A Brave New World!

Posted in On Killer Robots with A I with tags , on July 29, 2015 by playthell
Artificial Intelligence in Weapons
Future Soldiers

Are Killer Robots with Artificial Intelligence a Good Idea?

Although we are living in an age of routine miracles not all of them are good, and it remains to be seen if the moral development of mankind can keep pace with technological progress.  There is abundant evidence that we have not; the best examples being the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons and human induced global warming; both of which of which threaten the existence of all life on this planet.

One only needs to listen to the attitudes of the Republicans who presently control of the US Congress in order to recognize how ill equipped humans are to deal with the enormous destructive capabilities of science when it is mismanaged. For instance, these short sighted, ignorant, moral Neanderthals deny human agency in global warming and want to build more advanced nuclear weapons rather than lead a movement for nuclear disarmament that would remove these doomsday weapons from the arsenals of nation states.

The USA is the most technologically advanced country in the world, and the government that sets the rules governing how this powerful technology is to be used is elected by the American people in what is widely considered to be among the most enlightened and humane societies in the world – indeed most Americans believe  they are “exceptional” in this regard.

Yet the US is the only country that has attacked another nation with an atomic bomb; has greatly expanded its arsenal since that horrific event, and refuses to pledge not to be the first to launch another nuclear attack.  The atomic arms race that occurred in the twentieth century between advanced nations is a direct result of this American policy.  In view of the perilous human condition at this moment in history, the last thing this troubled world needs is a new class of deadly weapons; especially weapons that do not require human agency to activate.

It is this alarming possibility that motivated over a thousand of the world’s leading scientists specializing in Artificial Intelligence in robots to send an open letter to the International Joint conference on Artificial Intelligence that is meeting in Buenos Aires Argentina, calling for an international ban on weapons invested with AI.

The letter was signed by renowned physicist Stephan Hawking, Tesla’s billionaire technology entreprenuer Elon Musk, Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak and the Chief executive of Google Deep Mind, Demis Hassabis, and signed by 1000 leading researchers in the field of Artificial Intelligence including Stuart Russell, U-Cal Berkeley Professor of Computer Science, director of the Center for Intelligent Systems, and co-author of the standard textbook “Artificial Intelligence: a Modern Approach.”

In this terse but profoundly troubling letter the scientists warn:

“Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is — practically if not legally — feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”

After considering the arguments of those who claim that the use of robots guided by artificial intelligence would reduce the loss of human life in warfare, the scientists present the other side of the story with a cost/benefit analysis for humanity.

The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow. Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity. There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people.”

Although it is not well known, most of the great physicist who built the world’s first atomic bomb at Los Alamos wanted to explode it off the coast of Japan, so the Japanese military could witness it’s awesome power and give them a chance to surrender rather than drop the bomb on civilian populations in cities – a great crime against humanity – then put the technology under the control of an international agency that would make it available to the world’s scientist in an effort to prevent a nuclear arms race that could end in the destruction of humanity. The  cutting edge computer scientists in the field of Artificial Intelligence who signed this letter are candid in their moral concerns about the uses to which they do not want their discoveries employed.

They want no part in weaponizing robots equipped with AI, and they cite scientists in other fields who have faced similar moral choices as a guide.  Hence they are warning us that weaponizing robots with Artificial Intelligence is a road to untold horrors that will decimate human society as we know it as an unintended consequence of their work:

“Just as most chemists and biologists have no interest in building chemical or biological weapons, most AI researchers have no interest in building AI weapons — and do not want others to tarnish their field by doing so, potentially creating a major public backlash against AI that curtails its future societal benefits. Indeed, chemists and biologists have broadly supported international agreements that have successfully prohibited chemical and biological weapons, just as most physicists supported the treaties banning space-based nuclear weapons and blinding laser weapons.”

I am well aware of the role that activist scientists, led by distinguished physicist such as Dr. Mitshiu Kaku, played in  blocking the development of Reagan’s “Star Wars” anti-ballistic missile shield by persuading leading physicist in the US not to work on the project because they believed it would destabilize the nuclear order and increase the chances of accidental nuclear war. The computer scientists that signed this letter have also made their feelings about what government policy ought to be regarding the development of weaponized robots:

“In summary, we believe that AI has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.”

The question for American citizens is: What is our government’s policy on weaponizing robots with AI?   As near as I have been able to discern the US government has no clearly defined policy on this question.  Thus far it seems that this technology is being pioneered by scientists working for private companies and professors in leading research universities.  However of greatest concern is the US military, which seizes upon every new technology and exploits its military value, already has a secret research and development program experimenting with killer robots.  Hence it is incumbent upon the American people to demand that our government lead an international effort to ban such weapons before they get out of hand.

Hollywood has given us glimpses of what a future with such robots could be like: Hal in Space Odyssey, Gaut in The Day the Earth Stood Still, and the infamous Terminator Series, et al.  Alas this is no longer confined to the realm of science fiction. One scientist who is particularly concerned with the direction of the development of AI is Dr.  Selmer Bringsjord, professor of cognitive science, computer science and logic and philosophy at in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  By virtue of his background in science and philosophy, Professor Bringsjord is especially concerned with the ethical implications of his research and the danger it poses to homo sapiens:

“I’m worried about both whether its people making machines do evil things or the machines doing evil things on their own. The more powerful the robot is, the higher the stakes are. If robots in the future have autonomy…, that’s a recipe for disaster. If we were to totally ignore this, we would cease to exist.”

Arnold Swartznegger as the Terminator
ARNOLD  SCHWARZENEGGER in the futuristic action thriller movie,  "Terminator  3: Rise of the Machines." photo by ROBERT ZUCKERMAN. courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER in the futuristic action thriller movie, “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” photo by ROBERT ZUCKERMAN. courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

A vision of the future?

Now that’s a wakeup call that we dare not ignore, for considering that these robots can even operate in outer space…they would be literally out of this world!  That’s why we must spare no effort to stop them from coming into our world.

If robots could Think….

Artificial-intelligence-robot

BEWARE BROTHER BEWARE!

Double click to view scientific docuentary on Killer Robots
https://youtu.be/5qBjFZV19p0

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
July 29, 2015

Geeks in the Hood!

Posted in Film Criticism, Movie Reviews with tags , , on July 26, 2015 by playthell

Shamiek Moore

Shamiek Moore as Malcolm: Leader of the Geek Squad
Big Ups for the Smart kids

Although this movie is Dope on the real, it could easily have been named “Geeks in the Hood,” or “The Geek Squad” vs “Dope Posse.”   And the outcome of this imaginative urban fable would have been just as surprising.  Perhaps it is because there is so much competition facing the movie business today that writers and directors are forced to become more creative; to create works that titillate our emotions and stimulate our intellect; movies that shock, entertain and often provide food for thought.  This is such a movie.

