What is progressive about Palestine?

I read the following in Petra Marquardt-Bigman‘s piece (Dear Linda Sarsour, what’s progressive about Palestine?) at the Elder of Ziyon, and found my self silently nodding in agreement:

“If there is one constant in the long history of antisemitism it is the notion that whatever you see as your biggest problem, it is somehow the fault of the Jews. Nowadays, it’s the fault of the world’s only Jewish state.”

Read the whole thing here.

Time of Death – Mark Billingham


This is the latest in the author’s series of crime books featuring detective Tom Thorne, a character who lives up to his surname by being a grumpy, bristly, crabbit chap. Definitely a beiever in the cup being half empty. But, despite that – you will not be surprised to know – he is a highly successful detective. I read the first couple of books (at least) in the series, but somewhere along the line, I lost touch and have missed quite a few. This was a chance to look again at the character.

The highlight of the book – the part the Guardian cover quote refers to as ‘ingenious’ – would be too much of a spoiler to disclose. However, what I can say is that this is like a classic whodunnit puzzle, with an added twist of howdunnit. The crimes involved are horrific: the kidnapping and total disappearance of two young girls in the Warwickshire village of Polesford.  But the police have a suspect, and although he is saying nothing, the evidence is slowly accumulating towards a hefty suspicion of guilt.

The other twist, of sorts, is that this is not Thorne’s case. he is only on site because his current partner (policewoman Helen Weeks), was a school friend of the wife of the main suspect in the case. They were on holiday, and detoured to Polesford so that Helen can give her friend some badly needed support. Of course, it is inevitable that Thorne sticks his oar in.

With the scene well set, the author tells a well constructed tale, and keeps the tension going right up to the end. There’s a bit of a cheap shot, when Helen’s encounter with one character is a strangely unsubtle attempt to make the reader think that person is the killer. That apart, the other noticeable intervention is when Thorne’s friend Hendricks, the forensic scientist, also takes some holiday time so as to come to Polesford and join in the adventure. That character does give the book a bit of a boost just as the narrative was threatening to fade, so is welcome if somewhat implausible.

Helen Weeks’ relationship with the suspect’s wife is a standout; it’s well constructed, believable, and thoughtful. There’s all sorts of decent observation built into that aspect of the book.

Overall it was a good read, even if I wasn’t 100% persuaded by the veracity of the situation with Thorne’s indirect involvement, instead of leading the investigation in his own patch. It was certainly good enough for me to want to go back and catch up on the others in the series that I have missed.


Drink to that culture

Here’s your starter question for ten points:

In which country is the following likely to be true?

“…the best way to offer an employee feedback is simple: take them out drinking.”

Hands up all those who said “Scotland.” Well, apparently, you are wrong. See here for a fascinating snapshot of a very different work culture.

The Meatgrinder


Action from my game with Josh. This is in the German second turn. They have taken the first building on the right, and have established their tanks in a hull down position. One KV-2 is in place to defend (but is about to be immobilized). Meantime, on the left, German tank reinforcements are about to cream a BT-7A, then will run into the Russian anti-tank gun…

My continuing ASL education…

Recently, I had the opportunity to play scenario AP41, The Meat Grinder, against Ran then Josh.

This two board scenario is set in Lutsk in 1941, with the Russians defending. Their forces include eight squads, two leaders, an anti-tank rifle, an LMG, and a HMG. In support, they have a couple of KV-2 tanks, a GAZ truck with a 20mm AAMG on it, and a 76LL anti-tank gun. First turn reinforcements are three lightly armed tanks: a BT-7A, and two BT-7s. The Germans have ten squads, three leaders, an anti-tank rifle, two LMGs, and a MMG. Their starting support takes the form of three Panzer IV E tanks. Their turn two reinforcements are three Panzer III tanks (and a 9-1 armor leader).

Victory is determined by casualties, with control of multi-hex buildings contributing victory points.

