Celebrating an American Master

Posted in Cultural Matters, Visual Artists with tags on June 3, 2015 by playthell


A virtuoso of the double Bass Violin Serenades the aesthetes

 The Otto Neal Retrospective in Kenkelbe House

On the last Sunday in May an overflow crowd turned out to honor the octogenarian artist Otto Neals at a “Retrospective” of his long and productive career at the Kenkeleba House Gallery in the East Village.  Not even a violent thunder storm  with frightening lightening and pouring rain could deter these intrepid aesthetes from their appointed round: Paying homage to a great artists who has enriched American culture with an amazing Oeuvre that includes Painting, Printmaking, Collage and Sculpture.  An autodidact whose varied work bears the unmistakable mark of genius.

Mr. Neals, is a cultural treasure in a class by himself.  His work displays the wide interest that is characteristic of the broadly learned autodidact who has not been trained to think in specialized ways.  I believe that this, as much as his obvious gifts, explain Mr. Neals’ amazing versatility. Although he never completed a formal course of instruction in the arts leading to a BA or MFA degree, like most outstanding autodidacts Otto benefited from his association with distinguished artists who recognized his talent – it was akin to an apprenticeship in a medieval guild studying under masters of their craft.

A life-long Brooklynite, he took advantage of an opportunity to take a class with at the prestiegous Brooklyn Museum of Art conducted by Isaac Soyer, the Russian Émigré and great social realist painter whose favorite subjects was the working class of New York, and dancers.  Given his experience as a working class black man in Brooklyn it is easy to see how Otto would have been attracted to Soyer’s work.  He also studied with the master Afro-American printmaker Bob Blackburn.

In 1958 he became involved with the Fulton Art Fair, where he met and interacted with other gifted Afro- American artists such as Tom Feelings, Ernie Crichlow and Jacob Lawrence.  All of whom would make their mark in 20th century American art.  Otto is still making his into the 21st century.

It has become cliché to ask if life imitates art or vice versa? As a general proposition this question is far beyond the scope of the present essay, but it is apparent that in the New York art world the exhibition and marketing of fine art conforms to the etiquette of race relations in this city.  In matters of color art is as separate as life.  Among the consequences of this racial separation is that black artists – even when they are great – do not have ready access to wealthy patrons; who tend to be white and favor white artists.

Alas the problem of economic survival is a constant for black artists in America;  Neals solved this problem by working as a civil Servant in the US Post Office.  Hence it is no exaggeration to say that Kenkelebe House has been a sanctuary for artists of color.  On their website they describe the source of their inspiration and define their mission thusly:

Named for a West African plant believed to possess spiritual powers, Kenkeleba House is dedicated to the exhibition of artworks by African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native American artists. Kenkeleba House sponsors six to ten exhibitions a year of four to five weeks duration, often exploring historical or thematic issues. Educational programs such as artist talks, demonstrations, performances and lectures are often supplement the exhibits. An outdoor sculpture garden enlivens the property. A satellite space, the Wilmer Jennings Gallery, is across the street at number 219.”

The “Retrospective” show dedicated to the art of Otto Neals is the brainchild of Dr. Myrah Brown Green, who conceived and curated the show.  Since Dr. Green can be seen conducting a penetrating interview with Mr. Neals by clicking the video link at the bottom of this photo- essay,  I will confine my discussion of the Curators relationship with the artist to an observation from my conversation with Dr. Green about how this exhibition came to be.

I got the distinct impression that she views these Retrospectives as an ancestral imperative…a kind of ancestor veneration ritual celebrated while the elder is alive to witness it.  She spoke of feeling an urgent commitment to honor our black artists of outstanding achievement but have received only sparse recognition, and to enrich the art world by bringing their works before a wider public.

With that objective as her guiding principle Dr. Green planned this exhibition to be shown at six galleries.  She said she wanted “something big,” something equal to his talent and importance.  This was no picayune task, as Mr. Neals is a master of five mediums.  Four of them – painting, sculpture, wood cut printmaking, and collage, are displayed in the pictures below.

To say the exhibition is a visual feast that touches all the places in our hearts, minds and souls that only great art is capable of reaching is very nearly an understatement. Some of the viewers at the exhibition, sophisticated savants and avid cultural consumers, were driven to tears by the powerful alchemy of Mr. Neal’s art.

At the Wilmer Jennings Gallery
 Internationally Renown Photographer Mel Wright Was Chillin
The Arts Community Turned out to Honor a Giant

Edited Choice I

Stylish folks with Good Taste
Mesmerized by Pictures in the Exhibition

To be a prolific maker of fine art is quite enough to justify a life well lived, but Mr. Neals has done more.  He is a founding father of a grand tradition.   Although it now seems that people always talked about a “black esthetic,” and consciously worked to realize this ideal in their art; it was not ever thus.  This kind of talk is the product of the “Black Arts Movement” of the 1960’s, which began with the founding of the African Jazz Art Society in New York, during 1958.

The founders included visual and Musical artists: Elombe and Kwame Braithwaite – a graphic artist and photographer – along with Max Roach and Abby Lincoln. Max was a composer, bandleader and father of a school of improvisational drumming in the Jazz tradition that has influenced the language and technique of those who play the complex Jazz drum set everywhere in the world. And Abby was a wonderful singer with an original style as well as an accomplished actress.  As activists and husband and wife, Max and Abby was the First couple of the Black Arts Movement; their example inspired and served as a model for many activists marriages…including my own.

Just as the birth of Da Da, an art movement which rose from the smoldering ruins of post-World War I Europe can be traced to explorations by artists such as Marcel Janco and Jean Arp at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich Switzerland, and the invention of Bebop can be traced to the sonic experiments of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Theolonius Monk, et al in Minton’s Playhouse, the black Arts movement can be traced to the African Jazz Art Society, which promoted soirees featuring Jazz, Visual Art, and the kind of erudite black talk that became common fare among black intellecuals, writers, activists, musicians and visual artists during the 1960’s. ** See notes at bottom of the page

All of these artistic movements were inspired by the reactions of the artists to their environment. The creators of Da Da were driven by a distrust of rigid order and hierarchal authority inspired by the degeneration of modern European civilization into the barbarism of War; Bebop was propelled by a desire for freedom against the creative restrictions of the big band and the imperatives of commerce; the Black Arts Movement was a revolt against the conventions of European Art and the racist tyranny of white imagery….both of themselves and black folks.

For black artist this was also a political statement, since Afro-Americans were still sufering under the apartheid system based on racial caste oppression.  In fact, the raison d’etre of the Black Arts Movement was to create art that could serve as a cultural weapon in the Black Liberation Movement which spawned it. In each instance the principal motivation of the artists was to create a new art.

One of the fruits of this cultural and political ferment was the founding of the Weusi Academy and in Harlem, a group of visual iconoclast determined to smash conventional wisdom about the meaning of art…and art itself.  They also established the Nyumba Ya Sanaa gallery to exhibit their work.  Mr. Neals was a founding father of this widely influential institution along with other innovators such as Ademola Olugbefola and the late great Yusef Rachman.  Yusef has danced and joined the ancestors but Ademola is still very much with us and actively creating important art.

Ademola recalls when his longtime friend and colleague “carved his first work of wood sculpture. It was obvious even then that he possessed special gifts,” he says.  “Nobody deserves a retrospective of this scale more than him.”  It was through an invitation from Ademola that I happened to attend this opening, and I decided to bring my camera along.  The portraits below are my impression of the show.  Click the link below the pictures for the video presentations on the artist.






