Musical memories

For some time, I have had an idea rolling around at the back of my mind – a dark, dangerous, difficult, and mythical place – to write up some musical memories. Whatever the reasons, going to a funeral yesterday was probably the tipping point to make me stop thinking and start doing. So, following this introductory piece, I will post the first musical memory piece. After that, I’ll probably not post frequently, but just often enough to exercise my long term memory muscles, get the good vibes going, and rediscover some terrific music. (And some not so terrific music.)

Wimpfen

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On the table is Wimpfen, the next battle out of the Saints in Armor box. [See here for my initial quick review.] It’s another battle which the Protestant forces lost, probably as much due to bad luck as anything else, as some wagons decided to blow up and knock the stuffing out of what was left of the army’s resolve.

So far, all I have done is set the battle up and run through a couple of opening activations, to try and understand the tactical situation better.

wimpfen2

The Protestant army, though backed up against a river, crossed by a single bridge, and rather reliant on their defensive position, did manage to collect a right wing strike force of cavalry without the Catholic army realizing what was going on. So, the game recreates the surprise by starting the opposing wing as all being formation shaken. (Not a good thing… though it could be worse!)

The challenge for the Protestant player is deciding when to activate that wing. Should he wait his turn (as it were) so allowing the possibility, subject to a die roll, of multiple activations? Or, should he try and preempt (jump the queue) to get at the opposing wing before they activate, but risk failing and losing the opportunity and the multiple activations? Intriguing.

That will teach you!

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[Crossposted from the Ra’anana Boardgames Group blog, here.]

Back into action after a few weeks off for various reasons, we had a two table adventure.

Azriel, Ken, Yehuda, and I started on one table with Nefarious. Laura, Laurie, and Rosalyn were drawn into the world of Thunderbore Thunderstone Advance. Without further ado, over to Laurie:

“The glowing swords were handed out upon entrance to the men in the scouting party, alas when they sited the new Thunderstone Advance laid on the table, they quickly begged off to a men-only table for games about science, art and Tichu.

The trio of women gamers dared to battle the dragons and venture into dungeon after dungeon valiantly.

Laurie had played it twice since the game arrived with relatives from the UK last week, and set up the Tower of Contempt scenario, full of fire, for this evening’s game. It was a first play for Laura and Rosalyn, who both caught on and enjoyed the game.

Rosalyn captured a handful of the highest-point monsters and Laura took on monster after monster, round after round. All players spent many a round with this version’s new “prepare” action and to use swords and heroes to best advantage. After 4 hours of rule explanations, conversation and game play, the Thundersone Bearer turned up as the third to last card in the deck. Laurie slayed the most monsters for 68 points and Laura took home 38 points and Rosalyn 34.”

Meantime, in a couple of games of Nefarious – a nifty worker placement and card game by the designer of the addictive Dominion – both Ken and Yehuda claimed a win apiece. The theme is mad scientists and inventions.

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One of the notable aspects of the game is that there is a separate deck of twists (I think they are called) from which 2 are drawn for every game. Each of the twists tweaks the game rules, making each game a different experience and forcing the players to develop new strategies. For example, one twist gave a bonus victory point for each 5 money held. Another penalized each player every time he carried out an “invent” action. It was quick and easy and fun.

After that we went on to Tichu, a classic trick taking card game that I have never played before. It uses a standard deck plus four special cards.

Yehuda showed me how to play. Ken showed me how to win. As Ken and I played as a partnership against Yehuda and Azriel, I was happy about that!

It’s a perfect family game with a high skill factor, and plenty of opportunity for missed opportunities. I definitely want to play that again so I can get some more practice at understanding the special cards.

A good night was had by one and all.

Who was that masked man?

In among the many pieces written about the bombing of the Boston Marathon, and the apparent perpetrators, this piece: – The eleven most mystifying things the Tsarnaev brothers did – from Mother Jones is worth highlighting. Bear it in mind when people talk about well organized terrorist groups and the like. The facts do not lesson the death, destruction, or pain, but they should help maintain a sense of perspective.

One tangential thought – about human beings and the reliability of eye witness evidence – springs to mind from this part of the article:

…Dzhokhar made little effort to prevent cameras from capturing his face, making him easier to identify when the FBI released security camera photos on Thursday. Indeed, classmates at University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth did see him in the photos, but dismissed the similarity because it seemed so far-fetched.

Hmmm. I could have sworn that it wasn’t him, Officer…

[Spotted at Little Green Footballs.]

Over the border

Civil war in Syria. Chaos in Egypt. Lebanon’s not exactly a stable political environment. But there’s not been that much attention paid to Jordan. Some, but not much. However, the recent move (again) to pardon Ahmed Daqamseh, the soldier who murdered seven 13 year old Israeli schoolgirls back in 1997, is a bad, bad, indicator. This editorial in today’s Jerusalem Post, is worth reading for the light it shines on the topic. And worrying.