The Russians do not have the forces to defend everything. Generally, a forward defense is a recipe for disaster, so the trick is to defend what is likely to hold out. Then, there is a need to find a good location for the anti-tank gun, the truck borne AAMG, and a safe place to hide the weaker tanks. I was the Russian defender in both games.

The Germans have the right tools for everything but the KV-2s. However, their main enemy is time. So, they either have to get lucky by immobilizing the KV-2s, or avoid them. At the same time, they need to keep their infantry advance moving forward, while hunting down and eliminating the weaker Russian vehicles.

First off, Ran made his main effort on my left flank. That was the weakest portion of my defense, and I made a bad mistake by not shuttling more defenders towards that threat. By the time Ran told me what was going on, and I belatedly did something about it, I had lost all my tanks, and half the buildings. One KV-2 had been immobilized by fire, and one had suffered mechanical breakdown. My anti-tank gun and AAMG between them did nothing. Game over.

That experience helped me a lot in my game with Josh. I used a similar setup, but balanced the flanks so one did not look worse than the other. I also hid my anti-tank gun on one flank, and put the truck borne AAMG in a more prominent position. This time, Josh made his main effort on my right flank (of course my hidden anti-tank gun was on the other flank…) and very quickly overran the first building. However, this time I did react better, and so rushed defenders towards that main threat.

Josh did steamroller the infantry defenses, but it took time. As he fell behind in his timetable, he became more daring (aka “reckless”) with his tanks. So, by the end of the game there were almost no German tanks left. I had a KV-2 left, securing part of the field. And my two BT-7s survived, albeit one had a broken down main armament.

I was very surprised to have won, with the Germans taking 7 out of 13 victory point buildings, and inflicting way more casualties. However, Josh’s tank losses were worse. The bloody toll my infantry took was awful, but had done its job by (just) holding on to the key buildings.

This was a challenging scenario. When I look at it from the Russian perspectvie, I want to be the German player – look at all those leaders and semi decent tanks. When I look at it form the German player, I want to be the Russian – look at those KV-2s, and how do you capture all those buildings in so short a time? This would suggest the scenario is quite balanced. However, if (as happened to me) one of the Russian KV-2s breaks down, that is likely to be crucial. It’s tricky for those tanks to avoid deliberate immobilization shots, but if they can do that and avoid breaking down, the German player has his hands full.  That having been said, there are plenty of weaker Russian targets that provide the necessary victory points. As I said, a challenging scenario, and one that is fun to play. The ASL experience remains among the best in the world of games, even when I get crushed. Well, sometimes…

Thanks to both Ran and Josh for the continuing education.



Friday on My Mind – Nicci French

It’s a while since I read a Nicci French book, but I did not realize how long; this book is the fifth in a series that hadn’t been started then. So, having not read the previous four, my perspective may not be as favorable as someone who has read the lot.

The central character is Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist with a somewhat incident packed past. One of her former lovers is dragged out of the Thames, wearing a hospital ID band with her name. His throat has been cut. Who do the police think might be the killer? And so the intrigue develops.

This is a strange book, with Klein a matching character very much at the center of it all. I found the narrative less than convincing; for example, sometimes I couldn’t understand the motivation for Klein’s actions, or her expectation of the likely outcome. After all, this is a highly intelligent, educated women with experience of how the real world works. But she has this naive streak. It doesn’t fit. Or, more accurately perhaps, it did not seem like a rounded character portrayal.

The unraveling of the mystery was pedestrian, and kept far too much in the background until the closing stages. Moments of tension were few, and somewhat telegraphed. The supporting characters were OK, with a few that had great promise available to beef up the quality.

Despite that, this is a tale with a female lead – an independent character making her own (misguided?) way in the world.

Overall, an OK read, but I do wonder if reading the previous four would have helped build up the interest and maintain the excitement.

[PS: once more, I look at the hype for a book and wonder if those promoting it were reading something completely different. The only way Nicci French would be head and shoulders above the competition would be if the couple who use that name were standing on a ladder.]

