End of an era: Shimon Peres (1923-2016)

The Times has a mostly fair-minded obituary. Peres may not technically have been one of Israel’s Founding Fathers (the way David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin were), but he was the last living representative of “the founder generation” of Israeli politics.

A protégé of David Ben-Gurion’s, he started his career in the final years of the Mandate as the person in charge of arms acquisition for the Haganah, and continued to act in that capacity after the founding of the state and the Haganah’s transformation from the pre-state militia  into the IDF.  In 1952 he was appointed deputy director general of the Ministry of Defense, becoming director-general (and de facto minister) in 1953 at the age of 30. He has been a mainstay of the Israeli political landscape for over six decades, ending with his term as  President (a mostly ceremonial position) from mid-2007 until mid-2014.

There is a Hebrew saying, acharei mot kedoshim (after their death, saints) — a pun on the titles of two consecutive Torah readings, acharei mot (Leviticus 16-18) and kedoshim. (Leviticus 19-20). “Do not speak ill of the dead,” if you like. I am however reminded of Oliver Cromwell, who told a painter to paint his portrait, “warts and all”. Paradoxically, because Peres was too great a man to need hagiography.

In his early career, Peres made tremendous contributions to the Israeli defense establishment and the security of the State. The Israel air force, Israel Aircraft Industries, RAFAE”L (Hebrew letter word for reshut le-pituach emtza’ei lechima, Weapon Systems Development Authority), Israel’s alleged nuclear deterrent… all came about on Peres’s watch. In 1959 he was first elected to the Knesset on the Mapai (mifleget poalei eretz Israel, Party of the Workers of the Land of Israel) ticket, and became Deputy Defense Minister (again, de facto minister, as Ben-Gurion officially held the portfolio himself).

In 1965, Peres, Ben-Gurion, and Moshe Dayan broke away from Mapai as  a new ticket Rafi (reshimat poalei Israel, Israel Workers List). After the Six-Day War, Mapai and Rafi merged into ha-Ma`arach (the [Labor] Alignment), and Peres joined the cabinet first as Immigrant Absorption Minister, then as Postmaster General and Information Minister. An intense rivalry with Yitzhak Rabin (Chief of Staff during the Six-Day War, later ambassador to the US) started with their competition for the Defense portfolio. After the Yom Kippur War and the resignation of Golda Meir, Rabin became Prime Minister and Peres Minister of Defense. Ironically, Peres was then the more hawkish of the two, fostering settlements in the disputed territories on the one hand and green-lighting the daring Entebbe Rescue on the other hand.

Peres never fared well at elections: an old Israeli joke was that “he could run against himself and still lose”. He always felt more in his element in the boardroom and carrying out diplomacy (sometimes incognito) with the high and mighty than on the campaign trail. He succeeded Rabin as party leader following the latter’s forced resignation over a (by today’s standards picayune) financial peccadillo: Rabin had maintained a US bank account from his days as ambassador, which had about $2,000 in it. (The law prohibiting Israelis from maintaining foreign bank accounts would later rightly be wiped off the books.) Peres’s triumph was brief: the general election put Menachem Begin’s Likud in power, and consigned the Labor Alignment to the opposition for the first time in history.

Peres had another shining moment after Begin’s “I cannot go on” (eineini yachol `od) resignation following the Lebanon War (and the demise of his wife Aliza Begin, to whom he was deeply attached). In the following National Unity Government, Peres and the Likud finance minister Yitzhak Moda’i put a stop to the hyperinflation that was ravaging the country. Under the coalition agreement, Peres started out as PM and Begin’s successor Yitzhak Shamir as Foreign Minister: after two years, the two men traded posts. Peres engaged in ample “behind the scenes” diplomacy in that era — something at which he excelled.

Following another narrow loss at the polls, the national unity coalition was continued, now with Shamir as PM all the way through. A failed scheme by Peres to topple the government in favor of a coalition of the left wing with fervently religious parties entered the Israeli political lexicon as ha-targil ha-masriach (“the stinky maneuver”, a term coined by Rabin).

After Rabin led Labor to victory in the 1992 elections, Peres became Foreign Minister in  his cabinet — the two erstwhile rivals established a surprisingly good working relationship until Rabin’s assassination. Here his main legacy became the Oslo Agreements — which must have “seemed a good idea at the time” but would become ashes in the mouths of so many of us.

Peres’s party was widely expected to win the election in the wave of sympathy and mourning following the Rabin assassination. True to form, he lost again, and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu became PM for the first time.  Former Chief of Staff Ehud Barak replaced Peres at the helm of Labor and three years later led it to victory in the polls, but left Peres on the sideline as Minister of Economic Cooperation.

