The notion that in withdrawing from Iraq we would enhance our security by removing a cause for provocation is the merest superstition.
That's Oliver Kamm commenting on a new piece by Christopher Hitchens, in which Hitchens for his own part opposes a withdrawal from Iraq. I liked this passage:
Many of those advocating withdrawal have been "war-weary" ever since the midafternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, when it was discovered that the source of jihadist violence was U.S. foreign policy... To this way of thinking, victory is impossible by definition, because any response other than restraint is bound to inflame the militancy of the other side. Since the jihadists, by every available account, are also inflamed and encouraged by everything from passivity to Danish cartoons, this seems to shrink the arena of possible or even thinkable combat. (Nobody ever asks what would happen if the jihadists had to start worrying about the level of casualties they were enduring, or the credit they were losing by their tactics, or the number of enemies they were making among civilized people who were prepared to take up arms to stop them. Our own masochism makes this contingency an unlikely one in any case.)
And people don't much consider in this context whether someone's propensity to get inflamed is a useful guideline in determining the actions of others.
Earlier in the year I wrote here about the Laurie Engel Fund, set up by Matthew Engel and his family after the death of 13-year-old Laurie from cancer. In this week's Jewish Chronicle, Matthew writes again about his son's death and the response to the effort to raise money for building hospital units for teenagers with cancer:
Amid the wreckage of the happy life we once had, there are two comforts. Not consolations - there is no consolation for the death of a child - but comforts. One is that Laurie's story has somehow brought out the best in almost everyone we know...
The second is that it is now possible to believe something will emerge from the rubble, something that will help other children in the future. Perhaps Laurie's life will turn out to have more purpose and consequence than many full-length lives. As we strive to find any kind of logic in what has happened to us, we cling to that.
OK, so this is the first in the series that comes from before the Second World War, and it's essential - a great document of the swing era. It's Benny Goodman, Live at Carnegie Hall. It was one of the first jazz albums I ever owned, and I know the music on it so well that I think I'd notice if someone changed a single note anywhere. Listen to Goodman on 'One O'Clock Jump', Bobby Hackett on 'I'm Coming Virginia', Harry James on 'Shine' (and passim), the trio and quartet sessions with Teddy Wilson... you've just got to have it in any good collection. The jewel in the crown is 'Sing, Sing, Sing', with the whole band playing their socks off and the pianist Jess Stacy achieving immortality. (See the review here.)
Anne Stott teaches for the Open University and Birkbeck College. She is the author of Hannah More: the First Victorian, which in 2004 won the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize for literary biography. Anne is currently researching for a book on the domestic life of William Wilberforce. Here she writes about Jane Austen's Emma.
Anne Stott on Emma by Jane Austen
Emma is the perfect novel, impossible to improve. Part of its perfection lies in its smallness of scale - the little piece of ivory which was Austen's famous metaphor for her novels. But small does not mean trivial. In Emma she places her flawed heroine in a grounded community whose nuances are described with a dazzling sureness of touch. At the same time she experiments with the novel as a literary form, and also invents the detective story. We are given all the clues to enable us to solve the puzzle at the heart of the novel and yet to many readers the denouement comes as a surprise. It is only on re-reading that we exclaim, 'But of course!'
The opening sentence sets the scene:
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived for nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
The key word is 'seemed'. Emma has it all. As the heiress of £30,000 she is the wealthiest of Austen's heroines (compare with Elizabeth Bennet's meagre £1,000), but in her good fortune lies her undoing.
The real evils of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.
We learn later that she has never put her intelligence to work. She makes elaborate lists of the books she is going to read but never gets round to reading them because she cannot submit to the mental discipline required, the 'dry, tough reading' the contemporary moralist Hannah More recommended for women. She neglects her piano playing and her performances are only praised by the undiscerning. She has been allowed too loose a rein. Her elderly father is a kindly hypochondriac who can see no fault in her. Her governess, Miss Taylor, has been the maternal figure the motherless Emma needs but she has allowed her charge to set the terms of the relationship. Emma's teenage years were spent 'highly esteeming Miss Taylor's judgement, but directed chiefly by her own'.
