An Evening at Madison Square Garden

Posted in On Sports!, Uncategorized with tags , on March 4, 2014 by playthell

Samori Live at Madison Square Garden

Sportswriter Samori Benjamin at the Garden Hoping for a Win

 In the Mecca of B-ball with a Knick Icon

Going to check out a New York Knicks game at the Garden is an exciting experience under any circumstances – the grandeur of the massive arena, the roar of the crowd, the celebrities from show biz and politics, the exciting floor shows….and then there is the game – but going to the Garden as the guest of Dr. Dick Barnett, a Kick icon who played on the only World Championship teams in franchise history is a very special trip.  This became immediately clear as we entered the building to watch the Knicks Play the San Francisco Warriors.

The guards at the entrance recognized Dick in the bustling crowd, which was moving at a snail’s pace due to the body scans by electronic metal detectors and hand searches of bags, and waved him to the front of the line along with me and Zach Husser – a former Columbia University football and basketball player who originally introduced me to Dr. Barnett and invited me to attend the game with them.  Once inside we went straight away to the Delta Lounge on the 5th floor, a VIP sanctuary where the big shots and their guest congregate.  The average fan does not know this place exist, and even if they do they have no idea of its extravagance.  Everything – food and beverages – is free, except for alcoholic drinks. And this is no mere finger foods, but lobster tails, corned beef, loads of fresh steamed vegetables, fruit juices, exotic breads and the like.

There were large flat screen television sets everywhere, so the swells could watch the game without mingling with the boisterous mob in the stands.  Actually, this was a place to meet and greet, see and be seen, to “network” with Gotham City’s movers and shakers.  The congregants in the lounge, like the common lot of fans, were mostly white and about half of them seem to have been invited by somebody else with juice, since they were running around gawking like Alice in Wonderland.  After a while it became apparent that some of these people were much more interested in networking than watching the game.  Perhaps because they knew the home team would break their hearts before the evening was over.

After a while I went to the exit that led into the arena and the Knicks were just going through their pre-game ritual, a kind of primitive male war dance to hip hop beats in a darkened house, while a voice on the loud speaker egged the crowd on, prodding them into such a state of excitation they let out a blood curdling collective primal scream that ricocheted off the walls and echoed throughout the cavernous arena.  I was anxious to get to our seats by tip off time but I had to prod Dr. Barnett in order to get him out of the lounge where he was comfortably ensconced in a prominent place so that everybody who came through could see him as he chatted with passersby.

Doc was lukewarm about getting out into the arena because he too has lost faith in the ability of the Knicks to win a game, and it is a source of great disappointment, having played on the Knicks team with legendary ballers like like Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave Debusshere and “Dollar” Bill Bradley, that won the NBA Championship in the 1969 -70 and 1972-73 seasons.   As he pointed to their Jerseys hanging atop the arena, it must have been painful to watch as these imposters in Knicks uniforms disgraced themselves and abused the fans; which had parted with their hard earned coin and trudged out in sub freeing weather to watch them stumble around the court in a danse macabre; a comedy of errors that was more embarrassing than funny.

The Only NBA Champions in Knicks History
New-York-Knicks Championship team
Dick Barnett is seated to the far right next to Earl “The Pearl” Monroe

As the game plodded on I began to suspect that perhaps success and failure may both be imposters after all.  For as I watched the hapless Knicks fall behind by 21 points at halftime I wondered how these jokers had ever won a game in the NBA.  How they had once been thought of as serious contenders.  While it seemed that everything the Warriors tossed in the direction of the basket went in, as they ran a series of razzle dazzle plays, the hapless Knicks were stiff as stuffed owls anchored to their pedestals.

What masqueraded as an offensive strategy for the Knicks consisted of passing the pill to Carmelo Anthony, then cavalierly watching the giant overhead monitor screens waiting for him to put the ball in the hoop.  But, alas, on this night Mello was as cold as the icicles hanging on the roof outside; the boy couldn’t throw a grape through a hoola hoop. But aside from an occasional three pointer from the point guard, J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway JR, they just kept passing the ball to Mello and staring up at the monitor screen.

Perhaps because Mello had been on a scoring streak the last few games, shooting forty points or more had become common fare, his team mates thought he was a gift that would just keep on giving. Alas they were wrong, and nobody seemed able to come up with a second act.  Every time Mello got the ball the defense collapsed on him with two and sometimes three players guarding him; yet it never seemed to occur to him to look for the open man and pass the ball off.   He seemed to believe, like the rest of the team, that scoring the ball was his gig.

Mello Shooting the Ball
A human scoring machine

Carmello shooting

But he needs help…especially when he’s cold!

As halftime approached the drubbing the Knicks were undergoing became so painful for loyal fans it was akin to witnessing a loved one being pecked to pieces by diabolical crows from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  My son Samori, a sports writer who has been covering the Knicks for years on WBAI radio and, assured me that the suddenly silent crowd was anxious to go crazy but the Knicks gave them no cause for applause.

