Archive for playthell’s commentary

The Supreme Court and Racial Equality

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on November 2, 2012 by playthell
 Fisher outside the Supreme Court

 Fisher vs. U of Texas Could Turn Back the Clock

The case of Fisher V The University of Texas dramatizes the fact that rulings by the Supreme Court can determine the life’s chances of entire groups of American citizens, especially the poor, the powerless and minorities. The fate of Afro-Americans has been determined to an extraordinary degree by Supreme Court decisions.  Several times there have been dramatic swings in the in the opinion of the High Court on the same issue, and the life chances of Afro-Americans were shaped by those swings.

Now the Court is about to rule on a case that could radically decrease the chances for Afro-Americans, and other minorities, to succeed in this country.  If the court kills all Affirmative Action programs it will cement the advantages whites have obtained due to over three centuries of race based slavery and caste discrimination based on the principle of “white supremacy.” Without Affirmative Action guidelines the white majority will award the lion’s share of the benefits offered by American society to their kith and kin.

Hence jobs for which racial minorities and women are equally qualified – or even slightly better – will be denied them in favor of white males who may be less qualified.  This was the normal way of doing things before the advent of Affirmative Action programs.  Hence Affirmative Action requirements are dsigned to level the playing field, not give Afro-Americans and other minorities an unfair advantage.

It has proved an effective remedy for the practice systematic discrimination against the protected groups that restricted their chances of success in a highly competitive society in the past, and offers protection against institutional racism in American society today.  There is a supreme irony in the fact that the present case involves race and admissions policy at the University of Texas, because it’s the site of the landmark case Sweatt V. Painter.

In 1950 Herman Marion Sweatt, a Houston Texas mail carrier who aspired to become a lawyer, won a suit against the law school at the University of Texas, which had denied him admission because of his race.  The Supreme Court’s ruling found that the University’s policy violated Sweatt’s constitutional rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which had been defined as “Separate but Equal” in the court’s ruling on  the Plessy v Ferguson case of 1896.

When Sweatt’s lawyers convinced the Court that a law school set up for black students was demonstrably inferior, the University of Texas law School was forced to admit him. Now Abigail Fischer, a white female who was refused admission to the University of Texas, has filed a case charging racial discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause, claiming she was not admitted to the University because of her race.

The basis for Ms. Fischer’s charge is that a Texas program which requires the University of Texas to admit the top 10% of all high school students, allows the university to admit non-white students who are less qualified than her.  However the Texas policy is following the guidelines handed down in the Grutter v Bollinger decision of 2003, which allowed universities to consider race as a factor in admissions…so long as it was not the deciding factor.

Never the less Ms. Fischer contends that she was denied admission to the university of Texas because of her race.  Hence this is the question that will be decided by the supreme court in this case.   When we look at the changes to the Court since Grutter v. Bollinger – with the Bush appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito both passionate opponents of race based remedies, and Sandra Day O’Conner, who wrote the opinion in Grutter retired, and Elena Kagan recusing herself, we might well witness the death of Affirmative Action – a policy that quadrupled the black middle class and took white women through the glass ceiling.

Savvy court watchers who do it for a living have warned us not to predict what the Justices are likely to decide based upon the questions they ask during oral arguments.  Yet it is hard not to rush to judgment based on the persistent questions of Justice Roberts as to what the university considers a “critical mass” of black and Hispanic students, which would render race sensitive admissions policies obsolete.

The lawyers for the university must view this line of questioning as a trap, because all of the precedents in previous cases rule against racial quotas.  Hence if they cite a specific figure they could be accused of setting a quota by the other side and lose the case on this issue.  So the university’s lawyers are mum on the issue. But the legal precedents call for close scrutiny of any government program in which race is at issue.

This confusing state of American jurisprudence on racial matters prompted Chief Justice Roberts to ask Gregory G. Garre, lead counsel for the University, “How am supposed to do the job that our precedents say I should do?”   According to the New York Times’ reportage of 10/11/12 “The questioning on Wednesday from the Chief Justice and his colleagues was b turns caustic, exasperated and despairing.”

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, who departed the Court in 2006, was present to hear the arguments.  Some Court watchers speculated that she was there to see if the precedent set in the opinion she authored in Grutter Vs. Bollinger, which said race could be considered as a factor in a “holistic review” of a variety of admission criteria.

Alas, the fruits of many generations of struggle will be wiped away in  flash.  The High Court giveth…and the High Court taketh away.  Hence it has presented Black Americans with both triumph and tragedy. That’s why it really, really, matters who is appointing the Justices!

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

November 2, 2012

From Rebellion to Revolution?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on February 23, 2011 by playthell

The Righteous Wrath of the People

As the situation in Libya rapidly deteriorates we are on the verge of witnessing the first of the populist rebellions in the Arab world rapidly metamorphose into a revolution.  In fact, the activist said they want to henceforth be called “revolutionaries” not demonstrators.”  However I use “revolution” in the narrowest sense of the term: to totally overthrow a system of power and authority and replace it with another.  Yet in its more expansive meaning Revolution implies a great leap forward in the socio/economic relations of a nation, progress; the creation of a new order which dramatically elevates the standard of living and quality of life for the masses.

By this definition we cannot say for sure that what we are witnessing unfold in Libya thus far is a revolutionary change that will bring true progress to the people of that country.  As the former Regis Professor of History at Oxford, Dr. Hugh Trevor-Roper, has reminded us: one barbarian succeeding another barbarian does not make history. In other words, there must be some movement in the ideas that shape our society to signify progressive development.  Likewise, in the case of revolutions, there must be a dramatic move forward in relations between those who held power and created the conditions that led to the revolution, and those who were the victims that rose up in revolt.  In the contemporary Muslim world it is hard to know what will replace the despotisms that are being overthrown by the confused headless host we call “the people.”  What is certain is that things are quickly coming to a head in Libya, as both sides are taking up arms.

