Pops and Duke under One Roof

Louis Armstrong + Duke Ellington = THE WIN

Seriously, how can you NOT like two of the immortals playing together? Norman Granz was a genius for bringing these two together to record. The Great Summit is the album that resulted from the only known recording session that these two ever did. I can’t think of one good reason why anyone who call himself a jazz fan would not want this album.

Satchmo and the Duke are both on their game in this song, but I want to point out the clarinet player, Barney Bigard, also does a tremendous job. In fact, the whole band is very much loose and relaxed here; it really does feel like a cool after-hours jam session. It also helps that the the album was recorded very well–if your stereo is up to par, it really does seem like the band is playing in the living room.

In other news, does anyone else besides me think that a tax-holiday on gasoline during the summer is the stupidest fucking policy idea ever? I mean, Jesus, if we are trying to reduce our dependence on crude oil, then why the fuck are we driving up the demand for it?

Sure, it’s a crowd-pleaser, but on a policy-level, it makes no sense, at all. All we are doing is drive up demand for gas, which means increasing the already high gas prices, and transferring the increased wealth from increasing gas prices to the very countries whom we are trying to wean ourselves from.

Does that make sense to anyone at all?

The Asian Cultural Legacy in America, or: How There is None

A thought experiment, if you will: suppose in a hundred year’s time, Asian people have all disappeared from America, what would they leave so that they might not be forgotten?

The answer, at least on the many times when I have thought about it, is none.

Asian people have left no cultural legacy in America: we have written no great novels, composed no great music, thought no great philosophy, and sure as hell did not reshape politics.

In other words, Asian people have made not a single dent on the cultural and intellectual landscape of America.

This is not to say that Asian people have not written, composed, or philosophized? Because surely we have, and history backs this up.

But what troubles me is this: Asians have not written, composed, or philosophized in America. At least, not in a significant enough manner to have left a lasting legacy.

It is high time for Asian Americans to get out of the marginalized dungeon that is the Asian Studies departments across campuses, and into the broad daylight that is the American cultural and intellectual pantheon.

Where is our Faulkner? Where is our Gershwin? Duke Ellington? Bob Dylan? Where is our Coppolas and Scorceses? Where is our John Rawls and William James? On every cultural front, Asian Americans have made no significant stride.

In other words, what the fuck have we contributed to the American ideas and culture? Our two most prominent academics, Fukuyama and John Yoo are known as a supporter of an unjust war and an enabler of torture.

No matter how much money we make, or how successful we become, no matter how well-off our children are, in the end, we will NEVER belong to this country, this society, if we never even leave our mark on its culture and its ideas. Because 100 years from now, no one is going to remember how much money we have made, or how high we’ve climbed the corporate ladder, or how big our houses are.

And I sincerely believe that it is not a matter of talent or skills, because Asian people are skilled. I think the matter is one of effort: I just don’t see it. Look, we can be the most successful engineers, doctors, and lawyers in the fucking world, and it would not matter one fucking bit, because until we have made ourselves felt in the world of ideas and culture, we might as well not exist. Sure, our non-existence will be prosperous, but it is non-existence nonetheless.

Failing to write The Great American Novel is not what bothers me, because the road to greatness is paved with innumerable failures. What bothers me is the lack of effort, and perhaps the lack of awareness: the awareness that it is not merely enough to do well financially in order to truly belong to a community, any community.

In order to TRULY belong to a community, its members must participate in the community’s cultural and intellectual formation and undertaking. Because that, at the end of the day, is what determines what a community is, how it thinks of itself. In other words, if Asian Americans don’t even want to participate in the creation of an American identity, then we will never be Americans.

This is not to say that we have to sell out: after all, Ralph Ellison wrote about the black experience, but we don’t think of Invisible Man as a “black” novel, but rather one of the finest examples of the AMERICAN novel. Similarly, jazz is not merely “black” music, but is instead perhaps America’s finest contribution to the musical culture around the world.

True, Asians have thousands of years worth of culture and ideas that they can proudly call their own, but we are in America, and in America, our cultural contribution is, if not entirely absent, then at least sorely lacking.