Thus in what appeared to be a desperate attempt to give the home crowd some reason to cheer, a picture of Mark Jackson, the San Francisco Warriors coach, appeared on the giant overhead screens with the caption “All Time Knicks Great Point Guard,” then they proceeded to show video highlights of some of Jackson’s smooth moves. The crowd finally had a reason to cheer and they went crazy cheering for the coach of the team that was kicking the home team’s ass!  It was, to say the least, bizarre.

Dr. Barnett flashed a smile of approval as he watched the video of Mark Jackson in action, but when the Knocks flashed a tribute to “Sweetwater Clifton” the former Globetrotter who became the first African American player to wear a New York Knickerbocker Jersey, Doc’s mood went from mirthful to salty.  “There are playing Sweetwater up big now, but they didn’t do shit for him when he was driving a cab later in life to put food on the table.  Walt Frazier managed to bust in the organization beyond the court as an announcer, but the Knicks usually don’t do shit for black players.” he said.

Dick Barnett in 1972
That Championship Season!

As an aside he commented “The Pearl just had knee replacement surgery a couple of days ago.”  Dick Barnett had escaped the fate that befell Sweetwater Clifton and many pro-Athletes after their playing days are over – the great Allen Iverson of who played in Philly is the latetest example – by acquiring a PhD, becoming a professor of Sports Management and writing several books.

We departed at the conclusion of the first half, unable to bear any more of the drubbing, since the Knicks were down by 21 points in a half where the Warriors had scored over 70 points, and only the real fanatics operating on blind faith believed things would get better in the second half.  Alas, we felt the Knicks were engaging in fan abuse and we had had more than our share; would enable them no longer.  Doc decided to hang out in the Delta Lounge, and wait for his old pal and former Knick Cal Ramsey, who was wheelchair bound.

As me and Zach were leaving a couple of the guards who saw us come in with Dick  came over to us shaking their heads “couldn’t take it no more huh?” one of them asked….”It beats me how they manage to fill up this place for every game, win or lose the people still show up come rain or shine”  As I listened to this rather incredible revelation, I thought to myself: I guess that’s why the call them fans….which is short for fanatics.


                  Double Click on Link to view Documentary On Barnett
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem New York
March 3, 2014

US Should Stay out of Ukrainian Crisis!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on February 24, 2014 by playthell
Things Fall Apart!

President Obama must resist calls to meddle in the Ukraine

As a shocked and confused world watched in awe, the Ukrainian government, which just days before appeared to be all-powerful, crumbled like a sand castle hit by a tidal wave.  President Viktor F. Yanukovich fled the capitol and went into hiding to escape the righteous wrath of the howling mob calling for his head, and has since been impeached by a parliament dominated by members of his own party, while an assortment of misguided American voices are calling for American intervention in that unstable violence-torn nation at the door of the steppes of Russia.

Led by pugnacious politicians like Senator John McCain – who recently travelled to that country during the uprising and urged the angry anti-government crowds on – and talkative media wags, all drunk on the ideological opiate of American Excptionalisism, are demanding that President Obama “do something” to influence the outcome of that volatile internal crisis that threatens to spill over its borders and spark a conflict with Russia. Although none of these eager interventionists seem to have a clear idea exactly what the President ought to do.

Influential journalists invited to comment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe at  the height of the violence in the streets last week, like the popular television commentators Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory, are talking air heads that understand no more about the Ukraine that a mule knows about playing a fiddle. And based on the specious prattle these talking heads confuse with serious analysis of the of the situation in Eastern Europe, I found myself saying thank God for Dr. Jeffery Sachs, a Columbia University economist, whose presence gave some semblance of intelligence to the discourse.

Although given Dr. Sach’s nefarious role as an advocate of “Shock Treatment” – a spurious and dangerous economic theory promoted by the right-wing free market theologian Milton Freedman – in countries like Chile and especially Russia after the fall of the Communist Party, which caused horrendous human suffering and bears some blame for the present crisis, I never thought I would be applauding anything that emanated from his mouth.  Alas, the fact that Jeffery Sachs now sounds like a wise man is a measure of the depths to which American political discourse has plunged.

To his credit Dr. Sachs calmly pointed out what ought to be obvious to anyone with an inkling of how the world actually works. First the Russians have their national interests and the Ukraine is a matter of grave national interest to them.  Second the US has no power to do anything about the situation because it lies within the heart of their Sphere of Influence.  And to those who are whining about President Obama’s timidity, Dr. Sachs pointed out that President Eisenhower – a Republican former general who had led the fight that defeated the Nazis – did nothing when the Soviet army invaded Hungary in 1956!

