Thinking Time

Food for thought.

“Social media has, in effect, brought back public shaming, the kind of rough justice that occurred before the modern age, or may still occur in places where law enforcement is felt to be ineffective and vigilante groups enforce community norms without any formally constituted legal authority.”

Source: Page 213 of Morality by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

The chapter from which the above quote comes  – The Return of Public Shaming – analyzes the topic with (unsurprisingly) the moral clarity expected of Sacks. Reading the whole book is like watching a top-of-the-range fireworks display of observation, analysis, and moral leadership. Energetically infused perspectives and ideas popping off the page every paragraph or so. Highly recommended.

Past Times

For Brits of a certain age, Ceefax and Teletext were the first hint of what a digitally connected world might look like. Long since overtaken by the internet and mobile phone technology, these services were, in their time, pioneering. Their appeal lingers on for some as reported in this Guardian article:

“If you find news websites too overwhelming, too fast and too full of distractions then this might be the solution: a recreation of the BBC’s Ceefax service featuring up-to-date headlines, an accurate weather map and the latest stock market prices.

Nathan Dane, 20, has spent the last six years building a simulation of the BBC’s defunct text-based information service. It takes in data from the BBC’s existing website and repurposes it in the distinctively blocky font that was ubiquitous on television sets during the 1980s and 1990s.”

You can try the service out for yourself here. (At the time of posting, probably due to the Guardian article, the site was struggling a bit due to overload. So, be patient.)

Unsurprisingly, this is not the first rebirth of Ceefax. See here.


Shetland Tales

I was introduced to Ann Cleeves by spotting her as the author of the books that inspired the Vera series made by the UK’s Channel Four and the Shetland series made by the BBC. This post is about the Shetland series, marking me having finished the last of the books.

First, a word about reading the books after having watched the TV show. Every reader has their own mental image of the characters in a book. That image is rarely one that matches with the onscreen version, whether it be film or television. My experience with Shetland matches that: my image of Jimmy Perez, the main character, was and is nothing like Douglas Henshall, the actor playing the role on the TV. The book descriptions often refer to Perez’ dark swarthy skin and Henshall is the typical sun-starved Scot! However, in general I found Henshall’s portrayal to be otherwise close to the character in the books. But, while the TV show is OK, the books are much better.

I recommend the book series with the usual suggestion that, to get the best out of them, you read them in order.

Here, in order, are the books.

Raven Black. The first in the series is the weakest as the characters are not quite as well drawn or as realistic as in later books. However, it’s a worthwhile investment to read given the riches that await the reader in the next seven books. The plot is a straightforward murder mystery, the victim a young neighbor of an older, intellectually challenged individual who is the prime suspect. Continue reading


The Wolverhampton Wanderers team that won the FA Cup in 1893. The team poses with the trophy (left). back row from left to right: Dickie Baugh, Billy Malpass, Harry Allen (Captain), William Rose, George Kinsey, George Swift; front row from left to right: Robert Topham, David Wykes, Joe Butcher, Harry Wood, Alf Griffin. Source: Wikimedia

I watched the Manchester United v Wolves match on television last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. Part of the pleasure was seeing the underdog triumph. And part was from the discomfort of the commentators who seemed shocked by the performances and the result. I expect some thought, some depth of knowledge from those entrusted with the commentary, and last night’s crew were sadly lacking.

For example, the predicted outcome according to their own stats was a win for Manchester United. The commentators agreed that was their expectation. However, if they had spent five minutes looking at Wolves, they surely would have thought differently.

Which team has the best defensive record in the league? Manchester City, having conceded 13 goals in 21 games. Which team has the next best defensive record? Wolverhampton Wanderers, having conceded 14 goals in 19 games – 18 before yesterday. Manchester United had conceded 26 goals up till yesterday in 18 games. (Chelsea have conceded 16 goals in 21 games and Liverpool have allowed opponents to score 18 times in 20 games. After that, defensive records deteriorate rapidly.)

In their last four games before yesterday, Wolves’ form was two losses, a win and a draw. Not good. But the losses were 1-0 to Manchester City and Liverpool, both of whom are streets ahead of Manchester United. And their draw was against Chelsea!

I’m not suggesting Wolves are going to be top four contenders, but they are clearly a good team who are hard to score against. Given the woeful performances from the team in red, last night’s result should have been no surprise.

The winning goal was scored by Moutinho who volleyed home a Phil Jones clearance. I wouldn’t say that was a mistake by Jones, who was generally one of United’s best performers, but it does show the thin line between success and failure. Had the clearance gone one yard to either side, the chance would not have been the same. (In the same vein, the result might have been different had the usually excellent Fernandes not hit the bar when presented with a free shot on goal.) De Gea, who also played well, cannot have been happy with his defense.

Finally, Wolves had 19 shots compared to United’s 9. It’s a raw figure which doesn’t tell the whole story, but alongside the corner count – 8 to 3 in Wolves’ favor – it suggests that the better team on the night won.

United have stumbled. Can they recover? As for Wolves, it will be interesting to see if they can keep up their form and their amazing defensive record.

