Joker

I finally got to see Joker last weekend. I thought it was a terrific movie. But, it’s dark, and nasty, reflecting as it does the writer’s view of society, and not pleasant viewing. This is no feel good movie – but it is a ‘feel’ movie.

In a nutshell, Arthur Fleck is an unbalanced individual, trying to make it as a stand up comedian, holding down a job as an entertainment clown, and looking after his sick mother. The pair live in impoverished circumstances and are almost being metaphorically crushed alive. The movie charts Arthur’s journey towards his fate in becoming a (super?) villain.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is outstanding – by far the best bit of the movie. He brings the character to real life.

The script is OK, but doesn’t deliver anything special, albeit there are a couple of surprises. The cinematography is spot on, with memorable scene after scene. The dialog is also good, with not too much of it unnecessarily intruding into Phoenix’s act.

The biggest surprise – although maybe it shouldn’t have been – was that the trailers gave a false impression about what the movie was going to be like. This is no comic book fantasy. It’s gritty, realistic, and savagely honest in its critique about society and the disparate nature of its wealth. It’s serious, it should make you think, and may well make you feel somewhat uncomfortable.

My one real criticism is that I felt it was a touch too long. This may be my natural impatience, but had it been ten or fifteen minutes shorter, that would have been a tighter, more focused package. But truly that’s a minor quibble. This is a great film. And one of the greatest ever dramatic performances. Joaquin Phoenix, thank you very much. You suffered for your art, and you gave us a masterpiece.

 

The Little Land

Having dipped my toe into the water trying out Saipan, a game in Adam Starkweather’s Company Scale System published by Compass Games set in the Pacific, I jumped at the chance of this new east front release, The Little Land. This covers the battle for Novorossiysk, a key port held by the Germans since September 1942, which the Russians decided to invade in 1943 as part of their attempts to unhinge the German defense of the Caucasus. The Russian campaign was not a successful one, and the game gives you the opportunity to try and do better. (Good luck!)

The game has two maps – but most of the scenarios, save the campaign game, are one-mappers – a rulebook and scenario book, a ton of gorgeous counters and plenty of play aids. Combat units are companies, hexes are 500m, and daylight turns are 2 hours long. Activation is by chit, with divisions and (in general) their subordinate formations having their own chits. There is a command system which generates a mix of points restricting how often these chits are available, and offering the opportunity for bonus actions and direct intervention. Combat is by fire and assault, with progressive levels of disorganization leading to unit elimination. The whole thing is a development of Adam Starkweather’s Grand Tactical Series published by Multi-Man Publishing.

I like:

    • Level of complexity – it’s not too complex, and very playable
    • Easy to play solitaire
    • Tactically challenging – it’s not about just piling up units with big combat strengths
    • System shows the durability of company level units, until they begin to wrack up the effects of being in action and start to fall apart
    • While it’s a difficult balancing act, the level of chrome is just about perfect for me

What don’t I like?

    • Absence of range effects for direct fire
    • It’s a marker farm; inevitable, but it can get tiresome
    • Sometimes it’s all about who can roll the most zeroes
    • Absence of unit icon explanation
    • Sloppy rules editing

I have my doubts about how you balance scenarios when the order of the chit draw can materially affect the outcome, but balance is not an issue for me. I’m more interested in seeing the history on show and trying to understand how accurate that appears to be. I need to do more reading to come to an informed view, and that’s not going to happen for this battle. But it’s still fun to play.

So, not a perfect system, but a good one and very enjoyable.

The next release is supposed to be Fulda Gap (WW3 in Germany), and although its four maps are way too big for my game table, the topic seals it for me. (I cannot explain why, and I’m disinclined to try and analyze this.)

If Bibi were a statesman

Statesman

noun, plural states·men.

  1. a person who is experienced in the art of government or versed in the administration of government affairs.
  2. a person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.
  • If Bibi were a statesman, he would resign.
  • If Bibi were a man of honor, he would resign.
  • If Bibi cared about his county more than himself, he would resign.
  • If Bibi cared about his party more than himself, he would resign.
  • If Bibi were a mensch, he would resign.

Right now, Bibi is none of these. Or, at least is not behaving like one of these.

For another perspective, read the material that argues otherwise: that Bibi should not resign. It seems to me that almost all of these articles are hero worship pieces along the lines of Bibi is the only man who can run the country, defend Israel, and keep it safe. Or, Bibi is the only one responsible for all the good things we have now in Israel, and he is the only one who can keep doing more of the same.

