Friday, November 27, 2020

The Difference Between Golf and Chess

I am not much of a golfer but my father, uncle and cousin were terrific golfers. I am not much of a chess player but my grandfather was a champion. In both of these 'games', the difference between champions and pikers is not so much the physical as it is the mental.

In golf, all of the mental energy is focused on the shot you are making right now. The intellectual challenge comes from shaking off the last (bad) shot/hole and not worrying about future challenges. Only the current shot matters; 100% tactics. Get as close to the hole as possible. The best players have a reproducible repertoire of moves for any given context but even those are unrelated to anything other than the current situation. And even the best can mess up, for example 10 strokes on a par 3, just (much) less frequently than the average duffer.

In chess, on the other hand, all of the mental energy is focused on strategy. The best players are thinking 6 or 8 moves ahead. Setting up traps and future feints. Laying defense works. The current move matters but only in the context of a much richer opening, middle game or end game. It is a game of deep research and deep thought (and Deep Blue; sorry I couldn't resist) though in most matches the time of thought is constrained and both plans and decisions must be made under pressure.

This week, while American leadership golfs, we may have had a peek at international chess:
1) On 11/16: Trump Sought Options for Attacking Iran
2) On 11/26: IDF on high alert over possible US strike
3) On 11/27: Iran’s Top Nuclear Scientist Killed in Attack
4) [Edit: 11/28]: If Assassination Fails to Set Back Iran’s Nuclear Program, Blowing Up Deal Is Easy

Because the US National Security Infrastructure shields both national security and national embarrassment, we may never know the truth. Was Trump's suggestion of an attack on Iran just another one of many random golf policy swings by an incompetent President? Or was he influenced in a childlike fashion by Israel or the gallivanting of the much more sly Secretary of State Pompeo through the Middle East. Regardless, the context was set.

Israel probably already had contingencies for lame duck confusion during an incompetent US administration plus/minus popular right wing actions by an indicted prime minister. There is probably a book of chess middle games that includes those very scenarios. Intentionally or inadvertently, therefore, the board is set for Israel to put it's military on alert (something that cannot be done completely without notice) should it wish to take action. Israel even announced it, presumably for the golfers. The country where, "no comment is a comment."

And, then Knight takes nuclear weapons maker. Is there a Nuclear Deal to which Biden can return?

Or, do we think that Pompeo-Kushner-Trump were smart enough to be in on it? That the jet setting about the middle east under cover of 'breakthrough' relations were part of a mis-en-place? The price of a Saudi meeting? The coincident story of  "Jordan scrambles to affirm its custodianship of al-Aqsa mosque" just another red herring, a feint? Do I think our administration capable of this? No. Do I think them capable of lying about it either way? Absolutely. Would I trust an administration response? Absolutely not.

The game continues, the wheel turns. An incompetent, inexperienced, almost childlike, lame duck administration. A Senate ("greatest deliberative body in the World"; ROTFL) and the House, divided, both completely dissociated from each other and their oversight responsibilities. A presidency in the midst of unilateral post-election chaos and unprecedented division of the nation. All of them shielded by our National Security Infrastructure. Dangerous? Uh, yeah.

So, do I relax a bit seeing the cool, calm, confidence of the incoming batch of experienced Cabinet members? A bit. I do, however, want to look into their eyes and ask, "Do you play chess?"

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Esther Marcovski Channin

Esther Marcovski Channin
(February 5, 1930 – April 19, 2020)

My mother, Esther Marcovski Channin, passed away, in her sleep, on Sunday, April 19, 2020 כה ניםן  5780), as result of complications from Covid-19. She was 90 years old. I am the proud son of an immigrant refugee. My mother was born in Romania in 1930. In 1939, just a few months before Nazi Germany invaded, my mother and her parents fled to America.
They were the last of our family to escape.  My mother never considered herself a Holocaust survivor but rather an ‘escapee’
After a brief stint in NYC, they settled in Colchester, CT. A small town with a small Jewish community close enough to the cousins in NYC but also to Hartford, CT which was bustling in war effort. My mother began her career as a teacher at the age of 10. Though both of her parents spoke four languages, none of them were English (Russian, Romanian, Yiddish and Hebrew). My mother would come home from American public school and repeat her lessons in English to my grandparents. She would translate the radio broadcasts for them. I have a strong memory of my Zayde’s black transistor radio constantly tuned to CBS Radio News in NYC.
My mother was a stellar student, top of her class, though, in full disclosure, class size was small. Ironically, for an observant, eastern European, Jewish girl, her school was named, “Bacon Academy".

She had one brother, born in Colchester, Norman, sixteen years her junior
, whom she loved dearly. He and his wife made Aliyah to Israel in 1972.
One of the great pleasures of her life was to visit them, their children Ari and Dina and eventually my grandparents on numerous trips to Israel.

She had a profound, lifelong love of the State of Israel.
From Colchester, she went to the University of Connecticut in Storrs. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Education, there, in 1952, and a Master’s in Education, in 1956. She was active in many aspects of student life, running for student office, and other campus organizations.
This was the breeding ground for what would be a lifetime of teaching and scholarship, but also her lifelong activism on behalf of the less fortunate.
She was also, by all accounts, one of, if not the most beautiful Jewish woman on campus.