While the most popular American movies rely more and more on the tricks of the cinematic trade that advances in technology makes possible – endless explosions, giant killer machines that transform themselves before our eyes; the marvelous illusions conjured up by special effects, and the booms and bangs orchestrated to dynamic musical scores composed in popular idioms – other movies rely on thoughtful scripts and excellent actors. Dope falls into the latter category. The script combines thoughtful, clever, irreverent language and ideas with a group of talented young actors that make us believe the zany events in this movie could actually happen.

Set in the same type of dangerous funky inner-city LA urban landscape we were first introduced to in John Singleton’s classic Boyz in the Hood, Dope, which is written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa,  provides a different view of youths in the Hood.  Although written and produced a generation later, one cannot help but notice some similarities between Boyz and Dope, this is because Famuyiwa, like John Singleton, also grew up in LA and studied cinema at the famous film school in the University of Southern California – a school whose illustrious grads have left an indelible mark on American Film. Hence like Boyz in da Hood, this is an insider’s view of life in the sprawling megalopolis of Southern California that keeps it real.

A striking difference between the two films is that Boyz focused on the gangstas and Dope centers on the geeks.  Whereas a central character in Boyz dreamed of going to USC on a football scholarship and struggled to make the cut by achieving the minimum score on the SAT, the central character in Dope, Malcom, is something of a computer genius and alternative rock musician who aspires to go to Harvard.

In other words, Famuyiwa has written and directed a film about people like him and his peeps; smart kids in the hood who don’t buy the bogus “real niggaz” bullshit.  They know from first hand observation that the decadent nihilistic values which underpin the “real nigga” syndrome are a direct road to jail or an early grave.  And they ain’t tryin to go either place.  These are young black people who still dare to dream big dreams that can be realized by education and hard work; so they are trying to go to a good college.

The Geek Squad Rocks tha House
Dope-Quincy-Brown-Shameik-Moore-Kiersey-Clemons-and-Tony-Revolori
Their songs were innovative and musically demanding

Malcolm continues to nurture this dream despite discouraging advice from his black male high- school guidance counsellor who calls him “arrogant” and points out that although he has a straight A average, the neighborhood he lives in, and the high school he attended, will cause admissions people at Harvard to view his achievements with suspicion and pretty much dismiss them.  It is a scene that calls to mind the experience described by Malcolm X in his Autobiography, where a white counsellor discouraged his ambitions to become a lawyer as “unrealistic for a Negro” and told him he should aspire to be a carpenter instead.

When they discuss Malcolm’s essay, an analytic history of local cultural icon Ice Cube’s career, which he is intent on submitting with his application for admission to Harvard despite the advice of his academic advisor, the counsellor dismissed it as folly and insisted that Malcolm write an essay about himself.  However Malcolm was unpersuaded and pointed out that the essay he had written displayed all of the things that Harvard should be interested in when considering a potential student; arguing the essay was well designed and researched, plus a model of reason and critical thinking.  He concluded his argument with the audacious claim: “If Dr. Neil de grass Tyson wrote an essay about Ice Cube this is what it would look like.”

Malcolm’s geek squad consists of two other close friends, a quirky Hispanic guy who proudly claims that according to Ancestry.Com he is 14% African, played by Tony Revolori, and an out butch dyke played by the lovely Kiersey Clemons.  The three of them swoop around their LA hood on bikes; constantly making quick detours in order to avoid the gangstas that control the streets.  This is such a persistent problem that one of the geeks suggests that somebody should invent a computer App that will allow them to identify where the thugs are congregating and plot an alternative route.

Although not without laughter, the film paints a poignant portrait of the trials and tribulations suffered by bright kids in dangerous inner-city neighborhoods; kids who are trying to prepare themselves for college and are not enamored with Tupac’s “thug life;” kids who are “different,” as they constantly describe themselves.  In them we see a self-portrait of the writer and his world; Famuyika tells us:

The thing you gotta understand about L.A. is that everything is suburbia. Los Angeles isn’t set up like San Francisco or New York. People come to L.A. and they expect to see a ghetto like the projects, but that’s not the way it’s set up. Inglewood, in particular, is the furthest thing from a ghetto. It’s a middle-class community, but it’s gotten a bad rap over the years…because of Grand Canyon and Pulp Fiction and other films.” Famuyiwa continues about his hometown, “I would be lying if I said there isn’t a negative element in the city, but I would say it’s no different than any other city. You come across gangs na find trouble no matter what you do. But we were never into that. My group of friends were never into that.”

The Intrepid Bikers
dope-bikes_t750x550 
Adroitly navigating the pitfalls of da hood

It was while forced to make a quick detour from their usual route home because the murderous Bloods were shooting a You Tube video, that they became entangled with the local drug lord.   One day while riding through his territory the Drug lord stopped Malcolm and pressed him into service delivering a message to a local beauty.

That Girl

Zoe Kravitz

Zoe Kravitz

However when Malcolm approached the girl he found her working on a mathematical equation.  After conveying the dealer’s message he told her how to solve the equation.  She was impressed.  During Malcolm’s conversation with the drug lord and his posse the subject turned to Hip Hop, and Malcolm revealed another side of his personality: he and his geek squad are serious student /aficionado of 1990’s rap music.

Malcolm is in fact an authority on the artists of that period – Public enemy, NWA, Wu Tang Clan, et al – which he calls “the Golden Age of Hip hop,” and when he begins to discuss the relative merits of the various rappers the dope dealer and his posse are impressed.  When he sends Malcolm, who he refers to only as “Little Nigga,” back to the young lady to carry an invitation to his birthday party, she says she will only come if Malcolm can also come.  When Malcolm tells the geek squad about the invitation to party with the gangstas he had no intention of going, although he was tempted because the young fox would be there.  However his two fellow geeks were intrigued and saw it as a once in a lifetime adventure, and reasoned that since they would be the guest of the leader of the pack they would be safe.

So they went to the party and it changed their lives.  At first they were having a ball with an unending supply of liquor, weed;  the Spanish kid got blasted and Malcolm was on cloud nine rubbing bellies on the dance floor with his heart throb.  But while the guest boogied their brains out a big dope deal was going down in a back room.  It was not until the deal went bad and the drug lord came backing out of the door firing his guns wildly that the hard partying guest had any clue what was going on.

Suddenly a posse of cops entered the club with guns blazing. The geeks’ dream party became a terrifying nightmare as the revelers fled into the night dodging bullets.  But there was a special twist for Malcolm, as the dope dealer had stuffed his backpack full of Molly and stashed his gun in with the drugs.  It was not until Malcolm and the Geek Squad arrived at school the next day that they discovered the dope and the loaded Roscoe.  This discovery and their subsequent attempt to get rid of the dope takes us on a fascinating journey into the world of cybercrime – a kind convergence of “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Boyz In the Hood.”  On the way we meet a fascinating array of strange people, most of whom are out to do Malcolm and the Geeks no good.

