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Daily Journal: Wednesday, February 7, 2007

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Ehren Watada’s War Theater
A Soldier Disputes an Illegal War

The flag is his chief prosecutor

What is the difference between a soldier refusing to refuse a superior’s order to assassinate civilians and a soldier refusing a superior’s order to deploy in a war deemed differently illegal—proven so, as the Iraq war has been, and proven to have been a deception from its inception? In the case of the soldier ordered to assassinate civilians, it’s easy enough, eventually, to find for the soldier, if he has the courage to step forward and challenge his superiors in these situations, if he survives not being assassinated himself, if he survives the chain of command’s attempts to silence him, or possibly assassinate him, and if he survives whatever happens in a courtroom, where games of mitigation usually kick in and accusers can become the accused. In the case of the soldier refusing to follow orders to deploy in a theater of war he deems illegal, well, the moral parallels may be similar, and even more compelling in the war theater’s case: more is at stake, more can be achieved by opposition, if indeed the war is illegal. But the military has a lot more to lose, too. Out of control soldiers who massacre civilians are the stuff of every war, but the military does an excellent job of hiding the incidents, condoning them by dismissing them as the stuff of war, or otherwise judging them the last thing they really are: isolated cases, the work of rotten apple, not the institutional diseases of any army at war, including, and it seems especially, the American army, now that it claims to be the world’s chief and only cop. Soldiers who protest an actual war, if they are ever to gain any credibility in the public eye, are far more dangerous, to the army, than rogue massacring soldiers. War opponents can turn into movements. And movements ruin wars. So there’s no possible way that a war opponent no matter how noble his cause will ever be given an iota’s hearing from a judge. So it is with First Lt. Ehren Watada, the Washington State soldier (Third Brigade, Second Infantry) who, ordered in July to deploy to Iraq with his unit, refused to go. He also spoke about his opposition publicly, as other soldiers refusing to follow similar orders have not. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be in a war zone. He asked to be deployed to Afghanistan—a perfectly reasonable and effective, if not efficient, way to accommodate soldiers’ consciences (the military transfers and accommodates for a lot les, and a lot more scurrilous, reasons). He was refused. He was also not allowed to argue his case in his court-martial: he wanted to argue the legality of the war. The court said no. That would be an offense to the very reason wars exist: legality is not in question. Following orders is. The case has drawn the attention of war protesters. He’s won the support of Desmond Tutu, Martin Sheen and Tim Robbins, but their voices only reinforce the military’s indifference. You don’t defy the Pentagon. You submit. And you especially don’t defy the military in public. The case has also, of course, drawn the attention of the rabid reactionaries of the armies of the blight—the Fox brigades, the Malkin cluckers, the Limbaugh louts, all of them excoriating Ehren as a traitor, a deserter, a monster. I’m curious about this: how close is the language of excoriation about Ehren to the language used against blacks who refused to give up their seats at Alabama lunch counters in the civil rights era? Those blacks, too, were breaking laws, defying law and order, defying the order of things. The parallel is more than a similarity. It’s an American tradition.

Ehren Watada in His Own Voice


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Iraq War Non-Debate
Cowards, Part II


From the Times: “At a time when even President Bush acknowledges the war in Iraq is sapping the nation’s spirit, the Senate has tied itself up in procedural knots rather than engage in a debate on Iraq policy. Given the influence that voter frustration with Iraq had on the November elections, the national unease with the mounting human and financial costs, and the raw passion on all sides, even some lawmakers say they are astounded that the buildup to the Senate fight over Mr. Bush’s proposed troop increase has produced such a letdown. “It just floors me,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota who campaigned against the war, as the two parties pointed fingers on Tuesday. The day before, the Senate proved unable to agree on a plan to even begin debate on a bipartisan resolution opposing the administration strategy. “People in Minnesota, when they see a debate we should be having — whatever side they are on — blocked by partisan politics, they don’t like it,” Ms. Klobuchar said. The fact that that Democrats could pull together only 49 of the 60 votes needed to break a procedural impasse on the resolution opposing Mr. Bush’s plan was a product of many competing agendas. There was the Democratic desire to avoid getting tied up on any vote that could be perceived as undercutting United States troops or endorsing Mr. Bush’s plan. At the same time, a surprising number of Republicans showed they were not yet ready to abandon the president even though many blame him for their November election losses and worry he will hurt them again next year. Then there were the presidential ambitions of several senators who are trying to distinguish themselves from others on the issue, and have little incentive to seek common ground. By the end of the day on Tuesday, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said he saw little prospect that Democrats and Republicans could reach agreement on a plan to bring the resolution to the floor. “The negotiations are over,” said Mr. Reid, who dismissed Republican efforts to force a separate vote on the war money as a ploy intended to distract the public from the matter of whether senators supported or opposed the president’s policy.” The full story...

