Endeavoring to do my best

This week’s gaming session, which I hosted, saw newcomer Sheer join up with Peleg, Rochelle, Yehuda, and me.

We started with Endeavor. All of us, apart from poor Sheer, had played this before, but Yehuda did his usual rapid rules instruction, and we were off and running.

As before, the first few turns flew past, but things slowed up for the later turns as we all had built up a decent bank of actions and options. Yehuda tried out a new strategy (for him) and was keeping well out of the way of Peleg and Rochelle who were not slow in using military might to get their way. Sheer was trying to get to grips with the game, and doing a fine job. I was trying to make efficient moves and was reasonably happy with my progress.

At the end, Yehuda and I were competing for the win. I just sneaked it. Hooray! Everyone else was not that far behind.

After that, Yehuda and Peleg retired to get some beauty sleep, while Rochelle, Sheer, and I played Dominion.


Again, Sheer needed a wee rules instruction. I managed to do this reasonably well. (Sometimes during the game, I thought I had done it too well.) In the end, I won because I stuck to my own advice of grabbing money in preference to combinations of action cards. Sheer had gone for it the other way round. And Rochelle had stalled a wee bit fighting off Sheer’s damn militia.

A great night. Thanks to all who came.

Hey, let’s be careful out there

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

From CNN:

“Sopranos” fan? “Breaking Bad” binge-watcher? “Mad Men” admirer?

Take a moment to thank “Hill Street Blues.”

“There is no ‘Sopranos’ without ‘Hill Street Blues,’ ” says Syracuse University pop culture professor Robert Thompson, who wrote a book tracing “Hill Street’s” influence. “Matt Weiner (‘Mad Men’) and Vince Gilligan (‘Breaking Bad’) and David Chase (‘The Sopranos’) and all these people ought to wake up every morning and send a note to ‘Hill Street Blues.’ “

A bit provocative. Is it true, though? Well, you can read the full story – full of rose tinted reminiscing – here, and judge for yourself. There is a half decent picture gallery showing some of the actors in a then and now format. I prefer then…

I enjoyed the show and have fond memories about it and its cast. It was, to my mind, good. But that good? I’m not sure it matters, but then again, if I were in the industry, maybe it would be important.

It’s like the situation with intellectual property theft: people are happy to rip off music, films and TV without paying, unless it happens to be their band, their son’s film, or their daughter’s TV show, and so on. Suddenly the perspective is very different. (And in my view, the proper one. theft is theft.)

Oh, by the way; the complete series is available on DVD as from today. Bet that surprises you!

Gettysburg – The Last Invasion – Allen C. Guelzo


I don’t often blog about the non-fiction I read, mostly because such books probably require – and often deserve – a much more detailed review than I am going to bother with. However, I do try and mention those non-fiction books that are outstanding in one way or another, and may be of interest to a non specialist audience. This battle history is one such deserving book.

The story: this is a narrative history. It tells a story, and it tells it well. This is not a dry recitation of events, like a combination of a timetable and  a script. It is carefully crafted, beautifully written, nicely paced, and came across as even-handed. At the same time – and this is a major achievement – the author includes good and thoughtful analysis; military, political, and philosophical.

For example, as well as battle performances, we are given an interesting insight to the political divisions within the Union leadership.

For example, the author reminds us of the development of liberal democracy and its sometimes disconnection from the movement for the abolition of slavery.

For example, he reminds us that this was a 19th century massive battle fought by many incompetent soldiers, and it could have turned out so differently. He shreds the simplistic military explanation of this having been “total war” and mentions battlefield analysis suggesting how little those outside the combat environment actually understood that hellish place. And running through that combination of perspectives, he shouts from the rooftops that studying military history is an essential part of understanding history in context.

The pictures are nothing special, but the maps are good – though sometimes separated from the relevant text. But there could always be more maps!

I thought this book was nice and fresh, without overly trying to kill sacred cows, and without forcing the issue of trying to make new discoveries. While I thought his analysis of the personalities and their decisions was well reasoned, I have seen other well constructed arguments making opposing points. That does not matter. It is for the reader to make up his own mind. What matters is that the author gives you the information and his views, his sources, and his guidance. That’s what you are paying for. (I thought I got a bargain, incidentally.)

If you want to understand the most important battle of the American Civil War, reading this book should achieve the desired result.


Education as a tool of oppression

And by oppression, I mean oppression of the Palestinian people by the Palestinian leadership.

Try this for size:

“I was born in Jerusalem in an Arab culture that, to put it mildly, ignores the Holocaust and avoids discussing it. As a young girl, I had to overcome social and educational restrictions to learn more about these closed chapters of history. Not only were books on the subject unavailable, but we were told that our responsibility as Palestinians was to memorize only what teachers told us, so as to reinforce our collective memory of loss and grievance and support our national identity and quest for a homeland.