Outrage in Jordan

The very fact that 110 members of Jordan’s parliament (out of a total of 150) signed a petition for the release of the murderer from Naharayim speaks volumes about what parades as morality and coexistence next door to us.

Jordan, it needs to be stressed, is formally at peace with Israel.

Hence the implicit message from Amman is disconcerting in the extreme. Purported representatives of public opinion showed us where their hearts are, regardless of whether the massacre-perpetrator stays behind bars or not.

Surely even the minimally fair-minded must agree that the March 13, 1997, cold-blooded shooting of Israeli schoolgirls is as heinous a crime of hate as imaginable.

There should be no equivocation here.

In the wake of the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the confluence of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers, (Naharayim – two rivers in Hebrew) was reserved as a tourist site and named optimistically “the Island of Peace.” It was under Jordanian sovereignty but developed and maintained by several Israeli kibbutzim. It was ironically there that a Jordanian corporal, Ahmed Daqamseh, opened fire on Israeli children from Beit Shemesh during their school outing.

He killed seven 13-year-old girls and wounded others.

Daqamseh was sentenced to seven life terms, which in the Jordanian context means 25 years in prison. Yet he is far from being disowned and condemned by his compatriots.

The reverse is true. There has been continued overt and vociferous agitation for his release and he is often out-rightly celebrated as a hero. Distressingly, King Abdullah keeps mum.

Two years ago then-justice minister Hussein Mjali didn’t hesitate to hector blatantly for an immediate release and to portray the cowardly killer of young girls as a laudable role model.

Now and then Jordan informally promises that no release is being contemplated, but these soothing messages are relayed in whispered tones behind the scenes, almost furtively. The impression is that a bold statement would run afoul of the predominant public sentiment.

This is far from incidental and attests to unsettling trends in the monarchy, which has obviously come a very long way away from the contrition so compellingly expressed immediately after the homicide by King Hussein.

Israelis haven’t forgotten his gesture of humane humility when he came here personally and visited each of the bereaved families.

Hussein’s son Abdullah, the current king, has obviously failed to emulate his father and speak up forthrightly and fearlessly in the name of common decency. We have no way of ascertaining whether Hussein in his day indeed accurately reflected the mood of his people, but he certainly tried to change perceptions for the good. This trend appears to have been effectively reversed.

The very fact that Abdullah at all countenanced – even for a while – Mjali’s appointment as justice minister in 2011 was mind-boggling. Mjali after all served as Daqamseh’s attorney during his trial, and hence his predisposition was no unknown quotient to begin with. It should have been no surprise that he’d be the blusterous chief speaker at a demonstration for Daqamseh’s release.

The signal to public opinion in Jordan and beyond was particularly troubling. The grassroots was encouraged to revere Daqamseh.

Jordan’s powerful Islamist movement and the country’s 14 trade unions, with more than 200,000 members, relentlessly campaign for Daqamseh’s release. Against this background, the support expressed for Daqamseh by an overwhelming majority of Jordanian legislators is no bolt from the blue.

Moreover, Daqamseh is no chastened penitent. He told a Jordanian weekly that “if I could return to that moment, I would behave exactly the same way. Every day that passes, I grow stronger in the belief that what I did was my duty.”

His mother told Al Jazeera: “My son assured me he has no regrets… He said: The only thing that angers me is that the gun didn’t work properly. Otherwise I would have killed everyone there.”

Abdullah won’t secure his position by letting this genie out of the bottle. Instead of appeasing the voices of hate, he should educate the masses to reject hate. He ought to courageously embrace his father’s inspirational heritage.

So, do we have an ally or an enemy over the border?

Hand over the money

From the current (April 20th-26th 2013) print edition of the Economist, a fascinating article about reading poker players’ hands:

A POKER face. It is the expressionless gaze that gives nothing away. To win at poker, the face must be mastered, and master it is what the best players try their best to do. But a study just published in Psychological Science by Michael Slepian of Stanford University and his colleagues suggests that even people with the best poker faces give the game away. They do so, however, not with their heads but with their hands.

Mr Slepian made his discovery when he showed 78 undergraduate volunteers video clips of players placing bets at the 2009 World Series of Poker. (Bets in poker are placed by pushing chips into the middle of the table.) The clips were 1.6 seconds long, on average, and featured different parts of the players’ anatomies. Some showed everything visible from the table up: chest, arms and head. Some showed just the face. And some showed only the arms and hands. Each volunteer watched only one of the three types of video, but was shown several examples.

After each viewing, volunteers were asked to rate the quality of the player’s hand on a seven-point scale. Then, when they had finished watching all the clips, they were asked to rate their own experience with poker on a similar scale.