As the Geeks wonder what to do with the dope – scared shitless by their sudden predicament which in the nature of things was very dangerous – a cell phone begins to ring in the back pack. To his amazement the voice on the phone not only knows he has the dope, but also knows his name and present location!   The voice tells Malcolm when and where to deliver the dope and he will be able to live a “happy life” with and interesting tale to tell. Should he fail to show up with the dope he and all of his friends would get iced.   Malcolm quickly agreed ti the caller’s demands and was happy to do so; he couldn’t wait to be rid of the dope.  However a series of madcap events follows that prevents the delivery and Malcolm and the Geeks end up with a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of dope.

The story of how they disposed of the dope is the heart of this fantastic tale, and it begins when the dyke points out that this is not heroin or cocaine they were trying to move but Molly.  “So all we have to do is find the white people,” she said. As much as I’d love to go on discusing this story line, I feel that I would do the reader a disservice by denying you the joy and wonder I felt as I witnessed the film unfold.  Suffice it to say that you will meet a fascinating array of characters that will make your liver quiver with delight.  It is smart, sexy, stylish, adventurous, and entertaining the way all good and successful movies must be.  It is no accident that I say “good” and “successful” because they are not always the same thing.  There are a lot of good movies, films that I like a lot, which are great artistic achievements but cannot attract and audience.

I think with the proper promotion this film could be a smash!!!  It is a paean to modern urban life and an elucidation of how Hip Hop has helped shape the culture proclivities of all Americans of the ir generation –especially in providing the beats that defined what the great Afro-American writer and cultural critic Albert Murray called “The velocity of celebration.”

Of course Murray was talking about the music that animated the club scene in Kansas City during the early decades of the Twentieth Century.  Like the plays of Shakespeare, which literary critics have firmly implanted in some exalted place in the “western canon” – although he was trying to write popular entertainments that a largely illiterate audience would pay their hard earned coin to see – Jazz has been similarly sanitized and canonized to the point that we forget some of the greatest patrons of jazz artist were gangsters.

For instance, the great Earl “Fatha” Hines tells fascinating stories about his relationship with Al Capone, who regularly came to hear his band at The Grand Terrace in Chicago.  Hines was glad to see him in the audience because he always spent a lot of money, and the musicians that played the clubs and dance halls of Kansas City, a wide open boom town in the middle of America where every variety of vice flourished, recall regularly seeing “Pretty Boy” Floyd and “Machine Gun Kelly” out on the dance floor.  So contrary to what some anti-hip hop old heads may say: Gangers have always been part of the music scene.  For one thing they owned most of the night clubs.  It was no different with Hip hop, especially in the early days.

Although hip hop began as a musical phenomenon, spoke words over musical “beats,” it quickly inspired other art forms: break dancing; graffiti art; videos; new hardware for spinning records; sound sampling; fashion and feature films.  This movie is the latest contribution to the genre and it shows in poignant fashion the extent to which hip hop was the soundtrack of a generation’s lives in a way that Blues, Jazz, or Rhythm and Blues could never equal because none of those musical genres directly address the broad range of issues that determine the life’s chances of their listeners the way rappers do.  Like comedy, hip hop is an intellectual art; the rapper must tell a story or make a statement that not only addresses issues that are often quite complex, but they must do it with high style and originality while chanting over beats.  The artist must keep it real while spitting rhymes with a seamless flow.

In other words rappers must be so skilled at combining rhythm and rhyme that they can convey their message while the listeners are grooving to the beat.  And the way hip hop music is utilized in this movie clearly demonstrates the role it has played in shaping the consciousness of a generation – whether it is the rapid fire sermons of Chuck D; the parodic voice of Flava Flave; the prophetic admonitions of Nas declaring “the world is yours,” or Digital Underground calling people to celebrate life by getting down with the “Humpty Hump.”  Malcolm reveals yet another side to his character as he becomes a dancing fool really getting down to Digital Underground, after having won the girl, dumped the dope and won admission to Harvard.

One thing is clear: Rick Famuyiwa is a gifted film maker with a very bright future.  This movie represents the kind of masterpiece that can still be culled from the realities of the gritty urban environment when smart black people are in charge.  The thing that validated my conclusion about the importance of this film was the response from an 18 year old college bound young lady who was taking tickets in the Magic Johnson Theater.  When I asked her if she had seen the film and what she thought of it, she said she had seen it three times and “It gave me a feeling of hope.”   You cannot ask more of a film that that in these troubled times                                                                                                                                                

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Click to see preview
https://youtu.be/NOn_VtCXjUs (cast Interview)
https://youtu.be/L41xwM8tIRQ
https://youtu.be/JCh1Ude3KSc
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
July, 2, 2015

Black Female Heroes Invisible to White Feminists

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , , on July 11, 2015 by playthell
Althea Gibson ticker Tape
Ain’t she a woman?

New Yorkers turned out to Honor their Own circa 1957

As ticker tape parade honoring the US women’s soccer team’s victory proceeds through the Canyon of Heroes in downtown Manhattan to the cheers of a proud nation, we are inundated by smiling white female faces clamoring about how this is “the first time a female athletic team has been so honored.”  This is only partially true, but I have waited in vain to hear one of these commentators point out that a ticker tape parade was held for a single female athlete almost 60 years ago!  But no one has even alluded to it as I write; despite the fact that the talking heads have been chattering on for hours and grappling for interesting things to say.

The athlete who received this unique honor was Althea Gibson, and Afro-American tennis player from Harlem who won the Wimbledon tournament on July 6, 1957.  A year earlier Gibson had attracted attention in the press as the first black woman to compete in the US Nationals – now the US Open – and had also won The French Open, one of the prestigious Grand Slam tournaments. She conquered Wimbledon in spectacular fashion, winning in straight sets 6-3 6-2 in less than an hour!

Her opponent in the final was Darlene Hard, whom she later teamed up with to also win the Doubles Championship.  Queen Elizabeth II attended the singles final, and Fred Tupper covered it for the New York Times.  “Miss Gibson was in rare form,” wrote Tupper.  “Her big service was kicking to Miss Hard’s backhand with such speed that Darlene could only lob it back.  Behind her serves and her severe ground shots, Althea moved tigerishly to the net to cut away her volleys.”  We hear much praise for “girl Power.”  One commentator Chrystal Ball, an MSNBC talk show host and a vocal feminist did correct the record by going all the way back to the Statue of Liberty in order to cite another instance when a “woman” was given a ticker tape Parade: but no mention of Althea Gibson!

It is further evidence that white women are as much white supremacists as white men, and just as narcissistic, despite the vocal protests from white feminists that racism is a male phenomenon – a claim the is contradicted by the many enthusiastic white female faces in pictures of lynch mobs where black men were being hanged or burned alive!

White women enjoying the Spectacle

White womwn at lynching II

Even little Girls joined the fun at this 1935 Florida Lynching

As black female intellectuals have pointed out, the problem with white feminists is that when they speak of “women” they are speaking about “white women.”  Hence they constantly overlook black women who ought to be their heroes because the personify everything these feminist celebrate.  I speak of women like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Mary McCloud Bethune and Dr. Anna Julia Cooper – who was born a slave and took a PhD degree in French Civilization from the prestigious.  There are no more impressive women in American history than these women.  Yet I have never heard an of them celebrated by white feminists.  Most have probably never even head of them.