The Scots making the front page in Israel

Making the front page for the wrong reasons. Here’s the cover of today’s Israel HaYom newspaper:


The red highlighted piece has a picture of the wall of hate at Parkhead, Celtic’s home stadium.

Above the main headline – Provocation – it says:

Shame. Celtic supporters try to assault Hapoel Be’er Sheva supporters.

As far as I can tell, the attempts must have succeeded to some extent as there is discussion on a Celtic Facebook page about people successfully grabbing an Israeli flag from an opposition supporter.

Be that as it may, under the picture it says:

Hundreds of supporters of the Scottish champions waived Palestinian flags outside and inside the stadium. Supporters of the Israeli champions were forced to enter under police escort. On the field, Be’er Sheva were defeated 5:2.

I have not heard any independent reports about the match, but the pictures available tend to speak for themselves. It’s not all Celtic supporters – it’s the vocal hateful minority – but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And, yes, somewhat ironical that it was an Israeli player who was sent on as a sub when the Celtic were a wee bit shaky in the second half.

Celtic knew there was going to be an issue with supporters and flags, but I see no sign that any attempt was made to stop this happening. Celtic do know it is against UEFA rules, having been fined for it before. However, the low level of fines may be one reason why they reckoned it was not worth the effort to do something about it. Their financial gain for reaching the Champions’ League is substantial. While I don’t think Celtic as a club deserve the punishment, there is a part of me that would like UEFA to throw them out of the tournament for being repeat offenders. Boy would that get the message across. But that is not going to happen. In fact, there’s more chance of Hapoel overturning the deficit in the return leg, and knocking out Celtic. And there’s zero chance of that!

“The train on platform one…”


For this week’s session, I was joined by Azriel, Nechamiah, Peleg, Roslynn, and Sheer, and we split intwo two sets of three player games.

Sheer taught Suburbia to Ariel and Peleg. It’s one of the many games that Sheer excels at, so it was no surprise that he won, though both newcomers did a creditable job of keeping close, and had a far better understanding of the game at the end. (It’s always the way.) I fully expect them to crush Sheer the next time they play. Or not… Anyway, well done Sheer.

Meanwhile, I taught Trains to Nechamiah and Roslynn. As this has a lot of Dominion type mechanics, and they know that game well, both picked it up very quickly. Again, I was able to leverage my prior playing experience, and put it to no good all, finishing up well behind Nechamiah, and the winner Roslynn. Way to go Roslynn!

With Peleg and Sheer heading off early to get some beauty sleep, Azriel, Nechamia, Roslynn and I played 7 Wonders. As the others discovered, it’s a completely different game with four players than it is with seven (which was how it was the last time we played it) and this time I put my prior experience to better use. Essentially my victory came down to two factors. First, I had set myself up to benefit from the third round Guild cards. Second, when the Guild cards were available, the others neither took them, nor burned them, so leaving me to accumulate all but one that were available. That having been said, the scores were reasonably close. And, were we to play again four handed, I would not expect to win – certainly not the same way!

Thanks to all who came for making another night of gaming fun.

A Season For The Dead – David Hewson


Having enjoyed David Hewson‘s Pieter Vos series books (House of Dolls, The Wrong Girl, and Little Sister) I decided to take the plunge and have a go at his series about the Italian (Caravaggio loving) detective, Nic Costa.

Although Costa is the star, a large part of this tale features Sara Farnese, a femme fatale character who is minding her own business in a Vatican library, reading a book, when she is approached by a deranged individual with a bloody bag and a loaded gun. From there on, there is murder and mayhem. The murders are the work of a serial killer, who appears to be targeting people associated with Farnese, posing the victims in ways representative of the deaths of Catholic martyrs. Costa and his colleague Rossi are first on the scene, and they quickly start to brush up the Vatican authorities the wrong way, before focusing their investigation, and trying to identify and find the killer.

The setting is well done, without being overdone. There’s a good flavor of the Vatican and its politics, though some of the stances taken seem a little cartoonish. That having been said, the excitement builds up, and the plot twists and action deliver a good crime novel experience.

