Let’s Look at Last Week

1. The weather. Turned cold.

2. The Caps. Beat first place Ottawa in Ottawa, to everyone’s surprise and then lost 5-2 to Tampa Bay. Still playing without Semin or Clark. Nevertheless……..

3. The Books.

a. The Private Life of Kim Philby by his widow Rufina. Philby was a British intelligence officer who was spying for the Soviets and who defected to Moscow in 1963 (he was at the time 51). Seven years later he meets and marries Rufina, a non-political Russian woman twenty years his junior. She is his fourth wife. They remain married until Philby’s death in 1988. This is the story of their eighteen years together, told by Rufina. It does not deal with Philby 1912-1970. So a lot is left out. What is interesting here is how they lived in the USSR, where Philby was given a false name and identity, never given meaningful work, kept completely out of the public eye, kept under watch by the KGB and especially protected against foreigners. Yet they always had a comfortable (but not luxurious) place to live, Philby could keep in touch with his children in the West, who could visit him apparently at will, they went on many state-paid vacations (although a lot of vacations in the USSR were state-paid). For anyone interested in this subject matter, the book is must reading. If only because it is all there is.

b. As Max Saw It by Louis Begley. I thought this short (150 page) novel was a masterpiece. Beautifully (if sometimes a little too graphically) written, it tells the story of a melancholy and somewhat always out of place (but just barely) Harvard law professor, as he goes through life from his 30s until his 60s. What he does, and who he does it with, and all the problems he encounters having what an outsider would view as a very successful life.

c. Harvard’s Secret Court by William Wright. I was attracted to this new book by its Harvard connection, obviously, and found a very interesting story. In 1920, a Harvard student commits suicide, his older brother discovers he was engaged in some single sex hanky-panky, and goes to a college dean to tell him that Harvard has a problem on its hands. President A. Lawrence Lowell creates a secret court of faculty members and for the next week, they extract confessions from a number of undergraduates and expel them from the university for conduct unbecoming a student. There are no rules governing the court, and everything is done in secret. The book tells the rather grotesque story and describes the havoc this played on everyone involved. There were two or three additional suicides and only one of the expelled students were permitted to return to the college. The book traces the history of the terminated students. Other than the suicides, it would appear that they all turned out more or less OK. Some did very, very well (even married and with children), and others probably would not have done much better if they had stuck around for their degree. So the value of a Harvard degree?

4 . The Programs.

a. The Jews of Libya. A documentary on the Jews of Libya will be shown at the Jewish Film Festival later this month. It tells the tale of the Roumani family, and how their very comfortable life was shattered, particularly in the aftermath of the founding of Israel. I heard the director speak at a presentation at the Library of Congress (where she worked) and found in very interesting and recommend the film. The director’s family got to the U.S. at a time when visas were very hard to get because her businessman father was also a student of Jewish mysticism and qualified to catalog a new collection on the subject at the Brandeis University library. Her brother runs the Sephardic studies program as a Ben-Gurion U. professor.

b. Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Janet Malcolm has written a new book concentrating on the years of WWII, when these two well known Jewish ladies were able to remain in rural France, protected from the Nazis. The books, which includes certain excerpts of Stein’s work (well read aloud by Malcolm), is enticing. Malcolm, surprisingly, however, is a very shy speaker, so her comments on the book, its writing and its subject matter, were very sparse. This surprised me, as she is such a well known and forceful biographical journalist. We saw her at Politics and Prose.

c. Martin Indyk and Jim Woolsey. Woolsey (who was a year behind me at YLS) and Indyk spoke on Iran’s nuclear threat before about 350 people at Congregation Beth El, in a forum sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council. What a fascinating evening (almost spoiled because the two of them almost came to blows)! Neither is very optimistic in the short run, and their ultimate strategic preferences are very different. Indyk thinks we need to increase sanctions, but only with the help of countries such as Russia and China, which have to date not been very accommodating. Woolsey thinks we should blow the leaders of the country to kingdom come. Both can support their case, but neither can guarantee a good result. Woolsey, hawk that he is, believes that we are dealing with another Hitler, and that we should have learned from the Chamberlain experience that we cannot appease our enemy. He believes that Ahmedinejad and crew are sincere in their religious beliefs that they need to pave the way for the coming of the 12th imam, and that the only way this will be done is at our expense. Pure and simple. Who knows? May we live in interesting times.

5. The Food. Dinner last night at Zaytinka was delicious. Getting ready for Turkey. Not the Thanksgiving kind.

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