There are reports from reliable sources that certain dissident elements in the army have opened their arsenals and are arming the rebels.  Other military men are deserting their posts or refusing to follow orders – such as the two Air Force pilots who defected with their planes to Malta rather than bomb their fellow citizens. Libyan diplomats abroad are defecting from the murderous Quadaffi regime and joining the rebellion.  Clearly the process of revolution has begun.  However it takes more than guns to make a revolution; once must have a revolutionary ideology that defines radical goals. Thus far I see no evidence of this.  Beyond toppling Quadaffi, the goals of the enraged but leaderless masses are a grand mystery.

Mummar Quadaffi – the military autocrat who has ruled Libya with an iron fist during its entire period of independence from France – which spans over forty years now, has vowed not to budge from his position as President of the nation.  Dressed in weird garb and looking every bit the space cadet that he is, Quadaffi called the protestors “dope addicts,” “American agents,” “and “traitors” and called upon his supporters to attack them in their houses!   Quadaffi has also vowed to martyr himself – which means he plans go out in a hail of gunfire – rather than leave Libya and retreat into exile! From the present  stage of the burgeoning crisis it looks like something akin to a civil war is rapidly approaching.

Given the violent morass that Libyan society has become, with all authority breaking down, the guys with the guns are emerging as the deciders of the future. This may yet turn out to be a situation where the autocrat you know is preferable to the theocrat you don’t know. This has been the basis of US support for these despotisms throughout the region, and it has served American interests well….until now!  This is because such arrangements never served the interests of the people in these countries…only a select elite, who were corrupted by the nature of the deal.  America entered into a Faustian bargain with these murderous blaggards and thieves and now there’s the Devil to pay.

Pan-Arabist Mad Man Mummar Quadaffi

The Masquerade is Over: But he doesn’t get it!

Of course, when this policy of uncritically supporting tyrants in the Arab world was formulated, the communist were the enemy of choice. The US even supported Muslim fundamentalist, because they were virulently anti-communist. That’s why the US government declared the Afghan Mujahidin – who became the “Taliban” – “freedom Fighters” and the CIA ended up training Osama bin Laden in terrorist tactics to fight the Russian communist.  Since the fall of communism the American elite quickly found another enemy, the Islamic Jihadists, which American policy largely created.

Not simply by their clandestine training and arming of Muslim forces to fight the Russian atheists in Afghanistan, but by the decision to garrison American troops in Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden, a man worth hundreds of millions who walked away from a life of luxury to fight for Al Islam, was enraged by the presence of swine eating infidels on sacred Muslim soil where the Khabba, Islam’s holiest shrine, is entombed.  This is when Osama declared the Saudi Royal family to be apostates and declared Jihad against them and their allies. As the foremost supporters and protectors of this moribund medieval regime we were first on his hit list!  The manifestation of his wrath was rained upon us on 9/11.  And thanks to the Republican blunders posing as tough guys “Osama been forgotten” is still running around in the mountains

However in the eyes of the Jihadists all of the regimes in the Islamic world who are not living under Sharia law are apostates!  Yet the only nation in the world that is living under Sharia, Iran, is also unacceptable to Al Qaeda because they are Shiites rather than Sunnis!  This kind of thinking is a measure of the madness we face in trying to evaluate the situation in the Middle East.  That Quadaffi is a mad man is apparent to anyone who does not suffer with madness themselves; yet he has maintained stability in a nation crisscrossed with clan loyalties and potential religious conflicts based on esoteric theological disputes that date back to the glory days of the Islamic Caliphate in the middle ages.

While right wingers in the US argue that the US shouldn’t support the popular movement sweeping the Arab world because they have been faithful US puppets to US interests, they offer no policy options to counter the policies of the Obama Administration. This is because their cupboard is bare; they don’t have any alternative options.  They fact is that the US is a helpless giant, a colossus with feet of clay, when faced with the present popular democratic upheavals in the Mid-East.  We are already bogged down in quagmires in two Muslim countries which we are trying our best to extricate ourselves from with some semblance of military honor.  So it is apparent to this writer that any thought of military intervention to suppress the popular uprisings is an insane and self destructive fantasy.

However the mindless cheerleading on the left, where the argument is that President Obama should inject the power and prestige of the US into this internal crisis of the Arab world, standing firmly on the side of the raging mobs, may also prove to be a castle built on shifting sands. The assumptions upon which this course of action is justified are as intellectually shaky as the mindless ranting on the right. With a Psychotic megalomaniac like Quadaffi anything can happen. For instance, he is quite capable of blowing up the oil pipe lines, which would drive oil prices through the roof and spark an economic crisis throughout the world.  Alas, preventing this from happening has been the principal objective of American policy in the region.  It is the source of all our sins against the Arabs…which are myriad and now have come back to plague us.

Portrait Of A Madman!

He has vowed to turn the streets red with blood!!

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Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 23, 2011


Sunday Night At Dizzy’s Club

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , , , , on August 18, 2010 by playthell

 

Eric Reed

 

Cyrus Chestnut

 

 

Night of The Cookers!

For music lovers New York is a fabulous feast of magnificent variety.  On a very hot Sunday night during the heat wave in June I had a thirst for some good music and dropped in at Dizzy’s Club, a fabulous night spot located in Jazz At Lincoln Center, having no idea who was performing.  But I was sure whoever was playing they would be cooking.  Dizzy’s is quite possibly the most beautiful nightclub in the world – with its glass wall behind the bandstand  looking down on the fanstasic fountains in Columbus Circle at 59th and Broadway, then out over Central Park to fabulous Fifth Avenue.

When the lights are low it provides a spectacular back drop for the magic vibes the musicians conjure up onstage.  For Dizzy’s is quite possibly the greatest Jazz club in the world in regard to the artists who are featured there – considering that it is the premiere performance venue in the Mecca of Jazz.   On this night the headliners  happened to be the great young pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Eric Reed, accompanied by virtuoso players on bass and drums that provided a powerful and seamless rhythmic cushion.

