Music on automatic


“Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn…”

Autobahn was the fourth album by German electronic band Kraftwerk, released in 1974.

It was the first of their albums I bought, spurred on by the hit single of the same name. Little did I know that the three and a half minute single was a mere taster for the twenty two and a half minute full version on the album!

At the time my German language skills were not too bad, so I had the added pleasure of understanding most of the lyrics, if not the context.

This explanation, from Wikipedia, was unknown to me but worth sharing:

The title track is intended to capture the feeling of driving on the Autobahn: from travelling through the landscape, the high-speed concentration on the fast lane, to tuning the car radio and the monotony of a long trip. It describes the A 555 from Köln to Bonn—the first Autobahn ever. It was built under the mayor Konrad Adenauer in 1929 to 1932 without any intersections.

My memories around the album include BBC Radio One DJ Johnnie Walker playing the single – giving it his usual due reverence by keeping quiet while it was on –  and then telling his audience that we were not far away from having concerts that consisted of a band member coming out and pressing the ‘on’ button! I guess he wasn’t a fan.

Now, listening to it again, I think the music stands up quite well. It’s pleasant, bears listening to, and is entirely inoffensive. Maybe that’s its limitation. It is electronic music, but it doesn’t stretch any boundaries, or push the envelope in any way. Perhaps it did in 1974.

Regardless, it was good to hear it again.

[The musical journey of rediscovery through my record collection continues. Click on “Vinyl” in the Categories, or in the following links, to see previous entries.]

Five for Friday

A momentous week? Well, we had a ceasefire that, so far, has endured. The fact that nobody seems to know exactly what the terms of the ceasefire are, is bizarre. However, most commentators, sadly, seem to believe more conflict is inevitable.

For example, let’s take the Hamas terror tunnels. Where did the concrete come from? It came from NGOs that were supposed to be supervising construction projects in Gaza. Either they deliberately overestimated the concrete needed, or they only built a fraction of what was planned. Regardless, these NGOs were responsible for the concrete ending up with Hamas. It seems reasonable to assume that Hamas expect to do the same again. It seems reasonable to assume that Israel will not be so lax this time around. If Hamas does not get its concrete…

Then there’s the question of the airport and the seaport. Supposedly these were essentials for Hamas. Essential, maybe, but unless there is a radical change in favor of peace, love, and disarmament, they are not happening.

Enough bad stuff. It’s time to offer up this week’s links. Hopefully they can add a spark of hope to the future, or a laugh!

This week’s bonus is not really a bonus; more of an extra look at the madness that is embedded deep in some parts of Palestinian culture.

Who to blame for Foley? Dr. Husam Zomlot of Fatah: Israel fabricated beheading of James Foley…

Shabbat Shalom!

Arctic Chill – Arnaldur Indridason

[I am not necessarily reading this series of books, featuring the Icelandic detective Erlendur and his colleagues, in the right order. So, if you like what you see here, be warned and check up on the sequence.]

There’s a winter storm coming. As the bad weather builds up, so does the tension in this bare bones, minimalist crime story. It has a simple, believable plot with characters to match. Yet it is far from simplistic because it manages to entertain, enthral, and stimulate the reader with several strands of a fine story.

For example, who killed the young Thai kid, and why?

For example, are the police dealing with a racially motivated killing based on schoolyard gangs, a racist teacher, or other political troublemakers?

For example, why is the wife who has been reported missing in another case, bothering Erlendur on the phone? Why won’t she just come out and tell him what it is she has to say?

There’s more – like Sigurdur Oli’s childhood past leaking out because of his connection to the school, Erlendur’s ongoing situation with his own kids and his long dead brother, and Erlendur’s dying (former) boss – all delivered largely without sentimentality or sensationalism.

Erlendur’s world is a dark and pessimistic one. This case forces him to also enter the world of immigration in Iceland, and the differing view of multi-culturalism. There are no, if you will pardon the pun, black and white conclusions.