Following the collapse of the Camp David Talks and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Barak lost a direct election for Prime Minister to Ariel Sharon. Peres brought Labor into Sharon’s coalition, thus forming another national unity government and holding the Foreign Ministry once again.

His record as foreign minister was mixed. While his personal diplomatic skills are undisputed, FM insiders have told me he devoted little attention to the ministry’s hasbara (“explanation”, PR) activities: he was quoted as saying that a good policy sells itself, while a bad policy cannot be sold. (It is fitting that my interlocutor, who generally is opposed to Netanyahu’s policies and favors those of Peres, acknowledged Netanyahu’s running of the ministry was much more effective.)

When Sharon founded a new centrist “Kadima” party and pursued a policy of unilateral disengagement, Peres followed him to Kadima and became his ally. After Sharon was rendered permanently unconscious by  a cerebral hemorrhage, Peres became deputy PM under Sharon’s successor Olmert.

Peres had earlier run for the post of President (the largely ceremonial head of state of Israel), but lost to Moshe Katzav in the Knesset vote. Katzav was ultimately forced to resign, and eventually imprisoned, in a sexual harassment scandal. Peres threw his hat in the ring again, successfully this time. His tenure as President restored dignity and prestige to the office, friend and foe agreeing he was perfect for the position.

Throughout it all, Peres remained a workaholic with an extraordinary drive, an insatiable intellectual curiosity, and an energy level that belied his age. It was widely assumed that Peres would either die with his boots on, or shortly after finally having to retire.

On a personal note: Across Peres’s triumphs and failures, and the many decades of his career, the one constant feature that stands out to me is his fascination with science and technology. Even just a couple of years ago, he could still be relied upon to hold forth to philanthropists, VC types, and foreign dignitaries on nanotech, renewable energy, virtual reality, you name it.

Some loved him, some hated him, many of us did both at one time or another. The prophet of the New Middle East, the ‘indefatigable schemer’ (chatran bilti nil’e, as Rabin called him in his memoirs), the arms master of early Israel, the father of our nuclear program,… he was all that and more. A man larger than life. Once there was a giant. May his memory be blessed.

PS: movie buffs might be interested to know that Peres (born Szymon Persky in Vishnyeva, present-day Belarus) was a second cousin of Lauren Bacall (born Betty Joan Perske).

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It’s the CLFA September Booknado!

New releases and a couple of $0.99 bargains by fellow CLFA authors

Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance

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Raging across a darkened land, the CLFA Booknado rips out stale, lefty establishment fiction by the roots and blasts in the new, the positive, and the bargain-priced! Batten down the hatches; the long-suppressed winds of culture change are blowing free in a whirlwind of fresh air!

Click on the book image to read more & shop:

NEW RELEASES

  The Sacred Stars (The Shadow Space Chronicles Book 4) by Kal Spriggs
Ensign Alannis Giovanni must confront alien foes and enemies from her past to save the lives of her shipmates and unravel a mystery ten thousand years in the making.

  Woe for a Faerie: Keepers of New York (Book One) by B. Brumley
One choice changed my world…

  Torchship Pilot by Karl K. Gallagher
When war breaks out, a freighter crew has to do missions a warship can’t do.

  A Moon of Their Own by Dwight R. Decker
Trapped in an orbiting…

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Kindle Countdown Deal, “On Different Strings” until Sunday

On Different Strings  and several other books are on Kindle Countdown Deal, starting today, at $0.99. Wednesday Afternoon, it will go up to $1.99 until the end of Saturday, when price will revert to $2.99.

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Bookhorde.org called it a “Genre-busting love story” 

On Different Strings is a book that is hard to pigeon-hole. It is love story that challenges preconceptions and leaves the reader questioning common wisdom. It is also a bit of a suspense thriller. And there is an element of Kafka.[…]

This is the Amazon blurb:
Guitar virtuoso Amy Ziegler ekes out a precarious living as a teaching assistant in the Mays College music department. One day a mysterious older student shows up: Ian Keenan, an engineering professor and closet songwriter. Opposites attract, and music is the language of the spirit.

Each is passionate about music, and each has been deeply wounded in love. Thus a weird yet wonderful friendship grows between the reserved English academic and the outgoing small-town Texan girl who grew up in poverty. Each secretly starts yearning for more, but the world has other ideas. Soon they become caught in a maelstrom between rivals, exes, their own pasts, activists, and campus bureaucrats. Will the rapids tear them apart, or will love and sanity prevail?