And lest I confuse you: I’m not saying that cultural and intellectual undertakings take priority above all else. No, if survival is not guaranteed, then those undertakings are of not importance whatsoever. But that is my point: we Asians have done very well for ourselves in America, so survival can and should no longer be our most pressing priority. That kind of mentality no longer fits our economic reality.

In other words, Asians have done well enough for themselves that they now have the luxury of undertaking cultural and intellectual endeavors.

But maybe I’m wrong, maybe all it takes is time.

Chinese Nationalism

I seem to remember, some posts back, that I would stop talking about China, Tibet, and the whole Olympic Torch incident.

Well, I lied.

John Quiggin posts over at Crooked Timber about what effects, if any, the protests will have on China-Tibet relations. I think it is a pretty good post, and articulates, in a far better way than I have done, why I feel the entire incident is overblown.

Quigging concludes that:

In fact, however, the protests have focused* entirely on the national claims of Tibet (as represented by the government in exile of the Dalai Lama) and have produced an unsurprising nationalist reaction in China (effectively in support of the existing government). The result, almost certainly, is that the position of supporters of democracy will be worse than ever, with any criticism of the Chinese authorities being viewed as support for external attacks on China’s territorial integrity.

He’s right on the money about the nationalist reaction the whole thing has produced in China, and talking to my grandparents, who pay much more attention to Chinese media in America than I do, the nationalist sentiment seems to be in full effect.

Furthermore, Quiggin goes on to say that:

As far as Tibet is concerned, all this is likely to prove counterproductive. A democratic Chinese government would almost certainly come around to the viewpoint that territorial control over Tibet is an expensive indulgence, in terms of both economic cost and international standing, while a democratic and independent Tibet would have little choice but to pursue close economic and political ties with China. But as long as China remains in its current political stasis, no movement on this issue is likely.

Again, I have to agree with him: if the real desired goal is Tibetan independence, then the protests have done little, if anything at all, to move any closer toward the goal. Instead, the nationalist reaction provoked by the protests will only reinforce the credibility and the legitimacy of the Communist regime in China. I mean, even if the Dalai Lama is advocating non-separation and is willing to negotiate with the Communist government, certainly the protests have made the two sides more polarized and their positions more entrenched.

And to go beyond Tibet, I have to wonder: when the fuck is the Communist government ever going to stop fanning the nationalist flame? When the hell are they going to realize that China is now a superpower and no longer need such chest-puffing exercises to show its power? This is the same kind of obsessive inferiority-complex that makes China-Taiwan relations impossible to move forward.

The Chinese government should realize by now that even if Tibet and Taiwan wanted separation, they have no real choice but to remain extremely close to the central government because of China’s status as a hegemonic power in the region? Let’s say that Tibet is indeed free, hypothetically, there is very little possibility that it will not maintain close relations with the Chinese government.

But may the Chinese government does have some cause for concern, since the Han Chinese makes up only a small minority in China’s territory. It is my hope that in the future, China will evolve into some kind of federal system, in which constituent units are divided along ethnic lines with certain degrees of self-rule, but still maintain very close relationship to Beijing.

Then again, that may be, and probably is, just a pipe dream.

The Politics of Whisky

Finish the shot HRC! Don’t waste whisky, which I believe counts as a mortal sin in Catholicism, the last time I checked.

But of course, this really shows that she’s “one of us regular folks,” because as we all know, there is nothing more Joe Sixpack-ish than Crown Royal, a whisky that comes in a fucking plush blue velvet bag.

Let’s just forget about this blatant pandering for a moment, let us forget the cynical “populist” turn being performed here: what does it matter at all, at the end of the day, whether the President is “one of us” or not?

Besides, let it be said that real men only drink Jameson!

One Debate to Ruin Them All

I have to say, out of the 21 Democratic debates held so far, I’ve watched at least 15 of them, but man, last night’s debate was the worst of them all.

Question: what is the purpose of spending half of the debate asking questions about who-said-what, who-is-friends-with-whom, and other inane bullshit?

Who was really served when a 60s radical (Bill Ayers, if you are keeping score at home) was brought up? And who was really served when Obama brought up an obscure comment HRC made back in ’92?