 

 Inside Dizzy’s

This is an unusual instrumental combination; generally a trio features one piano.  Given the dominance of the piano in the jazz ensemble – whether it is a trio, quintet, septet, or big band it is not easy for pianists to collaborate in this fashion.  Jazz music being what it is – a free flowing musical conversation among master musicians conducted within certain agreed upon boundaries demarcated by chord changes and rhythmic configurations – successful performance requires a high level of collegiality. This means that the performers must really listen to what each other are doing and respond intelligently in ways that coalesce rather than clash, thus enhancing the overall sound of the band in a coherent aesthetic statement.

To accomplish this the musicians must approach their task with a highly developed sense of democracy and a reverence for invention and personal freedom; which makes Jazz the most representative of American fine art forms.  In the smaller ensembles like quartets a high degree of instrumental virtuosity is assumed – since each player is expected to make a solo statement sometimes during the performance.  But that is just the starting point. To excel at this endeavor the instrumentalists must have a fertile imagination, blues sensibility, good taste, a finely developed sense of nuance and proportion, and know how to tell a story with their solos.  But even so, as Mr. Ellington warned: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!

The great Jazz players have mastered all of these elements, and their performances can achieve a kind of sonic alchemy; that’s why listening to this quartet was akin to a continuous eargasm.  They were swinging so hard they rocked the house and wiped the audience out with musical statements that reached such intensity they became ecstatic. It was the kind of performance that combined technical virtuosity with deep emotional content.  The band worked with the precision of a 24 jeweled Swiss watch.  To the untutored listener, unfamiliar with the ways Jazzmen construct their music, it would be impossible to believe that they were not playing from a score

The way that Eric and Cyrus played off each other is possible only among master musicians with the kind of profound mutual respect that allows a deep spiritual communication.  It is only then that competition and cooperation is possible in a performance where each is trying to push the other to achieve their greatest potential. Listening to these pianists and watching the way they complimented each other when speaking to the audience about the music, it was clear that we were witnessing a mutual admiration society.  That’s why their performance reached such a high level of artistry.

  I was reminded of a story the great alto saxophonist Jackie McLean told me about Bird and pianist Bud Powell – two of the greatest artist in the Jazz pantheon who’s playing has influenced everyone who practices the art form with any competence and respect for tradition. Bud and Bird were shooting pool one day and Bird bested bud in the game.  Bird began talking smack, telling Bud: “you can’t beat me doing nothing.”  But when Bud said: “I guess that includes playing music too,” Bird quickly replied: “No man that’s different, playing music is something else. It takes the contribution of everybody in the band to make great music.”

 Willie Jones III

 

 This is the kind of thinking that underlay the musical rapport between the members of the quartet – especially Eric and Cyrus.  Sometimes they would play together, and other times they would play separately as a trio with the drums and bass.  At other times they played solo, as in Cyrus Chestnuts’ trio rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful ballad, ” A Flower Is A Lonesome Thing,” a composition that combines joy and pathos in ways that suggest a sound portrait of the brilliant composers’ tragic life, and Eric Reed’s solo tribute to the peerless piano master Hank Jones, who lately danced to join the luminous souls who have moved to what the poet William Cullen Bryant calls “that mysterious realm where each shall take his place in the silent halls of death.” 

Eric selected “Standing In The Need Of Prayer,” a gospel tune, to perform in Hank’s memory.  Recalling a conversation with the elegant piano virtuoso Eric, who is a knowledgeable and eloquent spokesman for the art of Jazz, pointed out that Hank told him: “A little gospel never hurts.” For Eric this was like returning the rabbit to the briar patch, because he began his career as a musical performer playing in the church.  This was no prissy Episcopalian affair but a rousing Pentecostal church, where the congregation passionately heeds the biblical injunction to “make a joyful noise unto the lord!” 

 In Eric’s performance we were once again reminded of the spiritual roots of jazz, after all gospel music is just the flip side of the blues, and many of Jazz’s brightest stars developed their skills playing in church.  One of the routine miracles in Jazz is the way the musicians can take a simple tune and develop it into a magnificent musical presentation with their erudite improvisations – which were called variations on a theme in Mozart’s time. That’s what Eric accomplished in grand fashion, as he built increasingly complex statements that combined poignant emotions and technical brilliance with a fecund imagination to invoke the spirit, if not the presence, of the divine – converting the nightclub into a temple celebrating sacred art and obliterating the age old distinction between “God “ and “the Devil’s” music. And when he played his last note the audience erupted in tumultuous salutation.

Cyrus Chestnut also brought the house down in his performance of Strayhorn’s haunting ballad.  He has a laid back style that makes the most difficult musical passages seem effortless.  And such splendid taste it sounds as if he has mulled over each phrase for days; yet he is inventing the music right before our eyes, composing at the speed of thought.  Over the course of the evening we were treated to the entire vocabulary of piano playing in western music.

The pianists moved effortlessly from Bach to the blues, with citations from Professor Thomas A. Dorsey – the blues pianist who invented modern gospel music when he quit his gig as Ma Rainey’s pianists and began writing songs for the great Mahalia Jackson.  At some of the hottest points of their performance, when the music was swinging hard, Cyrus and Eric would exchange passages from the compositions of European classical music masters without missing a beat.  They are extensions of the great virtuosos of the tradition such as: Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Hank Jones, Ramsey Louis, Jacki Byard, Herbie Hancock, et al.

 Aside from the technical brilliance and musical erudition of the pianists, this kind of improvisational freedom was made possible by the tightly constructed, relentless swinging of the bassist and drummer Willie Jones III.  Quite naturally I, like any serious jazz fan, especially those who have been around the New York Jazz scene for a while, thought the drummer was related to the great Brooklyn percussionist Willie Jones. I figured him for a grandson.  Hence I was more than a little surprised to discover when I talked to him after the show that they were not kinsmen.  However his hard swing and superb taste sounded as if it might have been seasoned by several generations of grooming. His playing was both dynamic and subtle, something many seasoned drummers – like Danny Richmond for instance – find nearly impossible to achieve.