Once again we see the indisputable truth of historian Benjamin Quarles’ observation that in order to fully understand the complexities of the present “one needs the added dimension of historical perspective.” Hence it is of critical importance – a life and death matter really – that we understand the reason why Ike refused to intervene in the Hungarian mess.  As a former Five Star General who witnessed the horror of the atomic bombing of Japan, Ike understood that the US had no power to affect the situation militarily and thus to risk a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union would be suicidal folly!

Presiding over a nation that had operated under the Monroe Doctrine, initiated by President William Monroe in 1830, which declared all of the Americas from Canada to Chile and the islands of the seas an American Sphere of Influence, for which the US was willing to go to war in order to prevent encroachment by the imperial powers of Europe – a doctrine which eventually led to the Spanish American war some sixty years later – Ike realized the absurdity and futility of attempting to deny another great power, especially one armed with nuclear weapons, their natural Sphere of Influence.

The prestige of Ike’s military record enabled him to stand firm against his more bellicose critics who urged him to “do something!”  It is hugely instructive that he was called a “communist collaborator” by Senator Joseph McCarthy, a deranged rightwing Democrat from Wisconsin who bore a remarkable resemblance to Ted Cruz, a deranged rightwing Republican Senator from Texas, whose crazy Cuban exile dad traverses the country addressing the lunatic rightwing of the Republican/Tea Party explaining how President Obama is a communist dictator.  And the silly old fart continues to draw enthusiastic crowds anxious to hear him blow hot air out of his ass despite the absence of any hint of reality.

Yet those who are calling for American meddling in the Ukrainian crisis appear not to recognize that despite the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicans – which is why the Ukraine is now an independent nation – the Russians have a greater nuclear capacity than they had in 1956…which means they have the power to destroy every American city within half an hour!

Yet from the response of Joe Scarborough – a pompous airhead whose success as a TV pundit appears to be based more on the fact that he is a John Wayne lookalike than intellectual gravitas – Dr. Sach’s sober analysis of why any attempt by the US government would be a dangerous exercise in futility was like pouring water on a duck’s back as Joe dismissed his comparative analysis as a “false analogy.”  It was anything but; it was in fact a paragon of political wisdom.

This discourse demonstrates the vital need for well-informed commentators to discuss these issues in mass forums like Morning Joe, in order to raise the level of understanding on the part of an abysmally ignorant American public that knows but little of the critical issues in American politics – recent polls reveal that more Americans can name the judges on American Idol than the US Supreme Court – let alone the complexities of the issues that underlie the present Ukranian crisis, which more and more resembles a civil war.

Nothing reflects this ignorance more than American calls for President Obama to “do something” about the Ukrainian crisis.  Just as in the uprisings collectively called “the Arab Spring” the US has no power to determine the course or outcome of events.  In order to properly define US options regarding the crisis in Ukraine we must first gain a thorough understanding of the nature of this situation by a careful analysis of the ideology and objectives of contending forces.

Those who are demanding that President Obama intervene in this faraway conflict display no evidence that they have carefully sifted the facts.  Although American intelligence agencies understand the identity and relationships of the political forces at work better than was the case with the “Arab Spring” uprisings, we are just as powerless to determine the outcome of the Ukrainian crisis or predict the course of events.  Hence what the would-be interventionists are suggesting is akin to dancing in the dark in the middle of a mine field.

Which Way Ukraine?

Anti-government protesters prepare to advance over a burning barricade in Kiev's Independence Square

Where Things Goes…..Nobody Knows

Note: Part II will examine the ideology and objectives of the contending forces in the Ukraine.


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
February 23, 2014

A Note of Condolence to Ademola

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , on February 20, 2014 by playthell
DSC03742 An innovative Artist and Cultural Hero

A Remembrance on the Passing of his Beloved Mother. 

As the old adage goes: “Behind every great man stands a great woman.” And the woman behind this great man, artist, culture hero and faithful friend was Mrs. Golda Valencia Matthias-Thomas, who lately danced and joined the ancestors.  Born at the dawning of the 20th century, 1921, on the small island of St. Johns in the former Danish Virgin Islands, which had only recently come under formal American control on March 13, 1917, she would spend the majority of her life – which spanned nearly a century – in the great metropolis of New York City.

Coming of age on the smallest and most underdeveloped of the cluster of Virgin Islands,  life was difficult and young Golda was tasked with transporting her father’s catch of fresh fish to the market in Cruz Bay from their home in Coral Bay by donkey – a trip that took from sun-up to nightfall.  Because she had to work as a child she was unable to gain much formal education, but this experience taught her the virtue of honest work and the value of education which inspired a life-long love of reading. Like most enthusiastic autodidacts she developed broad eclectic intellectual interests that included art, music, theater, math, geography, world politics, etc.

A regal ebony beauty with a model’s physique she became a skilled seamstress and made her own wardrobe, which stood out both in her native Virgin Islands and when she relocated to New York City in 1945, after marrying Harold Alexander Thomas Jr., the son of a respected community leader and the first native born pharmacist in the Virgin Islands.