DSCN9799                                                                                                                                                                                   *****************                                                        First choice




First choice pring












 First Choice Collage








Otto Neal

The Grand Master: Otto Neals 


Click to see video of Dr. Green interviewing Otto Neals
 Watch Otto Neals discuss is sources of inspiration
Watch Otto Neals in the Studio as he explains his scuptural technique 
Watch Otto Neals discuss his wood sculptures 
Watch Interview with Neals’ Weusi colleague Ademola Olugbefola
* For Elombe Brath See: https://commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/in-remembrance-of-brother-elombe/
 For The African Jazz Art Society see:https://commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/the-death-of-sister-soul/
Photos and text by: Playthell G. Benjamin
Except for photo of Otto Neals
 Harlem New Rork, June 3, 2015





Republican Warmongers take over the Senate!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on May 27, 2015 by playthell
Senator Graham from the backward state of South Carolina

 Beware of the Mad Men who want to start a War with Iran

`             Watching a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, now controlled by Republicans and chaired by the pugnacious militarist John McCain, the danger of having Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress becomes immediately clear.  It is also clear that if John McCain was President just now, and Lindsay Graham in charge of this Committee, we would be in full preparation for an invasion of Iran that would resemble a repeat of the invasion of Iraq over a decade ago.  This would be an unmitigated disaster!  We should thank the gods that Barack Obama is in the Oval office, although the forces pushing him into increasingly belligerent stances are numerous, powerful and ubiquitous. The Republicans in Congress are developing a justification for a scenario that calls for permanent war.

One is forced to wonder whether the Republican warmongers actually believe all of the things they say, or they are using foreign conflicts – especially the struggle against the Islamic Jihadists – in order to build political support for a Republican takeover of the White House in 2016.   What makes this situation so dangerous is that the struggle against the Islamic Jihadists – an armed radical movement that is reshaping the map of the Middle-East that has no connection to national states – is a real and present danger to the national security of the United States.  Hence what we need is a cold objective analysis of events that is not colored by partisan ideological concerns.  And that is not what I am hearing in Republican rhetoric or witnessing in their actions.

What I am hearing is an attempt to politicize intelligence in order to manufacture a justification to invade Iran, whom they have convinced themselves pose as great a danger to the US, if not greater, than ISIS.  Every time an administration politicizes intelligence it has gone badly; the Vietnam War, the overthrow of the popularly elected President of Iran, Muhammad Mossedech in 1953, and the misbegotten invasion of Iraq are three poignant examples. We are still dealing with the consequences of our interventions in Iran and Iraq and there is no end in sight. Listening to Lindsay Graham lead his right-wing “expert” witnesses, who rather timidly agreed with the twisted view of political reality in the Islamic world he was presenting, I can see this nation slouching toward war with Iran – which I am convinced would be a tragic mistake.

It seems that a distorted Republican view of events in the Middle-East that serves to disguise the realities in the region has also gripped some Democrats.  For instance we find Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a former military man, calling ISIS “the most evil organization in history.”   This is a bizarre statement coming from a Jew who probably had family that was killed in the Nazi holocaust, since we can tell by his name that his family is of German origin.  It is a measure of the extent to which many Senators have substituted hyperbole for objective analysis.

What is clear is that nobody knows what to do about ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shebob i.e the radical jihadist Islamic movement.  Some of the suggested strategies are laughable and as misguided as the assumptions Republican strategist held about how easy it would be to prevail in Iraq before the invasion of that small Muslim country.  For instance, the idea of arming various factions in the Islamic world, whether they are governmental or non-governmental armed forces, as the key to victory is extreme folly.

The other major delusion is that we can counter their commitment to radical Islamic theology by introducing them to the “American way of life;” which the Jihadists view as the values of a decadent, anti-Islamic, morally bankrupt, hypocritical, racist, Zionist outpost.  Proponents of this conversion thesis forget the fact that the father of the modern Jihad, Sayeed Guthb, studied for a graduate degree in the US heartland and was horrified and repulsed by American society!

Hence there is no reason to believe that any sizable number of militant Jihadist are going to lay down their weapons on the belief that American society can offer them something better, especially when every time they turnaround they are witnessing mass demonstrations against white policemen for murdering unarmed black men on Al Jazeera!  Many of the Jihadists look just like the murdered Afro-Americans; hence they identify with them and wonder “There but for the grace of God go I!”

Considering that the US has just been condemned for violating the Human rights of its citizens in a recent UN Resolution, for white Americans to think that they can win the young Jihadists over by painting rosy word pictures about the superiority of the American society is dangerous hubris.  The Republicans appear to be especially vulnerable to these fantasies as they search for a road to war with Iran.  But even more dangerous is their delusions about how the US can “win” the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a recent commentary in Al Jazeera America, Vietnam veteran Scott Beauchamp warns that we about to fall into the trap of believing the hype from Vietnam war revisionists.  The chief spokesman for the revisionist view was that old B movie actor and corporate TV pitchman Ronnie Reagan, who convinced the post-Vietnam generation that the war could have been “won” except for a failure of will.  Beauchamp tells us:

“The shifting goals and strategies not only betrayed the soldiers fighting in Vietnam, but also left a festering wound in the American psyche. By the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Hollywood were all too eager to address this lingering cynicism, what had come to be called “Vietnam Syndrome,” with a medicine that was equal parts mindless optimism and willful misremembering.

How Reagan went about recasting Vietnam as a ‘winnable’ war that was lost because of a lack of will, even a lack of faith in America itself, stands as a warning about how we remember our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…Haunting the pretense for Vietnam was a conflation of American ideals and American security interests. The two are not the same. For some, that was one of the lessons of the war in Vietnam — without popular support and strategic clarity, foreign adventurism is doomed to failure. And if that was the lesson, then Vietnam was unwinnable. Imposing our own desired political structure on a sovereign nation of people whose culture was completely alien to policy makers didn’t offer the chance of victory.”

One need only listen to the leading questions and conclusions proffered by the reactionary Republican warmongering Senator Lindsay Graham to the “expert” witnesses testifying before the Senate committee, a procedure that as a lawyer Graham knows would not be permitted in a courtroom, to see that the Republicans are going down that same road.

From the arguments they make one gets the impression that their knowledge of history is so twisted by wishful thinking they don’t recognize that both the Islamic revolution in Iran and the birth of ISIS are direct results of misguided American interventions!   They have obviously learned nothing from these disasters and are restrained in their self-destructive militaristic aims only by the presence of Barack Obama in the White House.  Had any of his Republican challengers won, we would be in wars all over the Middle-East with no end in sight…and we would be on the verge of nuclear war with Russia.

It is in this light that President Obama must be judged, and he walks away with flying colors when the alternatives are considered.   Anyone who is listening carefully to Republican rhetoric can harbor no doubt about the veracity of my prediction of permanent war everywhere if the GOP wins the Whitehouse and maintains control of both Houses of Congress.  The war drums they are beating for Iran sounds supiciously like an echo of the drums they beat for Iraq.  And with no pretense at originality, they are singing the same tune: Iran is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear bomb and that poses an existential threat to the USA, so we must strike them first!

Never mind the fact that the best possible ally in the fight against ISIS is Iran, just as the best ally against Osama bin Laden after 9/11 was Sadam Hussein and the Iranian Ayatollahs, both of whom had their own reasons for wanting al Qaeda wiped out.  The Republican warmongers have obviously refused to learn the lessons of these historical blunders and seems intent on repeating all of the mistakes of the Bushmen!

This is why those who suggest that we should sit out the 2016 election and let the chips fall where they may because the democrats have been unable to make all our dreams come true is either a fool, a charlatan, a paid agent provocateur of the reactionary right, or all three!


Click on link To View Lindsay Graham’s leading questions


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 27, 2012

Sweet Willie and the Rappers!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , on May 25, 2015 by playthell
Shakespeare as a hip hopperSweet Willie: Premiere Poet of the English Language


A Daring Discourse on Hip Hop and Shakespeare

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

~William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Sc. 2

 There are so many treasures to be found on You Tube that I feel compelled to introduce some of these important videos to a wider audience by reviewing them and publishing the essay with a link to the video.  The videos that interest me cover politics, sport and culture.  And the subject of the video under review here is the relationship between the verse of William Shakespeare and the best Hip Hop bards.

The presenter in the video is an Afro-British poet and teacher named Akala, who is the guiding light of a unique cultural experiment that blends the works of William Shakespeare – which were written in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries – with that of 20th century American rappers, demonstrating the similarities between the esthetics and concerns of Shakespeare’s verse and the poetry that arose from Afro-American street bards in New York City during the 1970’s called Hip Hop or Rap, a cultural phenomenon that I witnessed and wrote about.  I am also a published Shakespeare critic.