This is simply untrue.

Putting to one side the fact that cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people (and no, I don’t mean Bibi belongs in a cemetery), is Bibi’s record so good?

Do the residents of Sderot and the south have peace?

Do the parents of the two soldiers whose bodies Hamas hold hostage think Bibi is so good?

And while some want to give Bibi the credit for the strength of the economy, that wholly overlooks the weaknesses: we have people in work who cannot make ends meet. We have a housing crisis because homes are too expensive. We have horrific levels of property. The economic hero part also overlooks the contribution others have made to some of the stronger parts of the economy.

And let’s not forget Bibi’s horrendous anti-Arab racist statements and incitement.

Bibi is no legendary figure. Yes, he has achieved some good things. But he neither deserves the credit for them all, nor deserves to use them as a cover for not resigning.

How can he be at his best when he has to focus on defending himself in court?

Finally, what about the allegation that the charges are a left wing conspiracy? Let’s remind ourselves that the Attorney General – no shrinking violet or left wing sympathizer – was a Bibi appointment. That’s why Bibi’s supporters say Manderbilt is a dupe. Of course, he’s nothing of the kind. He’s an honest man, trying to do the best he can. That’s not something you can say about Bibi.

If Bibi were a statesman, he would resign.

Rocket Man

This morning’s targeted killing of Islamic Jihad‘s loose cannon, Baha Abu al-Ata, generated not only the inevitable rocket barrage response, but a flurry of social media funnies.

One wit shared a mock announcement from Tel Aviv Council that the public bomb shelters would be open, with a 20 shekel charge for the first hour, then 7 shekels for every further 15 minutes…

Another asked that since schools and businesses were already closed, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have the next election today?

And then the Times of Israel delivered this journalistic jape:

Sometimes, you just have to laugh!

Moravian Sun

Moravian Sun, designed by Enrico Acerbi and produced by Acies, is a wargame about the battle of Austerlitz, the decisive encounter of the Third Coalition in the Napoleonic Wars. The scales are hourly turns, brigade sized units, and hexes of 450-500 meters.

The system is a step above the basic – or classic – wargame standard, though it does use odds based combat and traditional zones of control. The command system elevates it, though not as far as I would like. Essentially, each formation (a corps, with provision for creating smaller detachments) gets an order, and that order determines what units can and must do.

For example, the Advance order obliges at least three units to move at least one hex closer to the enemy. The Attack order obliges all units to move at least one hex closer to the enemy, and so on. There are exceptions, but the rules are supported by a good table summary, and do a fair job of imposing some form of command and control realism.

This is helped by adding a priority system. Each side must prioritize its formations – order of activation – though there are separate priorities for the main and the support orders. When your side goes, you have to activate the next formation in priority order, but you can choose between those with main and support orders. One of the support orders is a neat Pursue option which allows (so far as I can tell) that formation to immediately react to an enemy retreat. Cool idea!

Orders can be issued and changed, though fate can intervene which is just the ticket for some true battlefield chaos and winning opportunities.

The part that it’s missing, for me, is the lack of a destination. In other words, I as the player can advance closer to the enemy to my front. But, if I decide the chaps off to the left are a better target, I can simply change the direction of movement. (The Eagles of France series designed by Walter Vejdovsky and published by Hexasim includes a destination hex as part of its orders system.) It’s simple enough to add a geographical restriction, and that produces good results for a modest overhead.

But don’t let that minor carp get in the way of seeing this for the interesting game it is as it stands. The graphics are good, the rules are OK considering their non-native English speaker origin – and supported with living rules – and the thing is playable. Eminently so. For my tastes, there is a decent amount of chrome – cavalry charges, squares, march columns, and weather – but not too much. And with one map and less than 500 counters, about half of which are markers, it’s a relatively compact game.

I have played through several turns of the battle scenario (you get that plus a campaign scenario starting on the previous day) twice to a reasonable conclusion with one victory apiece. I worry that the orders give the Allies more flexibility to counter Napoleon, but have certainly not played the game extensively enough to offer an authoritative opinion. I have enjoyed having this game on the table.

Fiction – October 2019

Crusty Norwegian private detective Varg Veum suddenly discovers he has a half sister. His newly discovered relative has a job for him: to find her young god-daughter who has disappeared without a trace. The police are not interested. Veum takes the case and his investigation, slowly but surely, starts to get to the bottom of things.