And the media accuses Obama of being out of touch with the common people: sure, because there is nothing more relevant to the people of Pennsylvania than who-was-on-the-board-with-whom, and who-pardoned-whom, and who-baked-cookies.

We are all just dying to find out, for the six hundred thirty seventh time, what kind of sniper fire that HRC was under.

I propose no more debates, because let us be honest here: how much more can we take? And how much do we REALLY care about Guam?

Elitist?

I am not sure how much the elitism charge really holds when you are running for the most elite position in the country, and possibly the entire world.

It takes someone, and I do not mean any disrespect by this, who really thinks that he’s better than 99 percent of the people in the country in order to run for the presidency. There is nothing wrong with that–a healthy ego is the ontological pre-condition for seeking political office.

Now is Obama wrong? Yes, because he made a tactical mistake: he let it slip.

But that is the paradox of the situation: we want someone to run for the elitest of the elite positions, but we also want someone who’s just one of the guys.

Now, how someone feels about a group of people don’t have to do with how they treat them. Just look at Johnson: the man was a racist, but he helped pass the most significant civil rights legislations since Reconstruction.

The Weekly 10 #8 (and some stuff on the War on Terror)

It’s back: get your blue tops/red-tops/yellow-tops/green-tops/WMD here.

1) Wu-Tang Clan – Can It All Be So Simple (from The 36 Chambers)
Has to be one of the best WTC songs of all time, which consequently puts it as one of the greatest raps songs of all time. What you get here is really a two-for-one special: the first half are verses by Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, two of the best MCs in the group; the second half is Ghost and Method Man introducing all the members and explaining their aliases. In other words: a song about origins.

2) The Magnetic Fields – Washington DC (from 69 Love Songs)
Lyrically, a tin-pan alley styled song. I would say that this song is cheesy if it weren’t for the blatant irony. Also because I am going to DC next year.

3) John Adams – Landing of the Spirit of ’76 (from Nixon in China)
This orchestral piece is part of a much longer opera about Nixon’s historic visit to China. Chose it because of current political events surrounding China. Highly recommended that you check out the entire opera.

4) R.E.M. – I’m Gonna DJ (from Accelerate)
Don’t call it a comeback! So sayeth LL Cool J. Not their best stuff, but surely better than their last three records. Short, to the point, simple chords, played loud and fast. Completely arena-rock, totally can imagine a stadium of people singing along, jumping up and down. Not sure if it’s an act of celebration of life from a middle-aged band. Or if it’s an act of desperation and refusing to deal with reality.

5) Bruce Springsteen – Girls in Their Summer Clothes (from Magic)
Another arena-rock song from an arena-rock warhorse. Chose it because of the hot weather the last couple of days, which saw a lot of girls in summer dresses. Also, not sure if The Boss is playing his old nostalgia trick again: either he’s lamenting a state of affairs in America The Innocent, or he’s just singing about shit that never existed to begin with. But again, the epic scope of its quaintness sort of makes the discussion irrelevant.

6) Nick Cave – Albert Goes West (from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!)
Pushing 60 and still making jokes about pussy ( Henry, he went south and lost his way deep in the weeping forests of Le Vulva). I have no idea what this song is about: is it some kind of metaphor for a quest, or just non-sense. But the guitar is loud, and there’s even back vocals of “woo-woo.” What more do you want?

7) George Benson – Shape of Things That Are and Were (from The Shape of Things to Come)
Before George Benson made wedding songs, he was actually a pretty decent jazz guitarist. Who’d thought? The bongos and the horns give this a Latin tinge mixed with soul/r&b.

8) Chet Baker – How Deep is the Ocean (from Chet’s Choice)
This is a piece from late in his career, and there is nothing in the song itself that suggests that it’s special, or that it occupies some special canonical position. I rather enjoy the song precisely because of Chet’s tone, which is inimitable.

9) Philip Glass – Symphony No. 3, Third Movement (from Symphony No. 3)
Some people knock Glass, and minimalism in general, for being just primitive doodles repeated ad nauseum and sold to yuppies and petty bourgeoisie hungry for real art. And perhaps it’s even true that I am one of those yuppies and petty bourgeoisie hungry for real art. But whatever the case, I rather like this movement. So the knocks are ignored for now.