 

 Derzon Douglas

 

I was especially impressed with the young bassist, Dezron Douglas, because I had recently had the rare privilege and exquisite pleasure of listening to three of the best bassist in the business: Stanley Clarke, Esperanza Spaulding and Carlos del Pino. So I was not inclined to be easily impressed. However when it comes to a big warm sound and solid swing Dezron Douglass was excellent. He and Willie constructed a firm rhythmic foundation, on which Cyrus and Eric erected their improvisations like epic tone poems; spitting off streams of bullet like notes in brilliant timeless Jazz statements.

I get a special exhilaration whenever I hear Eric and Cyrus play because I saw them early on in their careers.  I first heard Cyrus at Betty Carter’s jazz festival for young artists held at the BAM Majestic Theater in Brooklyn.  In fact, I wrote about him in a essay for the Sunday Times Of London - it was published in their arts magazine, The Culture, under the title “School For Cats.”  At these events the late Mistress Of Swing scoured the country in search of the most talented young jazz virtuosi and provided them an opportunity to sharpen their skills by performing together under the watchful eyes and instruction of seasoned pros. 

Over a decade has passed since then and Cyrus has fulfilled the promise I saw in him back in the day.  Much of his growth and development occurred during his tenure as the pianist in Ms. Carter’s band. Although quite young Eric Reed was an accomplished pro when I first heard him; as he was the pianist with the world renowned Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Marsalis, he has gotten better.

I have heard a lot of young pianists lately who have excellent technical skills, but they strike me the way many of the young Classical pianists affected the great piano virtuosos Arthur Rubenstein and Vladimir Horowitz: They can’t tell the difference between technical exhibitionism and making music!   To our good fortune, Eric Reed and Cyrus Chestnut has decided making beautiful music is paramount, and their prodigious technique is employed to achieving that end.  Bravo!

 

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 * To see Eric reed in Performance click this link:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Hvrjhw2Lv4

* To See Cyrus Chestnutt Click this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A-4sDnGJIs

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York 

June 28, 2010

 

 

Come Sunday In Brunswick Georgia

Posted in Theater, Travels in the New South with tags , , on December 16, 2009 by playthell

 

A Church For The High and Mighty!

 I had only arrived a little over twenty four hours ago; slipping into town with the rising sun, 7: o-clock on Saturday morning, when the sleepy little town of Brunswick Georgia was fast asleep.   My senior daughter Sandra met me at the bus stop and at my request we drove down to the waterfront to watch the shrimping trawlers steaming out into the Atlantic Ocean, “the biggety blue,” as the old salty dogs I once sailed out of the port of Philadelphia with called the ocean seas.  I looked around and suspected the sea food would be good…and I was right.

 Although Brunswick lacks the sheer beauty of St. Augustine Florida, in some ways it reminded me of the nation’s oldest city, which lies perched on the Atlantic coast just 108 miles due south.   It was not only the white washed wooden trawlers, or docks made of faded gray weather beaten wood, that evoked memories of my boyhood home; the gray Spanish moss that drapes the many live oak trees filled me with bitter/sweet nostalgia.  And the quiet ambience of the city compelled me to reflect upon the virtues of small town southern life.  After all, the best things about my own character were forged in one.  

 The religious passions I had encountered elsewhere in the south were also percolating in Brunswick, and it didn’t take long to recognize that the battle against Satan was in full force.  The spirit of the lord seemed to be everywhere, infecting the believers with a sublime joy.  I first noticed it in the farmers market, where those hawking their wares were certain that the lord had personally blessed them with the bounty of the land.  This was true even among those farmers who seemed threadbare and quietly desperate.  Perhaps they felt that, like Job, the lord was simply testing their faith with hard times.

 But one cheery lady, another white haired alabaster Georgia peach, seemed especially animated by the spirit of Christ as she related a yarn about how she was moved by the spirit of Christian charity to give a homeless man a jar of her famous fig preserves and a home made biscuit.  Everyone repeatedly thanked the lord for the beautiful morning, and for sparing them to see it.  They acknowledged each other as Christian solders – especially my daughter and the cheery Ms. Figgie – and they testified that the works of the Lord are good and righteous in all their manifestations.  I had hardly been in town an hour before I was engulfed in a gale of religious passion, and it was only Saturday; Sunday would be a different story.

 We spent the rest of Saturday filling each other in with stories about family and friends and preparing a feast of fresh vegetables, rice, potato salad, cornbread, real lemonade and a variety of freshly caught sea foods.  My grandson Kelvin “Big Kel” Whitfield and his wife Lisa – whom I was meeting for the first time – also came over and brought some of their friends to meet me.   It was an interesting mix of personalities.  The young folk were bold, optimistic, and infatuated with various brands of folly.  My daughter’s friends, on the other hand, were mostly middle-aged, man-less but saved women who claimed to be done with the foolishness of this world and were storing up blessings for the hereafter by doing the lord’s work here on earth 24/7.  As they would often reiterate, theirs was a purpose driven life, and their purpose was to serve Jesus Christ and praise his name with every waking hour.  Yet the careful way they decorated themselves, and the sunshine smiles they beamed at the eligible brethren, betrayed a lingering interest in the opposite sex.

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 Come Sunday things started bustling around the house early as the Christian soldiers arose with the sun, carefully laying out their uniforms so as to pass inspection with the lord.  This was the day that the pious saved souls lived for.  This was the day that they visited their father’s house and sanctified their souls in the body of Christ.  None was more dedicated to this ritual than Sandra.  That’s why I had turned down an opportunity to travel into New Orleans with the Dillon family, one of the city’s most influential clans, as they returned to assess the damage the wind and floods of Katrina had done to their homes.  It was a reporter’s dream, but I had promised Sandra that I would be in Brunswick to attend church with her; so I cut out from Baton Rouge and headed for southeastern Georgia.  And on Sunday morning I groomed and decorated myself to the height of good fashion and escorted my daughter to the New Covenant Church.  