Ms. Gibson and the Queen
Althea Gibson and the Queen
Queen Elizabeth Came down to the Court and Shook the champion’s Hand

Hence it is no wonder that they know nothing about Althea Gibson, although she was a native daughter of the Big Apple, and was given a big ticker tape parade after her marvelous championship performance at Wimbledon.  Her performance had so moved the Queen that she came down on the court to congratulate her with a hand shake…. Something that goes against royal protocol.  And this at a time when Ms. Gibson couldn’t even sit and drink a coke at a lunch counter that routinely served low life white trash in half of the country!

I was in the tenth grade in High School when it happened and, although I didn’t give a fig about tennis, I was as excited as all of my fellow students, because we were certain that her magnificent victory would help move Afro-Americans as a group forward by demonstrating yet another praiseworthy field of endeavor that we could excel at.  The fact that this was also the year of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the emergence of Dr. Martin Luther King made Ms. Gibson’s victory seem all the ore momentous.

Although she couldn’t sit in the front of the bus in Alabama, nor play on their tennis courts, New York Mayor Bob Wagner was so impressed by her he feted the 29 year old queen of women’s tennis with a full ticker tape parade, and thousands of New Yorkers turned out to cheer her victory.  Although Ms. Gibson went on the next year and not only successfully defended her Wimbledon Championship but won three out of four Grand slam tournaments.  Yet listening to the white females who dominated the commentary on the US women’s Soccer team today, one would never know that Ms. Gibson ever lived – despite the fact that information on her can be found by just doing a little research on google.  It is further evidence, although none is needed – that heroic black women are invisible to white feminists commentators!

That Championship Form!

 Althea Gibson in Action

 Winning Wimbledon
Holding the Championship Trophy
Althea Gibson with Queen
A Congratulatory kiss from her Opponent

Althea Gibson Ticker Tape IV

The World Champion of Women’s Tennis
Althea Gibson
Chillin with her racquet
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Click on Links for videos of Althea Gibson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riEvIiS2_CQ
http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/video/news-footage/2043-43
http://www.biography.com/people/althea-gibson-9310580/videos/althea-gibson-mini-biography-2192487634
https://youtu.be/K5TkI34rLus
https://youtu.be/U9mcjTCz5h4
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem New York
July 10, 2015

Fallen Angel: Self-Destructing before the World  

Posted in Cultural Matters, Film Criticism, Movie Reviews, Music Reviews with tags , on July 7, 2015 by playthell

amy-winehouse

Amy during better days
 The Short and Tragic Life of Amy Winehouse

The new documentary film on the British singer Amy Winehouse now playing at the Sunset Theater in the East Village is beautifully produced and directed by Asif Kapadia. Over the course of two hours and eight minutes we are provided a remarkable look into the life of this six time Grammy winner who rose up from the London working class and captured a world-wide audience writing and singing songs based on the vicissitudes of the high times and bizarre episodes that mark the rise and fall of her short but remarkable life.  Watching the movie I got the impression that we were witnessing the human equivalent of a shooting star that blazes across the night skies in a bright flash of light and then flames out before our eyes.

The film is thoughtfully constructed from video clips of her life; some of it is finely produced footage from her live performances in the UK and the USA, but most of the footage comes from family and friends.  Thus we see her in a wide variety of settings.  Some of the film has sound, and thus we can observe her speaking, but other footage is accompanied by voice overs of Amy speaking.  Hence we hear a lot of her story in her own words. And what we see is a young person of considerable creative talent who appears to understand little in life except making music, and cannot overcome the deep seated emotional problems caused by the lasting trauma of her father abandoning her and her mother at an early age.

This leaves her with a deep need to be loved by men, or at least win their approval, and her emotional neediness drives her into a destructive relationship with a guy who is also emotionally damaged because of a screwed up relationship with his parents.    He promises to be her rock and help Amy cope and instead he introduces her to crack cocaine and heroin.  Abuse of these drugs along with excessive alcohol consumption final did her in at the tender age of 27.  However in the meantime she managed to become an international superstar who could have become fabulously rich if she had been able to stay sober.

Although Amy’s particular experience is unique, the basic narrative is an old story: old wine in a new bottle.  In many ways her saga is so familiar she comes across at times as a cliché, depending upon who is watching it.  For those who know something of music business history and inside lore it is easy to place Amy’s self-destructiveness within a tradition of music history in the 20th century. Creative geniuses like Charlie Parker and Jimmy Hendrix self-destructed on drugs, and there is a long line of singers whose fame and fortune couldn’t rescue them from self-destruction: Billy Holiday, Judy Garland, Elvis Pressley, Janis Joplin, Michael Jackson, Phyllis Hyman, Whitney Houston, et al.  However none of them acted their destruction on stages with a million people watching.

Under Asif Karpadia’s direction we are provided glimpses of Amy’s life before she became a star, when she was a passably pretty girl who was more sensuous that beautiful; her best feature being full pouty lips –DSL’s that forced one’s mind into the gutter –and her long black hair, which she often wore in “big hair” styles resembling the popular “beehive” styles of the 1960’s.  She reminded me of one of those smart mouth delinquent working class English girls in the British movie “To Sir with Love,” starring an unusually stiff and priggish Sidney Portier.

But after all is said and done the raison d’etre for this documentary film is Amy Winehouse’s talent and importance as a musical artist.  On this issue the movie becomes an extended panegyric that degenerates into special pleading.   While there is no doubt that Ms. Winehouse had talent, it is a gross exaggeration to call her “The Queen of Soul,” while the real queen, Ms. Aretha Franklin, was alive and well – not to mention her numerous Afro-American progeny such as Whitney Houston, Alicia Keyes, Beyoncé et al who are singing their asses off in the tradition.  And Tony Bennet’s claim that she was “one of the purest jazz singer I ever heard….if she had lived she would have been on the same level with Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday,” is shameless hyperbole.

Perhaps Tony Bennet’s assessment of Ms. Winehouse’s talent was influenced by the fact that she constantly cites him as her artistic “hero,” along with Sarah Vaugh, Billy Holliday, Thelonious Monk, and other Afro-American Jazz greats.  Testimony from black American artists in the film like the drummer/leader of “Da Roots,” an innovative hip hop band from Philly, revealed that she was a serious student of the Jazz tradition that was constantly recommending records for him to study.

However most of the music selected for the film – which one presumes was a representative sample of her work – was Rhythm & Blues and her band was rocking!  There were excerpts from some of her Jazz performances, the most extensive being a recording date she did with Tony Bennett, where she was scared to death and nearly walked out of the studio when she kept screwing up on take after take.  It was clear that Amy and Tony have a mutual admiration thing going; that accounts for the dreamy things they say about each other.  But reality is not so easy to conceal.

