Dead Heroes

This week newcomer Asher and I shared a game and chat session as others were busy skiing, recovering from illness, getting their hair done (hi guys!), walking the cat, or suffering a diary malfunction. We played Hero Realms. With Asher being new to Ra’anana and new to the game, there was probably more chat than game, but it was a very pleasant evening.

Hero Realms is a super fast, cut-down version of Dominion which is all about kill, crush, destroy. And Asher truly killed, crushed, and destroyed my deck. It was quite amusing to watch him ignore all my genuinely well intended advice, and for him to slip slowly towards oblivion. Then something strange happened, he recovered, and it was me who ended up in oblivion. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it happen it did and Asher was the worthy winner. Well done, Asher. Next time, I won’t explain all the rules so clearly…8)

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No Israeli Offer Will Ever Be Good Enough

Man of something beginning with “p”. Source: Wikimedia

Abbas’ dreadful, spiteful, poisonous, antisemitic speech of hate should be seen as a true indication of the character of the man so enthusiastically promoted by many dreamers as a partner for peace. Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan have a better claim to that title. Unfortunately, the situation is now even more of a vacuum: there is no credible Palestinian partner for peace, and there is no credible Israeli alternative plan. If Bibi were a true statesman, this would be the time he would rise to the occasion. But I am not optimistic. It wouldn’t be easy, but – in the words of Dov Lipman – we have to try, because we need to be able to look our kids in the face and tell them we did at least that. The size of the challenge can be measured by this closing comment from the ever excellent David Horovitz in his article Abbas couldn’t make peace with the Jews; he believes his own lies about us:

“The UN can vote itself blue in the face against Israel. Foolish nations can unilaterally recognize Palestinian statehood — to the detriment of the Palestinians, since such “support” merely deepens their obduracy. But the only route to Palestinian independence runs via a negotiated settlement with Israel.

The Olmert offer of a decade ago showed how far Israel was prepared to go to partner the Palestinians to statehood. The despicable, tragic, self-defeating Abbas speech of Sunday night showed that so long as the Palestinians blind themselves to the fact of Israel’s legitimacy, no Israeli offer is going to be good enough.”

Note this key element:

“so long as the Palestinians blind themselves to the fact of Israel’s legitimacy”

If that analysis is right – and I am inclined to agree – where is the change in Palestinian attitudes going to come from? I cannot see it. Perhaps the ground level, grass-roots initiatives that (almost unbelievably) are working and building real connections between the communities, will create something. Beyond that, what else is there? Who can make the Palestinians see sense?

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The Mangle Street Murders – M R C Kasasian

Quirky and entertaining crime novel that takes a shot at the Sherlock Holmes genre, and does a good job all round. It is set in Victorian times and has two main protagonists: Sidney Grice – “London’s most famous personal detective” – and March Middleton, Grice’s recently orphaned (female) house guest.

Grice starts investigating (reluctantly) the case of a young wife murdered, apparently repeatedly stabbed by her husband. March is the one who talks Grice into taking the case to try to prove the husband’s innocence (she pays Grice) and manages by dint of the force of her personality and stubborn resolve to become part of the investigation. Inevitably, it’s not easy for March in this very male and misogynist world, but her sharp brain and tongue do make an impact.

Grice is a cold, grumpy bastard. But clever. March is more caring, with hidden depths, but no less intelligence. However, she has much to learn.

There is some dark humor, and more than one literary joke spiking the narrative. The case itself is no easy puzzle, and the Gothic overtones never let up. This is an encounter with evil.

The two main characters are terrific, and the plot a good support for their interaction. The writing comes in short choppy chapters which sometimes seem too short and infuriating as you are just warming to the situation when it is time, according to the author, to move on. The setting is well done, down to the gritty, harsh details of life in Victorian London for those who are not in the safe bosom of the middle class.