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Ragtime Rover
Happy Birthday Eubie Blake

Even the New York Times bought into Eubie’s white lie: “Five days after his 100th birthday was celebrated with gala performances of his music,” the paper reported on February 13, 1983, “Eubie Blake, the composer and pianist whose career covered a span from the ragtime era in the 19th century to the contemporary Broadway theater a year ago, died yesterday at his home in Brooklyn.” I don’t know if Wikipedia’s reliability should have precedence over that of the Times (Gore Vidal would say absolutely it should, and often enough I have to agree: Wikipedia did not mislead us into war on the Judith Miller-Ahmad Chalabi bandwagon), but the great encyclopedia, relying on the work of Peter Hanley, has it that Eubie set his birth year back five years, although his “1917 World War I draft registration, 1920 passport application, and 1936 Social Security application” all cite 1887 as the birth year. But back-dating among jazz musicians was an old habit back then: the great Jelly Roll Morton, too, put himself five years back “to give himself an earlier entry into the New Orleans jazz scene,” Hanley writes. All the same: today, February 7, is Eubie Blake’s birthday, and the man should be celebrated. He would have been either 124 years old or 119. I’ve scrounged up a couple of items. The first is his own composition, “The Charleston Rag,” performed by William Albright, from an old 1982 LP of mine by the Musical Heritage Society, likely out of print, called “Sweet Sixteenths: A Ragtime Concert.” The piece should have you zapping out of your seat and playing the imaginary piano (or dancing with your cubby neighbor) three bars in. Eubie only rates one piece on the album (others include Joplin of course, Joseph Lamb, Clarence Woods, and William Albright). The second piece features Eubie Blake himself—speaking, explaining and discoursing, not playing. It’s a piece called “The School of Ragtime,” it’s by Scott Joplin, and Eubie tells you what he thinks of it in his wonderfully raggety voice. Here they are in mp3 format:


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The WPA Guides
Arizona, “Ancient and Venerable Land”

Seymour Fogel's Study for Stafford, Arizona, a WPA Mural, 1940.

They don’t write guides like this anymore. Get a read of this opening sentence: “Land of extremes. Land of contrasts. Land of surprises. Land of contradictions. A land that is never to be fully understood but always to be loved by sons and daughters sprung from such a diversity of origins, animated by such a diversity of motives and ideals that generations must pass before they can ever fully understand each other. That is Arizona.” It’s the opening paragraph of the WPA Guide to Arizona, which I found today in a used bookstore, a 1949 edition of the 1940 original, in hardback, for $10, to be added to the collection: I still have some thirty-five volumes to go, and in a pinch I’ll settle for the paperback reprints: it’s the texts that matter, not the editions (I’m not into rare books or collections for the sake of collections.) The history in this Arizona volume is still more alive and delectable to the eyes than any contemporary guide’s attempt at contextualizing the consumer experience. What these WPA guides have about them that set them apart, aside from the wonderful style and the layered texture of each text (the substance is so rich that it’s a new dig yielding fresh nuggets every time you crack open one of those books) is the complete absence of touristic grasping. They don’t invite you to “do” a state. They seduce you to become each state’s citizen for the duration of your stay. Or, if you just happen to be reading Arizona from Florida, to be an Arizonan while flipping the pages. Where these days would I find a line like this: “ Arizona has been the home of hairy aborigines who stoned to death the giant sloth, the mammoth, and many beasts now extinct; of nomads little more advanced who huddled in natural caves, hunted with spears and bows, yet developed an art of basketry not surpassed today.” And an art for producing the odd Goldwater also not surpassed today (Schwartzeneggers are imports, and Goldwaters would disavow them as to soft, too girly). The volume has a terrific picture section including a beautiful portrait of Geronimo, “Apache renegade,” and the ever-corpulant Howard Taft signing the statehood bill in 1922, in a room surrounded by white men, skinnier all of them, as they’d have had to be if they expected to fit alongside Taft. One of his chins, that day, doubled up as the highest mountain in Arizona. The pictures also include inevitably, sublimely, the saguaro, emperor of the cacti. I’m getting weepy missing it all. Let’s close the book and return to it some other day.

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Jazz Bit
Cantaloupe Island
The performers: Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, with thanks to Suburban Guerilla for the find, from the One Night with Blue Note DVD


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L'art de voir
Michel Tanguy

Michel Tanguy, "Maman, papa est blessé (Mom, dad is wounded)", 1927.


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In the Blogosphere

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