Amy Winehouse was just the latest white singer to study the black vocal style and brazenly imitate her idols.  Here too her story is an oft told tale.  It was true of Elvis Pressley, Mick Jagger, Joe cocker, Billy Joel. Janet Joplin, et al.  It was also true of white instrumentalists too.  And in each of these cases once the white performer became competent in the genre they were crowned “The King of Jazz” aka Paul Whiteman; the “king of Swing” aka Benny Goodman; the “King of Rock and Roll” aka Elvis Pressley; the “King of Hip Hop” aka M&M; the “Queen of Rap” aka Iggy Azalia.

According to this film Amy Winehouse was both “The Queen of Soul” and was on the way to rivaling the great Ella Fitzgerald and the incomparable Billy Holliday as a Jazz singer.  Yet each of these art forms are Afro-American inventions, and only black artists and audiences can decide who is boss because they set the standards of excellence.  The resulting product has captured the imagination and created devotees among musicians all over the world…since the turn of the twentieth century Afro-American musicians have been the most infventive and imitated artists on earth. It is obvious that white folks need to chill, get over themselves.

Aside for these gross exaggerations regarding the magnitude of Ms. Winehouse’ talent; this is a pretty good flick about a very troubled performer who literally decomposes before our eyes.  We watch her go from a healthy, perky, quite attractive girl, to a bulimic sack of bones who seem to be knocking on death’s door – one foot in the coffin and the other on a banana peel.

Lost in Space?
Amy_winehouse_in_pink_top_and
High off everything ….but life

Yet nobody cold reason with her; not her closet girlfriends who had been at her side since childhood, nor the Afro-American rapper/actor  Mos Def, who she evidently admired and pops up throughout the movie at various stages of her career like Banquo’s ghost, warning Amy to turn away from her self-destructive path. Finally, on a hot July day in 2011, she finally killed herself; the autopsy said she died of “alcohol poisoning.”

In the end the filmmaker managed to produce a poignant portrait of a self-destructive artist who turned her pain into song poetry and allowed the world to witness her self-immolation even as she tried to hide out in plain sight.

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Double Click on links to see Amy Perform

https://youtu.be/3XKYZRuJEnU

Live in London 2007

https://youtu.be/UNkuQQ3FJ8U

Amy’s last tragic Concert

https://youtu.be/x4j95dHfB04

CLICK TO SEE THE REAL QUEENS OF SOUL!

Aretha Franklin

https://youtu.be/fgRyh9f5cOE

Whitney Houston

https://youtu.be/E849UUqNe3g?list=RDE849UUqNe3g

Blundering Toward Doomsday!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , on July 5, 2015 by playthell
Putin-Missile-Test 1210
President Putin Observes Russian Missile Tests
Russia Expands Nuclear Arsenal for first time since End of Cold War

There are a lot of smart and reasonable people who cannot conceive of a nuclear war between Russia and NATO as a real possibility. The reasoning of my learned friend Bill Meissner is typical of this group; he is convinced that no rational leader would initiate a nuclear war.  And thus, as in the past, the MAD doctrine – Mutual Assured Destruction – will continue to restrain political leaders from taking actions that will also result in the destruction of their own nation.  Hence, they reason, there is no real danger of nuclear war with Russia despite the increasing decibel level of the saber rattling. They are wrong.  What they fail to understand is that both things can be true: No leader will give a command to launch a first strike but a nuclear war breaks out anyway.

This is why the obsession with whether the Iranians acquire a nuclear weapon is a fool’s errand that takes us down the road to nowhere in terms of dealing with the real issue concerning  nuclear weapons: the nuclear arsenals of the Russia, the US and NATO.  First of all, I am not convinced that the Iranian leaders are any more willing to commit national suicide than the leaders of any other country; although the fact that Iran is ruled by Islamic clerics that often behave like Mad Mullahs might suggest otherwise.  However even if some religious fanatic were to decide that it was the will of allah to initiate an act of national suicide, the weapons are under the control of military who are unlikely to launch an nuclear strike.  And even if they did, it would be a regional affair.

On the other hand, if the US and Russia fire their nuclear weapons it will spell the end of modern civilization for sure and probably the end of all life on this planet….depending on the extent of the exchange.  In my view, as one who has a solid knowledge of the destructive capability of the US nuclear arsenal by virtue of having served in our nuclear forces with a Top Secret security clearance, once a nuclear exchange commences between NATO – the USA and our nuclear armed allies Germany, France and England – all of the weapons on both sides will be fired.

Hence we are literally talking about snuffing out life forms that may well be unique in a universe composed of billions of galaxies.  It is more than a crime against humanity – which is already achieved by the mere possession of nuclear weapons – it would be a sin against all creation.

The authors of this narrative of nuclear terror that hangs over the people of the world are the leaders of the USA during the mid-twentieth century.  While no thoughtful observer can condemn the US government for initially building an atomic bomb, considering that they were in a war with Nazi Germany who was known to be working on an atomic weapon.   This is what attracted great scientist and humanitarians like Albert Einstein, Edward Teller and the swing dancing jazz loving George Kitakowski, et al to the Manhattan Project that created the bomb.  However it is what the US government decided to do with these weapons after ending World War II by the atomic bombing of Japan.

The leading scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project wanted knowledge of nuclear fission placed under the control of an international commission for safe guarding, otherwise, they predicted, if this technology remained the possession of the USA it would spark an international arms race.  Failure to heed this advice has led to the nuclear quagmire we are in today, when the threat of nuclear war is growing and nobody knows the way out.

I have repeatedly written treatises warning about the drift toward nuclear war, fueled by NATO expansion in Eastern Europe; which is a clear violation of the agreements that ended the Cold War as Stephen Cohen and other leading US Russian experts have repeatedly pointed out.  This danger now centers on the Ukraine Crisis, where the Russians have drawn a line much like the US did when Soviet Russia put missile silos in Cuba.  The world is lucky to have survived that crisis without a nuclear war between the US and Russia; we may not be so lucky this time; especially if any of the  candidates for President gain control of the White House and becomes Commander-In-Chief.                                                                                                                                       To those who think that I am being alarmist should consult the opinion of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the world’s leading authority on nuclear War.   They are constantly monitoring relations between nuclear armed nations and the set the hands on their atomic clock in order to dramatize how close the world is to nuclear holocaust.  At present the hands stand at 3 minutes to Midnight!  While most people go about their business without giving a thought to the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist tells us:

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have embarked on massive programs to modernize their nuclear triads—thereby undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties. “The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.”

The extent to which their fears are based on real developments in the relations between Russia and NATO can be seen in events of the last few days.   First there was the near collision between a Russian Fighter plane that came within ten feet of a US Air Force spy plane attached to NATO over the Black Sea. Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, called the Russian maneuver an “unsafe intercept…unprofessional and inapproiate.”  Then he tried to play down the incident as possibly the result of “a lack of training” by the pilot.