This is a well paced novel with a great central character, a decent enough supporting cast, and a finely told tale. You can read this one (of the series) on its own without harming your enjoyment. Pretty good.

Doug Brock is a policeman who lets the job get to him. He focuses on nailing Nicholas Bennett so much that he loses control of his life, eventually ending up on suspension. That doesn’t stop Brock who keeps investigating until, in the midst of making a call to his former police partner, Brock is shot and in a bad way. Brock recovers but with one change: he has lost his memory of the last few years of his life.

Brock’s attempt to get back his life and his memory, find out who shot him, and finally nail Bennett, are the core of the book. It’s an interesting premise and perspective and the tale fairly rattles along. While the writing is occasionally rough around the edges,  the increasing tension carries you through those patches up to a satisfactory conclusion. Not bad at all.

DCI Banks investigates the apparent suicide of a young girl and the death of man in his sixties whose body was found at the bottom of a gully. The girl’s body was found in car that had been abandoned after an accident. How did her body end up there? The man was a well dressed individual, very much out of place on the moorland. How did he get there, and did he jump or was he pushed?

These two puzzles are the spark for a somewhat formulaic novel, infused with the trademark descriptions of jazz, food, and driving around the Yorkshire countryside. It’s a decent enough novel, but it lacks a certain fire. It’s almost as if the author were writing because he had to, not because he wanted to. Or, to put it another way, going through the motions. Essentially, it’s disappointing from such a well established author. If this were a newcomer it would be promising. So, maybe the author’s fame is being held against him.

I liked this much better than The Ipcress File. Snappy dialog, crisp writing, and a hero trying to navigate his way through choppy and dangerous waters involving Nazi submarines, Nazi war criminals, counterfeit currency, drug trafficking, blackmail, and revolutionaries.  The atmosphere is brilliantly evocative of the times, and the dark shadow of the forces of evil – and the forces of good doing evil – is ever present. In short what you have here is a witty, well written spy thriller. I liked it.

 

Reports, what reports?

I don’t know why, but I find it difficult to write up gaming reports. This is especially true of my ASL games. But the important thing is that I am actually playing – and loving – the game. (This despite my woeful record.) ASL delivers the most intense gaming experience. I can sit at the game table for hours at end, engrossed, totally enthralled. The closest similar experiences have come from my monster gaming sessions at the various ConsimWorld gatherings in Tempe, Arizona. ASL thrills. But you’ll have to exercise your imagination until I figure out how to motivate myself to write some reports!

No excuse for racism. Not even for Bibi.

Last week, the Elder of Ziyon posted an article: How to explain “racist” Netanyahu’s unprecedented support of Arabs?

The story claims (probably correctly) that Netanyahu governments have given substantial preferential treatment by way of aid to Israel’s Arab minority. And done without claiming credit or publicity.

Why? The Elder dismisses other explanations and offers the following:

Which brings us to the real answer.

Netanyahu has a vision for Israel’s strength and security for the next century. That is, and has been, his paramount goal. He cannot accomplish that goal without winning elections – the opposition parties simply do not share his strategic vision, if they have one at all.

To win elections, Bibi has to sometimes appeal to the less liberal elements of his party and of Israeli society. If he doesn’t win, in his mind, Israel loses.

Bibi’s supposed “racism” is public – he doesn’t give a damn if people think he is racist because if he doesn’t win, nothing can be done to help Israel in his mind. His true attitudes towards Arabs are revealed by what he does behind the scenes, and the anecdote that the article begins with shows that he has done far more to help Arab society in Israel than any previous prime minister from any party.

Do you buy that? I don’t.

Read the whole thing to make sure I am not misrepresenting the position.

The Elder’s position appears to be that it’s OK for Netanyahu to be racist – which he undoubtedly was – because, in the long term, the end (Bibi’s rule) justifies the means. That is irresponsible and dangerous. Die hard Bibi fans like the Elder can try and excuse his dreadful behavior, but ultimately they must fail because there is never an excuse for it. Never. It’s plain wrong. Would we excuse antisemitic behavior from anyone?

As a separate issue, Bibi’s achievements are not all they are cracked up to be, and his failings are many. I do not fall into the camp that demonizes Bibi, but this almost deification is way off base.

On this point, the Elder and I see things very differently.