Hence it came as a pleasant surprise when I searched them out and read the mission statement of the London based Shakespeare and Hip Hop Company.

“Both hip –hop and Shakespeare’s theater represent energetic and inventive forms of expression.  Both are full of poetry, word play and lyricism.  Both deal with what it is to be human, and issues from people’s lives, and of course just like Shakespeare’s work, hip-hop is all about the rhythmic tension of words. The similarities between hip-hop music and Shakespeare’s theater are striking.  As a media-savvy popular entertainer and talented businessman, we think hip-hop would have been Shakespeare’s thing – a truly old school Jay Z.”

Jay Z: Hip hop Poet and Super Entreprenuer

Jay Z

He turns street literature into lucre!
Jay Z and beautiful wife Byonce chillin at the apex of power

Barack, Byonce and Jay Z

Rappin with fellow hip hop head Chilly B. Knowledge

Upon reading this I reflected on how my first, and most influential, teachers of Shakespeare’s texts – My aunt Rosa Morgan and Ms. Rosalie Gordon –would have reacted to such a claim.  Knowing their reverence for the Bard I suspect that they would have been scandalized.  But that is because all English teachers revered Shakespeare as something akin to a demi-god, a divinely inspired wizard of the word – written or spoken.

However the scholarship on Shakespeare has revealed that he was quite a down to earth fellow who held little in common with the pious prigs who are now the keepers of the Western canon – one imminent Yale literary scholar has declared “Shakespeare is the Western canon” – meaning the sacred texts of secular literature; those texts selected by the great scholars of Western literature as required reading in formal classes on English language and literature. Thus we can safely assume that many of the canonical sentries will be fairly alarmed by any suggestion of an affinity, a Sympatico between the verse of the Bard and the rhymes of rappers.  In their view the former is high-brow poetry; the latter low brow doggerel….and it shall remain ever thus.

Yet The Bard might have liked hip hop as Akala suggests, for upon closer examination we find some fundamental differences between Shakespeare and those who now interpret his works. To begin with the guardians of the canon are all professional intellectuals, scholars trained by virtue of many years of rigorous university study, guided and tutored by imminent specialists in their field and terminating with the Doctor of Philosophy or PhD degree.  Most of these professional academics know but little of actual life as it is lived by all levels of society, and they abhor business practices as a kind of amoral chicanery unworthy of one committed to the exalted life of the mind.

Their knowledge of the world is highly specialized, which has resulted in them knowing more and more about less and less.  William Shakespeare was a very different animal.  He wanted to know everything about the world and how human beings responded in different situations.  That curiosity, along with his unique insights and literary genius, accounts for the fact that if one tries hard enough it is possible to find a Shakespeare quote for any human activity…he is more reliable than the Bible; which some students of the King James version believe he wrote.

The son of a leather tanner he learned early on about business practices, and the first lesson every businessperson everywhere must learn is that they must show a profit after paying vital expenses or they won’t be in business long.  Without inherited wealth or rich patrons Shakespeare had to figure out how to make a living while he created his art or he would be forced to choose between writing and eating regularly. Evidently the starving artist mystique held no more romantic charms for him than for Jay Z.  Literary scholar Leslie Fiedler ably examines Shakespeare’s attitude toward art and commerce in a brilliant and insightful essay titled “Literature and Lucre,” which is a chapter in his seminal book on the changing values and function of literature in Western  culture What Was Literature? 

The great insight that Fiedler’s text provided for me was his elucidation of how Shakespeare felt about making money from creating art.  A practical man, he decided that since he was an actor and playwright he should own and manage his own theater.  This decision had a profound impact on how the Bard viewed the purpose of his plays, which affected how he crafted them.  His first concern was shared by every theater owner anywhere in the world: putting butts is seats until the room is full for every show.

The second major concern was to write compelling entertainments employing the Greek masks of tragedy and comedy, pathos and bathos that would satisfy the emotional needs of his customers who would then spread the word and keep them coming.  Shakespeare understood well that a satisfied customer is one’s best advertisement. He was wearing two hats, businessman and artist, for him there was no contradiction between the aims of commerce and culture that pervades the thinking of so many creative people who think of themselves as fine artists, some of whom regard being commercial as a sign of artistic treason i.e. “selling out.”   Although we are left to speculate about how good a businessman Shakespeare was, the texts he left to posterity testifies profoundly to his genius as a poet and dramatis – no one has ever done it better!

I have been fairly mesmerized by the writings of William Shakespeare ever since my Aunt Rosa, who taught English literature in high school when I was a boy, bade me listen to the music of his words.  She said to me one day that the way to tell if you had written something well is to read it out loud because, she emphasized, “If a thing is well written it will read well out loud.”  Then she picked up a copy of the Bard’s text and began to read it out loud while instructing me on how to listen.  I fell in love with the iambic pentameter rhythms of his verse and it is a love that has lasted a lifetime.

My love of Shakespeare’s text soon led to a fascination with the spoken word; this enchantment was partially due to the fact that I suffered from a severe speech impediment in early childhood.  And once I overcame it through the patient and loving guidance of my mother, my aunt Rosa drafted me onto her oratorical team, just as she had done with our parents a generation before.

It was during my tenure on the oratorical team under the stern tutelage of my aunt that I began to recite Shakespearian monologues.  At the same time I was studying the Bard’s plays under the guidance of Mrs. Gordon, the daughter of college professors who held a degree in English Literature from Boston University, where she dated Countee Cullen, a budding poet at Harvard who hailed from Harlem, then a the most glamourous and accomplished black community in the world.

An actress at heart Ms. Gordon was an impassioned teacher of Shakespeare and when she read from Macbeth we could see the witches in the skies attempting to fill his head with avarice and ambition as he returned from battle.  And when she read Lady Macbeth’s cold and calculating monologue bidding her husband to hurry home so that she could stoke those vile ambitions we sat riveted in our seats.  I can still hear her even now, over half a century later – “Thine heart is too full of the milk of human kindness/ hie the hither / that I may chastise with the valor of my tongue/ all the that impedes thee from the golden round/ with which supernatural and metaphysical aid/ Hath doth crowned thee withal.”  And we agonized with Lady MacBeth as she vainly struggled remove the blood of the murdered King Duncan from her hands: “Out Damned Spot!”

Hence I have had an ear for the rhythm of Sweet William’s verse since boyhood. My fascination with the Bard’s work was heightened when Joseph Papp, producer of the Shakespeare in the Park summer theater – where professional productions of Shakespeare’s plays could be seen at the Delacorte theater in Central Park – mounted a production of Othello. The play starred the Spanish actor Raoul Julia in the role of Othello, and this decision sparked a furious debate among New York theater critics.  The essay in the august New York Times theater section “Looking Inside that Outsider: Othello the Moor,” caught my eye.   What got my attention in particular is a claim by the Director of the Delacorte production, an Irishman named Joe Dowling, that Shakespeare didn’t intend for Othello to be a black man.

He speculated that this was a recent interpretation motivated by a tendency toward political correctness in the arts. And like most historical ignoramuses he went on to say that Shakespeare could not have intended for Othello to be black because there were no black men in Elizabethan England.  However as the Caribbean scholar Edward Scobie tells us in his path-breaking book Black Britannia, there were many black people in England during Shakespeare’s time and cites a report of the Privy Council complaining to Queen Elizabeth about the growing numbers of “blackamoors” in her realm.

Scobie, who was a Professor at New York City College, pointed out that Shakespeare had more than a casual knowledge of the Blackamoors because he was madly in love with his black mistress named “Lucy Negro,” whose heart he stole from a British nobleman and who was described as black and beautiful and a superb actress with the Greys Inn’s Revels.  Since I have already written and published an extensive treatise on the question of Shakespeare and race I shall not belabor it here.  For those who wish to read my thoughts on the subject see: “Did Shakespeare Intend Othello to be Black: A Meditation on Blacks and the Bard,” in the anthology Othello: New Essays by Black Writers, Howard University Press.

The essay above was inspired by the discussion of Othello’s race in the New York Times article; it was my answer to their nonsense masquerading as authority.  As it happens, just before the Othello production a troupe from the Royal National Shakespeare Theater visited New York and performed Macbeth.