 It didn’t take long to discover the high regard with which my senior daughter is held by the members of her congregation.  She was admired as much for her artistic abilities as her tireless work in behalf of the church. I would later be shown several bill boards for theatrical productions she had presented under the auspices of the church.  She had served as writer, director, choreographer, and designer of the sets and costumes.  I knew that by some mysterious alchemy she had managed to touch the sacred fire and become a poet, but I didn’t know that she had also become a multi-talented thespian.  And she is lauded for her talents in spite of the fact that she has no formal training in any of these arts.  Sandra is a true autodidact. Upon reflection I began to recognize that, like the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach, she has found her muse, audience and patron in the church.  And that’s about as convincing evidence of God’s grace as I have yet seen.

 From Africa to America: A musical Pageant

 

 A historical Odyssey into the African Diaspora

 

 A Swirl of Colors and movement!

 

 Real Black Magic!

 

 Written, Choreographed, Costumed and Directed by Sandra

 

There are many impressive churches in Georgia, grand edifices with steeples that reach for the skies, but Sandra’s church was modest, though well decorated; a church where humble working people could feel at home. Yet in spite of its unpretentious architecture, I’m convinced that if the spirit of God was anywhere in Georgia on that Sunday morning, she was in that little church in Brunswick. You could hear in the music, which was divine.  In this holy sanctuary the worshippers were bathed in the word of the lord as it poured from the mouths of passionate preachers, and the word would rejuvenate them and make them feel brand new, cleansed of the sins of this world.  In church, everybody was bedecked in their finest garments, and it was hard to tell some of the saved sisters who shouted out to God from the painted Jezebels and shameless hussies who were shaking their pulcritudinous “Afri-cans” in the juke joints on Saturday night past.   Some said that’s because they were the same crowd!

 Since I was a stranger in town I had no way of telling who’s who, but if they were anything like most other church people I know it’s the same crowd alright. I surmised this from the first hand reports I have received from professional church musicians – most of whom are versatile musical artists who play in a variety of venues – who assure me that they get more action on church gigs than playing the cabarets.  This may sound strange to many readers, especially true Christian soldiers, but there are some fairly obvious reasons why the church choir has often been a cauldron of sexual licentiousness and myriad debaucheries. 

 First of all, as the most perceptive people who study the mating game and religious ecstasy well know, passion is a class of phenomena; and those who are capable of experiencing it in one of life’s arenas are capable of feeling it in others.  To make a short story shorter: Passion is passion whether religious or sexual.  When we add to this emotionally combustible atmosphere all the lonely people who go to church in search of fellowship of some kind, we have the perfect atmosphere for mortal sins of the flesh such as fornication and adultery. 

The Reverend Doctor Michael Eric Dyson has written candidly about the lust and licentiousness that flourish in the black protestant church, and the prolific scholar/priest the Reverend Doctor Andrew Greeley, has pulled the covers back and revealed the tempestuous sexual passions – homosexual and heterosexual – among all levels of the priesthood in his insightful and once shocking novel, The Cardinal Sins.  The powerful novel Elmer Gantry, which was made into the classic movie starring Burt Lancaster and the luscious Shirley Jones that set my youthful erotic imagination spinning out of control, also provides an insightful look into religiously inspired sexual passions.  And what’s more it has long been rumored, and can now be backed up with first hand testimony provided to researchers that the church choir is often a passion pit of homosexual assignations. 

In fact, a black gay sociologist based in Atlanta recently showed me a study that he is presently working on that will soon make these suppressed homo-erotic narratives public, exposing the hypocritical anti-homosexual stance of most churches.  One long time church singer told me “If it weren’t for gay men there would be no music in these churches.”  Having sung in the church since she was a young lass, over forty years now, the singer knows whereof she speaks.  Hence it makes good sense for gay men to cruise the church choirs in search of deep inner fulfillment.  In spite of the preacher’s admonitions against it, or the proscriptions against buggery in the bible, the church choir remains a prime cruising ground for love starved homosexual males and females in search of forbidden fruit.  The situation is such that it prompted one devoted deacon to remark to this writer: “All the troubles in the church start in the choir!”

  God’s Eunuchs or Priestly Pervs?

 

The rape of children is a recurring sin among the “celebate” priesrhood

 

Nowhere has the blatant hypocrisy toward homosexuality been more egregious than in the Catholic Church.  Here, where all sexual activity by devotees of the religious orders –priests and nuns alike – is deemed a sin, forbidden fruit is especially attractive. Its human nature and no amount of pious preachment can alter it.   After all, was it not Adam’s inability to resist the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden that brought the downfall of man from a state of grace?  Thus when all of those closet perverts who join the Catholic priesthood, desperately attempting to avoid confronting the demons conjured up by their refusal to deal with their lust for forbidden pleasures, are placed in close unsupervised activities with innocent youngsters who are programmed to trust them, the rape of children is increasingly the result.  

All this has left an indelible blot upon the character of the Roman Catholic Church and the honor of Pope John Paul II, the late Bishop of Rome, a good friar under whose reign the mass rape of Children occurred while he looked askance in an unholy charade designed to preserve the earthly reputation of the Church, thus failing to exercise his responsibility as chief steward of that church and keeper of the faith.  For this the Pope, now beatified and bound for sainthood, would have had to satisfy the commands of a higher power, not serve the petty politics of the church! 

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 Compared to such mortal sins against the word committed by the Catholic hierarchy, a few painted and daringly attired Jezebels in the Pews seeking absolution in my daughters church – even if on a temporary basis – was a welcome sight.   It was easy to tell who among us felt in the need of prayer, because at the invitation of Pastor Albert Armstrong – offered with arms outstretched majestically – the congregants flocked down to the well in front of the pulpit to repent their sins and seek God’s forgiveness and blessings through prayer. 