Mr Slepian found that students were poor at judging the quality of a player’s hand when shown just that player’s face. Indeed, he noticed a negative correlation of 0.07. This is not huge (a perfect correlation is 1.0). But it meant there was a statistically significant tendency that the better a volunteer believed the hand to be, the worse it actually was. When a player’s whole posture was considered, this misapprehension went away: if a volunteer could see everything about a player from the table up there was no correlation between his judgments of a hand’s value and its actual value. When a volunteer could see only arms and hands, however, Mr Slepian found a positive correlation, of 0.07, between his guesses and reality.

To confirm his discovery, Mr Slepian re-ran the experiment with a different set of clips. The results were the same. Students, even those who were poker novices, could judge the quality of a professional poker player’s cards from the behaviour of his hands. The next question was, how?

Mr Slepian knew from previous studies by other people that anxiety has a tendency to disrupt smooth body movements, and he suspected this might be the explanation. To find out, he showed 40 new volunteers the clips he had used in the previous experiment. Rather than asking them to judge the quality of a player’s cards, however, he asked them to rate either that player’s confidence or how smoothly the player pushed his chips into the middle of the table.

He found that when students rated players as being confident or having hands that moved smoothly, the cards they held were likely to be good. There was a positive correlation of 0.15 when the students considered confidence and of 0.29 when they looked for smooth movement, so they were actually more capable of determining hand quality from these variables than when asked to estimate it directly. The moral of the story for players, then, is don’t look your opponent squarely in the eye if you want to know how good his cards are. The secret of his hand is in his hands.

Running for cover

Jon Donnison wrote a piece about the “first West Bank marathon” for the BBC’s Middle East News part of the corporation’s web site, a sense of which you can get from the following screenshot:

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Some key extracts:

The athletes, the race organisers and the Palestinian Olympic Committee have asked the Israeli authorities to reconsider their position but have not received a reply.

“The Israelis should look at this purely as a sporting event. It has nothing to do with politics,” says Samia al-Wazir, the spokeswoman for the Palestinian Olympic Committee.

So, it has nothing to do with politics and the nasty Israelis are to blame.

What, according to Mr D, do the Israelis have to say for themselves?

An Israeli military statement said: “The entrance of the Gaza Strip residents to Israeli territory, and their passage to the West Bank, is possible only in exceptional humanitarian cases, mainly urgent medical cases.”

It added that this was because Gaza was ruled by Hamas which Israel considers a “terror organisation”

It’s a question of security, and whatever the situation is, the run is not a humanitarian cause.

Now all of this is fine and dandy, but his report completely misrepresents the position. A big dollop of credit is due to Hadar Sela at BBC Watch for spotting what was really going on. As is pointed out (here), while Mr Donnison was promoting the non-political, er, party line, the truth was way different. For example, the event is called the Right to Movement Palestine Marathon, and is as political as Fatah is corrupt. In short, it’s a combination of a political event and a public relations stunt. Worse, Mr Donnison could have found this out with some basic research. He obviously failed to do this, and largely regurgitated the material given to him by the race organizers.

BBC Watch’s criticism of Mr Donnison’s lazy journalism are well founded, and if the man had any standards he would be blushing with embarrassment and shame. (“Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets…”)  However, while his behavior is inexcusable, I also want to highlight the woeful response of the IDF spokesman. As I commented on the BBC Watch site:

In fairness to Mr Donnison, he did (apparently) put the story to the Israeli military – presumably the spokesman. If so, while I suspect the spokesman did not know the angle Donnison would promote from the Palestinian side – “It has nothing to do with politics.” – the spokesman should, in my opinion, have been well briefed enough to make all the points made in this blog’s post. It may not excuse the laziness of the BBC man’s approach, but if the IDF are getting any chance to be quoted, they should be doing far better than this. Somebody needs to bring this type of situation to the attention of the right people in the IDF. It is just not good enough.

In other words, with a bit of work, and a sharp soundbite or two wrapped around the basic facts, this story would either have died a death, or not been as anti-Israel as it currently stands.

Unfortunately, unless somebody at the IDF notices what is going on and takes some pre-emptive action, something like this will happen again.

More on that ceasefire…

From Ynet:

Gaza rocket hits Eshkol Council; no injuries

Color red alert sounds after midnight followed by explosion. Security forces find rocket near community

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near a community in the Eshkol Regional Council on Saturday night. No injuries or damage were reported. A Color red siren sounded in the area shortly before the hit.

On Thursday, two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip exploded in open areas in the Eshkol Regional Council.

No injuries or damage were reported. The hits were at approximately 11 pm, but no alert was sounded.

Earlier in the week, two rockets exploded in residential areas in the southern city of Eilat without causing injury or damage.

The Iron Dome system deployed in the city detected the rocket launches but did not intercept the rockets.