One of the weak points of the book is that there are some points where the author goes into “tell rather than show” mode. So we hear in bare prose why this person and that person do not get on, rather than having the scene built up for us by actions or dialogue.  It doesn’t happen too often, but tends to take the edge off some of the otherwise fine writing and scene setting.

Talking of scene setting, the final scenes are consistent with the rest of the book, with just a bit more pace and action to take you to the climax.

At the end, this is a good book that doesn’t quite match the best of the author’s output I have read so far. But it’s certainly damn fine writing for the most part and very worthy of your attention.

As before, the translators – Bernard Scudder & Victoria Cribb in this case – deserve praise, too. They did a fine job.

Fighting Withdrawal


Fighting Withdrawal is the first scenario in the ASL base game Beyond Valor, and I have wanted to play it ever since the original version came out back in 1985 or thereabouts. I particularly remember reading a replay of the scenario in Avalon Hill‘s The General magazine and being struck by the disclosure that these top players had gotten some of the rules wrong. Wow. That should have spurned me on to make the effort to learn how to play the damn thing, but I never seriously got round to it until this year, almost thirty years later. Better late than never. This was the second full ASL scenario I played, on my continuing progression through this amazing system.

The scenario has a band of Russians (14 squads, three leaders, a MMG, a couple of LMGs, and eight concealment counters) trying to escape off the map in greater number than their Finnish foes (16 squads, three leaders, a MMG, and three LMGs).

The Russians set up in the area shown by a red edged box on the map above. The Finns set up (second) in the area shown by the black edged box.

There are two places on the board which start ablaze. These blazes can – and do – spread – thus potentially channelling the movement of units as they head for the exit edge. (That’s the board edge to the right of the map.)

Ran took the Finns and I was the Russians.

I read the historical notes and decided to split my forces into a defensive front line and a fall back position. I was allowed to hide two squads anywhere on the map, and decided to put them near the exit edge, as shown by the red circles. Their mission was twofold: to stop any Finns who broke through my defense, and to exit off the map and, ahem, win the game.

Before we started play and did the setup, Ran – my ever patient opponent and ASL guru – chatted through with me some aspects of the scenario. I made sure I understood all the terrain on the map, and what I could and couldn’t do with my initial stock of concealment counters. I was fairly comfortable with the rules about fire and its capacity for spreading. What I completely missed from my reading of the rules was the smoke cover that fire provides, so it was good to have that in my tiny brain before we began the scenario.

Ran said he thought the Finns in ASL were powerful; possible too powerful. For example, their self-rally ability is a big advantage. They also use weapons of equivalent quality to the Germans, and their first line troops (6-4-8 with assault and spraying fire capability) are much higher quality than their Russian counterparts (4-4-7).

To partly offset this, my Sniper Activation Number (SAN) was 7, and Ran’s was 2. My sniper managed to break one squad in the whole game and that was about it for sniper activity. So, not much of an offset!

Unfortunately, my setup made it relatively easy for the Finns to get up close and personal. At that point, their superior firepower (and ability to recover) was telling. There were two consequences.

First, I was losing units – and even at a 1:1 ratio, that would still be to the Finns’ advantage. But I wasn’t even able to manage a 1:1 ratio of losses. The Finn’s assault fire, especially, was too much. Of course, Ran was playing it well so as to get the best out of his troops and I dare say a more skillful player might have managed a better defense.

Second, my defensive line had big holes in it. This allowed the Finns to eventually break through and, eventually, head for the exit edge. This scenario is all about exiting troops.

Even though Ran had cracked the defensive line, the combination of terrain, fire, and distance with the limited number of game turns available, all meant he could not hang about. I just could not do enough to delay him any more. However, in trying I did learn some more of the subtleties of the game. For example, I huffed and I puffed until I managed to put my MMG in a tall building so it could fire down on the Finnish forces. But its defensive fire was limited by Ran’s tactic of sending in a sole squad to close with it and keep it occupied. Damn!