We have a picture of her in formal wear sitting on the quadrangle lawn with her dress about her that is movie studio beautiful. So, it was not at all surprising that the prettiest Jewish woman on campus met one of the most popular and dashing Jewish jocks, later a swashbuckling air force pilot. They were married in June of 1956. An older cousin of mine, a child at the time, said that she was like a fairy tale, Mary Poppins, magical aunt.

She worked as a middle school teacher 
while earning her Master’s degree and then after marriage to support her husband in medical school. When I was in sixth grade, my mother came to a PTA meeting. I noticed she had a private conversation with my teacher. I later found out that my sixth grade teacher had my mother for sixth grade, years before.

My mother stopped formally teaching to raise three children.

We moved around a bit as my father completed his training but in 1966 we settled in Sharon, Massachusetts where she remained for the rest of her life. She was a fantastic kosher cook mostly learning at her mother’s side, the latter could have easily won three Kosher Michelin stars had such a thing existed.  We ate well, very well, whether at home or on the road at the grandparents; all the Jewish classics and then some, supplemented by 1970s and 1980s ‘new age’ concoctions.
My mother slowly became more observant and a pillar of the conservative and new orthodox Jewish synagogues springing up in the town of Sharon. She developed many close friendships in the Jewish community, many of them lasting until her death. One close friend wrote, "We loved your Mother. She never looked at life as is, but always as it could be.
She battled fearlessly for the vulnerable and the weak in the work place, the schools and the community. She badgered selectmen, congressmen and senators. No one was spared  her voice or pen.
And children. She loved children! She was a pied piper for all our kids. She shepherded them from cradle to fatherhood  sharing in their triumphs in preschool, boy scouts, graduation and Israel."
She volunteered for every community activity. She was a life member of Hadassah (since 1972) and contributed to the best of her abilities to every Jewish charity and institution. We always had a JNF pushke in the house.

In particular, she enjoyed building a Sukkah every year and having the community visit.

Her generosity extended to important non-Jewish causes as well. We were only allowed to go out on Halloween (a goyish holiday) because we would collect money in the orange, cardboard, UNICEF pushkes
(but she let us keep any kosher candy we got on the side). For several years, she drove us 45 minutes each way to attend yeshiva. She lived a life that was the epitome of Torah, chessed and tzedakah.
After my parents’ divorce, she returned to work as a guidance counselor and tutor. Yes, she was a guidance counselor in my high school while I was a student there, with the resultant stunting of any misbehavior on my part. She was a founder of an alternative high school for talented, creative teens who didn't flourish in traditional educational structures. She was active in the P.T.A and the School Board and a regular contributor of Letters to the Editor of the local paper whenever she felt the local politicians strayed from their duty, especially to students and the handicapped. She was also active in the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and several other civic organizations.
When the second wave of deinstitutionalization of mental health patients came to Massachusetts in the 1970s, my mother worked for the State, as a social worker, to place these individuals in the community. She mastered IQ and other testing with her in house guinea pigs. She was a champion for the disabled and the mentally ill and fought injustice wherever she could find it.
In later years, she lived alone. Her house was filled with books and the many local libraries became a second home to her wherever she lived. Among many other collections, she had a complete, eleven volume set of “The Story of Civilization”, by Will and Ariel Durant and to this day, I am convinced she is the only one to have read it cover to cover. She enjoyed modern Jewish philosophical texts and lectures as well as the social sciences.
She lived to see many milestones of her children

and four beloved grandchildren (Tali, Yoni, Joshua and Arielle) as well as her niece and nephew (Ari and Dina). She saw them all grow into fine young adults. In the end, she was taken by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was not surprising or really unexpected given that she was living in a nursing home and with her high risk co-morbidities.

What is ironic is that her last and deepest wish, to be buried alongside her family in Israel, will be delayed for just a little bit longer.

Monday, December 30, 2019

An American Jew

I am an American Jew, American...Jew.  I am the son of a Romanian immigrant refugee. My mother came to the USA at the age of 9 with her parents in 1939, just a few months before Germany invaded. My grandfather sold a working farm for three boat tickets and considered himself to have gotten the best part of the deal. I have heard tales of pogroms, antisemitism and the ultimate antisemitism, the Holocaust since the day I was born; first in Yiddish then English.

I saw antisemitism, first hand, as a kid, when the goyim in a small Connecticut town harassed my grandfather because his name was Chaim ("Life" in Hebrew; unfortunately, Haimy, in English). Like many of his generation he was a self made success (a story I am writing for another day). They would key his car and bend his license plate (within 500' of a state police barrack). I'm sure they were just trying  to thank him for escaping the Holocaust to teach himself to be a machinist so he could make aircraft engine parts for Pratt and Whitney during the War. Everyone of my grandfather's generation in America had stories of anti-semitic acts against them, their families and friends. It didn't bother them because they knew it could be much, much worse. The opportunity in America outweighed many a small evil.