They settled first in Brooklyn, where they found a vibrant West Indian community, but as an American naval veteran from World War II Harold was eligible for residence in the newly constructed Amsterdam Houses, which are adjacent to where the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts now stands, and was a historic Afro-American neighborhood with a dynamic artistic community called “Black Bohemia” in the pre-Harlem period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It was a multi-ethic public housing development that was envisioned by its planners as an enlightened alternative to ill kept segregated tenements.  Another distinguished artist who grew up there and, like Ademola, would go on to make an indelible mark on American culture through artistic innovation was the great Jazz pianist/composer/bandleader Theolonius Monk.

Due to the fact that Ademola’s father was a merchant seaman, the daily routine of raising their family of three boys – Bedwick aka “Ademola,” Verl and Harold – fell to his mother.  It was she who tutored them in their homework while imparting her reverence for learning and love of the arts, and imposed a strict discipline that steered her sons away from the many vices and pitfalls that were common fare on the streets of New York City.  Even more remarkably she accomplished this daunting task while successfully negotiating the myriad obstacles she confronted as an immigrant, a black person, and a woman with an amazing grace.

The greatest testimony to her success in transcending these barriers that would have defeated a weaker person is her three sons, all of who are law abiding productive persons that have made positive contributions to American society.  Since I met Mrs. Golda Thomas only once, and she was then a stalwart octogenarian, I know her mainly through her sons, especially Ademola, who has been like the brother I never had…my brother from another mother.

Of all the remarkable men I have met in life none ranks higher in my estimation as a man of honor, integrity and sterling character.   And since I am one who believes that we have no right to claim the achievements of our ancestors, because we contributed nothing to their success, but the character and achievements of our children is is just cause for pride or shame because they are our handiwork, the ultimate testament to the life of Mrs. Golda Thomas is the caliber of her sons.  Her life spanned nearly a century and from all accounts her good deeds were immeasurable.  Now she shall take her place among the honored ancestors for eternity.  May she rest in Peace.

 Ms Golda’s Other Sons

Ademola's Brothers Verl and Harold

Veryl and Harold 


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New york
February 20, 2014

Tajh Boyd: The Next Tom Brady?

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , , on February 19, 2014 by playthell

Tajh Boyd !!

The all Tim Passing Leader in the ACC

 Is the Smart Money about to hit the Canvas….Again?

I continue to be amused by the all-knowing commentary of the football “experts” when they project where a particular player should go in the draft, and the smugness with which they make their pronouncements.  The careers of scouts, coaches and General Managers have been buoyed to great heights by such predictions and the decisions they make based on them…and they have also crashed and burned. This is because in spite of their computers, which can analyze a veritable mountain of information, there are intangible factors that don’t show up in the computer generated numbers or in the sight of scouts whose eye witness accounts of a player’s performance is impaired by such “objective data”.

Mis-judgment of a player’s potential employing these methods are so numerous, and dramatic, it would require a sizeable essay to do the subject any justice.  Hence I shall cite just a few cases that will leave no doubt as to the massive failures of this approach to predicting a players potential to succeed in the NFL.  The wise guys who pick the players in the NFL overlooked Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Walter “Sweetness” Peyton, Russell Wilson, Emmitt Smith, Tom Brady, Everson Walls, et al.  Every one of these guys have won at least one Super Bowl, and all but one is in the National Football League’s Hall of Fame!

It would seem that this experience would be humbling for those who are the deciders in professional football.  Alas that is not the case; for they seem as smug and certain of their choices as ever.  Of course smugness and self-certainty is a vice not entirely confined to this group…the present writer must constantly struggle against succumbing to its powerful lure, especially since I not only have an impressive record of prognostications, and I get such a bang out of seeing the wise guys go wrong.  I sometimes suspect it is a perverse pleasure, something akin to dancing on an adversary’s grave, yet I can’t help it: I’m funny that way.

Although most of my prescient predictions are in the political arena – see “The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq, posted on this blog. The accuracy of this prediction is such that Nostradamus might wish to claim it – I nevertheless have had some impressive calls regarding football games too.  The latest example were my Super Bowl predictions.  See “Dangerous!” on this blog.  Yet because human potential remains a cosmic mystery, I cannot claim with certainty that my predictions about the outcome of football games are reliable enough to bet my money, nor anybody else’s, on the outcome.

Nevertheless, it is quite literally true that I have gone against the conventional wisdom and more often than not was proven right by subsequent events.  Which, at the risk of being accused of braggadocio, I remind the reader is the essence of prophesy. In fact, in a truer world, I would by now be routinely addressed by supplicants with bowed heads as “Playthell the Prophet.”