In Tolkien’s World

Produced by Fantasy Flight Games back in 2011, this card game is one of the best solitaire games in my collection. Although it can also be played by two players (or more if you buy more copies of the game) or one player with two separate hands of cards, almost all of my games have been in one-player mode. You start with three heroes (of your choice) and construct your deck to match the powers and weaknesses of the heroes and the challenge before you. Game play consists of playing your deck against the encounter deck, where all the nasties live. It’s a race against time as you must complete the mission victory conditions before the combined threat from the forces of evil overcomes you. You can see more in my first post about the game here.

Since that first post I came across the Hall of Beorn site which has been an indispensable aid in learning the finer points of deckbuilding and game play, but also has inspired me to acquire many of the expansion sets and keep adventuring.

So far, I have managed to finish the missions in the base game and all those from the Shadows of Mirkwood Cycle. All bar one I managed – after repeated attempts in most cases – to win. I haven’t been able to crack the last one – Return to Mirkwood – so far. In general, the level of challenge seems about right. You cannot just design a deck and defeat the encounter deck. Sometimes, it takes two or three plays just to understand how the deck should best be played.

Being the butterfly gamer that I am, I’ll be moving onto something else. But I’ll be back in Tolkien’s world again, for sure.




Source: Wikimedia

I don’t know what the best approach is when it comes to looking back on 2021, so I’ll skip that part and go straight to 2022: I hope it’s a great year; filled with good news, happiness, good health, and prosperity. Peace would be good, but that’s probably pushing the boat out too far, especially since the first day of the new year was marked by a couple of missiles being launched from one of our neighborhood centers of terrorism. I wonder what they wish for 2022.

Austria-Hungary’s 1914 Folly

On the table for some solo gaming is Michael Resch‘s Battle for Galicia 1914, a division level game scaled at turns of two days and hexes of twelve kilometers covering the August and September 1914 campaign in Galicia. The bloated and somewhat outdated army of Austria-Hungary was trying to take Lublin while the even more outdated and clumsy forces of Russia were trying to take Lemberg.

The designer’s forte appears to be World War One, and his previous designs have been loaded with history and a tone of detail. Too much detail for many. However, this magazine game is a wee cracker because the designer has stripped everything down to the essentials and delivered a highly playable, challenging, simple – but not simplistic – game.

The game is, unsurprisingly, marred by some counter and rules errata, but not too much. For example, five counters had the wrong values printed on their reduced side. Annoying but fixable. Also, the combat examples conflict with the game tables. Oh, and did I mention that the reinforcement track has a couple of mistakes?

These issues are quickly forgotten once you start playing. The system uses mostly traditional mechanics (I go, you go) with a combat system that grinds down attackers as well as defenders and shows the importance of artillery. In this game you really do have to think about how far you can push your forces and when is the right time to pull out troops for some rest and recovery. Cavalry has its role to play, too.

The map is clean with big hexes to suit the larger than usual counters. It looks good.

Overall, a nice addition to the collection. But when oh when will Compass improve their quality control?

So sorry we won

A Haaretz article about the state of knowledge of the Israeli leadership of massacres committed during the 1948 war was the springboard for follow ups by way of a sneering editorial and a poisonous piece from the usual suspect, Gideon Levy.

None of this was politically or culturally surprising – it’s Haaretz, after all, and criticism of Israel, Zionism, and its history is just about it’s raison d’être.

What is surprising, from about an objective a stance as I can muster, is that none of these warriors for justice acknowledges the reality of war: bad things happen. Bad people commit atrocities. Good people – or, if you prefer – people on the side of good – commit atrocities too.

For example, did you know that during D-Day, more than half of the 130 German soldiers captured alive, never made it alive into the Prisoner-of-War collection point on Omaha Beach? Did you know that the British sank three Italian hospital ships during World War Two? You probably did know about the Soviet Union’s Katyn massacre. These are merely examples. There are many more – that we know of.

War is a dirty business. Its price is paid for by the blood of the young and the innocent and we should avoid it at all costs. But if you cannot avoid it, the cauldron of the fight for victory or survival or both will surely lead to crimes. To think otherwise is a naivety beyond foolish.

To be clear, I am not excusing any war crimes. All should be prosecuted. All should be punished. But, for starters, I’m not taking any finger wagging moral lectures from any European or American over what happened in 1948; their hands are not clean. And I’m at a loss to understand why these Haaretz pieces only go on about atrocities allegedly committed by Jews.

Into the breach steps Uri Misgav with his excellent rejoinder Jews Were Massacred in 1948 Too, So Why Dwell Only on the Nakba?

As he says:

It was a life-and-death war, brutal and bloody. The Jewish community lost fully 1 percent of its population (6,000 killed out of a population of 600,000), and a 10th of the remainder became refugees in their own country.  [snip]  However, with time’s passage, it has become politically incorrect to talk about Jewish fighters who were killed (some of them were young, others were older and had families, there were new immigrants with no military training who hadn’t even managed to learn Hebrew, Holocaust survivors, women and in some cases teenagers), or about civilians who were murdered or settlements that were evacuated and destroyed, and whose residents became refugees.