The Costa character is also well done; his whole background and relationship with his colleagues, his father, and the outside world, are fascinating. Rossi, his partner, and Falcone, his boss, are good foils, and the interaction is lively and stimulating. Farnese is also an interesting character, though I found my suspension of disbelief being stretched a bit too much by some aspects of her behavior. In parts, I felt I wanted to know more (perhaps needed to know more) and the impression was of a rush to move on. The Vatican heavy, Hanrahan, and Cardinal Denney, were less authentic in my judgement. Scenes involving these two were the least impressive.

Overall, this was a solid start, with the promise of more as the series develops. Even if I hadn’t known before, the ending of this book is an obvious setup for a sequel, so if the author hadn’t delivered it, his fans would have been very upset.

I didn’t think this was as good as the Pieter Vos books, but as hinted above, I could see it could develop into something close to that high standard. And, since I know what the author is capable of doing, I’m going along for the ride. You should, too.

Disclaimer – Renee Knight


What if the next novel you picked up turned out to be about you? That intriguing and scary prospect is the hook for this novel. And, when it has hooked you, it tells an interesting story, but delivers quite a mixed experience for the reader.

The central character is Catherine Ravenscroft. She picks up a novel – The Perfect Stranger – and is shocked to find it is a telling of a part of her life she had long kept secret. From there, we are given the story in alternating perspectives, and with some jumping back and forwards in time, until the various strands collide in the final pages.

I will avoid any plot spoilers, but really that is all you need to know.

On the plus side, as well as the clever hook, there are moments when the writing carries you along in the rush to get to the truth. The characters have a lot of potential, but I’m unsure whether they come across as being believable or authentic human beings.

On the not so plus side, the plot requires you to suspend disbelief more than should be necessary, and the writing is patchy in places. In fairness, this could be the result of sloppy editing, but the general impression is that the book does not flow as well as it should (or as I expected) and could have been that much sharper.

The hype does the book no favors. It’s not that good. It’s entertaining enough, and sometimes thoughtful, but also sometimes disappointing. Worth reading? Probably.


Am I glad I cancelled my Economist subscription

Since I cancelled my subscription to the Economist in the light of its deteriorating coverage about all things Israeli, and its continual shift towards the territory inhabited by the haters at the Guardian and the Independent, I have had no regrets. I have read a few issues since then, borrowed from others, or seen in airport lounges. Each time, I would run my eye over their Israeli coverage, and whatever was there simply reaffirmed how right I was to get out of their nasty, poisonous pit.

I was, therefore, not surprised the publication was among those promoting – and certainly not reporting on, or reviewing – Ben Ehrenreich‘s book about Nabi Saleh and the Tamimi family, The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine.  (See here.)

And so, I am also not surprised by their latest contribution to the hate, as reported on at UK Media Watch:

A serious journalist who wished to provide an analysis to news consumers on the recent Olympic scandal involving an Egyptian judoka who refused to shake the hand of his Israeli competitor may have contextualized the incident by noting endemic Egyptian antisemitism. Indeed, though Cairo and Jerusalem signed a peace agreement in 1979, and ties between the two countries (on the governmental level) have never been closer, there is little if any sign that Egyptian animosity towards Jews – not just Israelis, but Jews qua Jews – has waned.

In 2011, a Pew Global poll revealed that only 2% of Egyptians had favorable attitudes towards Jews.

More recently, an ADL commissioned poll reported that 75% of Egyptians held antisemitic views – a sign of an entrenched hatred that persists despite the fact that there are almost no Jews left in the country.

Yet, remarkably, the Economist’s “N.P.” (presumably Nicolas Pelham), in ‘Politics hogs the Olympic spotlight‘, Aug. 15, ignores Egyptian antisemitism in his report on the conduct of the Egyptian athlete, and does his best to turn the story into one of Israeli hypocrisy.

Steel yourself, then read it all here. And if you have a subscription, cancel it now. You will feel so much better!