Iranian Surprise

Does this come as a surprise to you?

Click image to view Times of Israel article

It beggars belief how much leeway the JCPOA negotiators have given Iran. Quite why they expected a serious response from Iran is beyond me. To be clear, the agreement is a crap agreement, pretty near worthless. However, some do believe it was better than no agreement. What I’d like to know from the believers is whatever happened to the snap back sanctions? You know, the ones that Obama promised would snap into place should Iran break the agreement. As I understand it, Iran is suffering from the sanctions Trump unilaterally imposed. Its blatant breaches of the agreement have been met by silence. And surprise.

Are these negotiators idiots? How is it possible for educated people to arrive at such a world view?

Talking about world views, for reasons that I do not understand, there have been public declarations by our Mossad chief that Iran will never get nuclear weapons. What is the point of such a statement? What good does it do? Will the ayatollahs be shaking in their boots? Will the negotiators suddenly see the light? Will a quick and easy military solution suddenly appear? Maybe someone smarter than me can explain.

For now, I worry about the situation erupting into another war. I wish I had a magic wand.


There may be spoilers ahead.

Dune is a two-and-a-half hour film that tells the first part of Frank Herbert‘s novel of the same name. According to Wikipedia, in “2003, it was described as the world’s best-selling science fiction novel.” There have been previous attempts to make a film based on the book and these produced mixed results. How does the 2021 version fare?

First, the decision to have two long films rather than try and squeeze everything into one, allows the director a bit of breathing space. There’s time to set up the backdrop and the political intrigue which drives much of the action. For example, there are clear narratives about the major factions of the Emperor, and the Houses of Harkonnen and Atreides as well as the significance of the desert planet Arrakis and its precious melange (or spice). The latter substance is essential for interplanetary travel and is only found on Arrakis.

That having been said, I was unconvinced by the portrayal of the central character – Paul of the House of Atreides – as a potential messiah in waiting for the local, previously subjugated, Fremen. He didn’t seem to reflect his great potential on the screen. In short, there was no gravitas. I couldn’t believe in him.

Second, the visuals are outstanding. With one or two minor exceptions, the film looks gorgeous. (The exceptions: I thought some of the long views of the city were too obviously a model.)  Most of the scenes are sumptuously drowning in atmospheric detail.

Third, I found some of the dialog to be wooden and unrealistic.

Fourth, the action scenes were pretty damn good.

Overall it was OK. Not quite disappointing, but not great. In parts, it dragged. If you are going to have a 150-minute movie, you should make sure your audience will be engrossed and involved. This film didn’t do that for me.

It hasn’t quite put me off wanting to see part two, but if the early reviews indicate it’s a dud, I’ll wait for it to be available on TV.


The Book

It’s a long time since I read the book. Based on my experiences of going back to read other science-fiction classics, I have avoided rereading this one. I remember it fondly as a good – not great – book. I do not want to spoil that memory.

Certainly, if you haven’t read it, I would recommend doing so because there are a ton of interesting ideas in the novel, even if they aren’t always well expressed.

Facebook, we need to have a chat

Time for a brief follow up to Misbehaving? This time it’s Facebook on the naughty step.

You may have heard about the evidence given by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen who has been spilling the beans about what the social media monolith gets up to – apart from making a ton of money. As usual, the excellent Register is a fine source to explain what’s going on.  In this article it gives us “The five nastiest bits from recent leaks”. Facebook:

Knows that its algorithms lead users to extreme content and that it employs too few staff or contractors to curb such content, especially in languages other than English. Content glorifying violence and hate therefore spreads on Facebook – which really should know better by now after the The New York Times in 2018 reported that Myanmar’s military used Facebook to spread racist propaganda that led to mass violence against minority groups;

Enforces its rules selectively, allowing certain celebrities and websites to get away with behavior that would get others kicked off the platform. Inconsistent enforcement means users don’t get the protection from harmful content Facebook has so often promised, implying that it prioritises finding eyeballs for ads ahead of user safety;

Planned a special version of Instagram targeting teenagers, but cancelled it after Haugen revealed the site’s effects on some users – up to three per cent of teenage girls experience depression or anxiety, or self-harm, as a result of using the service;

Can’t accurately assess user numbers and may be missing users with multiple accounts. The Social Network™ may therefore have misrepresented its reach to advertisers, or made its advertising look more super-targeted than it really is – or both;

Just isn’t very good at spotting the kind of content it says has no place on its platform – like human trafficking – yes, that means selling human beings on Facebook. At one point Apple was so upset by the prevalence of Facebook posts of this sort it threatened to banish Zuckerberg’s software from the App Store.