It was a fabulous production staged in a massive old Gothic church on the posh East side of Manhattan, and the cast was all black.  I thought it the most fabulous production of Shakespeare I had ever seen.  I was bewitched by the cacophony of mellifluous voices spoken in exotic accents from all over the black world: Africa, Europe and the American diaspora.

It was a Pan-African production staffed by beautiful gifted thespians of earthen hues that conjured up strains from Duke Ellington’s tone poem Black, Brown and Beige Suite.  I was so moved by their performance that I hurried to my computer and wrote a review, “Shakespeare in Living Color,” which was published on the cover page of the Arts section in the New York Village Voice, whose coverage of the Arts scene was unsurpassed in the 1990’s.  For instance it was here that serious, literary, criticism of the growing hip hop phenomenon was born.  With outstanding Afro-American writers like Barry Michael Cooper, Harry Allen, Greg Tate, Nelson George, Joan Morgan, Dream Hampton, et al. the Voice became the tribune of hip hop.

The reception that greeted the Macbeth review was such that I became known to the producer of the play, who arranged for some of the cast to come on my WBAI radio show one afternoon on their day off, and I had a ball reading Shakespeare with members of the Royal National Shakespeare Theater.  I told them the story on air of how the great Afro-American actor Ira Aldridge – unquestionably one of the outstanding Shakespearian Tragedians of the 19th century and the most powerful Othello according to theater critics all across Europe who reviewed his performances – learned his craft at the Grove Theater, a black owned theater in Greenwich Village devoted to the performance of Shakespeare’s plays.

Alas, he was forced to flee to England in order to find a safe space to perform, because ignorant racist white thugs routinely attacked them for daring to perform Shakespeare.  Aldridge would go on to become a sensation in Europe playing Othello and Aaron, Shakespeare’s two magnificent Moors in whom he invested virtue and vice, their dramatis personae symbolizing the extremes of good and evil. It was these experiences – meeting the black Shakespearians, writing about their performance, the controversy over Othello’s racial identity –   that led me to write the extended treatise on Othello. At the time of my meeting with the black Shakespearians Aldridge was the only black actor with a chair in the Shakespeare memorial at Stratford Upon Avon, The Bard’s birthplace.

Ira Aldridge
The Greatest Othello of the 19th Century?

During this period I had an experience that began my enlightenment about the predicament of black artists in Britain. At the time I was writing regularly for the London Guardian – which was then the venerable Manchester Guardian – and when Senior Editor Alan Rushbridger visited New York, accompanied by a group of writers, I took my London colleagues to lunch at B Smiths, a first class restaurant located in the Broadway theater district owned by an Afro-American high fashion model. As one would expect, this was a smart and stylish crowd. The cuisine was superb and we were serenaded by a first rate Jazz trio as we dined.

The senior editor looked about the plush environs in wonder and then confided “There is no smart affluent black scene like this in London.”  Although it struck me as odd, I was in no position to dispute him, considering that on a previous business trip to London when I was a boxing promoter I split my time hanging out with millionaire white businessmen at the Dorchester – which they assured me was London’s finest hotel – and black Jamaican gangsters in Brixton. (see: “On Being Black in London.”)  And since I had never experienced anything but the warmest collegiality at the Guardian, my fail-safe racial bullshit detector was powered down.  But when the editor went on to tell me how happy they were to have me writing for the Guardian because there were no black writers of my caliber in England, the flashers began to go off in my head and I could hear the warning voice saying “beware of bullshit tips!”

Although I had no evidence to dispute him I knew Rushbridger’s astonishing claim couldn’t possibly be true.  A few days later my suspicions were confirmed. I was browsing through a book stall at the famous Papyrus book store, located right across the street from Columbia University, which is a great place to be if you are into used books, and I stumbled across a book titled “The Struggle For Black Arts in Britain.” 

The book was an anthology composed of essays by a variety of writers, all of them black and residing in Britain.  The English prose composition was finely crafted, innovative, and animated by a flash of Pan-African spirit; its polyrhythmic phrases seemed to dance off the page. I was stunned….how could such gifted writers be so ignored?  They struck me as prophets without honor in their own land.

All of these memories were conjured up as I watched the lecture demonstration on the relationship between Shakespeare’s literary project and the concerns of hip-hop artists by the Afro-British poet Akala: spoken word artist, insightful intellectual, Shakespeare devotee, thespian and theatrical innovator.  It is hard to imagine a more effective spokesman for this bold movement to combine the work of Shakespeare and hip hop artists in live performance to hip hop beats.

This is something really new, a genuine innovation, and they are not just floundering about trying anything, but are building a new genre of Rap performance that is extending the artistic ambitions of the form.  They are about the business of establishing an original voice in the world of hip-hop, a dazzling new voice that combines verbal virtuosity with a deep knowledge of poetry, a celebration of lyrics that prize intellect and elevated notions about the role of the poet in contemporary society.

There are speakers who have much of importance to say but say it badly, and there are those who have nothing of real gravitas to say but say it so well that the can bewitch the crowd with the power of their oratory alone.  Like being told to go to hell in such attractive language you actually look forward to taking the trip.  One speaker puts the crowd to sleep from boredom as if they had been feed sleeping pills instead of words.  The other entertains the crowd but teaches them nothing.  In both instances the audience is cheated and little learning takes place.  But there are special occasions when a speaker has something of value to say and says it well.  That’s when we really learn something.  Akala is that kind of teacher.



Innovative Rapper and Shakespeare Scholar

From the introduction of his subject of the commonalities of hip hop and Shakespeare, it was clear to me that Akala knew his stuff.  One gets the impression that by now he has heard all of the objections of the naysayers who are offended by the comparisons and conducts a clever exercise that removes all doubt that he is on to something real and we are not about to be subjected to a display of buffoonery conducted by some barely literate special pleader who knows not the grave offense that he is perpetrating.

He tells the audience that he is going to recite some lines and form Shakespeare and some lines for US rappers, and although they were written over 400 years apart in different regions of the world he challenges the audiences to vote with a show of hands which lines were written by Shakespeare and which by rappers.  Although I thought the idea preposterous I nevertheless sat up on the edge of my chair anxiously anticipating his recitations.

The first quote was “To destroy the beauty from which one came.”  The second line was “Maybe its hatred I spew….maybe its food for the spirit.”  The audience voted overwhelmingly that both lines were authored by Shakespeare, and since this was an audience nurtured on the texts of the Bard I knew they could not be easily deceived…but they were.  The first lines were penned by Jay Z and the second were written by M&M.  He then Recited lines from the Wu Tang Clan, and fooled the audience again.

That little demonstration made Akala’s  point in a powerful way, the fact than nobody expected it made it all the more effective.  The experience was like getting hit over the head with the truth; from that moment on he grabbed our attention and held it tight.   The audience became so confused and intellectually  intimidated that when he quoted lines authored by the Bard only half the audience got it right…and I didn’t do much better.  It was a revelation….but Akala’s presentation goes much deeper.

He discussed the class structure that existed in England at the time, and pointed out that the country was rife with violent conflicts and 90% of Shakespeare’s audience was illiterate and explained that, like the rappers, Shakespeare’s art had to appeal to the untutored masses.  Akala gave a remarkably cogent analysis of the origins of hip hop culture among the Afro-American population of New York City; cited the great innovators in the development of hip-hop like African Bambatta, D.J Red Alert, Kool Herc et al, and explained the African origins of the word “hip” a term Afro-Americans introduced into the English language.

Afrika Bambaataa


Bronx Bard and a Founding Father of Hip Hop
DJ Red Alert!


A Pioneering MC
Kool Herc

Kool Herc

One of the Holy Trinity of Hip Hop

I had never heard of its connection with Africa, but serious students of Afro-American culture and speech have identified several words of African origin.  What was most enlightening is how similar the meaning of the word is in African and Afro-American cultures.  His discussion of rappers as latter day neo-African griots is also fascinating.  Yet as impressive as the intellectual discourse is it is Akala’s performance as a spoken word artist/rapper that steals the show.  The boy’s got skills big time!