As I watched them I couldn’t help wondering how they imagined God would weigh their sins – their failures of the flesh and petty avarice – Vs. George Bush’s fleecing of the poor to further enrich the rich, or the slaughter of innocents for example. And worse still, his unrepentant blasphemy!  I also wondered if they thought having impure sexual thoughts, or lusting after their neighbor’s spouse, was a graver sin than paying taxes to a government that enables the Bushmen to commit mass murder against weak and unoffending peoples, and to witness these crimes against humanity – the most perfect of God’s creations whom she cast in her own dusky image – without protest.

In spite of a burning desire to interrogate them, I never got to ask them these questions because they didn’t think in such terms.  For them morality was personal, these are the sort of people who were more alarmed about Clinton screwing around with Monica Lewinsky in an ante-room in the White House, than George Bush screwing us all from the Oval Office. The truth, as near as I could tell, is that most Christians who are devoted to other-worldly concerns don’t even pay any attention to the news; which, to my mind, is a real sacrilege. 

 Dr Martin Luther King

 

 A Modern Prophet

 

Unfortunately, the Christian revivalism presently sweeping the south is not the prophetic Christianity of Dr. Martin Luther King, or his longtime comrade in the struggle Dr. Joseph Lowery, who told me in Atlanta a few days after I attended New Covenant Church, that he continues to see participation in the struggle against injustice here and now as the best way to serve the will of God.  But since the fundamentalists are certain that this sinful world is doomed to destruction by fire come Judgment Day, and many believe that we are clearly living in the last days – they can see it in the signs of the times – the truly righteous are spending all of their time getting ready to meet their maker.  And that means, first and foremost, “getting right with the lord,” which leaves them precious little time for contemplating the troubles of this world.

 On this Sunday morning the sermon, which they referred to as “Praising the Word,” was delivered by Rev. Catherine Armstrong, the wife in the joint pastorate of New Covenant.  She wore her hair in a short “au natural” style, and was both bright and articulate as she delivered a straight forward message on the need for people to stand up and make a stab at achieving their dreams while seeking the lord’s help through prayer.  She was both erudite and funny, as she lifted the spirits of the congregants with her sermon.  Like the old time preachers in James Weldon Johnson’s epic poems God’s Trombones, this preacher was a poet, “with all the devices of eloquence at her command.”  And she was preaching in just the sort of church the great novelist and folklorist Zora Neal Hurston had in mind when she said a preacher “must be a poet in order to survive in a Negro pulpit.”  

 Zora the Word Sorcerer!

 

Her poetic prose celebrated the essence of black southern culture

 As I sat and listened to this soul stirring sister I was reminded that it was the unschooled divines to whom these praises were addressed, Johnson in his poems and Hurston in her wonderful novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine, both written within a couple of hundred miles from each other in the same part of Florida where I grew up.  So by the end of my visit to this little Georgia church with the mighty spirit, after I had joined the congregation in physically driving the devil out of New Covenant’s sanctuary and witnessed my daughter raise her voice in sacred song, waving her hands above her head in time with the music, channeling the holy spirit on sound waves to the soul, I too, unrepentant infidel that I am, felt uplifted by the spirit of their sermons and the spiritual power of their songs.   

 ****************

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

December 15, 2009

David Brooks Missed The Point Again

Posted in On Right Wing Pundits and Bloviators, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , , , , on November 20, 2009 by playthell

 

  “Tis better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt”

Mark Twain

 

On Rushing To Therapy

 Reading David Brooks is a strange experience.  Although the writing is usually well crafted and his arguments crammed full of interesting information – erudite even – somehow he often manages to miss the point.  On such occasions he is far more glib than learned; his arguments have only the illusion of depth. The latest example of this curious phenomenon is his November 10, column in the New York Times “The Rush to Therapy.”   After thoroughly misreading the historical record regarding race and populism in a transparent apologia attempting to explain away the vulgar racism of the so-called “Tea Party Patriots” in his column, “No, It’s not about Race” – for which I was compelled to straighten his cap in my critique “David Brooks Is Clueless,” available on this site – he has now chimed in on the slaughter at Fort Hood. And once again his missive promotes confusion rather than provide clarity.

 For Mr. Brooks’ taste the nation has fretted far too much over the psychological problems of Major Nidal Hassan, who went “postal” and shot up a bunch of his fellow warriors at Fort Hood; men who were presumed to be his comrades-in-arms, men whose psychological problems he was commanded to heal.  “Major Hassan was portrayed as a disturbed individual who was under a lot of stress” he writes.  “We learned about pre-traumatic stress syndrome, and secondary stress disorder which one gets from hearing about other people’s stress.”  It is fair to say that Mr. Brooks gives short shrift to such arguments and snidely notes: “A shroud of political correctness settled over the conversation.  Hasan was portrayed as a victim of society, a poor soul who was pushed over the edge by prejudice and unhappiness.  There was a national rush to therapy.” 

 In his infinite wisdom Mr. Brooks ridicules our naiveté and calls a spade a spade: “This was understandable.  It is important to tamp down vengeful hatreds in moments of passion but it was also patronizing. Public commentators assumed the air of kindergarten teachers who had to protect their children from thinking impermissible and intolerant thoughts.”  While I have heard enough from the ubiquitous Times columnist to know that we probably have radically different ideas about what constitute “impermissible and intolerant thoughts,” in my view “protecting’ Americans from having such thoughts is as much the business of Mr. Brooks, who assumes the air of a college teacher, as those he denounces in his column. 

 For instance, I have read nothing penned by Mr. Brooks that explains to the American people the role US foreign policy played in making us the target of the Islamic Jihad.  Why not Sweden if it’s all because they hate our personal freedom, secular society, and licentious sexuality?  While I cannot claim to be an expert on Mr. Brook’s oeuvre, I suspect one would never learn the answers to these questions reading it.  Alas I can say with certainty that you will learn nothing useful in answering these fundamental questions in the column under discussion.