Alas, the course crowd upon whom I bestow my prescient prognostications, untutored and ungrateful mob that they are, gleefully take their place in the forefront of the malicious wags who take perverse pleasure in denying me this universal honorific.   But that shall not retrain me from venturing a prediction about the future of Tajh Boyd as he ascends from the college rank to the National Football League.

As I listen to the chatter from the football wise guys they are singing the same old tunes…it’s SOS, same old shit we heard about Russell Wilson and Colin Kapernick and Cam Newton.   He can’t pass from the pocket; he runs around too much; he can’t make the secondary and tertiary reads when throwing the ball down the field: yahda, yahda, yahda.  Yet Cam Newton broke all quarterback passing records for rookies racking up 4, 000 yards, and just two years later he won his division and played in the AFC Championship game…against Colin Kapernick, who took his team to the Super Bowl in his second year in the NFL, after only eight games as a starting quarterback!    He would have won it except for a badly blown call by the referee.

And Russell Wilson, who not only runs around all the time but we were assured is way too short to make it in the big league. The scouts thought so little of him coming out of college he was drafted in the third round and expected to amount to little more than a practice squad player.  But he stole the starting job from Matt Flynn, a newly acquired 10 million dollar man during practice sessions, went on to tie Peyton Manning’s all time rookie passing record, with far less interceptions, and took the Seattle Seahawks to the playoffs for the first time within the memory of many fans.  By the end of his second season he had compiled the best winning record of any quarterback in NFL history in their first two years.  He won throughout the playoffs and ended up playing in the Super Bowl  and winning just a few weeks ago!

Wilson was facing the magnificent Peyton Manning, a sure shot first ballot Hall of Famer, who had just completed the greatest regular football season the history of the NFL.   By the standards of the football gurus Peyton was designed by the gridiron Gods to play quarterback: a 6” 5’ pocket passer with a cannon arm that could throw all of the various passes with perfection.  And he had a platoon of great receivers to catch them.

Russell Wilson was given no chance at victory; he would be lucky to escape with some semblance of self-respect the wise guys chanted, echoing each other like a Greek chorus.  Well, employing a marvelous combination of magic and art Wilson wiped Peyton out in one of the worst ass whuppings in the history of the Super Bowl!

Like the bumblebee, which according to the engineer’s calculations cannot fly due to the size of his wings in relation to his body, but in his ignorance flies anyway, cool hand Russ took the field and blew the God’s quarterback away!  He walked away holding the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy held aloft in the victors pose…just like I said he would!

Yet as the NFL draft approaches the know-it-all football “experts” are spouting that same tired ass yang again! I am astonished that these guys just don’t get it; they are so fixated on the stiff, stand in the pocket i.e. “white” quarterback style they even deny the hard evidence that’s right before their eyes.  The kind of stuff they would usually bet the ranch on.

For instance, Tajh Boyd’s measurable assets are off the charts.  He is 6” 1’, 222 pounds and runs a 4: 54 in the forty yard dash.  He is a crafty runner with the power to break tackles.  And he has a great passing arm.  He is first in the history of the distinguished Clemson football programs history in passing yards.  First in passing efficiency, first in passing touchdowns, first in passing completions, first in completion percentage, first in 300 yard passing games, first in total offensive yards – due to his great running ability – first in consecutive starts and snaps taken by a quarterback – due to his powerful physique and great durability – first in top 25 wins by a starting college quarterback and he is first for all time in touchdown passes and total touchdowns – passing and running – in the ACC conference!

Simply the Best!

tajh boyd clemson

A True Dual Threat!

By all objective measures Tajh Boyd is a great quarterback; yet the wise guys are telling us that he may go as low as the fifth round and list ten quarterbacks that stand a chance of being selected before him.  Well, Tom Brady – whose record makes him arguably the best quarterback ever to play professional football – went in the seventh round and there were quite a few palookas selected before him, none of whose names I can now recall.

In fact, unlike Boyd, Brady didn’t get a chance to start in college until his senior year at Michigan, and then only because the starting quarterback opted for a baseball career and quit the team.  However he made it to a bowl game and won an impressive victory over the perennial football powerhouse LSU.  That should have told the scouts something about his potential on the next level…but, alas, there is none so blind as those who refuse to see.

Brady was selected by New England because he was still hanging around and they thought he might develop into a descent back up player after an extended stint on the practice squad. He began as a third string quarterback and only got a chance to play because the starter and his back-up got hurt.  Tom Brady came off the bench and never lost a game for the rest of the season…including the Super Bowl!

There are many scouts, coaches, general managers, owners and bookies still scratching their heads and wondering how they blew it; how could they have slept on Brady?  And I predict that when they finally pull their heads outta their asses a few years from now and recognize that Tajh Boyd is better than Terry Bridgewater and the much hyped “Johnny Football – a black quaterback with a white style and a white boy with a black style – they are going to be asking the same question about Tajh …unless they read this essay and come to their senses!!!