Akala is a verbal virtuoso who spits out words like bullets from a machine gun.  At one points he recites the Bard’s Sonnets over hip hop beats, and demonstrates the similarity between some rappers flows and Iambic pentameter, Sweet Willie’s favorite flow.  This came as a surprise to me because I had always thought of the French playwright Moliere as having the most in common with modern day rappers by virtue of the fact that he told his stories in rhyme, as in his much celebrated play “The Misanthrope.

After listening to Akala’s presentation one begins to understand why Professor Henry Louis Gates included the verse of rappers in his canon building Norton Anthology of Afro-American Literature, a move many intellectuals believed to be a sacrilegious act.  So sit back in your favorite chair and check out this video; let Brother Akala take your mind on a fantastic journey. Among the surprising revelations this video unveils is the fantastic influence hip hop has had on the popular culture of the world.   After all, this is an art invented by young working class blacks and Puerto Ricans  with a compulsion to make music but were denied the opportunity to receive formal training in the art of music due to the severe cuts in funding for public education in New York City.

This is the result of pragmatic philistines who cannot distinguish between what students need to know in order to make a living, and what they must know in order to make a rich and satisfying life.  In word and deed Akala testifies to the positive influence of hip hop on contemporary popular culture whose appeal flows over all borders.  It is a bravura performance, unlike anything I have ever witnessed in a spoken word exhibition, and it is accompanied by an ongoing intellectual discourse which is distinguished by erudition and eloquence.  Bravo!



Double Click on link to see Akala’s presentation


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 24, 215

An Open Letter to Rock Hermon Hackshaw  

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, Playthell on politics with tags , on May 20, 2015 by playthell


 On Drones, Detentions, Jihadists, Race and Obama!!!!

Yo Rock!  I should like to address your last statement first.  You write: Let me repeat what I started off with: Playthell has taken a stance “that suggests Obnama is above critique”. THAT’S ALL I FUCKING SAID (until now). I stand by that statement. Sometimes we are too protective of those we love. I think one should tell loved ones when their breath stinks. West and Smiley are to be afforded their right to critique our first mulatto president.” My response is: I have written over 300 essays on Barack Obama and they are all on the Commentaries, but this conversation is critiquing Cornel West’s criticism of Obama.  So you point is not only irrelevant but UNTRUE.

If you were a SERIOUS critic you would carefully search through my commentaries and critique the ones where you think I am wrong. But you are obviously too intellectually lazy to do that; you want me to lead you to specific commentaries which you say DON’T EXIST!!!   Well don’t hold your breath because I have no intention of encouraging you in your intellectual slovenliness!!!!!

Anyone who has followed my work over the last thirty years on WBAI, Village Voice, my OP-ED columns in the New York Daily News, my features in The London Guardian and Sunday Times of London, my book on Dr. Dubois, etc knows that I CRITICIZE EVERYBODY!!!!!   So you have NO IDEA what you are talking about.  When it comes to assessing people who exercise power over our fates I am an honest referee.

However you fairly discredit yourself with me when you say America’s first “Mulatto President.”  What tha fuck is that supposed to mean???  Are you aware that Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington were mulattos?  Are you also aware that some of our greatest freedom fighters were MORE THAN ON HALF WHITE???????

Adam Clayton Powell and Walter White were Octoroons and Thurgood Marshall was a quadroon indistinguishable from whites!!!!   Our greatest scholar Dr. WEB Dubois was a quadroon and our great historian Rayford Logan, who wrote the tragic story of the collapse of Reconstruction after the Civil War “The Betrayal of the Negro” couldn’t find ANY TRACE of African blood in his family tree!!!!   You remind me of the 19th century Black Nationalist intellectual/activist/African Reemptionist Alexander Crummel who used to refer to Frederick Douglass as “That Mulatto Showman.”  Your comment is equally absurd!

Barack is the same complexion as MUHAMMAD ALI, ELIJAH MUHAMMAD, MALCOLM X AND MY MOTHER!!!  So fuck off with this kind of silly ass shit!!!   Don’t ever step to me with some dumb stuff like this because it will make me lose RESPECT FOR YOU!!!!!!    Being black in American is not a mater of color alone but a state of mind, a consciousness that comes from what Dr. Dubois call “life behind the veil,” it is identifying with a legacy of struggle against white supremacy.  Tell me Rock, who do you think embodies that tradition best, Barack Obama or Clarence Thomas, Dr Ben Carson, Herman Cain and Dr. Alan Keyes??? I believe if these Sambos were mixed blood they wouldn’t identify with us at all, but Barack CHOSE to be black.

  Barack and Ali: Two HeavyWeight Champs!
Ali and Barack
Is this Black enough for yo ass?

I say this because American race relations had changed so much by the time Barack came out of Harvard at the top of his class he could have easily passed himself off simply as an American of biracial lineage  like the great classical pianist Andre Watts has done – especially since his father was NOT Afro-American, and lived very comfortably among white Americans today.  But HE CHOSE TO BE WITH US INSTEAD…AND ENTHUSIASTICALLY SO!!!

Piano Virtuosso Andre Watts

Andre Watts

The son of an AfroAmerican Father and Hungarian mother

I for one am very happy to have in in our ranks and couldn’t be happier if he were as black as Jack Johnson!!!   Do you now recognize how fuckin stupid you sound to me???  I’d bet my bottom dollar that you probably are MORE MIXED BLOOD THAN OBAMA!!!!!  Millions of Afro-Americans are mixtures of European, American Indian and African.  Most often the African blood is the smallest percentage!  Because I know much more about our history than you my views are based on much more substantial ground.

My views on Obama’s blackness are based on the following.  The stories of him given by the black project dwellers in Chicago; he courted and won a fabulous brilliant black American wife who hails from the Afro-American working class who says she fell in love with him when she witnessed him speaking to a group of folks in the projects; the fact that he spent TWENTY YEARS SITTING AT HE FEET OF REVEREND WRIGHT which nearly cost him the presidency – and his comprehensive knowledge of Afro-American history and culture.  THAT’S PLENTY BLACK ENOUGH FOR ME AND THERE IS NOBODY BLACKER THAN ME!!!!!!!!!

Do you think the fact that you were born black gives you some leg up on Barack?  Well it doesn’t with me…I just named a list of highly educated Afro-Americans who appear to be as black as their African ancestors were when they steep off the boat onto American soil….and these Mofos are straight up traitors!!!! If they So get the fuck outta here with this color struck 19th century bullshit!!!!!

Who is “blacker” in the tradition?
Seattle Sea Hawks barack shakes hads with Sherman
Barack Welcoming Much Maligned Richard Sherman
Or deep dark Republican adversary Herman “Sugar” Cain
Mackin on Michelle Bachman ….an evil righwing bitch!
Drones and Detentions are the Right Tactics against the Jihadists

As regards President Obama’s tactics in fighting the global Jihad you proclaim: “I still support Obama: always have. My main critique has to do with his “drones” program, whereby thousands of innocent third-world people have been killed. The second has to do with the “rendition” program wherein thousands have been detained and denied their freedoms and human rights without due process and with flimsy (at best) evidence; the rest I will keep to myself until his term is over. I have deliberately chosen not to attack BO too much, given what he has been up against from Day One with these repugnicans.”

First, you sound as silly to me with the “due process” arguments as the cluless idiots that complained because Osama bin Laden was not read his Miranda rights before they shot his evil ass!  So you want to see these people released because they didn’t get “due Process; just like the did Calph Ibrahim, the leader of ISIS, whom US forces oncehad in custody but released? And as regards holding off on constructive criticism of  President Obama, well that’s where you and I differ.  I am interested in what is the best policy for addressing specific problems without regard to the personalities making the policy.  Hence if I think the President is wrong on policy questions I regard it as my solemn duty as a citizen/journalist to point that out and criticize those policies for the sake of our country NO MATTER WHAT THE REPUBLICANS SAY!!!!   Indeed, you are far more GUILTY of the things that you accuse me of!!!

