anniversary of the start of filming, and the BBC has marked the occasion with a pictorial essay here. I thought it a rather good piece, giving both a flavor of the show, and commenting on some of the issues it covered, all without getting too pompous or high brow. And it gives a small hint about how talented the late Patrick McGoohan was.

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Rain Dogs – Adrian McKinty

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Introduction

I bought this book because I was looking to build up my stock of real books (for reading on Shabbat) and decided that it might be worthwhile to look at those contenders for awards. This book was nominated for the 2016 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. (That was also my reason for buying Disclaimer and Time of Death.)

Plot and setting

The scene is Northern Ireland in the 1980s; a time when the troubles are ever present, policemen keep getting killed, sectarian violence abounds, and the country is ravaged from the collapse of the traditional industries.

Detective Sean Duffy is called to the scene of Carrickfergus Castle, where a young woman has apparently jumped to her death. Duffy is not so sure, and thinks she may have been murdered. The problem is that the location is very secure, and apart from the caretaker – a man of advancing years – nobody else was there. And the caretaker for sure didn’t do it. So, is Duffy wrong?

And…

Apart from the natural desire of his colleagues to close the case as a suicide, Duffy has to contend with political realities: one person of interest is a foreign businessman potentially bringing jobs to the area. Nobody wants to put that at risk. One location of interest is a high profile, government supported operation that has been performing wonders. Nobody wants to put at risk either. At the same time, Duffy’s love life is less than complete.

Overall

The author constructs a neat locked room puzzle – apparently the second this fictional detective has faced – and wraps it up in some witty repartee, some diverse cultural mentions – Lamed Shapiro* – and a bucketful of historical references to the time and the place. You will meet at least one well known UK personality in this book, and at least one institutional scandal. The whole thing comes together convincingly, and is a rollicking good read.

One minor downside is that this is the fifth book in the series, and if I had known I was going to like it, I would have preferred to read them all in order.

[*If you want to boost your literary standing – not that McKinty needs it, judging by the plaudits his books have received – mentioning Lamed Shapiro is a solid strategy. Check out this short biography. I was interested enough to think about getting some of Shapiro’s books, but current prices are off putting. However, if there’s a rebirth of interest in Lamed Shapiro, Sean McKinty will deserve at least part of the credit.]

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Yes, it’s a fact. Yes, we’re fining you for posting it.

From the You Could Not Make This Up department, as reported by the Register:

The Russian Supreme Court has upheld a conviction against a blogger who correctly noted that the Soviet Union jointly invaded Poland with the Nazi government in 1939.

The truly bizarre decision follows the conviction of 37-year-old Vladimir Luzgin earlier this year for posting “knowingly false information,” under a new law that is supposed to prevent the glorification of Nazism, but which critics say is being used to rewrite Russian history and quash critics of Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

Luzgin was fined 200,000 roubles ($3,000) for correctly stating that the Soviet Union had collaborated with the Nazis to invade Poland in 1939.

This is what Luzgin wrote:

“The communists and Germany jointly invaded Poland, sparking off the Second World War. That is, communism and Nazism closely collaborated, yet for some reason they blame Bandera, who was in a German concentration camp, for declaring Ukrainian independence.”

Yes, it’s all factually correct. Yes, they fined him for it.

Despite the collaboration being an historical fact, the Supreme Court decided that Luzgin’s post constituted a “public denial of the Nuremberg Trials” and provided “false information about the activities of the USSR during the years of the Second World War.”

A report of the trial by an organization monitoring human rights in Ukraine noted that history professor Alexander Vertinsky acted for the prosecution and argued that the post “did not correspond with the position accepted at international level.”

I am so glad Alexander Vertinsky never taught me history! Do you think the Putin regime remains nervous about the history of Russian-Nazi co-operation? Or is it more significant that they have Ukraine firmly in their sights?

Truly Orwellian.

Check out the rest of the report here.

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The Last Blitzkrieg

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2nd SS trying to break through the US 75th Infantry Division

On the table is Last Blitzkrieg, a Dean Essig game about the WW2 Battle of the Bulge, published by Multi-Man Publishing. The game, the first in the Battalion Combat Series, covers the action from 16-31 December 1944, using hexes representing 1 km, turns representing a day of real time, and units (funnily enough) mostly of battalion size.

The physical components follow the usual Dean Essig style (which is mostly a plus for me) including four standard maps, six countersheets (1/2″ counters), standard rules, game specific rules, system crib notes, Allied and German Order of Appearance charts and tables, and two double sided cards with the main system tables. I found everything to be relatively clear and functional, the only exceptions being nitpicking nuisances. I’ll mention those later. Continue reading

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A Darker Shade of Magic – V E Schwab

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This is an intriguingly different fantasy novel, that I fairly raced through. The central protagonist is Kell, one of the last of those with the talent to magically transport himself from one London to another. There is Red London, Kell’s own, where he is in the service of the ruling king. Meantime, in Grey London, a mad king George III is on the throne. And there’s also White London, where a couple of homicidal plotters jointly rule. Once there was a Black London, but then…

Kell travels between these Londons – each with its own attitude to life and magic – acting as some kind of messenger. The rationale behind the messages is less than clear – one of the weakest parts of the book – but it does set up the scenario that sees Kell thrown into the center of a dastardly magical plot.

The magical aspects of this fantasy seem well constructed, and the writing flows beautifully most of the time. As the tale unfolds, the reader gets a better understanding of Kell, and the worlds he travels between.

I was impressed by the author’s imagination, and the ability to construct such an interesting and enthralling fantasy setting. The characterization was good, as well, with Lila, a thief from Grey London, developing into a strong supporting foil for Kell. The baddies are less deeply drawn, but still believable and fit well into the setting and the story.

This was fresh, fun, reasonably well paced, well told, and thoroughly enjoyable. Highly recommended.

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Back to School!

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In keeping with the way Israeli society and culture treats children, the start of the new school year is a big deal. Not only has it featured as the topic of numerous media pieces in the run up to the actual day – including the inevitable political coverage of Naftali Bennett’s plans as published by the Ministry of Education – but it has also been marked by the usual social media commentary of relieved parents, glad to see their offspring out from under their feet back in full time education.

As usual, the academic year starts on 1st September, so today is when the traffic returns to its higher level of cramped chaos.

On the plus side, as you can see from the icon at the top, Google Israel is marking the occasion. If Google had been around when I was returning for a new school year, to be realistic the graphic would have had to include a tie, a slide rule, a book of log tables, a football, a packed lunch, a bag of tomato flavored crisps, and a switchblade. No, the knife wasn’t mine, but I saw enough being carried by my contemporaries.

Anyway, all the best to the kids going to school here, especially first timers. Here’s hoping they all have a great experience. Good luck everyone!

[A post about my school experiences in more detail, the importance of teachers, their lowly pay here, and the woes of the educational system in much of the western world, will have to wait for another time.]

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