Today there is apparently only the Nakba: It consists of the killing and expulsion of Arabs, Palestinian villages that were destroyed and Palestinian refugees. This historiographic distortion, with its absurd and immoral lack of symmetry, is the apple of the eye among certain circles in Israel, Arabs and Jews alike.

Haaretz serves as a generous and enthusiastic platform for this willful blindness. It enables the Palestinian citizens of Israel, like my colleagues Odeh Basharat and Hanin Majadli, speaking on behalf of Arab society, to shirk off all responsibility for its fate – from the 1948 war up until the present day. The Palestinians, since then and for all time to come, are solely passive, innocent victims of the Zionist project of evil. There are of course also Jews who see it this way, in academia and in the media. Gideon Levy is a prime example.


What we have here is a truly ecstatic celebration of exaggeration, falsehoods and self-undermining and flagellation, and wallowing in feelings of guilt. If we truly want to pursue a serious discussion of the 1948 war, it must be balanced. If the truth, then the whole truth.


If the ideal is the sanctity of historical research and truth, we need to ask where the Palestinian versions of Adam Raz, Akevot Institute and Zochrot are. In any event, my Haaretz colleagues don’t make do with clarifying the facts and often seem to feel that Israelis are required to offer an “apology.” It’s disheartening to be dragged back there again 74 years after the war erupted, but the apology was already formulated by Ephraim Kishon in his genius: “So sorry we won.”

Do read the whole article.

Now you know where the title for this post came from.

Not in My Name

Following this:

An Israeli man was killed and two were injured in a shooting attack outside a settlement outpost in the northern West Bank on Thursday night, officials said.

The victim was named as Yehudah Dimentman, 25, a father of one from the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron.

The terror attack was reported along the road just outside the Homesh outpost, west of Nablus and north of Shavei Shomron, the Israel Defense Forces said.

What the Times of Israel reports as having happened  is, to put it mildly, not an appropriate response.

These attacks on Palestinians are reprehensible. The perpetrators should be hunted down and the full force of the law applied to their cowardly asses.

Bull Run

This nice-looking package, recently arrived from the States, is one of the Blind Swords series of games, this time around featuring the first major ACW battle: Bull Run.

The map, one of the last done by Rick Barber, is gorgeous. Previous incarnations in earlier games in the series were (rightly) criticized for the difficulty they often presented in getting a first glance understanding of respective terrain heights. This is largely solved, at least for me, by including numerical reminders dotted about the contours.

The scale is 150 yards per hex, turns of 30 minutes, and regimental units. The system uses chit draw for activation of formations plus various fog (and friction) of war chits of which more shortly.

In each turn there is an up-front artillery part where, in alternating hex activations, your artillery can fire or move. Thereafter, chits are drawn to activate formations. There are no command rules like command control radius, and the like. Although, for the sake of completeness, a leader needs to pass a die roll test to give a brigade an order. Here the leaders are a 3 and a 4 (Union) against a 4 and a 4 (Confederate) so not much difference. Without any chaos, the bigger force is typically going to win. That’s where the fog and friction of war stuff comes in, delivering a bundle of random events which add flavor, tension, and can be a real challenge to overcome.

The orders are basic and easy to use. However, it’s too easy to change orders, so units can go from attack to move far too swiftly. That’s where the chaos comes in.

The issue I have with this in practice is not so much that there is too much chaos, but that the players have too much control. What I mean by that is that as the Union for example, I can draw a chit that impacts the Confederates. Within certain limitations, I can decide when to apply it. (The same goes in reverse.) That doesn’t work for me. That’s too much like a wargame version of a ‘Get out of jail card’ and it stinks. Instead, I play with my own house rules that mean whenever such a chit is drawn, it takes effect immediately or as soon as possible. In other words, I remove the player control. And then things are more like chaotic history. Yes, it can be frustrating when the marching troops stop in their tracks, for no apparent reason. But such things did happen in the real battle, and at crucial times.

Also in the interests of full disclosure, I suspect there may still be too much chaos, but it would take more testing than I have time for. As an example, my inclination would be to reduce the number of fog and friction of war chits by two. As it is, with the house rules, I feel like I get a good game with a reasonable amount of historical atmosphere.

Having played through the first scenario, I then cleared the table and loaded up the First Bull Run battle from Three Battles of Manassas by The Gamers/MMP.

This, one of their Civil War Battles series, is almost the polar opposite of the other game, being brigade level, with 200 yard hexes and the same 30 minute turns. It has extensive command control rules including written orders and that’s the main reason to play the games from the series. This system allows you to see what happens when orders cannot be changed immediately, and the eye in the sky view of the gamer is not as all powerful as it usually is.

In addition to the written orders, these games feature massive step reduction (done by a separate roster) and a comprehensive morale system for units and formations so that your cardboard soldiers may indeed refuse to obey and flee the scene!

I have a big soft spot for the CWB games, but they take a long time to play. The Day Was Ours is fast, so much faster by comparison. However, if I had the time, I would prefer a CWB encounter.

Anyway, I have First bull Run on the table, I’ll do some background reading, and we’ll see where I get to.