As a result the sublimely confident Emma commits a series of blunders, which leave her humiliated and miserable. The blunders are serious, potentially devastating for others. She takes as a protégée a young girl, Harriet Smith, 'the natural daughter of somebody' and tries to find her a husband. A Dickens or a Brontë would have focused on Harriet's illegitimacy, but Austen's attitude is robustly unsentimental. There is no great secret to be revealed. Emma's supposition that Harriet must be a gentleman's daughter is as unfounded as the rest of her conjectures. The plot focuses instead on Emma's exploitation of this pretty, pliant, stupid but good-natured girl. She parts her from the 'respectable, intelligent gentleman farmer' who loves her and settles on Mr Elton, the vicar. Mr Elton is one of Austen's enjoyable minor villains, who later finds the wife he deserves. Before the essential 'littleness' of his character is revealed, Emma sees him as 'a very pleasing young man whom any woman not fastidious might like'. Ouch! And this is the man she is foisting on her friend. It soon becomes clear to the reader that the socially ambitious Elton is aiming at Emma, and Mr Elton's self-regarding, alcohol-fuelled proposal when they are trapped in a carriage on Christmas Eve is one of the high spots of the novel.
Emma's second blunder is equally dreadful. She has always been jealous of Jane Fairfax, the enigmatic orphan who from time to time comes to stay with her grandmother and aunt. The dilettante Emma is jealous of Jane Fairfax because Jane has acquired the accomplishments that she can't be bothered to learn. And this is where Emma's over-confidence becomes spite as she confides in Frank Churchill, the charming but shallow young man with whom she flirts shamelessly, her totally unwarranted suspicion that Jane is secretly in love with a married man: a supposition which, in the society of the time, could shatter a woman's reputation.
The moral focus of the novel is provided by Emma's neighbour, Mr Knightley, the man clearly marked out to be her husband - though Emma does not recognize her love for him till very late in the novel. It is Mr Knightley who presciently points out, 'you have been no friend to Harriet Smith'. It is he who administers the most stinging rebuke in one of the key scenes. The characters have all been on a picnic to Box Hill, but the weather is hot and most of the participants are out of sorts. (Austen is wonderful at scenes where the characters are meant to be enjoying themselves but are in reality having a hellish time.) On the outing a key development in the plot takes place under Emma's nose but she does not perceive it. Jane Fairfax's aunt, Miss Bates, is one of the party. Miss Bates is an exemplar of the genteel poverty that Austen knew was the lot of so many single women. She is also an inveterate talker, though the reader would be ill-advised to skip her monologues because they turn out to be part of the plot. The most morally aware characters put up with the endless flow because they recognize her essential kindness and good nature. But on this hot, cross, disappointing day Emma loses control and snubs Miss Bates in front of the others. The moment passes, until Mr Knightley reproaches her later. Emma at first defends herself.
Oh... I know there is not a better creature in the world: but you must allow that what is good and what is ridiculous are most unfortunately blended in her.
Mr Knightley responds:
Were she a woman of good fortune, I would leave every harmless absurdity to take its chance... Were she your equal in situation - but Emma... she is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and if she live to old age, must probably sink more... It was badly done indeed.
Emma knows he is right and when she is left alone, she breaks down.
Austen critics have been dismissive of this incident. Is this it? Is this the peak of human depravity? But her point is that for most of us most of the time wrong-doing lies not in some great existential evil, but in the small change of everyday life. Any of us might be tempted to snub a vulnerable and irritating person. If so, we can feel with Emma:
Never had she felt so agitated, grieved, at any circumstance in her life... How could she have been so brutal, so cruel!
The following day, deeply remorseful, she calls on Miss Bates. She is forgiven rather too easily, but she has learned an uncomfortable truth about herself.
In no other Austen novel are we given such a sense of a rooted community. Emma lives in Highbury in Surrey, 'the large and populous village almost amounting to a town' where the Woodhouses are 'first in consequence'. Mr Knightley is the proprietor of Donwell Abbey in the next parish and is the most substantial landowner in the neighbourhood. His days are spent with his tenants and his steward, William Larkins, and in his kindly dealings with his neighbours he represents a benign Tory paternalism. A few deft sentences flesh in the background. Frank Churchill buys a pair of kid gloves from Mrs Ford's general store. The teachers and parlour boarders at Mrs Goddard's school rush to the window and peep through the blind to view the handsome Mr Elton. The parish provides relief for the bed-ridden ex-clerk, whose son is the chief ostler at the Crown inn. It is a harmonious Burkean universe of duties and obligations. But it is also a place of mobility and one reason for Emma's mistakes lies in her snobbish assumption that the social hierarchy is fixed and immutable. Yet Mr Perry the physician is acquiring a carriage. Mr Cole and Mr Weston have made money in trade and are rapidly turning themselves into country gentlemen. Robert Martin's sisters have acquired the 'superior education' that will enable them to marry up. The enjoyably dreadful Mrs Elton, who manages to out-snob Emma, boasts of her family's ostentatious barouche-landau, though she is only 'the youngest of two daughters of a Bristol – merchant, of course it must be called'. Not everyone is upwardly mobile. The dark side of this society is shown in the poor family that Emma visits and in Jane Fairfax's bitter attack on the 'governess trade'.
