Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Eulogy for My Mother

I offered this eulogy (hesped) at my mother's funeral last week:  

My mother was a brave woman. She did things her way. She left home soon after she graduated from high school to take a look at the bigger world – which for her meant first Detroit, and then California. She was a single working mom before the term had been invented. She lived through a tumultuous time with two tumultuous children.
The book of Proverbs asks eyshet chayil mi yimtza, which we usually render into English as “a woman of valor, who can find.” Chayil is translated here as valour, but we know this word chayil is not unrelated to the modern Hebrew word for “soldier” or “force.”
My mother Marian Harriet Goldish Kiener, Shivya Masa bat Shayne Bayle ve-Shmuel, was not only an unconventional woman of valor in the old-time religion sense of the book of Proverbs; she was also a kind of soldier and she was certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Any child can say this of his or her loving mother – no one has known me longer, worried for my welfare so thoroughly, took my side more often, and delighted in my accomplishments like my mother. My brother and I were rebellious young sons in a singularly rebellious time period. We defied our parents, and our mother in particular, at every turn. To paraphrase the GEICO commercial – “that’s what kids do.” 
She didn’t understand everything we tried or attempted, to be honest, we didn’t understand what we were doing half the time - but the love never wore off. More than 30 years ago my brother defiantly went off to California for a while to find his fortune, but my mother, a single woman in a time long before it was fashionable or acceptable, had already pioneered that path a further 30 years earlier. She acted like she couldn’t understand our youthful defiance, but she was a defiant youth herself, going off to Detroit, then to Minneapolis, then to Los Angeles. She was such a force of nature, a bit of the rebel herself, that even though she played the part of the baffled matriarch shouldered with two rambunctious and error-prone boys, she always forgave, and always found a way for us to come back to her embrace.
She was a soldier. She championed through a long career at Musicland and then earned her well-deserved retirement. She then bravely took off to Arizona to live the retirement dream. And she loved it. But she soldiered through her well-deserved retirement and outlasted almost every one of her friends, and then returned to the land where her two sisters lived.
Finally, my mother was a force to be reckoned with throughout her life and in her last home at Knollwood Place. You could be the CEO of Bristol-Palmolive or the local grocer - expect a long hand-written letter of complaint in wonderfully clear cursive script if you sold her shoddy merchandise or tried to swindle her. She made her expectations known to all, and had a sharp word for those who failed to meet them. But people loved her – because my mother had a marvelous sense of humor. She loved to smile and laugh.
Like a tough, hard-living, fun-loving rebellious soldier, for entertainment she liked to gamble. She ran the BINGO game at Knollwood Place, and helped convene the monthly trip to Mystic Lake. I remember childhood trips to Sioux City where we would bet on the ponies and buy a cooler full of oleomargarine to bring back to Minnesota. In her latter decades, she drew great joy from playing adult penny slot video games at Mystic. To paraphrase the Geico commercial – “that’s what old women do.”
So my mother was a woman of valor, a strong woman, a discerning woman, and a force to be reckoned with. I would not be the man I am today without her love and support. My brother can attest to the same awesome debt we owe her.
Sister to two remarkable women, mother of two, grandmother to six, great-grandmother to one – it’s really a beautiful story, a kind of fairy tale. It all worked out. It was a life well-lived.
Eshet chayil mi yimtza “Who can find a heroic woman?” All of us who knew her knows we saw the real deal. Yehi zikhra barukh– Her Memory has certainly been a blessing to all of us.

Friday, August 28, 2015

MOPing Up Israel

Massive Ordnance Penetrator

As I wrote recently for a lead editorial in my local Jewish newspaper, the opponents to the Iran Deal are "Losing the Battle" in Congress. Even clear-headed opponents to the deal have read the writing on the wall.

So now we move to the next phase, a phase that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to defer until after the Congressional vote - just how will the United States enhance Israel's security from both Iranian behavior outside the nuclear arena, and from the fear that Iran may still cheat on the deal.

There is one crazy idea circulating in Washington for years. It has been trumpeted most recently by the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, the well-placed and highly-regarded pro-Israel think tank. I first heard the idea aloud in a conference call with former Ambassador Dennis Ross about a month ago. Two days ago, Ross was joined by former CIA Director and military wunderkind David Petraeus in an op-ed in The Washington Post to make the case for the crazy idea, entitled "How to Put Some Teeth into the Nuclear Deal with Iran." Coming from two respected insiders, the article is garnering an enormous amount of attention. Here's the gist of their presentation:

