Roving thoughts and provocations

I Am an Illegal Alien on My Own Land’

David Shulman

Eitan Abramovich/Getty Images

In 1949, shortly after Israel’s War of Independence, the Hebrew writer S. Yizhar published a story that became an instant classic. “Khirbet Khizeh” is a fictionalized account of the destruction of a Palestinian village and the expulsion of all its inhabitants by Israeli soldiers in the course of the war. The narrator, a soldier in the unit that carries out the order, is sickened by what is being done to the innocent villagers. Sixty-three years have passed since Yizhar wrote “Khirbet Khizeh.” I wish I could say that what he described was an ugly exception and that such actions don’t happen any more. This week I find myself in Susya, in the South Hebron hills, whose inhabitants, if the Israeli Civil Administration gets its way, will be, quite literally, cast into the desert.

Nora the Perfectionist

Garry Wills

MGM

To be a perfectionist is normally to be a pain. Nora Ephron was a picky person, who worried about all kinds of trivial things. This can make one completely unbearable. Nora actually made it attractive by mocking it in herself. Those impossibly detailed orders for lunch or a latte in When Harry Met Sally or You’ve Got Mail are Nora to a T. I remember once we were with her at the Greenbriar in West Virginia, which had a famous, and what seemed an endlessly extensive, brunch buffet.

Walking with Chatwin

Rory Stewart

David Nash

The publication of Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines in 1987 transformed English travel writing; it made it cool. For the previous half century, travel writing seemed to consist either of grim, extended journeys through desolate landscapes or jokes about foreigners. But Chatwin was as attractive as a person as he was as a writer. The New York Times review of The Songlines ran: “Nearly every writer of my generation in England has wanted, at some point, to be Bruce Chatwin, wanted to be talked about, as he is, with raucous envy; wanted, above all, to have written his books.” I was no exception. Aged twenty, I thought that even his untruths were immensely erudite.

Keller to Nuns: Get Out!

Garry Wills

Former New York Times editor Bill Keller thinks it sounds shocking that he agrees with the Catholic conservative Bill Donohue, but he need not be disturbed. Some of us have long thought he was closer to Donahue than he pretended. What he particularly liked is the way Donohue argues that half of Catholics should just leave the church they pretend to believe in. Keller puts the matter even more punchily. He tells the useless half, “Summon your fortitude and just go.”

Downing Street Liars’ Club

Geoffrey Wheatcroft

One of the best traditions of English public life is the official inquiry, sometimes parliamentary, sometimes judicial. What gives inquiries their value isn’t the conclusions they come to, which can be perverse or distorted by partisanship, but the evidence they hear and place on record. And so with the Leveson inquiry into the press. Whatever recommendations Lord Justice Leveson eventually makes, we have been spellbound by the testimony he has heard. To add a certain amusement value, the last few weeks have been notable for utterly contradictory testimony from different witnesses, several of them present or former leaders of the country. Someone is being economical with the truth, or just lying.

Why the Dalai Lama is Hopeful

Jonathan Mirsky

Rosie Hallam/Getty Images

“I told President Obama the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are missing a part of the brain, the part that contains common sense,” the Dalai Lama said to me during our conversation in London Wednesday. “But it can be put back in. I am hopeful about the new Chinese leadership beginning late this year. The Communist leaders now lack self-confidence, but I have heard from my Chinese friends that after a year or two the new ones will take some initiatives, so more freedom, more democracy.”

Greece and the Rest of Us: A Discussion

Paul Krugman, George Soros, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and Edmund S. Phelps

C-SPAN

Following the election of a pro-bailout party in Greece on June 17, the new Greek government being formed this week will try once more to negotiate a solution to its intractable debt crisis that will keep it in the eurozone. But how did Greece get into this situation in the first place? Are other countries at risk of falling into the same predicament? In a panel discussion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this year sponsored by the Review and Fritt Ord, these and other questions were explored by Paul Krugman, Edmund Phelps, Jeffrey Sachs, and George Soros. —The Editors

Trashing Hadrian’s Villa

Ingrid D. Rowland

Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

I first went to Hadrian’s Villa, the incomparably beautiful rural residence of that most cultured of all Roman emperors, in 1967 with my father. I was a teenager for whom the long country road from Rome to the spa town of Tivoli seemed endless, and endlessly mysterious. We climbed over vaults and crept through tunnels, watched the swans and carp navigate the murky green waters of the imperial reflecting pools, drank in the quiet and the breezes that softened the summer heat. If local and regional officials get their way, however, the villa may soon be remembered less for its ancient pleasures than for the stench of modern refuse wafting through its ruins.

The Curse of Political Purity

Garry Wills

Roberto Unger, descended from a famous Brazilian family, is a respected philosopher, a famous political activist, and a professor at the Harvard Law School. But he is best known now for having taught Barack Obama two courses at Harvard. The professor has released a special video saying that “Obama must be defeated” for failing to advance the progressive agenda. I freely admit that Unger’s principles are better than Obama’s. If I had to choose between them as men of probity, I would prefer Unger as quick as the eye can blink. But in politics we never choose men of much probity.