August 16

1845, 1913, 1923

1845: Louis Daguerre, the inventor of what would become photography, is well known (see January 2), but not Gabriel Lippman, the Frenchman from Luxembourg who took the basic Daguerrotype and turned it into genuine colour photography. Born today in 1845, and clearly he wasn't just a first-rate physicist, but had a superb aesthetic eye as well - the illustration is his "Le Cervin", taken sometime in the 1890s.

And then there are the heroes who are also villains - another case-study for my argument with Hannah Arendt (see January 11), who wants Evil to be a noun (banal or otherwise), in order to remove it from the human realm, and leave us merely passively complicitous when it befalls us - and thereby exonerating Hitler, who had a miserable childhood, war-trauma, suffered so personally in the economic recession, wanted to be an artist but couldn't get the breaks or recognition, and then, poor, sad Adolf, along came the external power of Evil and drove him to do such terrible things...

But I am supposed to be writing about Menachem Begin, former Israeli Prime Minister, who was born today in 1913, and died on March 9th 1992 with his Nobel Peace Prize held firmly in his hand. And yet:

* Wanted as a terrorist by the British.

* The Dir Yassin massacre and his part in the bombing of the King David Hotel.

* Sabra and Shatila on his watch (see September 16).

* His derogatory opinions about "chak-chaks"

* His responsibility for Israel becoming a theocracy

* The deliberate economic destruction of the kibbutzim, without which Israel would never have come into being.

And yet, also the co-signatory of Camp David, and like his policies or not, a passionate and loyal defender of his nation, fighter for it (even if you are an anti-Zionist, you probably support the idea of patriotism in your own country, and in the countries that you do approve of: so what's the difference?)

And how strange a coincidence that, ten years to the day later, August 16th 1923, there should be born another of the great patriotic servants of the Jewish state, several times Prime Minister, once President, and a man who, let's be honest, actually achieved absolutely nothing through the entire seventy years of his political career. Nothing. Oh, he was part of governments that did, served in an army that did. But himself? Personally? Failure after failure. The hugely, and deservedly respected, Shimon Peres.

Amber pages 

Today in 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon territory, and what a wonderful excuse for a literary gold-digger and pan-handler like me, to go mining among the poems of Robert Service and the tales of Jack London, and quarry its infinite blackness. I hereby stake out my claim to this prospect.

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