Now let us consider your criticism of Barack’s tactics in fighting the Jihadists, I have a few questions Rock.  Your answers will tell us all we need to know about how you formulate your position on the use of drones. Your failure to provide a serious analysis will tell us even more!  Do you believe that we are in a global war with Islamic Jihadists who spend their days and nights trying to devise a way of inflicting another attack on the US that will make 9-11 look like child’s play? Do you believe that their ultimate objective is to explode a nuclear device or high radiation “dirty bomb?”

Do you believe that this is a world-wide movement and if the US stops using drones human soldiers will have to do the job?  Do you know that compared to the number of innocent civilians who were killed from “collateral damage” during armed assaults by soldiers on “search and destroy” missions render the number of such persons killed by drones STATISTICALLY ISIGNIFICANT??????

Do you know that there are 15 suitcase size nuclear bombs missing from the Russian arsenal and no one knows where they are? Do you have ANY IDEA what is required to protect a country this size where peopel can freely come and go as they like? Do you know know that the Jihadists who flew the lanes on 9/11 trained right here in the USA? Have you any idea how many terrorist “sleeper cells” are operative in the US today?

Are you aware that there are vocal and influential forces on the left and right who are so obsessed with their petty privacy that they are making in more difficult to detect these cells? Do you believe that if the Jihadist succeed in establishing ISIS they will not use it as a base to conduct Terrotists attacks all over the world…especially the US?  Are you aware that they have state as much?

What do you know of their ideology and objectives? Do you know that if the Jihadist wanted to attack New York with a nuclear weapon they don’t have to land it on the docks; they can explode it aboard a ship in the harbor and level all five boroughs of NYC?  DO YOU UNDERSTAND THIS MEANS THAT THE BOMB MUST BE STOPPED AT THE POINT OF DEPARTURE???

Do you have ANY idea what kind of intelligence assets the US government must have in order to prevent this from happening? Are you aware that American covert actions based on electronically gathered  intelligence have foiled scores of terrorist plots that the general public never hears about because it would expose intelligence gathering methods?

Have you ANY IDEA what that requires Rock? If you don’t know the answers to these problems, which require decisions upon which the fate of our nation rests, then you are a verbose ignoramus….and should STFU!!!!!! IT’S WAR DOG!!!!! I am prepared to prevent the Jihadists from realizing their goals BY ANY MEANS NECISSARY!!!!!!! HOW ABOUT YOU?????

It ought to be obvious by now that I regard your comments as the acme of absurdities, a glowing example of Facebook jibberish masquerading as serious thought. As a young man I served in the US Strategic Air Command, I served on a nuclear armed base whose mission was the nuclear destruction of the Soviet Union.  That experience made a radical leftist out of me, but since I had a Top Secret Security Clearance and my unit was tasked with stopping Russian Saboteurs, I learned a LOT about security matters.

Alas, as far as I can see you have NO EXPERIENCE with such matters, and appear to know as much about the subject as a MULE KNOWS ABOUT PLAYING THE PIANO!!!   Fortunately, in America anybody can frely express their opinions, but not all opinions carry equal weight…and yours is exceedingly lightweight on these questions.

Thus I anxiously await your answers to these questions Rock and I will promptly post them on the Commentaries and respond.  However I believe you are all blow and no go; I don’t believe that you have the balls to attempt a serious reply to this intellectual assault!  Now put up or SHUT UP!


The Struggle for Enlightenment Continues
Playthell G. Benjamin aka Publius Africanus
Harlem, New york
May 20th, 2015

The Brawl for it All!

Posted in On Sports! with tags , on May 3, 2015 by playthell

Oscar De La Hoya v Floyd Mayweather Jr.

 Pretty Boy Floyd: Reigning Master of the “Sweet Science”
 Money Mayweather and Pacman Cast their Fates in Vegas Ring

Tonight’s the night!  The long awaited fight between Floyd “Money” Mayweather and Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao has finally arrived!  Although it is not the “greatest fight ever” – or even the most popular, a point I shall demonstrate in an essay to be posted on Sunday – it is the biggest match in terms of purses and gross receipts.  By that standard, which is the raison d’etre for prize fighting; this is unquestionably the biggest fight in history! With revenues predicted to rise as high as 400 million dollars it is predicted to break all records for a single event by a large margin.

Hence I believe that Mayweather, the greatest fight hype artist since Muhammad Ali – has played fight fans like a virtuoso violinist by making them believe that he is scared of Manny, and all of the haters are rushing to buy tickets in order to witness Mayweather suffer his first defeat.  However they will be joined by true fight fans in the pay per view market along with the rich celebrities and plutocrats that will attend the live event.

Since everything that can be said about this fight has been said ad nauseum, and has by now become clichés, I shall simply address some mistakes that have become conventional wisdom among fight fans. Here is my take on the fight.  In this matchup we have the possibility of a great fight in which theoretically anybody can win; although against Floyd Mayweather they seldom turn out to be the shootouts the hypemeisters predict.

This is because Mayweather is so good he usually figures out his opponent by the middle rounds and after that he makes they look like stumble bums!  If we go by the numbers there is no doubt that Mayweather is “pound for pound” the greatest fighter of this moment in history and the best defensive boxer ever.  According to Punch Stats, the computerized record that shows how often a fighter lands a punch compared to how many times they get hit, Floyd Mayweather is the most skilled pugilist EVER!  That’s why his record is 47-0, and in boxing that is the only statistic that really matters.

After studying films of all his major fights I believe that Floyd Mayweather is such a slick defensive fighter that Pacquiao can’t hit him solidly with a hand full of rice!!  Hence I am predicting that Floyd will give this Flip a boxing lesson and could well knock his cocky ass out…which would occasion a period of national mourning in the Philipines, where the entire population seems to be emotionally invested in the outcome of this fight.

Although it has somehow become conventional wisdom that Floyd can’t punch the record shows that he has knocked out over half of his opponents…and as many professional fighters have pointed out somebody who can’s punch could not have compiled such a record against world class fighters!

Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out to be a relatively easy fight for Money May.  I have a very good record of picking big fights….the last time I missed was Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Marvelous Marvin Hagler.  But I picked Leonard by a knockout against Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns, when all the boxing wise guys were putting their money on Hearns.

Hence when Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, predicts a knockout for his guy I think it is either because he is punch drunk from taking too many blows to the head during his undistinguished boxing career, or he is trying to get Floyd off his game by pissing him off before the fight because he knows that’s his fighter’s only chance at victory.  I certainly do.

Much speculation has been offered about the reasons why Floyd has been so quiet as the fight approaches; the haters naturally argue that this is evidence of Floyd’s fear of steeping in the ring tonight with the Pacman but I think it is the quiet confidence of a fighter who has never lost a fight or been without a championship belt in 17 years!

This is the longest championship run in history. For most people the kind of brash confidence Floyd displays is a foreign feeling, never having absolutely mastered any challenging endeavor, but it is a commonplace attitude among those who have never lost in a competition against world class opponents.  On the other hand Manny Pacquiao has suffered six defeats: three by knockouts!  So I think all of his fat mouthin about knocking Floyd out is an attempt to psyche himself up!

Manny was knocked out cold by Jaun Manuel Marquez; put to sleep so thoroughly that his trainer and his wife feared that he was dead.  That fight can be seen on You Tube.  Conversely Floyd gave Marquez a boxing lesson, made him look like an amateur while coasting to an easy victory.  I know all of the blather about how that is no predictor of the likely outcome of this match because “styles make fights,” but in this case the style points favor Floyd since Manny revealed that he is a sucker for the right hand counter – the punch that sent him to Dreamland – and Floyd is the best in the business at throwing the right hand counter punch!  This is partially the reason why Marquez picked Mayweather in this fight…among others.

Marquez looked Confused at Times

Marquez floyd-Mayweather.jb2

Mayweather landed right hands at will as the fight progressed

Another myth about Mayweather is that he has trouble with lefthanders and Manny is a southpaw so he has an advantage going into the fight.  Again this is a game of numbers and in this case Floyd’s won lost record is the most reliable evidence: he is 8-0 against southpaws.  In support of their claim Floyd’s detractors point to the Zab Judah fight, but he beat Judah!

The only way one can make sense of such arguments, after we exclude the impassioned haters, is to recognize that Floyd is so good that fans expect him to shut all of his opponents out by winning every round!  Hence if an opponent wins a round or even hits him with a good clean shot its big news!  That’s why we keep hearing about Floyd having trouble with southpaws although he has never lost a fight to one and has dominated in points, averaging nine out of twelve rounds!