Overall, I enjoyed it enough to fancy reading another in the series. But I wasn’t so enthused by it that I feel I must read more. Maybe further exposure will strengthen the bond.

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Among the Gamers

In this week’s gaming session, we went from deep space to deepest Puerto Rico. Quite a night.

Newcomer Efrat joined Azriel, Sheer and me for Among the Stars. a sort of 7 Wonders in space. Neither Efrat nor Azriel had played it before, but both picked it up quite well. Efrat mastered it a bit better, as she demonstrated by winning her first ever game, just ahead of Sheer.

Where’s Captain Kirk when you need him?

In brief, Efrat’s compact space station strategy worked. Sheer’s more strategic placements – taking positions in anticipation of cards still to be drawn – fell short because the cards he was looking for must have been among those (randomly) withdrawn at the start.

Azriel and I floundered around a bit. I know I made some bad choices. At the end, he and I were a bit behind. Anyway, as said, our newcomer was the winner. Well done Efrat.

Efrat didn’t quite manage to repeat the feat in the next game, San Juan. Again it was her first time, and she was certainly in contention. I am sure Azriel has played this a lot, but he seems to prefer some of the expansions to this base game, and his strategy just did not work here. My mistake – no strategy; I did not have a plan until it was too late. Sheer had a plan – a master plan – and it worked masterfully well, securing him the win. Well done Sheer.

Great night: two fine games, and some funny moments among the game play. Thanks to all who came.

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Secure? You better believe it

Earlier this week, the Register reported the bombshell news that Intel chips have a major security flaw.

Since Intel chips are the most widely used, and dominate the PC, Apple, and big server market, and fixes seem likely to impact performance, to say that this was a shocker is something of an understatement.

Intel leapt into defense mode and issued a statement about how it’s no big deal, it’s going to be fixed, and we are not the only ones with a problem. I thoroughly recommend you read the Register‘s takedown of that statement here.

It’s from that analysis, I offer the following snippet as something to muse over:

“One step below security by obscurity, there’s security by belief. Demand more.”

Secure? You better believe it!

I wonder what Bruce Schneier will say?

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Goodbye 2017

Goodbye 2017. You are almost gone, and it’s time to say farewell. You have been a good year, and you’ll be missed.

Welcome 2018. May you be a year of health, happiness, and prosperity. And especially, a year of peace for all.

Happy New Year!

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War on the Sidelines

This week’s session saw something old and something new.

The old was Sheer repeating his impressive teaching of Great Western Trail to new players: Avri, Azriel, and Ken. The new was Peleg and I trying out Columbia Games’ Combat Patrol.

There’s danger on the trail

I watched the Great Western Trail game from the sidelines and was impressed at how quickly the three newcomers picked up the game mechanics. There were very few rule questions after Sheer had finished his explanation. That having been said, how many of them were playing the game well?

Azriel was struggling a bit with the variety of choices. Also, he misunderstood how the train track victory points (VP) worked, and suffered a 10 VP reduction. Ouch. The inevitable result was that he finished fourth.

Ken seemed quite happy, working away at his strategy. It just turned out not be a very good one… Ken’s best performance was in collecting hazards for VP, but he also had a loss (7 VP) from the train track. Ken finished third.

Sheer was the favorite to win given his playing experience with the game, but Avri performed an amazing feat of game analysis. He not only worked out how to play the game, but also how to crush everyone else at the board. His score was so high that it would have taken Sheer and Ken’s combined score to just beat him! Sheer may have been misdirected from his mission by trying to keep the other players – pardon the expression – on track, but it might also be that Avri found a crack in the design.

I previously thought that the game did a reasonable job of hiding the winner. Avri thought otherwise. He also thought that once a player got in to the lead, it was impossible to catch him – given competent play – and that the lead would grow and grow. His play suggested that was true. I suspect Sheer will want a rematch, and I would like to see that, preferably from the sidelines again, if only to test Avri’s theory.