That’s quite a catalog of misbehavior, to put it politely. It does seem that the company is out of control and the result causes serious damage to our society. Why is it allowed to continue?

I use Facebook. It’s a way of being kept up to date with family and friends from all over the world, and being a part of communities with common interests. If I were to protest its activities by deleting my account, that would have no effect. Maybe I should do it anyway as a matter of principle. But I cannot help feeling that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to sort out. But whose?

FedEx Mystery

Monday September 27 – FedEx call me about a delivery they have for me from the USA. Will I be at home on Wednesday (29 September)? Yes, I will. All day.

Wednesday September 29 – I am at home all day, but no delivery arrives.

Thursday September 30 – Having heard nothing further, I contact the company who sent me the delivery asking for them to check what’s going on. It transpires that the delivery was supposedly made on Sunday September 26 and signed for by “I Ishay.” There is no such person in my home (!) or in my apartment block. I call FedEx, but they are already closed for the weekend.

Sunday October 3 – I call FedEx but their service center isn’t taking calls. There’s an email address and I duly send them an email about my parcel. They acknowledge my email and say they are looking into it.

Monday October 4 – FedEx deliver my package. No explanation. Bizarre. Why would they phone on Monday if the package had been delivered on the Sunday? Who is the mysterious I Ishay?


100 day itch

If you want a taste of how upset the religious parties are at being out of government, read this.

How about this quote:

“The vote of millions who supported Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties were cast aside as if their voices held no weight. “

And where, do you think, was the writer’s concern when the vote of millions who did not support Likud nor the religious parties held no weight? What a hypocrite. It’s noteworthy that the new government specifically said they were there to rule for the benefit of all Israelis. Did Bibi ever say that?

Criticism of the government’s treatment of the coronavirus pandemic may be justified, but surely no more than the previous dictatorial regime that Netanyahu imposed: attempted bribery of the voters and a total failure to take responsibility and shut down the red areas. Yes, Bibi did get the vaccine situation right. But even a busted analog clock is right twice a day.

This part was also pure misdirection:

“It is sad that the government is set on tearing apart the delicate fabric that holds us together and deprives millions of its citizens of their civil rights.”

Let me translate: It is sad that the government is set on tearing apart the delicate fabric of greed that holds the religious parties together.

The present government is not perfect, but I much prefer it to the preceding regime. As many commentators have pointed out, the poison and the fraught relationships have been removed from the corridors of power. The target is to focus on the policies that are for the sake of the country, not just the – alleged – Talmud scholars. Secular Jews have rights too!

The repeated behavior of many – not all – of the haredi communities strongly suggests that whatever they are teaching, they need to have a good, long, hard look at the syllabus, rip it up, and start again. I suggest lesson one be all about Hillel’s Golden Rule:

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Barbarossa Derailed

From tactical level combat on the East Front, to operational level. On the table is Smolensk, one of MMP’s OCS games, this one featuring the summer ’41 battles to take Smolensk and open the road to Moscow. The historian David Glantz wrote a number of books about the campaign suggesting that the seeds of Nazi defeat on the East Front were to be found here. More typically, commentators have pointed at Stalingrad or Kursk, but rarely an event so early in the war. The arguments will continue and meantime I can game the situation and draw my own conclusions.

OCS is an intensive gaming experience. You have to plan ahead, sequencing your moves, maximizing your meager supply, pushing your cardboard soldiers to the limit, and extracting every last advantage from the interaction of the various rules systems.

For example, some air forces can conduct ‘hip shoots’ which, if they go well, cause enemy forces to lose their protective Zone of Control and reduce their fighting power. Timing such a strike is crucial. For example, the combat system gives huge bonuses if your lead unit – in attack or defense – has a higher Action Rating (troop quality). So small high quality units are best deployed wherever the action is or might be.

There’s lots more. OCS game turns are not short affairs. The downside is that when playing face-to-face there’s not much to do. I think that’s why some OCS games in conventions have lots of side games going on at the same time. This is not so much a disadvantage if you are playing solitaire, but it does mean there’s a big burden on the solo player. It’s hard work. Whether it’s enjoyable is a matter of personal taste.