By the time she wrote Emma (1814) Austen felt comfortable enough in her powers to move unobtrusively from the omniscient authoritative author's voice to Emma's - equally confident but horribly fallible.
Those soft blue eyes and all those natural graces should not be wasted on the inferior society of Highbury and its connections. The acquaintance she had already formed must be unworthy of her... She would notice her; she would improve her.
We take this novelistic technique for granted but it was new in Austen's day. So too was Mrs Elton's stream of consciousness monologue as she gathers strawberries in hot weather:
The best fruit in England - every body's favourite... Morning decidedly the best time - never tired... delicious fruit - only too rich to be eaten much of - inferior to cherries -... glaring sun - tired to death - could bear it no longer.
Emma is a comedy of recognition, a story of the heroine's growth in self-knowledge. What could have gone wrong is put right and the book ends with three appropriate marriages. It is very neat of course, and Emma is let off far too lightly. But this is as it should be. For much of the novel one wishes to strangle her for her snobbery and her wrong-headedness, but she is redeemed by her wit, energy and intelligence, and by her ability to learn from her blunders. I am glad she is rewarded with the best of Austen's heroes and am willing to believe that the marriage will be one of 'perfect happiness'. I'm just sorry that I can't visit Highbury.
[All the pieces that have appeared to date in this series, with the links to them, are listed here and here.]
The slaughter consuming Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in roughly equal measure may appear like anarchy from afar, but a closer look reveals a sinister plot. Starting in the west of the city, Sunni militants have seized district after district, creating their own zone that extends into the heart of Baghdad.
The Shi'ites are not innocent. Since the explosion at a Shi'ite mosque in Samarra in February, their militias have exacted vicious revenge. The morgue classifies victims according to their injuries; if a victim has been beheaded, he is a Shi'ite killed by Sunnis. If he has been killed by a power drill to the head, he is a Sunni murdered by Shi'ites. Most victims have been tortured. Bodies are dumped by the roadside and lie there for hours.
While the Shi'ites are fired by blind vengeance, the Sunnis appear to have a plan. They are trying to split Baghdad in half in advance of a proposal to carve Iraq into three federal regions.
Most of the country divides easily. The north is mainly Kurdish, the south Shi'ite, and the central desert region Sunni. Baghdad, too mixed to divide without a massive population transfer, is the sticking point in this plan.
But look at the changing map of Baghdad today. From the western suburb of Abu Ghraib, neighbourhoods have fallen under the control of Sunni radicals, their Shi'ite residents sent fleeing, their homes abandoned or taken by Sunni families, their businesses bombed, shuttered or reopened under Sunni ownership. Baghdad is on its way to becoming two cities, the west Sunni, the east and north Shi'ite.
Peter Galbraith argues that a de facto partition of the country is already under way and that de jure partition is now the only solution to its troubles:
While the break-up of Iraq was certainly unintended, it was inevitable and it happened... To try to put Iraq together is a recipe for an endless coalition presence with no prospect for success.
President Bush must finally do what he failed to do five years ago: Increase the size of the U.S. military... This means Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney must go.
Fareed Zakaria disagrees:
The United States must redefine its mission, reduce and redeploy its forces and fashion a less intrusive involvement with Iraq, one that both Iraqis and Americans believe is productive and sustainable for the long term.
Zakaria's article (via Clive) is long and cannot be neatly summarized.
Trade unions in the United Kingdom will on the 4th of November team up with Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) and Amicus to host a major conference in central London on solidarity with Zimbabwe's trade unions that continue to be a target for the government, especially following their September protest that was thwarted by the police.
The conference is meant to discuss ways through which labour unions around the world can help their colleagues in Zimbabwe. [ACTSA director, Euan] Wilmhurst said the conference, at which Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president, Lovemore Matombo, will speak, is meant to support labour unions whose leaders were badly beaten up by the police on September 13 while protesting against low wages, lack of access to HIV/Aids drugs and related issues.