 Three Studs the Wise guys Missed!

Tom Brady

Tom Terrific!  the Best Ever?

The Elusive Colin Kapernick

Colin Kapernick

Exposing the Folly of the Wise Guys!

Cool Hand Russ




Double Click on Link to watch Tajh’s Highlights

Harlem, New York
February 19, 2014

On Education for Citizenship

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on February 11, 2014 by playthell

Thomas Jefferson

 “Those who expect to be both ignorant and free, expect what never was and never will be.” 

Whatever Happened to Civics?

For several years now I have been increasingly disturbed by the decline of civics instruction in our public schools.  But when I express this concern most people look at me as if I had suddenly begun speaking in ancient Greek, or some other unintelligible language.  If they are in their forties or younger they appear to have no clue what I am talking about.  I don’t know exactly when it happened, or how those who determine educational policy in our public schools decided to remove Civics from the curriculum.  I just looked up one day and it was gone!

Yet civics was the only course in our educational system that is designed to teach students how our political system works and the proper functions of government.  A vital part of civics instruction is the systematic study of current events, which provides a basis for making intelligent choices once we are old enough to vote.  When I was a boy civics was an integral part of public school instruction, and it has determined my approach to understanding the responsibilities of citizenship as an adult.

The first responsibility of citizenship in a participatory democracy with contending political forces is to educate youself on the issues so that you can make informed decisions at the ballot box. In a racist, sexist, predatory capitalist system where the struggle for the necessities of life is becoming increasingly Darwinian – i.e. dog eat dog and only the big dogs shall survive – making the right choices  in the voting booth is a life and death matter.  One need only look at the Social Darwinst proposals of the Republican Party to recognized the danger facing the working  class in America.  Already they have become invisible; nobody even mentions their name anymore.

For a while, I felt like I was the only one who recognized the end of civics instruction as a crisis that is rendering America’s participatory democracy dysfunctional.  This was clear to me in the results of the first congressional elections after the innaugaration of President Obama, when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives only two years after their policies had wrecked the nation’s economy. (see: “On Our Dysfunctional Democracy” on this blog)  And what’s more, the most potent force in the New Republican coalition is the “Tea Party,” an ultra-right band of iconoclast who ran on an anti-government platform.

Amazingly, the Tea Party has managed to convince millions of Americans that the government they elect is their enemy.  This has led to the Extraordinary spectacle of masses of struggling Americans voting against their economic interests in the belief that they are striking a blow for freedom.  The full extent of this absurdity was made clear to me when I was traveling in Georgia and came upon a demonstration against “Obamacare” led by a snaggle tooth red neck with a mouth full of rotten teeth.  From the look of things the guy had never seen a dentist in his life., but here he was vociferously fighting against a program that would make it possibe for him to finally visit a dentist.

This absurdity of supporting people and policies that is against one’s interests is repeated in myriad ways by the working class whites who make up much of the Republican base. Why, they even applauded the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case; which is a major step in transforming out participatory democracy in which candidates from all classes could run for public office in an effort to promote policies that address the interests of working people, to a system where only the rich or their representatives can effectively contest for office.

How does one explain this kind of self-destructive behavior?  Why would people vote against their best interests?  And what does it harbor for the future of American democracy? Succinctly put, it is the epidemic of political ignorance among the electorate that propels this self-destructive behavior. Thomas Jefferson warned of this danger during the founding of the American Republic.

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens. “

Given the complexity of American society today, a mass society of several hundred million people composed of diverse races and ethnicities residing in a continental nation extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, Jefferson’s words are far more relevant now than they were in the 18th century, when America was a simple agrarian society composed of small towns and villages about a third of the size we are now.  Hence the study of civics is needed now more than ever, when citizens are confronted with problems of amazing complexity that they are ill-equipped to analyze.

One of the groups that recognize the gravity of this problem and is calling for the restatement of civics instruction is the New York Bar Association.  After studying the problem of widespread ignorance among the citizenry about how our government and politics work, they tell us in a in a recently published document titled Report and Recommendations of the Law, Youth, and Citizenship committee on Civic Education.

“A constitutional democracy flourishes only if the constitution reflects democratic values alive in the citizenry. In the past decade, nearly every measure of Americans’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of democratic values and fundamental constitutional principles has reflected a shocking level of decline. Despite New York’s adoption of the ‘Participation in Government’ requirement for graduating high school seniors over a decade ago, a sense of political disengagement has worsened in our state due to a lack of civic knowledge and the skills necessary to be an effective citizen.” On this score all the observable evidence suggests that the State of New York is the State of the Nation.

It is this gross ignorance of the legitimate functions of government, as well as our political history, that allows Republican Congressman to feel safe while committing a crime against humanity by cutting eight billion dollars from the federal food stamp program at the same time they are denying a couple of million unemployed Americans extended benefits during an economic crisis where there are no jobs that pay a living wage.