Everyone did seem to enjoy the game, and in all the circumstances it is likely to end up back on the table again, even though I don’t like it.

Away from GWT, Peleg and I played Combat Patrol for the first time. This is a block game – your forces are hidden from the enemy – on tactical WW2 combat. We played the first scenario which is a beach landing by the American forces (Peleg) against the German defenders (me).

If only I could have seen things from this angle

The rules are not that complex, and although despite that I am sure we made a few mistakes, things seemed to go well. The game plays fast, and we fairly rattled through the seven turns.

At the start, the Americans were held up by the defenders. But once the Americans broke out of the beachhead, it was just a matter of time. Peleg drew well fro his company support units – at least a couple of tanks – and they were effective. My artillery managed to kill two German steps by friendly fire. Not my finest hour on the battlefield.

Lying in wait, but badly outnumbered

Eventually, the Americans had just about cleared the map and I conceded. Well played Peleg. This was fun, and although there were some wrinkles I was not completely happy with, a reread of the rulebook should be enough to sort things out.

Thanks to all who came to make the night so enjoyable.

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Don’t Let Go – Harlan Coben

This is a standalone book which shows the author deploying his well developed technique of presenting a tragic event from one perspective, and slowly revealing what actually happened. Coben is a master at this genre, and he’s on good form here.

The tragic event is that fifteen years ago, teenagers Leo Dumas and his girlfriend, were killed by a train. Did they commit suicide? If so, why? They had everything to live for.

The first person narrative is given by Leo’s twin, Nap (short for Napoleon) who is a policeman with a vigilante streak. He has never given up on getting to the truth. In the present, as Nap tells it, things began to unravel in their community, and the common thread seems to be the death of the two youngsters and some mystery they may have been investigating.

This is a neat bit of storytelling, with a central character that is fairly well rounded, though far from Mister Straight Laced. The plot, as usual, is brilliantly revealed, and the twists are often fast and furious.

The major downside for me is that it all felt familiar. The characters may have changed, and the plot materially different, but the overall impact is the same as in many of Coben’s other books. They are all variations on a theme – good ones, but still variations. So, it was enjoyable, and definitely a good read, but I am looking for the author to stretch himself a bit more. This type of book is too much within his comfort zone.

 

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Lorde’s Not Coming

In the commentary about singer Lorde’s decision to follow BDS advice and not come to Israel on tour (though a couple of gigs in the peaceful nirvana that is Russia is, apparently, OK) my favorite so far is David Collier‘s at Beyond the Great Divide. For example, I think he is spot on with this:

Read the whole thing here.

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Lightning Strike

According to this article in Globes:

“The Ministry of Justice has begun investigating law and accounting firms suspected of non-compliance with ‘know your client’ anti-money laundering rules.”

By way of background, these regulations put obligations on lawyers, accountants, and banks to make sure their client is who he says he is.

In some quarters these regulations have the nickname “Business Prevention Rules” because asking people for copy passports, utility bills, certificates of corporate status and so on, are seen as a barrier to doing business. In practice, 100% of the honest population are mildly inconvenienced so as to try and restrict the unlawful activities of the dishonest minority.

That background explains why sometimes professionals do not properly enforce the regulations. And from time to time, whether in Israel, the UK, or Europe, the authorities clamp down and maybe prosecute a few bad apples as an example pour encourager les autres.

The Globes article is worth looking at only because of this gem of a typo:

“Sources inform “Globes” that Adv. Adi Comeriner Peled, the supervisor in the Ministry of Justice for non-financial businesses and professionals, has begun conducting lightening visits to law and accounting firms suspected of violating provisions of the law concerning documentation of deals and services provided to clients.”

I can just hear the conversation now:

“I’ve come on a lightening visit.”

“Great. Which burden are you going to lighten?”

English in Israel is often an adventure into the absurd.

[I see that some other diligent reader spotted the typo. Maybe they will fix the article. Too bad.]

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