My hidden units did cause something of a halt in the Finn’s march to victory. However, it was not enough to avoid Ran securing the win.

Predictably enough, a loss for me. But it’s all part of the learning curve – realistically, one I am still firmly only at the start of!

It’s important to record that this was an involving and rewarding a gaming experience which served to whet my appetite for more. I know it’s going to be a while before I can even threaten a win, but the game play is the thing. (Thankfully!) Great stuff.

Quote of the day

And a rather poignant quote, indeed.

From Eshkol Regional Council head, Haim Yellin:

“Gaza’s disarmament continues — through the massive fire on the Eshkol Council that is emptying the arsenals of Hamas,” he says, mocking the government’s demands that Gaza be disarmed even as over a dozen rockets hit the Eshkol region this morning.

Or, as the Times of Israel puts it:

Gaza is disarming — by firing at us!

The TOI coverage continues:

“Since the start of the escalation [on July 8], more than 1,300 rockets have fallen in Eshkol,” Yellin says. “Operation Protective Edge has now ended and the war of attrition continues,” he adds, a reference to years of rocket fire from Gaza, including during times of ceasefire.

And its finish is worth pondering:

“The government of Israel should wake up, stop talking and start doing. Hamas’s leaders are in bunkers and you are in Jerusalem,” he adds, addressing cabinet ministers.

Yellin calls on the cabinet to hold its weekly meeting in a community on the Gaza border. “I’m sure the decisions that will be made [in such a meeting] will be correct, fast and connected to reality.”

I feel for the southern folk.

Knowing better than everyone else

One of my pet hates, are the (especially) liberal critics – often Jews – who line up to give Israel a kicking. With that in mind, let me quote from a piece by Jonathan Tobin in Commentary. His contribution deals with a New Yorker article by Connie Bruck that is firmly aimed at AIPAC, and claims that group’s influence is on the wane:

But Bruck’s main point in a piece where she tries hard to work in quotes from the organization’s critics is not so much as to try and make a weak case about it losing ground on Capitol Hill. Rather it is to claim that AIPAC is out of touch with liberal American Jews who are increasingly distancing themselves from the Jewish state and who view Israel’s center-right government with distaste.

This is the same argument put forward over and over again by people like author Peter Beinart, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, and was rehashed in the same newspaper on Sunday in another lengthy rant by British analyst Antony Lerman. They believe Israel’s refusal to make peace and insistence on occupation and rough treatment of the Palestinians disgusts most liberal Jews in the Diaspora, especially the youth that has grown up in an era in which the Jewish state is seen as a regional superpower rather than as the one small, besieged nation in the midst of Arab enemies determined to destroy it.

But the problem with this argument is that no matter how many times liberal critics of Israel tell us how disillusioned they are with the reality of a Jewish state at war, they invariably neglect, as did Lerman and Bruck, to discuss why it is that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews see things differently. The point is, no matter how unsatisfactory the status quo may seem to most Israelis, unlike their Diaspora critics, they have been paying attention to events in the Middle East during the last 20 years since the Oslo Accords ushered in an era of peace negotiations. They know that Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinian Authority peace deals that would have given them an independent Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and that it has been turned down flat every time.

A key point, not to be casually overlooked.

As is this observation about the state of American or diaspora Jewry:

It is true that American Jewry is changing in ways that may eventually cripple its ability to be a coherent force on behalf of Israel as well as its other vital interests. But, contrary to the liberal critics, that has little to do with the policies of Israeli governments and everything to do with statistics about assimilation and intermarriage that speak to a demographic collapse of non-Orthodox Jewry.

In other words, there may be a disconnect between Israel and some diaspora Jewry, but politics has little to do with that state of affairs.