The Black Sea is closer to Russia than the Caribbean Sea is to the US, yet the Caribbean Sea has been called an “American Lake” and defined by the Monroe Doctrine of 1830 as an inviolate US Sphere of Influence.  The fact that the US seeks to deny Russia, another great power, her natural Sphere of Influence in the Black Sea through the eastward expansion of NATO onto Russia’s door steps (see my writings on the Ukraine”)  when the US is located thousands of miles away, is the crux of the present conflict in US Russian relations.

Hence the Russians view the Americans as armed intruders, while the Americans intoxicated by the dazzling myth of “American Exceptionalism” as the protector of Eastern Europe from the ravages of the Russian Bear.   This vision led the United States to recruit former Republics of the Soviet Union into the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance…a western military alliance formed to prevent communist Russia’s expansion into the West.

The Black Sea
 Black Sea
 Hugging the Russian Shoreline
A Dangerous Encounter! The Russian and American Air Force planes

Russian fighter jet

The Russian Fighter Jet
The American Spy Plane
Airforce Spy Plane
Harassed  by Russian Jets

The admission of the Baltic States that were formerly a part of the Soviet Union is the most dangerous development in US/Russian relations since the Soviet Alliance with Cuba.  This is because a military conflict with Russia and any of these little Baltic States will plunge the US into a military confrontation with Russia.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently declared that anybody who thinks Russia would launch an unprovoked attack on NATO is “irrational” but he has also declared “We will be forced to aim our armed forces … at those territories from where the threat comes.”  If that perceived threat is from the USA then the forces he is referring to are intercontinental ballistic missiles.

This is the raison d’etre for Putin’s moves to expand the Russian nuclear missile arsenal, an effort fueled by the unilateral US abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, which expressly forbade building missile defense systems which NATO has been working to deploy.  Putin was unambiguous about the fact that his decision to expand Russia’s nuclear missile arsenal is a response to NATO’s actions:  “It is NATO that is moving towards our border and we aren’t moving anywhere.”  This comment was buttressed by a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry:

The United States is inciting tensions and carefully nurturing their European allies’ anti-Russian phobias in order to use the current difficult situation for further expanding its military presence and influence in Europe. We hope that reason will prevail and it will be possible to save the situation in Europe from sliding toward a military standoff, which could entail dangerous consequences.”

Incredibly, both the US Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg appeared to be surprised at the Russian reaction to their meddling in Eastern Europe. “We’re trying to move in the opposite direction,” said Kerry. “We have had enormous cooperation from the 1990s forward with respect to the structure of nuclear weapons in the former territories of the Soviet Union. And no one wants to see us step backwards.” 

Russian Intercontinental Missiles…..

Russian Missiles

Can  launched from Land

Russian Missles launched at Sea

…….or sea!

Jens Stoltenberg, speaking for the European allies in NATO responded with this comment:

“This nuclear saber-rattling of Russia is unjustified. “It’s destabilizing and it’s dangerous. This is something which we are addressing, and it’s also one of the reasons we are now increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces. We are responding by making sure that NATO also in the future is an alliance which provides deterrence and protection for all allies against any threat.”

When this heated rhetoric is considered in the context of the rancid political relations and widening armed conflict in the Ukraine, it does not require a mental giant to conclude that we are stumbling into a war with Russia, and one need not be a military strategist in order to foresee that any war between Russia and NATO has the potential to go nuclear despite the initial intentions of our leaders.    That’s why the peoples of the NATO countries must insist that our leaders cease all efforts to develop a military relationship of ANY KIND with the Ukraine against Russia and allow these Slavic cousins to settle their own problems…the fate of our planet may well depend upon it!

 

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Amazing Grace!

Posted in The Charleston Massacre with tags , , , on June 30, 2015 by playthell
Barack at Mother Emanuel II
President Obama Eulogizes Pastor Pinkney
 How Sweet the Sound….that could move a Wretch Like Me

There has never been a moment like this in the history of the American presidency, and we shall certainly never see one again.   The first Afro-American President of the USA eulogizing a great Afro-American preacher/ politician who was slain along with eight parishioners by an evil, hate crazed white terrorist whom they had welcomed into their prayer meeting.  The president’s eulogy captured the spirit of the occasion with a moving eloquence and exuded a spiritual gravitas that marks this as a unique event in the history of this racially troubled nation.  Due to the size of the crowd, the funeral was held an auditorium on the campus of Charleston College.  Ideally, the last rites should have been held in the sanctuary of Mother Emmanuel, a great place to make history; for Mother Emanuel African Methodist Church is a citadel of black history.

This venerable church, where the Reverend Pinkney served as pastor, was born during 1816, in the cauldron of African slavery in the American south, where European settlers who had swiftly committed genocide against the Native Americans and stolen their lands on a grand scale, then instituted a system of African slave labor to supplement the white indentured class. It was in this church that the most complex plans for a large scale slave revolt were hatched….but was foiled by a snitching Sambo who warned the white folks and the plotters were arrested and hanged in 1822.  Among them was a founder of the church: Denmark Vesey.  There was no contradiction in the mind of Vesey – a truly remarkable man – between serving God and smiting your enemy.  For one thing, the biblical texts by which they lived was the Old Testament…an eye for an eye; leading Pharaoh’s armies to their destruction in the Red Sea!

President Obama was aware of all this history; he is a thoughtful intellectual and has obviously spent many years studying Afro-American history and cultural traditions.  In fact he is much more knowledgeable about it than coal black Afro-Americans like Herman Cain, Clarence Thomas and Dr. Allen Keyes; I’d take Barack’s version of Black over all of these obsequious tar babies any day in the week and twice on Sunday!  Which is why I have been unsparing in contemptuously flagellating those blacker than thou buffoons who make in issue of his bi-racial birth and upbringing by his white grandparents. ( see: An Open Letter to Dr. Matthew Johnson) What the example of Barack Obama shows is that Afro-American identity is a sociological not a biological phenomenon; it is a product of “life behind the veil,” as Dr. DuBois put it in his immortal text The Souls of Black Folks.

Since Barack Obama chose to embrace an Afro-American identity rather than some ambiguous “Mulatto” identity – which is not clearly defined in this country the way in it is in Latin America, and all over the Caribbean –he choose the best of what we are and have been to embrace.  This training ground was his 20 year membership in a church pastored y the brilliant and committed Reverend Doctor Jeremiah Wright, a highly educated cleric who holds Masters and PhD degrees and is famous for his Afrocentric services.  Alas, although the mass media pundits forced Barack to deny him in order to become President –a casualty of politics alas – the good reverend has left his mark on Barack.