Many of these citizens have worked hard all of their lives but now face hunger and homelessness while these same Republicans give every possible benefit to the rich.   Furthermore, these same Republican shills for the plutocracy are vociferous opponents of minimum wage laws and have voted repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, while concocting a web of lies to discredit this benefaction to the American people.

A politically enlightened electorate would throw the bums out!  Instead millions of voters know so little about how our government actually works they cannot distinguish the progressive Democrats who have tried to pass Jobs bills based on investment in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, from reactionary Republicans who only want to cut all government benefits for working Americans and give extravagant tax holidays to the super rich.

Hence we are being told by the political numbers crunchers that the Republicans will not only retain Control of the House of Representatives in the coming elections….but might well gain control of the Senate. This would be a catastrophe, because if these reckless Republican fanatics –  and the spineless opportunists who know that this is foolishness but go along to get along – gain control of both Houses of Congress there is every reason to believe that their policies would wreck the economy again, entangle the nation in more foreign conflicts that extract a high cost in blood and treasure, create permanent gridlock in the government, and perhaps even impeach the President on trumped up charges! If ever we needed an enlightened electorate it is now.

John Boehner
Boehner with crack pipe 
The Worse House Speaker Ever!


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

The Winter Olympics In Russia

Posted in On Sports! with tags on February 8, 2014 by playthell

Russian winter Olumpics

Grand Illusions at Opening Ceremonies

 And Evening of Magic and Majesty

Despite the looming fear of terrorists out to disrupt the games to make a political statement, and the possibility of demonstrations by openly gay athletes intended to flout Russia’s repressive anti-gay laws and embarrass President Putin, the opening ceremony at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia was a marvelous spectacle to behold.

A celebration of Russian history and culture, it provided a magnificent showcase for the artistic treasures of Great Russia.  While the average American’s vision of this faraway land on the other side of the world is distorted by ignorance and disinformation, watching these ceremonies  last night provided a different view of these remarkable people and their culture.

Until recently the vision of Russia held by most Americans was shaped by Cold War rhetoric, thus the only thing that most people in the US knew about the Russians – which was then the Soviet Union – was that they had thousands of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles armed with nuclear warheads aimed at all of our cities and towns, capable of obliterating American civilization in a flash, and that we were ready and able to retaliate with even greater destructive power.  It was not the kind of thing that made for good vibes between the two peoples.

However the American parody of Russians obscured the great achievements of Russian culture, especially in the performing arts.  Russian is the Mecca of classical ballet and the circus, which has produced a tradition of great designers of costumes and theatrical settings.  And their achievement in music – both instrumental and vocal – is second to none.

Their composers are performed all over the world and their ballet masters – dancers and choreographers alike – have shaped the art of classical European dance around the world.  For instance, George Ballanchine, mastermind of the world renowned American Ballet Theater housed in Manhattan’s magnificent Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts was a Russian Exile.   All American Ballet lovers have genuflected before its Prima Ballerinas and Dansuers.

The designers of this ceremony combined the best of the Russian classical traditions in music, dance, theater and ice skating with the brave new world of computer-generated imagery, employing myth and fabulation to create grand illusions of magical fantasy figures from the past and future, synchronized to musical scores that made the animated illusions appear to dance.  It was a powerful statement about Russian capabilities in the arts and technology.

One of the high points in an evening with many illuminated moments was a massive number where music, song, dance, and grand illusions combined to make a powerful statement on Russia in the twentieth century.  A period when the Russian people experienced three revolutions in four decades: the bourgeois revolution that overthrew the Romanov dynasty, the Bolshevik Revolution that brought the Communist Party to power and the Industrial Revolution that converted Russia from a backward semi-feudal society to a modern state.

These powerful visual vignettes were a cacophony of magnificent sound, massive images that allude to the industrial age, ballets celebrating the working masses whose labor and ingenuity ushered in the industrial era, accompanied by heroic music performed by a grand orchestra with strings, horns and thunderous tympani.  By any measure it was world class stuff that made all of the American commentators who insured us the games would expose Russian incompetence look pretty silly.

All who witnessed this innovative show, performed in a massive sets that combined elements of classical and modern architecture, must confess that it was a worthy salutation to the Olympic Games.  The NBC commentator said “it was part Hollywood and Part Broadway.”  It was no such thing!  It was part Bolshoi ballet, part Moscow Circus, and part Russian Opera.

Fantasy and reality blended into a mesmerizing spectacle where giant pillars of multi-colored fires seemed to flow like a fountain, as massive explosions of fireworks timed to explode on cue to the powerful music playing in the background brought the ceremony to a close with great drama. It was a fine prelude to the magic moments we will witness in days to come, when skaters wearing sharpened blades on their feet will elegantly pirouette on ice, while skiers and skateboarders leap off mountainsides and fly through the air in death defying stunts.  It may well turn out to be the greatest show on earth!