10) MONO – Mere Your Pathetique Light (from their third album, whose title I’m too lazy to bother spelling out fully)
This really doesn’t sound like a Steve Albini-produced album, which usually sounds dramatic and big, but this sounds more restrainted, even deliberatively, on purpose. More classically-oriented, more compositionally-leaning. The interaction between the violin, viola, cello, and the distorted guitar is excellent. A dichotomy and contrast between clean string-generated melodic lines and distortion-generated ones.

The War On Terror Talk

Now, onto more serious stuff. Today at Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies, Professor Allen Weiner from the Stanford Law School gave a talk titled “It’s the Law, Even in War.” The talk was essentially about how the Bush administration’s invocation of the “War on Terror” in a very real, legal sense, not rhetorically, as other invocations of war, such as the War on Drugs for example. The talk essentially examines what the legal invocation of war means, in terms of actually applying international law.

Aside from the intellectual curiosity which the topic excited in me, the other primary reason I attended the lecture was the promise of free lunch. I was not disappointed: wraps were provided, and they were decent.

From my notes, the talk essentially consisted of the following, which I shall try to break down in the most sensible way I can.

I. Invocation of War in the Legal Sense and Its Implications

  • Unlike previous “wars” which have been part of our political rhetoric, the Bush Administration speak of the War on Terror in a very concrete, explicit legal sense. In using the term War on Terror in a legal sense, the Administration is essentially calling upon international law governing war in order to justify certain actions
  • Examples of Actions:
    • Use of armed force
    • Killing of individual soldiers (Afghanistani troops) and operatives (Al Qaeda members)
    • Killing individuals outside of Afghanistan and Iraq
      • e.g., the killing of Al Qaeda operatives in Yeme and Somalia
    • Justification of detaining enemy combatants (Guantonomo)
      • Detainees are not held because of specific charges, but as a pre-emptive and preventive measure in order to remove them from any field of operation
    • Use of domestic surveillance (FISA)
  • None of these actions would be justifiable if the administration did not explicitly treat the War on Terror as an actual war in international law.

II. Is the War on Terror an Actual War under International Law?

  • Positivist View: no, because according to the letters of international law, war is defined as an armed conflict between nations. Clearly, Al Qaeda and terrorist groups do not constitute a nation; ergo, no war.
  • Functionalist View (one taken by the Bush Administration): yes, the War on Terror is war under international law, because of certain structural similarities
    • Capacity: Al Qaeda, as demonstrated by 9/11, has the capacity to inflict harm on the United States; in this regard, it holds similar capacities as regular state actors.
    • Party-Like: Al Qaeda is well-organized and highly structured
      • Principal-agency: Individual operatives are acting as the agents of commanders. Thus, they can be treated analogously like soldiers who are commanded by nations
    • Ideological: Al Qaeda’s objectives are distinctly political, as opposed to economical or religious, which is analogous to ideological objectives held by nation states
    • Last-resort: America has used all non-violent diplomatic options, at far as Afghanistan was concerned.

III. Not the End of Inquiry, Part I

  • Passing the prima facie test: The Bush Administration’s functionalist views seem to pass the prima facie test, but in reality, its logic is highly inconsistent
    • Source of inconsistency: In justifying its own powers, the Administration takes the much more expansive functionalist view. But in claiming what it owes to enemy combatants, the Administration takes the much more restricted positivist view.
  • Examples of Inconsistency
    • The scope of targets: the Administration has explicitly stated that the War on Terror does not only target Al Qaeda, but all terrorist groups, thus giving it a very expansive scope of targets
      • Inconsistency: International laws governing war has a much more restricted scope on who the targets are.
    • Rights of detainees: the Administration argues that detainees held at Guantonomo cannot claim rights-protection because they are not prisoners of war, since they are not part of a nation
      • Inconsistency: If this is the case, then continued military operations in Afghanistan is also impermissible, because we are no longer fighting a state actor, but terrorist groups
    • Status of detainees: the Administration claims that detainees captured during the Afghanistan operation are operatives of global terrorism
      • Inconsistency: the operation in Afghanistan has changed–it is no longer an armed conflict against another state, but a military operation against non-state actors. Therefore, the detainees captured during the Afghanistan operation should have been released or chaged
    • Issue of reciprocity: the Administration has charged individual operatives with the killing of American soldiers during course of combat
      • Inconsistency: International law states that once war is underway, combatants on both sides are to be treated as moral equals. Thus, there is no criminal charge against one combatant killing another in the course of war. However, the Administration does not recognize reciprocity.