Hence Floyd’s “troubles” with lefthanders is wishful thinking, a contemporary myth that has been repeated so often by haters and dunderheads who understand but little of the art of pugilism that it has taken on a patina of reality.  I believe that Floyd will neutralize Manny’s left hand by staying out of range with his superb lateral movement, and once he takes his measure he will begin to land right hand counterpunches and Manny will become gun shy and hesitate to throw it.

Will Manny’s Southpaw stance and relentless wild style insure Victory?
 Manny Vs. Bradley
Manny employed his straight left repeatedly in victorious Rematch with Bradley

Another myth that has miraculously persisted in the face of contravening facts, like the political line of the Republican Party, is the belief that Floyd Mayweather is a runner who can only fight in the center of the ring, thus in order to beat him one needs to brawl and force him onto the ropes or in the corner.  However a survey of the films of Floyd’s will so clearly reveal that this is such a gross error  Stevie wonder can see it!   The fact is that Floyd Mayweather is great fighting on the ropes and in the corners, when the brawlers attempt to maul him he treats them like Ali treated Foreman – one of the most devastating punchers in boxing history – he ropes the dopes!

The fact is the Floyd is as good fighting inside as outside, he does not have to run because he can stand right in front of these jokers and make them miss; he reminds me of the great Wilfredo Benitez in his defensive artistry…the Sweet Science indeed!   While Mayweather’s fans have every reason to believe that their man’s superior boxing skills and ability to take a punch – as he demonstrated in the Shane Mosley fight and others – will insure victory, Pacquiao fans would be well advised to worry about Floyd’s right hand counterpunch.

Not only is Mayweather the smartest fighter in terms of ring intelligence, which enables him to analyze his opponents strategy and counter it, he can also punch!  And he is the bigger stronger man.  If Manny gets careless, as he is prone to do with his reckless way of raining punches, and leaves himself open to the straight right hand, it’s gonna be lights out!   Hence, for these reasons and more, I am picking Mayweather either by a decision or a late round knockout.  However if Manny really gets reckless and tries to knock Floyd out like he threatens to do, out he could get caught with a pin point power punch and go out early.

But he couldn’t escape Jaun’s right Hand Counter

 Marquez drops  right hand on Many

Manny crumbled like a paper tiger!
Knocked out cold:  Manny’s trainer and wife thought he was dead!

 Manny Knocked out by Marquez

 Can Pacman evade Floyd’s Right Hand?  That is the question


 Click to witness Marquez knock Manny out
Witness Mayweather’s masterful defeat of Marquez
Playthell G. Benjamin
Way Out West
May 2, 2015

A Clear Case of Treason?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on March 13, 2015 by playthell

Joe Cotton

Tom Cotton: The Pugnacious Dork who is marching us into a war with Iran

 Some Constitutional Scholars think so and I agree

Anyone listening to the chatter on the right of our political spectrum will no doubt have heard the phrase “according to the Constitution” ad nauseum.  It is quoted among this crowd as if it were Holy Scripture.  Which, ironically, is quite fitting since the exact meaning of both is ambiguous and therefore open to multiple interpretations and endless speculation.  Hence many students of the evolution and character of this foundational document disagree on its meaning.

The letter to the leaders of Iran, written by Tom Cotton, an iconoclastic freshman Senator from Arkansas, and signed by 46 other Republican Senators who should have known better, advising their leaders against concluding the nuclear weapons agreement President Barack Obama is presently negotiating, begs questions about the constitutionally mandated division of powers between the various branches of government – the executive and legislative branches in the present case – and whether Senators must obey federal laws in the exercise of their prerogatives.

The law in question here is the Logan Act of 1799, which expressly states:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”

In the opinion of Temple University Law Professor Peter Spiro: “This letter seems squarely to satisfy the elements of the law.” If this is true, then 47 members of the US Senate are guilty of treason!  Let us consider the text of the Republican letter.  Titled An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the letter states:

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.  Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution — the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices — which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress. First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them.  In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote.  A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate).  Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.”

First of all the letter is an embarrassment because of its misreading of the constitution on the relative powers of the President and the Congress in the conduct of US foreign relations.  Although much is made of the fact that Senator Cotton is a Harvard Law School grad, he nevertheless made a critical error when he argues that treaties with foreign countries must be “ratified” by two thirds of the Senate.  One need only look at the explication of the role of the President and Congress provided on the Senate Webpage – which is easily accessible to the hubristic Senator – to reognize that he has inflated the Senate’s role.  The revelant passage reads:

“The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification.”

He is also dangerously wrong on his interpretation of the constitutional mandate for the Senate to “Advise and Consent” on questions of foreign relations.  For in the matter of treaties the Senate’s role is not invoked until after the President has completed his negotiations with a foreign power.  Hence what these Senator’s did was clearly illegal!  By my close reading of the Logan Act, I think Professor Spiro is right on the money in his opinion that the Republican letter “seems squarely to satisfy the elements of the law.”

As with all important federal legislation the intention of the architects of the law must be understood and considered in our interpretation of its meaning.  The Logan Act is named after Dr. George Logan, a member of the Pennsylvania State Legislature that was elected to the US Senate, who attempted to interfere in US foreign policy by holding negotiations with the French government in 1798, just 15 years after John Jay negotiated the Treaty of Paris officially ending the Revolutionary War with England.

However the Bon homie that characterized the relationship between the French and the English colonies in North America during the revolutionary era had deteriorated to the point where the two nations were on the brink of war by 1798. This situation led the recently formed United State of America to pass several laws in order to insure the security of a country composed of many nationalities, some of them Frenchmen or sympathizers with France.

Hence Congress passed the “Alien and Sedition Acts” to prevent those who supported France from abusing the right to free speech through open advocacy of the French cause, especially aliens. They also passed the Naturalization Act which changed the residency requirements for naturalized citizens from five to fifteen years, and they passed the Logan Act to prevent American citizens from meddling in matters of foreign diplomacy, which is clearly defined as a presidential prerogative.

Viewed from this historical perspective the violation of the letter and spirit of the Logan Act by the Republicans becomes even clearer when we look at Supreme Court precedents in their ruling on the Constitutional separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches of our Federal Government: which is based on a three-fold division of power between the Executive, Judicial and Legislative departments that “check and balance” each other.

One of the definitive rulings cited by legal scholars on this question is the opinion of Justice George Sutherland, in the 1936 case of the United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. “The President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation” the Justice concluded.  “He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates.  Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude and congress itself is powerless to invade it.” So there you have it.

Although given the politics of the situation it is unlikely that these Republican Senators will be prosecuted. Yet their scandalous attempts to subvert the President’s efforts to conduct foreign policy negotiations with the intent of achieving a treaty with Iran regarding nuclear weapons, and avoid starting yet another war in the Muslim world, exceeds their constitutional authority and clearly violates the Logan Act.  Since they all pledged under oath to “defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic,” they are guilty of treason most foul!

However it is a safe bet that they will not be prosecuted for their crimes against the nation; indicting 47 Senators of the opposite party for treason would be too easy for right-wing bloviators in the media such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and their spawn to make it look like a partisan bloodbath.  Yet the reaction from the print press, even the conservative newspapers, has been caustic; the Republican Senators have become the objects of sustained ridicule.  The New York Daily News, a major daily with a large working class readership, greeted the Senators’ letter with the bold headline “Traitors!”

The intensity and contempt of the major media has conspicuously shaken many of those who signed Joe cotton’s letter.  Dr. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC reported last evening that some of the Republican Senators are now saying that they were not serious, and all the hoopla  results from the fact that “the Obama Administration can’t take a joke.”  It is clear that many realize that they have screwed up and it could cost them a shot at the presidency in the next election.  Hence the best way to chastise these reckless Republicans is to whip their asses at the polls.  Alas, while I have no doubt that these scoundrels have committed treason….I believe the problem will be solved politically: at the ballot box not the courtroom.

Captain America to the Rescue!