Addressing regional threats on Independence Day, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that “Hamas are armed with tens of thousands of various rockets and missiles, which they will launch at our cities and citizens when ordered to do so.

“Even now, and despite the achievements of the Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, it is ready to confront Israel, and will be backed by Iran and Syria. Hezbollah is Tehran’s executive officer, both in assisting Lebanon will be considered responsible for every Hezbollah attack on Israel and will pay the price.”

Also this week, it was reported that the United States plans to finance Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile by the amount of $220 million for the fiscal year 2014, despite the US’s budget cuts.

According Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the Pentagon plans to spend $220.3 million on the Iron Dome.

The Pentagon, which had already spent $204 million in 2011 and $70 million in 2012, also foresees a budget of 176 million for the Iron Dome system in 2015.

Some quick comments:

  • This latest attack doesn’t feature in the (non Israeli) mainstream media. But if Israel retaliated, that sure would.
  • The UN is not interested either.
  • What other country would tolerate this?
  • What other country would be expected to tolerate this?
  • On a personal level, note this: on Yom Haatzmaut, we went mountain biking. We were able to see Gaza as we drove to our starting point. We were, you see, “near a community in the Eshkol Regional Council.” In other words, we were in the target zone.
  • My heart goes out to the people of the southern communities who endure this dreadful state of affairs.

Saints in Armor

playbook

On the table is the battle of White Mountain, one of those included in the Saints in Armor, game number six in GMT‘s Musket & Pike series. It covers six battles from the early part of the Thirty Years War featuring Johann Tserclaes, Graf von Tilly (the Monk in Armor), the most famous military commander of the Imperial/Bavarian side in that struggle. Ben Hull designed the original game system, but this package was put together by Brian Berg Asklev Hansen and David Ekberg.

Given the scales (20-30 minute turns, 100 yard hexes, and each strength point being 80-100 men) the focus is tactical, with all the paraphernalia you would expect: facing, formations, disorder, reaction, fire combat, melee combat, morale, rally, and leaders. Fire combat, for example, includes different types of infantry fire, cavalry use of pistols, and artillery. Leaders normally include Wing and Army Commanders. The former have their soldiers to look after. The latter often spend their time rushing about the battlefield, using their ability to reform and rally units. There is a high level of detail which, thankfully, the 32 page series rulebook does a good job of explaining.

map

The maps and counters are things of beauty. Unpacking the components releases plaintive cries of “Play me! Play me!”

There are two aspects of the design worth highlighting. First, the system includes a layer of orders issued to each army wing, restricting what actions the units can take. For example, units with a Charge order have to end the activation closer to the nearest enemy unit. This system is clever, with some subtle limitations that challenge you as the commander of the forces, and prevent you using the perfect knowledge you have, but the protagonists did not. And this is underlined by the need to roll to change orders. (It can be frustrating, but realistic) to see your soldiers charge into danger when you would really rather they stopped. Second, the player sequence is interactive with each wing activating on its own, and potentially – subject to a die roll – getting another two activations. Essentially the side with the most Charge orders goes first, but the opposing side can try and interrupt proceedings – again subject to a die roll – at the risk of forfeiting its extra activations. The effect is a good mix of chaos, with the better led forces generally being able to achieve more when they want to. Note “generally” – nothing is guaranteed.

This version includes six battles (each on half sized maps) with extensive historical notes about the battles, the leaders, the units and other background information. There are a set of special rules applying to the set as a whole. For example, Heavy Infantry cannot use Salvo Fire. And each battle has its own special rules to further fine tune the history. The 56 page Playbook is, on the whole, well done though there are a couple of minor typos.

So far I have only played White Mountain and my impressions are in line with those formed after playing all of the five preceding games in the series. The game gives you a challenge, because it’s not easy to get your troops to do exactly what you want, when you want. And once enemy action interferes, it’s even worse. Therefore, in a competitive situation, the player who best manages to deal with the chaos will win. As a welcome bonus, the game plays well solitaire. It’s meaty, involving, and has a good historical feel about it.

The one downside of the detail is that, apart from the relatively slow speed of play which often happens – especially as the action heats up – the gorgeous map and counters are soon spotted with markers. For example, because the game system separately tracks formation status and morale status, it’s possible for a unit to have markers for each. And if it is a cavalry unit that has fired its pistols, that’s another marker. And, if it has suffered step losses, guess what? Yes, another marker. The counters do include some markers that combine effects, but the overall impression is still one of many markers. If I am in the mood to play the game, the markers do not bother me. But I confess that this game has been in the ‘to be played’ queue for a while, and on a few previous occasions when I thought about playing it, the marker situation put me off, and I chose another game. I eventually got to Saints in Armor, and am glad I did so. But once it leaves the table, it may face the same challenge to overcome before it gets back on, It’s a gamer’s mood swing thing…

In summary: glad I got it, glad I played it, and I will probably want to play any more using the same system.