It is the results of that 20 year apprenticeship that we witnessed when Barack delivered his eulogy to Pastor Clementa Pinkney before a diverse crowd of mourners in a packed college auditorim that had been transformed into hallowed ground by these sacred rites.  It was an affair that put the grandeur of the Afro-American high church on display for all the world to see… it dazzled and inspired millions who witnessed it.  First we watched the Princes of the church, elegantly costumed in their rich black, purple and gold clerical robes, stride into the auditorium as the celestial voices of a choir sang all the stanzas of the transcendental hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was popularly known as “The Negro National Anthem” when I was growing up in Florida.

Written by the gifted brothers James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson, who hailed from Jacksonville, just 38 miles away, we sang this spiritually uplifting anthem at every public occasion in St. Augustine. As the eloquent ministers of the church stepped to the pulpit and read inspiring passages of bible texts; the scriptures from which their flock finds its compass through the harrowing vicissitudes of this earthly life, and provides the vision of a better life, an eternal life in some better place, when we will be done with the troubles of this world.

All eyes were fixed upon the podium when the Presiding Bishop of the Carolina region was introduced, a powerful local voice in the great national church that was founded only five years later than the US Constitution, with the establishment of Mother Bethel, and only a few blocks away in the city of Philadelphia.  He, like all assembled in that place spiritual refuge, had come to honor the slain Reverend Pinkney. A stalwart of the church and a remarkable man, Pastor Pinkney became a minister of the church as a teenager, and won a seat in the South Carolina ligislature at 23.

Pastor Clementa Pinkney
Reverend Pinckney in Pulpit of Mother Emanuel
He fell with his flock from a terrorists bullets

As I watched this regal figure standing in the Pulpit, invested with the authority of an international church that is as old as the US, and like the US Constitution represents an American innovation;  I was reminded of former President Jimmy Carter, who says that one of the reasons that he never bought the white racist arguments about Afro-American inferiority was because he had a Bishop of the AME Church as a neighbor in Plains Georgia, and he was so impressive to his child’s eyes he thought the bishop looked like a African king!  The Bishops on this occasion seemed no less impressive, but they hurried from the stage, as the presiding Bishop truncated his remarks and reminded the audience that even he, beloved figure that he is,  even he could not keep the President of the United States  waiting.

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By the time President Obama stepped to the pulpit to deliver his eulogy, many thousands of elegantly crafted words, steeped in the poetry of biblical texts and divine allusion, delivered with moving eloquence by “God’s Trombones,” had already preceded him  and filled the audience with joy, pathos and hope.  It was in ways a strange ritual, at times it seemed like a political rally with introductions of various stars in Carolina and national politics to applause and organ riffs; a celebration rather than the funeral of a pious preacher and devoted public servant that had been slain by a racist cracker madman.  There had been music and song.  But at the end of this lively round of introductions the Master of Ceremonies smartly turned to the grieving widow and said “The world has come to your door.”

Following the introductions of notables, some admires of Pastor Pinkney was invited to speak, and it sometimes seemed that there was no end to eloquence as impassioned panegyrics filled the air. The statement that received the loudest and longest standing Ovation came when one of the eulogizers, Afro-American State Senator Gerald Malloy, declared: “the confederate Flag will come down!”…and credited Representative Pinckney for its removal.  Then Senator Malloy enumerated the many fights waged by Pastor Pinkney; noted his victories, and vowed to continue the fight for those things Pinkney fought for but had not yet won. He wound up with a dazzling bit of poetic oratory that painted a portrait of the ideal community they hoped to build.  Indeed, there seemed no end to eloquence on this day.

It was a hard act to follow…as any political orator who has been placed in the unfortunate position of following a great Afro-American preacher on the podium well knows.  However if President Obama was at all intimidated by his predicament he never showed it.  From the moving embraces showered upon him as the princes of the church lined up to greet their president, whom they had helped to elect, to his introductory remarks,  the President seemed completely at home, as calm as a summer Sunday morning and solid as a rock.

The Bishops greet Barack
Barack Meets the Bishops at Rev. Pinkney's Funeral
Welcoming a Brother back home

From the opening statement Barack’s physical demeanor and sense of timing revealed a deep knowledge of the Afro-American sermonic style.  And the cadences of his speech made it seem like he could easily enter the pulpit upon the completion of his second term as president.  Viewed from what South Carolina was when I was a boy, it is impossible to describe to younger black folks just how far we, as a people, have come in this racist nation…battling every step.

It is fair, I think; to not only describe Barack’s speech as a sermon…but a pretty good one. His major theme was the power of faith and the nature of God’s grace, and his delivery was characterized by the rhythmic cadences that distinguish Afro-American preaching. Effective preaching requires an understanding of the potency of pregnant pauses…the uses of silence to better emphasize a point.  Great Jazz soloist understand this too.  Just listen to Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk.  He spoke to a theme much as preachers will preach to a text, extrapolating valuable life lessons from the metaphors, similes, allegories and timeless truths it provides.

As his speech built up momentum, he caused the audience to rise to its feet with applause of affirmation.  His remarks were informed by sociology, politics, economics and the law, presented with the passion of an evangelical preacher and the cold logic of a learned lawyer.  He was part Thurgood Marshall and part Martin Luther King, and the burden of the presidency revealed itself in the emotional fatigue mirrored in his eyes and the dramatic greying of his hair.  As the old Afro-American spiritual says:Nobody knows the troubles he’s seen.

After declaring the importance of faith the President painted a poignant portrait of the Reverend Clementa Pinkney, and pointed out that those who ask how could Pastor Pinkney could serve God and politics didn’t know much about the history and mission of the AME Church; their clergy saw no distinction in doing good works as a public servant and yet remain a faithful a servant of God.  He told them that Pinkney understood that occasional charity was not enough to create a just society…it must also be a matter of social policy.  There were many moving moments during the president’s speech; calling out the names of the slain church members was one of them; reviewing the role of the black church and its role in our liberation struggle was another.

By this point in President Obama’s eulogy the audience was in perfect sync with the rhythm and emphasis of his speech, and began to respond on cue in the wonderful call and response that black congregations engage in when the preacher is touching their souls and they are moved by the “spirit” of the word.  And when he spoke frankly about the history and current manifestations of white racism and class privilege, the audience responded with repeated and enthusiastic applause as he ticked of a laundry list of abuses.

President Obama’s marriage of God’s Grace to our good works was a brilliant blending of sacred and secular objectives that is reminiscent of Dr. King on a good day. When he spontaneously broke into a rendition of the moving hymn “Amazing Grace” President Obama transported the audience to higher ground – body, soul and spirit.  It was, by  my reckoning, an amazing grace; I believe we shall never see its like again.

(Double Click to see President Obama’s Eulogy)
https://youtu.be/ZDXMoO9ABFE

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Playthell G, Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 30, 21o5

On the progressive Black Church

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , on June 25, 2015 by playthell

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., right, and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, are shown at a news conference at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York's Harlem, November 14, 1965.   (AP Photo/David Pickoff)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., right, and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, are shown at a news conference at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York’s Harlem, November 14, 1965. (AP Photo/David Pickoff)
Two Afro-American Baptist preachers who changed America

The Rock on which we stood When all else failed…

This post is in response to  the statement below by Tamara Tornado,  a snide racist white bitch who does  NOT UNDERSTAND black church history yet presumes to criticize it.  I don’t like know-it-all crackers in the first place, because like this stupid broad they usually know nothing about us!  The fact is that the black church has a dual history: progressive and reactionary.