The Iranians also should know that if they produce highly enriched uranium — for which there is no legitimate civilian purpose — that we would see that as an intention to make a weapon and would act accordingly. There is no mention of highly enriched uranium in the president’s letter. Although Obama speaks in the letter of providing the Israelis with the BLU-113, a 4,400-pound “bunker buster” bomb, it would not be sufficient to penetrate Fordow, the Iranian enrichment site built into a mountain. For that, the Israelis would need the 30,000-pound massive ordnance penetrator (MOP) and the means to carry it. While some may question whether we would act militarily if the Iranians were to dash to a bomb, no one questions whether the Israelis would do so.
 Bolstering deterrence is essential in addressing key vulnerabilities we see in the deal. A blunter statement on the consequences of Iran moving toward a weapon and of producing highly enriched uranium would allay some of our concerns. Providing the Israelis the MOP and the means to carry it would surely enhance deterrence — and so would developing options now in advance with the Israelis and key Arab partners to counter Iran’s likely surge of support for Hezbollah and other Shiite militias after it gets sanctions relief.
Deterrence would be more effective — and full implementation of the agreement more likely — if the Iranians understand that there will be a price for every transgression, no matter how small, and that we will raise the cost to them of de-stabilizing behavior in the region. The president’s letter to Nadler was useful but fell short of addressing our concerns. It is still possible for the administration to do so.
So that's the crazy idea: give Israel the MOP.

The MOP is one big freaking bomb. It is more than 20 feet long and weighs a minimum of 30,000 lbs, though it only carries something more than 5,000 lbs of explosives. It was developed over the last 5 years by the United States specifically to penetrate through more than 200 feet of mountain protection, and thus could destroy even the most "impregnable" underground facilities in the Iranian nuclear enrichment program.

You can't put the MOP on the tip of a rocket, not even the biggest Minuteman ICBM in the US arsenal. It certainly can't be placed on Israel's largest surface-to-surface Jericho III ballistic missile. You can't mount it on an F-22 or F-35 combat fighter, certainly anything older like an F-16.

There are only two ways to deliver it - the American stealth B-2 Spirit strategic bomber (which can carry two MOPs), or a retrofitted subsonic B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber (which can carry one). Neither heavy bomber is part of the Israel Air Force inventory.

Thus, to be perfectly clear, any MOPing of Israel entails a credible delivery system. To MOP Israel "and the means to carry it" is to supply Israel with strategic bombers. Period.

Now let's take a look at this a bit more carefully. First, the economics: a single B-2 stealth bomber costs about $2 billion per unit, though I've heard it said that if you deduct research and development, it is more like $900 million per plane. The United States has about 20 B-2s. A B-52H costs far less per unit - only $84 million. The US has 76 of those, with less than a dozen in reserve (the last one was built in 1962).

One can assume that no sane ally would deliver a squadron of supersonic stealth strategic bombers to Israel, which reportedly holds approximately 150 nuclear warheads of various sizes. So because of its expense, and because there are so few to move around, and because it is so dangerous, let's assume the B-2 is off the table, and was not what was intended by Ross and Petraeus.

So the only real option for MOPing Israel is to provide it what is affectionately known as the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker) - the B-52H. At full weight, the minimum runway length for a BUFF is 11,000 feet, and more typically 13,000 feet, though there are recorded take-offs and landings at shorter lengths. As best I can glean from published sources, there are only two working runways in all of Israel that can handle an eight-engine B-52H - one is at Ben Gurion Airport, and the other, built in the mid-2000s, is at Netavim airbase to the southeast of Beersheva.

Netavim Airbase

So now imagine the delivery of a handful of MOPs to Israel, and a wing (2 planes? 4? 8?) of B-52Hs to go along with it. The Israeli Air Force has never contemplated such a wing. There have been a few published reports in Israel that the Israel Air Force doesn't even want such a thing. The technology is 60 years old, and so are the refurbished airframes, which are projected to remain airworthy for another 30 years.

B-52 Boneyard at David-Monthan Airbase outside Tucson

The B-52 goes against IAF doctrine. Advanced avionics and high performance are the strategic mindset of Israeli fighter pilots. A slow subsonic, 6-person crew bomber from the 1960s just doesn't fit. The IAF would have to build massive facilities, and it would have to train a new generation of pilots, crew, and ground support personnel to handle the BUFFs. Even at an accelerated pace, such a squadron wouldn't be operational for years, and would come at fantastical cost.

Then imagine flying a slow-moving heavy bomber into a well-defended combat environment. Since the MOP is not a stand-off bomb that can be fired from a distance, it must be released in close vertical proximity to its target. And B-52s have been easy targets for a long time. Hell, the North Vietnamese shot down 16 B-52s in 11 days during an air operation in 1972. Without massive suppression of Iranian air defenses as a prelude, no sane Air Force would fly a B-52H into the area.

That doesn't mean that the government of Israel hasn't requested the MOP. It has, reportedly at least 3 times in the past 6 years, and such requests have been consistently rebuffed.

But there may be an even greater impediment to MOPing Israel. The United States and the Russian Federation are bound to a strategic arms agreement known as New START, which went into effect in 2011. According to Article IV of New START, "Strategic offensive arms subject to this Treaty shall not be based outside the national territory of each Party." Heavy bombers are just such "strategic offensive arms."