My father (another great story for another day) was born in Connecticut into a small Jewish community (The Hartford Jews in between the NY Jews and the Boston Jews). He, too, was bullied in anti-semitic fashion but grew up to be a tough kid. With his brother, they could take care of themselves.

I, in my turn, was bullied as a kid, mostly not because I was Jewish, but because millions of kids were bullied every year in America even before the Internet. But, hey, let's throw on some anti-semitism. Slowly, I, too, developed my defensive skills. Skills I have honed them to this day.

We would hear of antisemitic acts around the country; but rarely close to home or to a degree to raise concerns. There has been a baseline of antisemitic acts in the USA since its inception. There are peaks and valleys to the activity. For the most part, at least in my youth, we were much more concerned about the safety of Israel than our own.

Regardless of how you feel about Israel and its politics, however, today, any attack on a known-to-be-Jew outside of Israel, is an act of antisemitism until proven otherwise. (In Israel, it's a bit more complicated in that an attack could be ordinary crime, antisemitic in nature, anti-Zionist, domestic terrorism, foreign terrorism or act of war. It is important to distinguish these cases.) Let me repeat, however, any attack on a known-to-be-Jew outside of Israel, is automatically an act of antisemitism until proven otherwise.

These cannot and will not be tolerated. We will not accept collective punishment for your misconceptions about our religion, its role in our society or your perceived injustices of Israeli politics. Those may be topics for discussion, debate, boycotts and protests, but never violence. 

On the day I am writing this, of course, there was another deadly shooting in a church. An equally heinous act that should disturb the American population as much as the kosher deli shooting in NJ or the stabbing last night in Monsey. I am not sure it does. All hate crimes are on the rise in these divisive times. They stimulate discussion around gun control, but not (yet) around 'hatred control'. Of important note in the Texas church shooting, "Parishioners acted to prevent further deaths". 

 As Jews, we are the people of the book ( referring to the Torah, the Prophets, and Other Writings, in Hebrew abbreviated as the 'Tanach') and, therein, the 10 commandments. Traditionally, we are, indeed, quiet, bookish, well educated, introspective, and communal (living within walking distance of the synagogue and short driving distance to kosher food).

It is is important, however, especially for anyone considering antisemitic acts in the USA, to note that as Americans, we are also people of the Constitution and its bill of rights, therein, especially, the 1st and 2nd. For that document, is the difference between antisemitism in the USA and, for example, France. Their only option is to flee to Israel as they have done in large numbers for the past decade or more.

That is not the American way. We stand our ground. We are not your grandfather's Jew.

Never again means never again.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

ST: Discovery: Not a fan

For me, it is almost exactly 52 years since I first watched Star Trek as a 6 year old. My initial memory is of being scared by the aliens. Of course, I gradually fell in love with it and its credo has had a not insignificant impact on my life; second, perhaps, only to my Jewish faith. As a fan, I, of course, enjoyed the subsequent spinoffs, notably, as most would agree, TNG.
As an adult, a physician and scientist with some experience in writing non-fiction science, I admire, greatly, the imagination and creative juices of not only the Star Trek writers but others in the realm of science fiction and fantasy. Some of these, Roddenberry, Tolkien, Bradbury, Clarke and Asimov (just to name a few) are etched in my memory as in a cathedral to greatness.
STD, though I use that moniker not at all casually, makes me appreciate that greatness of imagination even more so. We have talents producing science fiction and films, today, but they pale in imagination compared to that previous generation. I am not a huge fan of the term, "the greatest generation", but, perhaps, it plays here.
What prompted the creators and writers to go back to the decade before TOS? Lack of imagination. Why did they feel the need to bring new ST tech and new, real world CGI back to the time before? "We will never use holographic projectors on the Enterprise again", said no real captain anywhere. Literary device to cover lack of imagination. Why was it necessary to tie Burnham to Spock? Could she not have stood on her own as an ST lead? Why create a war with the Klingons (season 1) that did not have reference in any other timelines. Why reinvent the Klingons appearance rather than create something new? Even the concept of the Terran universe taken from TOS: Mirror. Why introduce even more technology into a timeline where we now it doesn't exits? The red angel suit: ironman. Even some of Burnham's kneeling positions are taken from Ironman. Why? Lack of imagination. The finale? A Star Wars (gasp!) look alike. Time crystals? Really? Can you spell Deus ex machina? (What's wrong with a good old hyperbolic trajectory toward the Sun?)
Don't get me wrong, there some moments of goodness but few of greatness. I did like Like and number 1. But if you wanted to do a TOS Enterprise prequel you'd had to have focused on story and not tech. Can't do that? Then don't. The spore drive? Good. But it doesn't fit in the timeline so a distraction. I could go on.
The worst part is that, at the end of season 2, we now know that the abuse of the TOS timeline was just a setup for season 3. Well, that, for me, will be only the first test of their creativity and imagination. And even then, they will have to convince me that couldn't have launched season 3 without a more creative introduction.