And if the commentators Mr. Brooks criticizes are guilty of being “patronizing” because they wish to factor in the mental stress Dr. Nidal was suffering, his attitude toward the ravages of mental depression can be justly labeled contemptuous as well as abysmally ignorant of the nature of acute depression.  Had Mr. Brooks bothered to tune in on one of the premiere tribunes of our times, Bill Moyers – a man of towering intellect, balanced judgment and sterling character – he might have written a more intelligent column; a quality Mr. Brooks apparently confuses with intellectual exhibitionism.

 In a moving and enlightening program examining a new documentary on the mental maladies resulting from the experience of combat – i.e. organized mass murder – we were provided an inside look at the profound stress military psychiatrists are subjected to.  Much of their work is trying to help soldiers suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome – which means they must listen attentively as these warriors attempt to exorcise their demons by reliving the horrors of combat through talk therapy, and then give them pills to keep them calm in an attempt control the suicidal impulses that accompany acute depression, even inducing a chemical euphoria disguised as happiness. 

 The tales told by men who had fought in war and its effects on the psychiatrist who are tasked with helping maintain their mental health, leave no doubt that Dr. Nidal may well have been motivated by some species of mental breakdown.   It is certainly a good place to start in any interrogation of the factors that might have compelled him to launch a murderous assault on the soldiers he was entrusted to guide and protect, both as an army officer and a Psychiatrist.  Yet Mr. Brooks argues that this approach “absolved Hasan – before the real evidence was in – of his Responsibility.”

 In Mr. Brook’s view it wasn’t about the mysterious workings of a mind that snapped under great stress – due to the extreme horror of the stories he was hearing; the fact that the horrors related by the soldiers were being perpetrated against his Muslim brethren, and the pressures he was under now that he had been ordered to deploy to the battlefields and assist in those atrocities – rather it was all a question of “the master narrative” Dr. Hasan chose to make sense of events in his world.    He tells us that “evidence is now mounting to suggest he chose the extremist War On Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results.”  Mr. Brookes goes on to argue: “The conversation in the first days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality.” 

 While I agree that there was a “flight from reality,” I am also certain that we have different conceptions of what reality means.  However I think Brooks got it right when he observed that the initial conversation among the nation’s opinion makers “ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy. It ignored the fact that this narrative can be embraced by a self-radicalizing individual in the US as much as by groups Tehran, Gaza or Kandahar.”  However for our thoughtful conservative pundit – whom many consider the smart set’s conservative thinker – failure to recognize these facts denies “the possibility of evil.”  

 That Mr. Brooks cannot conjure a scenario where a narrative presenting the unvarnished truth about the role of US policy in the Islamic World might drive a devout Muslim military psychiatrist to righteous anger, which metamorphoses into murderous madness, exposes his provincial ethnocentric view of the world.   The fact is that Dr. Hasan had delivered a lecture warning of the dangers of sending American Muslims to fight in the Middle East; he told his colleagues it was a dangerous practice and Muslims should be stationed elsewhere in the world.” Instead of taking the warning seriously his medical colleagues thought him a sad deluded guy who was becoming overly influenced by Islamic propaganda, and they didn’t even think it was serious enough to file a report on the matter.                                                                                                                                                                        

 But what is far worse are the revelations thar are surfacing as I write about the fact that Major Nidal – who is a member of the long suffering Palestinian people, a people whose grievances against the US go back 60 wears – had recommended that several soldiers he counseled should be Court Marshaled for committing “war crimes!”  Predictably, the response of the amoral wags on the right is that Major Hasan had violated Dr. patient confidentially rules by reporting their crimes, rather than outrage over the fact that they were war criminals.  But then the Republicans are quite comfortable with the known war criminals in the highest echelon of the GOP. 

 They enthusiastically celebrate the biggest war criminal of them all, Dirty Dick Cheney: The Butcher of Baghdad!  A man who was the principal architect of the Iraq invasion the unapologetic author of America’s torture policies.  Both crimes of war!  And I have yet to hear our Mr. Brooks say a mumbling word on this naked truth.  Instead we have been subjected to a web of transparent lies and pompous right-wing gibberish from Republicans that exposes an appalling poverty of ethics.  If I have unfairly maligned him; if I have misspoke on this subject; If I have overlooked some eloquent argument, or enraged diatribe, issuing from the pen of our smart conservative at the Times opposing his party’s love affair with Dirty Dick, and their obscene indifference to his crimes, then Mr. Brooks should call me out like I’m calling him out.   I anxiously await his response.

 ***************

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

November 18, 2009

Fools Fakers, Liars, Charlatans and Whores

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on November 9, 2009 by playthell

Bachmann 

Michel Bachman: A far right Psycho

 

Republicans Reveal Their True Character In Healthcare Debate

 After a century of failed attempts the congressional Democrats have finally passed a reform bill that establishes good healthcare as an entitlement of citizenship – a benefit other advanced countries in the world, and even poor little Cuba, have long ago established for its citizens. Predictably the Republicans conducted themselves like charlatans and insurance industry whores in a floor fight designed to try and derail this humane and historic legislation.  Lately I have sadly concluded that Republicans are a danger to national security.  This is no rhetorical flourish, nor an exercise in hyperbole; I am deadly serious.

The recent massacre at Fort Hood demonstrates the constant danger we face of internal conflict and domestic terrorism. In fact, despite vigorous Republican protest, we were warned by the Department Of homeland security that the greatest threat of terrorist attack comes from domestic forces, mostly on the far right. Yet top Republican spokesman – including members of Congress like Michele Bachman and Minority Leader Jim Boehner – have shamelessly pandered to these racist, nativist and violent elements in American society in their futile attempt to discredit President Obama and deny health care to millions of Americans.

 

A Typical Republican Whacko!

tax-day-tea-party-demonstrators

Ms. Piggy’s head is pregnant with ignorance!

 

These far right fanatics have so distorted the President’s vision they have convinced their working class base that a medical program which provides health care as a human right of citizenship, rather than a monopolistic profit based service industry, is the equivalent of Nazi death camps! And all the while waving their bibles and wrapping themselves in the flag as they lead their naïve followers astray.