Article XIII of New START is even more explicit: "To ensure the viability and effectiveness of this Treaty, each Party shall not assume any international obligations or undertakings that would conflict with its provisions. The Parties shall not transfer strategic offensive arms subject to this Treaty to third parties. The Parties shall hold consultations within the framework of the Bilateral Consultative Commission in order to resolve any ambiguities that may arise in this regard. This provision shall not apply to any patterns of cooperation, including obligations, in the area of strategic offensive arms, existing at the time of signature of this Treaty, between a Party and a third State." (h/t @KingstonAReif)

Thus, to MOP Israel is to violate New START. Is the United States going to unilaterally violate its signature arms control agreement with Russia in order to calm Israeli concerns?

So let's put this matter aside, once and for all. It might sound good to Israel's supporters. As a bit of debate theater, the proposal to MOP Israel is an effective way to deflect some critics of the Iran deal. But MOPing Israel is a non-starter. Let's put this ridiculous idea to bed, now and forever.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


We can all imagine a worse world. We Americans are all living under the shadow of a bright blue morning in September that turned into a national nightmare. We now consume apocalyptic extravaganzas to a neurotic degree, something we haven't seen with this intensity since the Cold War's darkest beginnings (Them! It Came From Outer Space). While we're awake, we often perversely entertain ourselves with CGI zombies and rogue robots, with mutants and super-powered aliens.

We can all imagine a worse world.

We can imagine a nuclear arms race in the Middle East leading to an accidental nuclear detonation that leads to a chain reaction between the nuclear superpowers that leads to a post-apocalyptic alien world where apes become masters of the planet. 

We can imagine a terrorist getting a hold of a nuclear device, and in our darkest imaginations, we realize there is no Schwarzenegger to save us, and a bomb goes off in Miami that leads to a chain reaction between the nuclear superpowers that leads to a post-apocalyptic alien world where apes become masters of the planet. 

We can imagine a defiant Iran which despite this agreement secretly builds a bomb, and a reliable means to deliver it on Tel Aviv that leads to a chain reaction between the nuclear superpowers that leads to a post-apocalyptic alien world where apes become masters of the planet. 

We can imagine a massive multi-sortie American air bombardment using strategic B-52 or B-2 bombers to deliver on multiple Iranian targets the 15-ton Massive Ordnance Penetrator - one or two to each bomber - that wipes out the entire nuclear infrastructure of Iran which leads to a chain reaction between the nuclear superpowers that leads to a post-apocalyptic alien world where apes become masters of the planet. 

We can imagine it all, because we've seen it on our waking screens. Because of 9/11, we've become neurotic. Understandably so. 

Our neuroses are manifold. Our media has a celebrated sub-genre of apocalyptic fiction, and our non-fiction media - our scientific and verifiable non-fiction - contains a sub-genre which predicts a global mass extinction event in the far or near future.

But what if we imagined like John Lennon asked us to imagine? 

Can we imagine an Earth that - after a eugenics war (oops!) - becomes the center of a Federation of Planets of sentient beings across many galaxies? 

Can we imagine a complicit Iran evolving into a "moderate" Shi'ite theocracy in both its domestic conduct and international behavior? A Shi'ite theocracy that would establish diplomatic and economic relations with a Jewish state set next to an independent state of Palestine?  

Can we imagine a future with robots, intelligent communication devices, and Multivac? Our science fiction writers helped us to imagine these things. What was dream is now reality.

Can we imagine a future with clones, androids, warp-powered starships, and time travel? Of course we can, we've seen it in our waking dreams.

Shouldn't we embrace our hopes, and not our nightmares?

So that is the Iran deal in a nutshell. If it succeeds, it is its own reward. If it fails, be sure to always respond politely and promptly when you get pulled over by that ape cop.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Devilish Compromise

As promised in my last blog post, here is a link to this week's editorial in the Ledger on the Iran Deal: http://www.jewishledger.com/2015/07/the-iran-deal-a-work-of-devilish-compromises/

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sandy Koufax, Yom Kippur, and the Minnesota Twins (and Jewishjournalism)

Like I recently explained, I am not feeding the blog these days. Instead I have a new gig, which I have only alluded to, as an editorial writer for my local Jewish newspaper, The Connecticut Jewish Ledger. Mostly I write unsigned lead editorials about Israel and the Middle East. Sometimes I write credited op-ed pieces. This week it is a piece about Jews and baseball.
For anyone who has ever read my blog over the years, you might be surprised that I now write for the Ledger. After all, back in 2011 I got into a blog war with that very newspaper and its crank right-wing owner. Here and even more viciously here.  And there is an even older fight with former editor Jonathan Tobin (long before he became a bloviator for - wait for it - Commentary magazine).
But the worm turns. The right-wing crank sold the paper just before he died, and out-of-the-blue I was asked to serve on an editorial board for the newly revitalized paper.
This week I am very nervous about producing a lead editorial on the Iran deal. I've actually dealt with the Iran deal once before for the Ledger. Some letter writers didn't like it. Wait until next week!