IV. Not the End of Inquiry, Part 2

  • Room for Exception within the Geneva Convention?
    • Common Article 3 allows for some form of non-international conflict
    • Traditionally, this has been interpreted to mean things like intra-national conflicts, such as civil wars.
  • Supreme Court case law:
    • In Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantonomo were protected under the Geneva Convention–thus, the rejection of secret military tribunals
      • Not as rosy as it sounds: although the ruling of the Hamdan case seems to suggest that the Court is protecting the rights of detainees, it might end up legitimating the War on Terror as an actual war under international law.
  • The Interpretation of Common Article 3
    • The Court interpreted “non-international” not as most international lawyers have done, that is, treat it as civil war.
      • Rather, “non-international” is taken to mean conflict not between nations, which is a very literal, if somewhat counter-intuitive way of reading it. Under this interpretation, the War on Terror is an instance of “non-international” conflict since it is technically not between nations, which is what “international” literally means–between nations
    • However, this could potentially mean that the War on Terror is treated as an actual war under international law, albeit in this strange kind of fashion.
      • Thus, even if the ruling of Hamdan came out against the Administration, it might have ultimately legitimized the Administration’s claim that the War on Terror is a legal war under international law

V. Toward a Checks-and-Balances System

  • Having possibly legitimized the Administration’s claim to a legal war in Hamdan, it is now up to the Judiciary to delineate and clarify war powers.
    • Uphill battle: traditionally, the courts have hesitated to delineate executive powers out of judicial deference
  • A check on the unitary executive:
    • If the courts do not further clarify executive war powers that can be used in the War on Terror, the executive branch essentially goes unchecked
    • Legal questions: the courts must answer a series of questions in this untraditional war
      • With what “powers” is the United States at war with? The courts must specify the targets
      • What is the sufficient degree of connection between an individual and a “power” before he can be prosecuted?
        • For example, is it enough to prosecute him for merely being a member, or must he meet some further threshold?
      • Where the war powers are exercised?
      • How long the war will last
        • This entails questions about how this war can be ended, since traditional ways of ending a war, such as cease-fires and peace treaties, are not likely with terrorist groups
  • The unprecedented nature of the War on Terror calls upon an exercise of checks-and-balances, or else it leaves too much power in the hands of the executive.

VI. Personal Comments
Now, those are my notes on what Prof. Weiner has said: I tried to be as faithful to his words as I could, but it goes without saying that this is not an objective/factual account, but merely what I took him to be saying.

As for my personal thoughts, I felt he did a good job describing why the War on Terror poses so many legal problems due to its unprecedented nature. I felt that claim was backed up by a lot of examples in which the invocation of international law was inconsistent with the actual letters of international law. And this is inevitably the case, in my opinion, when one tries to apply existing laws to deal with an unprecedented situation in which existing laws were clearly not designed to do (I might have more to say on this in regards to Carl Schmitt, but that is for another day and time). Therefore, at this crucial juncture in which all the rules, laws, and norms are still being tested and formulated, it is absolutely paramount that a variety of actors, such as legislators, judges, citizens, other nations, international organizations, etc., participate in this formation-process in order to create a set of rules and norms that are viewed as legitimate and credible.

Part of the problem, at least so it looks to me, with the Administration’s invocation of war in the legal sense, is precisely that it was done so unilaterally. All one has to do is to read John Yoo’s memos to realize that the Administration was only concerned about itself, not other actors. Thus, I find Prof. Weiner’s normative conclusions compelling, because it is simply bad policy to leave the formation of important laws like these in the hands of only one governmental branch and only one relevant actor among the possible many. If the War on Terror is to have any legitimacy at all, it has to be governed by rules and norms that are viewed as legitimate.