The progressive tradition is heroic and grows out of the beliefs of those black slaves who interpreted the stories in the Old Testament bible about the enslaved Hebrew people in the Land of Egypt to be a parable about their situation in the American House of Bondage, where the white leaders of America collectively were Pharoah, locally represented by the slave master class.  In other words Afro-American Christians converted Christianity into a weapon of liberation in a way that black slaves under Islam were unable to do.

Another Ignorant racist commenting on Black culture
Condemnation of black churchwomen by a snide white bitch
This silly pretentous Bitch is no friend of ours!

The fact is that the majority of southern whites never owned slaves and Tamara’s grandfather was probably not one of them. Since she is obviously classless white trash. Every half ass redneck likes to identify with the slaveholding class, when most of their ancestors were nothing more than pawns of the planter class who supported the interests of the rich over their own because they were told that just being white made them special even though they didn’t have a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of: JUST LIKE ALL OF THE PO WHITE CRACKER ASSHOLES WHO VOTE REPUBLICAN TODAY!!!!

Before the Civil War slaves were the most valuable property in the US., that’s why in 1850 New Orleans was the richest port in the country. Black churchwomen were the backbone of the great Civil Rights movement that destroyed the racial caste system of the south…what has this dumb cracker bitch done to make this country a better place? My argument is not with the black church as such, but this particular church congregation at Mother Emanuel in Charleston. The fact that I am an atheist does not blind me to all of the GOOD WORKS the black church has done and is doing! It is far superior in its practice of Christianity to the WHITE CHURCH!!!

That’s why the great German theologian and preacher Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who came here to complete his PhD thesis and teach at the distinguished Union Theological Seminary, became mesmerized by the Afro-american church service..  Although Bonhoeffer  was unimpressed with the academic standards at Union, a bastion of white theological study, he was befriended by a black seminarian named Frank Fisher, and was introduced to the Afro-American church.

The learned German theologian  was taken to a service at the Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem, and he was so moved by the experience that he regularly attended service at Abyssinia thereafter.  And, dispite the ignorant slander leveled against them by that pretentious white trash airhead Tamara Tornado, the beautiful, elegant black women in the congregation were, and are, a majestic sight to behold!

The Ladies of Abyssinia

Easter Parade 2012 - Harlem Sisters edit

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EASTER SUNDAY IN HARLEM

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Easter Parade 2012 086

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Easter Bonnet - Satin Doll

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Adam Powell and Hazel Scott

Reverend Powell and his beautiful gifted wife Hazel Scott

While he dismissed Union Seminary with the observation “there’s no theology in this place,” he concluded that the Black American church was the manifestation of what God intended a Christian to be!   Bonhoeffer, who would become one of the great theologians of the 20th century,  taught Sunday school at the church during the rest of his stay in the US.   He later taught Afro-American Spirituals to his congregation secretly in his church back home to give them hope as the Nazi’s took over Germany! This man would later lead the German church in OPPOSING HITLER, even participating in an assassination plot against the German dictator and was murdered by the Nazis!!!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer II

The German theologian who became mesmerized by black Church

The African Methodist Episcopal Church INVENTED LIBERATION THEOLOGY with the founding of Mother Bethel during 1792 in Philadelphia, just five years after the US Constitution was drafted a few blocks away.  It was the first American church founded as an act of resistance to the sin of white racism and oppression of black people! So don’t get what I am saying about my experience with God and white folks twisted: I lost my faith in God in a pretentious white Catholic Catedral.  I DO NOT REPUDIATE THE WORK OF THE PROGRESSIVE BLACK CHURCH!!!!

Bishop Henry McNeal Turner
AME Bishop Henry McNeal Turner
Father of the South African Liberation Movement

In my view the congregation of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is BETRAYING IT’S FIGHTING LEGACY!  One of the founders of this church was Denmark Vesey, who organized what would have been the bloodiest slave uprising in American history – and there were over three hundred!  However the reason it failed is because of some sambos who believed that Old Testament shit about a “SLAVE SHOULD OBEY HIS MASTER!” But those following Vesey acted on the old testament text that calls for “an eye for an eye”

Dr. DuBois, the most learned American intellectual of the 20th century, called the AME church “one of the greatest institutions ever devised by man.” And he said their Bishops ran from “Saints like Benjamin McNeal Turner” to some that “represented just what the devil would look like at the turn of the twentieth century.” Yet he, like me, was an atheist!  But as a father of the 20th century Pan-Africanist Movement, DuBois was well aware of the role the AME church layed in the Black Liberation Movement here in the USA and in colonized Africa.  For instance, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner could rightly be called “The Father of the black Liberation Movement in South Africa. (see “Pan-Africanism: Myth or Reality?”

Dr. WEB DuBois

Dr. dubois in the Crisis Ofice

The Great Scholar at Work

It is little wonder that Dietrict Boenhoffer was capitivated by the Afro-Ameican church service, especially the baptist, who are reknowned for their preaching.   It is the most dynamic and capitivating oratorical style in the world.  The brilliant Florida novelist and forklorist Zora Neal Hurston, described the power of the Afro-American sermon best.

In a letter to her fellow Floridian, James Weldon Johnson, polymath and cosmoplite, who had published “God’s Trombones,” a great collection of epic poems based on the black southern folk preacher, Zora told him it seemed like only the two of them really understood that the negro sermon is epic poetry.  She told johnson that she cast the preacher in her own novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, “as the poet that he must be in order to survive in a Negro pulpit.”  Both Adam Clayton Powell and Dr. King were great orators who were masters of the Afro-Ameican sermonic art, and when they employed it to sway opinions in the political arena they were formidable.

Added to these achievements, the progressive black church has produced more great innovators in American music than Julliard, and more great transformative  leaders than the white American church can match. We need only look at two examples: Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr, the Pastor of Abyssinia Baptist Church, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the modern day Prophet who led the great Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.

As Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Powell sponsored and got passed 60 bills that provide the entitlements for the working class that we now refer to as the “Social Safety Net.”  And the struggles led by Dr. King, who gave his life to the cause, of wiped out racist laws that make black Americans aliens in our own land.  Together these two black Baptist preachers transformed America into a better country for EVERYBODY!!  The rich white Christian clergy can make no such claim!  This is the real leagcy of the black church!

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Double click on link to see video of Rev. Powell

https://youtu.be/mE2m4SNDy0U

Click to see Video on Dr. King
https://www.facebook.com/sharer/sharer.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.biography.com%2Fpeople%2Fmartin-luther-king-jr-9365086%2Fvideos%2Fmartin-luther-king-jr-%E2%80%93-pastor-109214787767
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 25. 2015
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