An Embarrassment of Books- Freerange Oyster

A bumper crop of books at FreeRangeOyster’s book promo, run regularly at Sarah Hoyt’s place.

According To Hoyt

An Embarrassment of Books – Freerange Oyster

Welcome back, Huns and Hoydens, to another fabulous weekend Promo Post! I’ve been inundated with submissions this week, mostly new names and faces. Behold, Hoyt’s Horde expands! We hope all of you newcomers will stick around: the Horde of Huns is a fun crowd, and we always like having fresh mea- er, new blo- that is, we like to meet new people. With the influx there’s quite a variety in this week’s selection, so whatever your taste it seems likely you’ll find something. What a great time to be a reader!

Since we’ve got so many new folks, a bit of housekeeping. For a book to be included, I need a link to its Amazon page. If you have it listed elsewhere (see Mary’s new collection below for an example) then send me a link to each of those pages. Links are all…

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Genre fiction, or: why a love story isn’t the same as a romance

Two very different book bloggers almost simultaneously sent me assessments of On Different Strings (KindlePaperback). They agreed on one thing if pretty much nothing else: it is not a romance. Or as one put it “It’s a love story, not a romance: there’s a difference[…] I know it when I see it.”

Then it dawned on me: it’s a small-r romantic novel but not a big-R Romance, similar to the difference between a small-l libertarian and a big-L Libertarian, or between small-c conservative and big-C Conservative. (In other words, between generally subscribing to certain principles of a movement and being a card-carrying member.) Or, permit me a musical metaphor, between rock music with richer harmony and several rhythm or mood  changes, and (genre) progressive rock. Or between mainstream rock with more aggressive guitars and flashy soloing, and (genre) metal.

ODS centers around a budding relationship between two at first oddly matched people, their developing love, and the conflicts with their environment that ensue. That fulfills a necessary condition for a genre romance, but not a sufficient one — genre romance readers expect certain “boxes” to be ticked. Moreover, a microcosmos of subgenres exist, each with their own conventions. (I am reminded of the proliferating subgenres of heavy metal music and the arguments between their respective fans ;)) Romance Writers of America defines the major subgenres here, while  the RomanceWiki has a much more fine-grained list. http://www.romancewiki.com/Romance_Sub-Genres

Going through the latter, I find ODS has some elements of several:

  • a suspense subplot, which is not central enough to qualify as romantic suspense;
  • a contemporary setting (a present-day college campus), but without the explicit (and repeated) sex scenes that have become the norm in contemporary romance;
  • some cultural and social observations as one might find in a mainstream romance (which is a different subgenre from contemporary romance, little did I know)
  • some inspirational elements, but a poor fit for Christian romance or the copycat Orthodox Jewish version;
  • strong musical elements, but not a genre rock’n roll romance;

The only romancewiki.com category it truly fits would seem to be novel with strong romantic elements. Indeed, “Genre-busting love story” was the title of a recent review.

Now if I had decided from the outset to conceive this as a general fiction book with strong romantic elements, rather than billing this as a big-R Romance novel, then I might have wished to plane away some of the courtship material earlier in the book, and have gotten a tighter work overall.

Conversely, if I had from the outset decided on a category big-R Romance and not naively misunderstood how this differs from a love story, I might have had to sacrifice some subplots in favor of expanding the romantic bits, and elaborating on some aspects of the developing relationship that are presently underplayed. For instance: Ian, the engineering professor, had musical aspirations of his own — which is how he initially met his guitar tutor Amy, after all. Our cyber and real-life friends include many such mixed artistic-professional couples, and generally they make the same pact as Ian and Amy (sometimes with the genders reversed): Ian focuses on continuing to be a solid provider and sacrifices his own artistic aspirations, so Amy can fully focus on developing her music. However: this aspect is implied more than spelled out — and a genre romance reader would expect this aspect to be elaborated upon, yea even belabored.

And thus we live and learn…

In honor of Battle of Britain Day

 

The above is a montage of aerial combat scenes from the movie “Battle of Britain“, set to the Iron Maiden song “Aces High” (lyrics). Churchill’s immortal words form the intro.

Also in observance of the day, here is an interesting documentary on the Polish RAF squadron during the Battle of Britain.

“The few, the proud…”

 

 

BookHorde review of On Different Strings: “Genre-busting love story”

 

Bookhorde.org just published this review of On Different Strings (Kindle; Paperback):

Genre-busting love story

On Different Strings is a book that is hard to pigeon-hole. It is love story that challenges preconceptions and leaves the reader questioning common wisdom. It is also a bit of a suspense thriller. And there is an element of Kafka.  […]

 

Go and read the full review here.