Israel’s (so-called) liberal critics think they know better than anyone else. They know what is best for Israel more than the people of Israel. That’s an arrogance which is not backed up by facts, five star analysis, or blinding logic. So, they are in a bad way to start off with! Mostly their position is just backed up by rant after rant after rant. Tobin’s observation, at least in part, is that even the rants are wrong.

Read the whole thing, here.

Power to (some of) the people


We (Ben, Peleg, Rosalynn, and I) started with a game of San Juan, the cut down card game version of Puerto Rico.

Ben’s early card combination put him into a winning position that none of the rest of us were able to challenge.

With Sheer arriving, we then split into two game groups.

Peleg and I tackled Android: Netrunner, the asymmetric two player living card game of ‘a dystopian future.’ It was more of a training game for Peleg, as I was familiar enough with the game, but it was his first time out.

I took the Runner and he played the Corporation. It was cool for me to try the other side, having only played before as the Corporation. Peleg did a not bad job of holding off my attacks on his servers – I suffered a couple of ambushes that could have been deadly. But a rule misinterpretation by me gave me an edge I should not have had. Ah well. We will fix that for the next time.

The more I play this, the more I like it. It was encouraging that Peleg enjoyed it, and both Ben and Sheer showed a willingness to play it in the future.

Meantime, the remaining players tackled the excellent Power Grid. I was only a distant spectator, but did see the finale when Ben claimed the win just ahead of Rosalynn.

I thought Rosalynn had played it before. She claims otherwise. In that case, her challenge was a fine piece of play, as Ben is no slouch at Power Grid and Sheer has at least one win under his belt. So, well done to Ben for the win, and to Rosalynn for making him work at it.

Thanks to one and all who came. It was a good night.

Shooting themselves in the foot

To anyone who stops to think about the situation, it soon becomes pretty apparent that Hamas no more represents the interests of Palestinians, than it represents the interests of Alaskan fishermen.

From the Times of Israel:

Four Israelis were injured Sunday, two of them seriously, when a large rocket and mortar barrage hit the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The victims were Israeli-Arab taxi drivers, who were at the crossing to pick up wounded Gazans and bring them into Israel for medical treatment. The wounded were evacuated to Ashkelon’s Barzilai hospital.

An outraged Israeli-Arab Erez crossing official, who spoke to Army Radio from a secured area at the crossing during a subsequent rocket attack, lambasted Hamas for not caring about the well-being of the Palestinians in Gaza.

“This is an organization that cares about the [Palestinian] people? They’re shooting at the Palestinian terminal,” said the staffer. He stressed that, despite the rocket barrages, the crossing had not closed for emergency medical cases, and that two Gaza females were evacuated “20 minutes ago” via the crossing for life-saving surgery in Israel, and that other taxi-drivers were on hand, “as always,” to transport emergency patients.

Read the whole thing, here.

In a way, it’s kind of funny. That indisputable act of terror against its own people might as well be invisible.

If you dare to visit the comments section of any of the western media, the odds are that in response to a comment or news article about the situation in Gaza, you will see posts that – truly – rant and rave about Israel. Israel is committing genocide, war crimes, massacres, ethnic cleansing, land theft, acts of terrorism, and so on and on. And if you post a rejoinder to these defamatory, nonsensical, and often illogical allegations, with a suggestion that maybe Hamas bears a smidgen of responsibility for the suffering of its people, all you get it is repeat allegations. So, it’s as if Hamas fighters don’t exist and neither do their actions.

Rocket fire? What rocket fire?

Attacks on their own people? What attacks?

Attacks on their own aid supplies? What attacks?

Attacks on their own wounded? What attacks.

It’s also as if the western media was Hamas’ best weapon. If you want to get to the bottom of the picture, look beyond the usual sources. See here and here for starters. And remember that it’s not you who is going crazy; it’s the big, bad world outside. We cannot satisfy that world, so let’s stop trying. Advice Israeli politicians would do well to take on board.