Tom Cotton

A real head ass Southern Peckerwood!
Playthell G. Benjamin
On the Road
March 13, 2015

Timbuktu: A Timely and Important Film

Posted in Film Criticism, Movie Reviews with tags on March 11, 2015 by playthell
Timbuktu - the movieA Beautiful Malian Family destroyed by Islamic Zealots

 Portrait of an African Tragedy

More often than not the power of cinema is put to frivolous ends and questionable purposes.  In the US the cinema is viewed as an entertainment business with no higher purpose than providing entertainment and cheap thrills from the power of special effects, which often are more important to the film’s success than the story.  And since the major movie companies are driven by the imperatives of commerce rather than culture, as the production cost of these technically complex films keep getting higher and higher they will receive the majority of the company’s promotional dollars, crowding other films that deal with down to earth human stories out of the market.

However in other parts of the world filmmakers view their artistic medium as a powerful weapon for social change and a means of capturing and recapitulating their history in a powerful way that can touch people who have not acquired literacy, and they are making powerful consequential movies for a fraction of the costs.  This is what the filmmaker, Abderrahmane Sissakohas has achieved in his powerful new movie Timbuktu which was released on January 28, 2015.

With a gripping screenplay written by Abderrahmane Sissako and Kessen Tall,  stunning cinematography and  hauntingly beautiful Malian music composed by Amine Bouhafa, and outstanding actors the film has won several awards and provides a close up view of the Jihadist takeover of a portion of Northern Mali.  It meticulously recounts the imposition of a crude fundamentalist version of Sharia Law, which they believed was handed down from God/Allah to his last prophet Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, to whom he dictated the Koran, Islam’s equivalent of the Christian Bible, directly.

Although there have been profusion of stories of the Jihadist rampage and the outrages that resulted all over the Middle East and Africa – North, East and West – which catalogue their atrocities, this movie puts flesh, bones and faces on the victims as they come to life through the magic this movie, which I believe is destined to play a heroic role in fighting the murderous Islamic fanatics.

One gets the impression that the filmmaker keenly understands the danger of writing about Islamic fanatics when he fudges the issues he so deftly handled in the movie by responding to a query about the message of the movie with this bit of saccharine sophistry, “I didn’t want to have a Manichean attitude, to have the good on one side and the bad on the other.”  I saw no indication of any attempt to produce the kind of wishy washy movie of the sort that he describes here; the portrait of the Jihadists is one of unrelenting evil and totalitarian oppression.

It is a true to life rendition of who the Jihadists are.   Hence I am forced to speculate as to Sissakohas motives for clearly misrepresenting his own work, and I fear it is a hesitation to insult this murderous mob that appear to have tentacles everywhere.  The long time Fatwa on novelists Shalmon Rushdie, recent assassinations of the editors at the Parisian magazine Charlie Eghbo serves as a stark reminder that these Islamic zealots will not hesitate to murder artists and intellectual who criticize them.  Making this movie was in the nature of things a courageous act, but he should not be expected to be martyred for it.

From its opening frames the movie launches a scathing critique of Islamic Jihadism, and it remains unceasing through the movie.  I saw not a single scene where the Islamic militants are shown to have any virtue, courage nor honor.  They are depicted as the murderous barbarians that they are.  For example the film raises a fundamental issue regarding the deep cultural conflict between indigenous African cultures and Islamic dogma imported from the Arabs when it shows the Islamic Jihadists destroying a pile of  classical African sculpture that is celebrated around the world because it was produced by a people with polytheistic beliefs that contradict Islamic beliefs about art.  This conflict is symbolic of the historical relationship between African and Arab civilization.

These works of art have been roundly praised by art critics and students of the tradition around the world.  But the Arab Islamo-Fascists and their brainwashed black lackeys intended to destroy all of these priceless treasures, just as the Taliban destroyed the magnificent colossi hewn into the side of a mountain by blowing them up because they were carved before the rise of Islam and manifested the pagan values of their creators.  It is the objective of the Islamist to convert the whole world to their version of Islam and establish a global Caliphate – i.e. an Islamic state under Sharia governed by an absolute ruler whose authority comes not from the consent of the ruled by from God!

As is their standard procedure wherever Islamic fanatics take over a country these zealots banned smoking, drinking, music and art. They demanded that women cover themselves from head to toe, even wearing gloves and socks in the hot Malian climate and the sentenced offenders to public punishments ranging from floggings for men and women and stoning to death after burying their victims up to the neck in sand and casting stones at their heads.  Adultery was punishable by death.  The movie does a powerful job of recreating the ad hoc religious courts in which citizens were tried and sentenced by armed, ignorant, religious fanatics armed with the most deadly modern weapons, either acquired on the black market or taken from defeated troops armed by the US and other western countries.

The power of this film lies in the way Sissakohas approached his subject.  There were few speeches by political or religious figures; instead he took us inside the daily lives of the characters within their communities before the arrival of the Jihadists, who were foreign Arab invaders that recruited local men upon fear of being put to death should they resist.  And he employed the barren but strangely beautiful landscape to powerful effect.  The result is that we are there; we witness the intimate lives of the people as if we were invited guest.   The film captures the serene life of the rural society before the arrival of the soldiers of Allah, which magnifies the horror as they terrorize the community with their whacko interpretation of the Koran.

Although much of the Malian population was Muslim, they followed a different doctrine.  This is indicative of a raging civil war over theology in the Muslim world, and the ease with which one could run afoul of the new Koranic laws is represented in the film by the plight of a group of twenty-something men and women who are chilling out in their living room playing on string lutes and singing traditional songs.  One of the Jihadists heard music and called in a complaint to the local headquarters, and they dispatched a heavily armed patrol on a search and destroy mission against the unoffending young artists as if they were armed forces who had attacked them.  For their religious “crime” of making music they were arrested, taken from their homes and imprisoned, then sentenced to from forty to eighty lashes with a whip in the public square.  The floggings and stoning’s are so convincingly st age that we experience the horror of the victims.

A Singer being flogged in the public Square

Timbuktu V

All she did was Sing!

Of the myriad horrors revealed in this movie, none renders a more powerful indictment of Jihadists than the tragic story of the musician Kidane, who lived on the edge of the vast Sahara desert – which as large as the entire USA – with his beautiful wife and darling daughter.  He has chosen to remain in his simple albeit comfortable tent despite the fact that all of his neighbors have fled as the Jihadist take over the region.  A religious man with an optimistic outlook on life Kidane, movingly played by Ibrahim Ahmed, believes that he can get along with the Jihadist and that one day they will be gone and life can return to normal.  He was wrong, and a single mistake resulting from a conflict with his neighbor resulted in the death of Kidane and his wife at the hands of a Jihadist firing squad, leaving their wonderful little girl alone in the world facing a horrific future.

Kidane before the Jihadist Court

Timbuktu = Trial

A harrowing lesson in Sharia Law

This movie leaves no stone unturned regarding the horrors of the Jihadist and the director made a wise decision in choosing to reveal these horrors through the lives of citizens that we came to know well enough to feel their pain.  It is a powerful reminder that we cannot pretend that these people don’t exist or that we can escape their wrath…much of which is directed at the USA and justifiably so. Nevertheless, regardless of our sins against the Islamic peoples, we cannot sit idly by and watch the Jihadists devour entire areas of Africa and the Middle East and build a haven for terrorists to attack anywhere in the world….including the new Freedom Tower in New York.

Perhaps the left, many of whom believe that a Boko Haram  victory in Nigeria or Mali is less offensive than those governments forming alliances with France, England or the US to defeat them, will learn something from this movie. If nothing else they should learn that the modern Islamic Jihad is real, it’s murderous, it’s spreading and it can only be stopped with superior force of arms!  Indeed, as the movie shows so poignantly: the rise of militant Islam on that continent is a modern African tragedy.

 An actual picture of the expulsion of the Arab Jihadists
 Rejoicing expulsion of Islamis from Timbuctoo
The African people of Timbuktu take out their drums and rejoice!
(Double Click below to see the News documentary)
“The Quill and the Sword: How the Islamist took Timbuktu”


 Playthell G. Benjamin
 On the Road
March 11, 2015



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