On top of all of this is the perennial discussion of whether the system is an accurate model of WW2 operational level combat. I’ll not go there now. What I will say is that even setting up a scenario and getting a couple of turns in can be very educational about the campaign being portrayed. As usual, this means my non-fiction reading list has been expanded by a couple of books on the campaign.

I love this hobby.

So, how was your Rosh Hashanah?

Given the ever present covid warnings and the recommendation to pray outside, for Rosh Hashanah services, I went to the outdoor minyan that’s a short hop, skip, and jump from our apartment. The organizers had made a real effort to make it as comfortable as possible. There were even electric fans (on timers) to generate a decent cooling breeze. Still, at four hours plus, the first day’s service was too long. As one wit put it, “I wondered if they were actually planning on stopping for lunch.” On the second day, they shaved thirty plus minutes off that. So, long, but could have been worse.

Since moving to Israel, I have gradually ditched all the ArtScroll machzorim for Koren versions. The Rosh Hashanah machzor – the Rohr Family Edition – has a superb introductory essay by the late former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. What a great writer he was.

“These are days of reflection and retrospection when we stand in the conscious presence of Infinity, knowing how short and vulnerable life really is, and how little time we have here on earth. This can be, and should be, a life-changing experience.”

I cannot do justice to the essay here, but I do recommend you read it. Any Jew with a heart that reads the essay will be touched by it. It won’t turn a non-believer into a believer, but if read with an open mind, it will enrich your soul with an awe inspiring perspective on life, the universe, and our place on this planet. To put it another way, food for thought. And, for what it’s worth, I heartily thank the Rohr family for making the publication of that machzor possible. It’s a beauty. It played its part in spiritually enhancing the chag.

So, how was your Rosh Hashanah?

Whatever you did for Rosh Hashanah, I hope you weren’t part of the shocking breach of covid lockdown in Melbourne. What arrogance. What selfishness. And where is the rabbinic leadership? The offenders should be named and shamed and banned from receiving honors for a few years. Should be, but won’t. Somebody should force them to read Sacks’ essay in the Koren machzor.

So, how was your Rosh Hashanah?

[Echo warning.]

Whatever you did for Rosh Hashanah, I hope you weren’t part of the dozens of infected pilgrims caught returning from Uman with faked negative tests. What arrogance. What selfishness. And where is the rabbinic leadership? The offenders should be named and shamed and banned from receiving honors for a few years. Should be, but won’t. Somebody should force them to read Sacks’ essay in the Koren machzor.

It seems to me that there are too many elements of organized religious Jewry that have lost their way. Not all. Not most. Some. But even one is a disgrace and brings opprobrium down upon the larger Jewish community. Change is badly needed.

Tiger, Tiger…

So, continuing with the ATS module Panther Line, I moved on to the big scenario, number 4: Tigers on the Balcony. This is the crucial encounter between dug in Soviet forces on the dominant ledge, (the ‘Balcony’) assaulted by a mix of German infantry and pioneers (combat engineers) with three self-propelled guns and four Tiger tanks. The sitting defenders can be outflanked, but turn two sees the arrival of a chunky set of Soviet tank and infantry reinforcements.

To put it mildly, there’s a lot to chew on here and it was probably too much for me to handle on my own. My play will not have been optimum, for sure, but it was equally certainly fun and let me continue to enjoy the system at its best. I called it for the Soviets when it was plain the Germans were not going to overcome the loss of a couple of the Tiger tanks.

I then went on to play the much smaller, but equally fun, scenario 9: Pioneer Spirit. German pioneers and infantry have to take positions held by some top quality Soviet defenders.

As printed, the scenario allows the Soviets to hide a couple of squads. Playing solitaire, I came up with some random tables to inject some of the mystery and fog of war to match the missing hidden troops. These worked OK, but I’d love to give this one a try against a live opponent. I suspect that if the Soviet player doesn’t get the best out of his hidden troops, the defense will not endure.

That’s about it for ATS for now. I’ll be going back to it, but other games are screaming for attention.

Shanah Tovah!

It’s almost time to say goodbye to the old and welcome in the new year.  To those celebrating Rosh Hashanah, I wish you all a year of health, happiness, and prosperity.

And thanks to Browzwear for a cracking seasonal box of goodies.