However degrading and unfair our situation in Palestine is today—and yes, it is degrading and unfair—it pales in comparison to the dehumanizing evil perpetrated by the Nazis.

So people were educated in a narrow focus to support their national identity. Memorize only what teachers teach. Do not ask questions. No books. It’s like 1984 without the liberty…

The quote, not so incidentally, comes from a participant in a Palestinian trip to Poland and the camps in March of this year. Read it all, here, and weep for those poor people. Cursed they are. Cursed by their leaders, and the international community – calling Catherine Ashton – that tolerates, excuses and ignores, Holocaust denial, threats of terrorist activity, and Jew hatred.

Read it and weep for what these people could be, were they to have peace.

A Storm of Swords – George R. R. Martin

This is the third of the bestselling sword and sorcery (fantasy) series. As with the second book, this is more of the same stuff that was in the first book.

Same stuff: several claimants to the throne competing by, er, sword and sorcery. And political chicanery. Oh, and there’s winter coming and trouble up north. In fact, trouble all around as outlaws and deserters take advantage of the gaping cracks in the rule of law and order.

Same stuff: you may get hungry reading the book. The author is keen to give you the details of what his characters ate. I don’t know why, but this approach brings to mind the phrase: “The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast.” Many of these characters are, indeed, condemned.

Differences? Of the three books I have read, this one dragged the most. There is still plenty of action, and still characters of note falling by the wayside, but to my mind there was an abundance of padding.

For example, there are several cases where characters ruminate about their history, family, predicament, and so on. And then they ruminate some more. Are such ruminations needed? Although I truly do not know – since once minor characters may rise and fall – the distinct impression I repeatedly had was that the author was showing off how much work had gone into his world. In other words, all his family trees, histories, and other background material was extensive, and wasn’t he a clever, hard working, and entertaining author?

Maybe he is, but I am not making the effort to wade through any more of his world. I’m going to watch the TV series.

Read the first two and if enjoy them and you really, really, really must have more, read the third. But don’t expect it to be as good. Of course, you may have different tastes.

Sad, in so many ways

Lublin. Source: Adam Jones at Wikimedia

Lublin. Source: Adam Jones at Wikimedia

Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is on Sunday night. We may take one day out in the year to remember Holocaust victims, but there are some for whom every day is a memory, and a painful one at that.

Here’s a powerful and poignant perspective in a Times of Israel piece about Dita Kraus, a survivor who will light a memorial torch during this year’s ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial museum.

After the war:

“I had this need to talk about it, but I felt there were no listeners,” said Kraus. “When I met people who weren’t in concentration camps, they would tell me how they had suffered without eggs and milk, and how they had to be closed in their houses at night. They had no way of comparing; they weren’t able to.”

And now:

“There aren’t that many of us left, so we’ve become interesting.”

Read it all, here.

All the mince in the west end

I am not a theater lover. I won’t normally go willingly to see a play. I have fallen asleep at some top rated events, and snored my way through some much loved (by others) musicals. But there was one play that was deeply significant in my life. It inspired me to find out more. It intrigued me with its style of presentation and its arguments. It toyed with my emotions as no stage production ever had – or would again. And it burned itself on my consciousness, never to be forgotten:

John McGrath‘s The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black oil.

It was a play that sent shockwaves through society. Arguably, it marked the rebirth of Scottish Nationalism as a political reality. It revitalized theater (for those who like that sort of thing) and gave vested, comfortable interests a kick up the backside. It challenged the status quo. It challenged the affected to do something. It was a political and social catalyst.

Check out this post at Bella Caledonia. I especially enjoyed this:

Here’s what theatre writer and director Davey Anderson said about the play.

“I saw the Cheviot on my honeymoon. It was October 1973, we’d got married in my home town, Rutherglen, and decided to take a road-movie holiday, hippies that we were …

“First stop Kyleakin, Skye. The gig – Kyleaking Village Hall. The Audience – the good people of Skye. The Performers – a bunch of folk who didn’t seem ready: five minutes to go and they were still setting costumes, tuning instruments and blethering with each other and the audience.

“Where were the curtains, the hushed reverence, the dinner jackets, the blue rinses?

“… That night in a community hall in Skye proved to me that theatre was far from dead, as I has assumed it to be.

“All the mince in the West End, where the actors couldn’t even be arsed acknowledging the presence of the audience was forgotten. Here was theatre that spoke to you about your life, the important things, the daft things, the things that give you joy and the things you can change. The company were startling in their energy, anarchic versatility and joyous commitment.”

Glorious. And, yes, very appropriate in the light of the forthcoming independence referendum. I won’t be voting, but I haven’t stopped caring.