Pillars of Fire

Russian Olympic Fireworks

A Chorus of Singers

Russian Olympics 2013

Dancers in a hail of Laser Lights

Russian Olympics dance number

Russian Dancers Weave Visual Alchemy

Russian Olympic Dancers

Giant Laser Men Smacked Hockey Pucks in the Sky


And Rainbow Colored Castles floated in the Air


Set in Fantastic Computer Generated Landscapes 


A Fantastic Pillar of Fire
3b3de640-902c-11e3-96cc-e979eb8d5362_467610951Towered over All
As the World’s Greatest Winter Athletes 


Marched in the Parade of Stars!


(Double Click to view Shani Davis win Olympic trials)

(A 4 time Olympic Medalist with 2 Golds)
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
February 2014

Why Not Russ?

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , on February 3, 2014 by playthell

Russell wilson IV

Russell Wilson: Super Bowl Champion

 Russell Wilson was the Real MVP

As has been pointed out repeatedly by sports commentators analyzing yesterday’s Super Bowl game: Russell Wilson is the only quarterback with his stats to play in that game and not be named “Most Valuable Player.” This is not mere speculation; these guys are pros who do this for a living and they are armed with a veritable mountain of statistics to support their claim.  Wilson passed for over 206 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks!  Hence I could not agree with them more.  They are spot on.

Beyond the hard statistics there are the intangibles such as his irrepressible optimism, brilliant decision making, mistake free play, maintaining his cool under pressure and the ability to inspire and rally his troops.  In terms of what is required in a winning quarterback, this kid has the right stuff…Russell Wilson is the real deal.  I would love to hear what the panel that selected the MVP used as their criteria.  Some people feel their decision was driven by racial resentments, and I must confess that the thought also crossed my mind.

Run or Pass…
Russell-Wilson V He does it all!

However after listening to Stephen A. on ESPN’s First Take this morning I am uncertain as to how much racism had to do with it.  Although it need not be either or…it could be a bit of both.  While Skip Bayless, a white sports reporter who partners with Stephen, A said he would have voted for Russ, Stephen A. thought the Seattle victory was totally the result of how the defense played.  This only confirms my long held opinion that he should stick to commenting on basketball…which is his true area of expertise.  Russell Wilson is the engine that fires the Seahawk wreaking machine.

With the Super Bowl victory Russell Wilson has won more games than any quarterback in the history of the National Football League over their first two years, yet our famous sports pundit Stephen A says he is “not a game changer.”  However Eric Davis, a former All-Pro cornerback looks at Wilson’s performance, pointing out the many third down conversions that resulted from great play by this quarter, by passing or running the ball, and scratches his head in puzzlement because several quarterbacks have won the MVP award with less impressive performances.  And he offers an explanation “I guess people just don’t see him as “that guy who can step in and save a game…but he does it all the time!”

The person who appears to be the least concerned with this question is Russell Wilson.  When asked about it he just laughs and with his customary grace and says it doesn’t matter, that he is happy for his team mate, Malcolm Smith, who plays on the defensive side of the ball, and talked about how great the defense played.  And then he says that he knows what his talents are, and he is quite satisfied with that.  He says that he views his role as a facilitator who distributes the ball to others to make plays.  With characteristic calm, Russell says he got what he really wanted: A Super Bowl Championship.

Of course, that’s the object of the game, and it is of greater value to a quarterback than any individual accolade. The gracious way he handled this historic victory, the magnitude of which was unimaginable to knowledgeable football fans, was the essence of the sporting ideal.   He is unflappable, a trait which is most obvious when he is questioned as to whether he was nervous before the game due to the pressure.  Russell flashed his boyish smile and said “I was never nervous and I didn’t feel any pressure.”

Russ Constantly Pays Homage to Dad
Russell and Dad Whose Wisdom shaped his Self-Concept

He went on to say that pressure was when his father was in lying a coma in the hospital dying and his mother was futilely trying to revive him.  “That was pressure, football is fun.  It’s what I love to do.”  There is a simple honesty about this kid that leaves no doubt in my mind that he is telling the truth.

I kept thinking that whatever those who chose the Most Valuable Player were using as a measuring stick they got it wrong.  The Seahawks could easily have won this game without Malcolm Smith’s contribution, as exciting as it was, but they could not have won without Russell Wilson…which in my estimation makes him the Most Valu Player.

His coach says that the things people look at who evaluate his quarterback are irrelevant, because he feels that Russell is at the center of all that they do.  “Russell never turned the ball over once in the playoffs…that’s big time football”  So in choosing the Most Valuable Player I ask the same question Wilson’s beloved father, who taught him the game: Why not Russ?


Double Click On Link
To see why Russell Wilson should have been MVP
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
The Morning after the Super Bowl 2014

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,931 other followers