 During Saturday’s debate the Democrats articulated the virtues of the bill – covering the uninsured; outlawing the practice of excluding people for “pre-existing conditions and stiffing the sick;” providing competition to the private insurance companies to bring down the price of premiums, etc – while the Republicans spouted empty rhetoric about “preserving freedom” and “controlling budget deficits.”  Yet these cynical charlatans are ignoring the will of the people as expressed in the recent Presidential elections, and they were cheer leaders when George II started a three trillion dollar war choice – in face of massive protests from people around the world. Ther remains a fight to be waged in the Senate before Health Care becomes a done deal, but the BS arguments we heard from Republicans in the House presages what we are likely to hear in the Senate.  Hence Democrats must stand on principle and beat those suckers down with the truth!

 The amoral Republican bunko artist also spouted a lot of duplicitous hogwash about protecting the interests of senior citizens and the “working man.” Yet the principal advocates for seniors, AARP, has enthusiastically endorsed the bill, as has the AMA and the nation’s largest labor unions.  Hence as I listen to the Republican’s claim to be acting in the interests of the working class and the elderly, I am once again reminded of the old Ibo proverb: “Beware of the stranger who comes to the funeral and cries louder than the family of the corpse.”

 ******************

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

November 9, 2009

 

It’s Time To Quit Afghanistan

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on October 29, 2009 by playthell

The Commander in Chief!

 

The Commander In Chief with his Troops

 

President Obama Must  Not  Expand The War

No American President has been confronted with more disasters upon entering the Oval Office than Barack Obama.  And of all the crucial decisions he has been required to make, none is more critical to the fate of his Presidency than the direction he chooses to take in Afghanistan.  Fortunately, President Obama is showing the better part of wisdom by not allowing the Generals, and the congressional chicken hawks who repeat their demands like a Greek Chorus cheerleading for war, to stampede him into sending thousands of young Americans into the murderous quagmire that is Afghanistan.  Any careful  analysis of the facts on the ground in that treacherous terrain, and how this war relates to our strategic objective of defeating Al Qaeda, raises troubling questions that must be addressed before committing more American blood and treasure to that perplexing country – which is called “the graveyard of empires” with good reason.

In the wake of the most deadly month since our invasion of that country – with casualties running better than one a day – I have carefully analyzed the situation, and concluded that not only should the President refuse to order more troops into Afghanistan, he should withdraw the ground forces that are already deployed there.  I can envision no scenario where anything that is commonly understood as a “victory” is achievable in  that country.  First of all, there is not a single instance in the historical record where a full blown insurgency, or people’s war, has been defeated by a foreign occupier.   This is true whether we are talking about the French in Vietnam or Algeria, or the Portuguese in Africa – both of whom committed myriad crimes waging near genocidal wars in their attempt to defeat the insurgents. Even after years of warfare with France the Vietnamese still managed to defeat the mighty US military machine in a protracted war.   

The white supremacist, American Exceptionalist and militarists among us have never reconciled themselves to this humiliating defeat resulting from our misguided attempt to resurrect a failed French colonial project.  Hence they view the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a chance for the US to redeem ourselves and reclaim America’s status as an invincible warrior nation.  This attitude is particularly powerful among some members of the warrior class and militaristic policy wonks who presided over the Vietnam debacle.  That’s a major reason why I opposed John McCain’s bid for the presidency.  (see “John McCain is Not qualified to be Commander-In-Chief.”)  It was abundantly clear from McCain’s rhetoric that he would seek redemption for his humiliation in Vietnam by making a stand in Afghanistan. I am convinced such a policy would result in another disaster on the scale of Vietnam.

Afghanistan is a more difficult theater to wage war than Vietnam. Aside from the mountainous geo-physical profile of the country which renders conventional warfare ineffective, there are qualitative differences in the nature of the enemy.  The Vietnamese revolutionaries were atheistic political militants whose strategy and objectives were firmly rooted in Mao Tse Tung’s theories of protracted warfare; which were in turn rooted in the doctrine of Prussian military strategist Von Clauswitz.  The fundamental conception of all warfare in this view is that war is an extension of politics.  Mao put it this way: “Politics is war without bloodshed, war is politics with bloodshed.” 

The Taliban on the other hand is made up of religious zealots who are convinced that they are the carrying out the will of God; hence they are indifferent to the objectives of those who are motivated by politics.  Whereas politics is the art of the possible and thus the strategy of political actors is shaped by that reality, the Muslim Jihadists are concerned with crushing the infidel invaders and establishing Sharia law. 

 Mullah Omar, a fearless warrior and the supreme leader of the Taliban, which began as an organization of militant seminarians from a Madrassa where he once taught, epitomizes this other worldly view.  And if one is carrying out a mandate from God compromise with earthly realities is not an option.   Hence, the Taliban take a very long view of their mission – after all, the Sunnis and Shiites have been slaughtering each other for more than a thousand years over a theological argument and they are still going strong.  Furthermore the Taliban leaders – having defeated a Russian army of a half million men – know that Americans will eventually tire and go home.   It is in the nature of things.  The only question is: How much American blood and treasure, along with innocent Afghan lives in collateral damage, will be spent before American armed forces pack up and go home?  I am arguing that the time to get out is now!

 Mullah Omar

 Mullah_Omar, Taliban Leader

An Authentic Afghan Rebel Leader

Although I could write a book on why we ought to remove our ground forces from Afghanistan, I shall confine myself to minimum essential  reasons for withdrawal.  First of all we have lost any moral authority because we are presently, and for the foreseeable future, supporting a thoroughly corrupt gang of dope dealers and criminals who do not have the trust or support of the majority of the Afghans. Thus they had to steal the last election to remain in power, and the Afghan people know it; what is worse is they know we know it too.  And  it remains to be seen if holding a new election will assuage the cynicism of the Afghan people toward the Karzi government.  It will not in any case win the Taliban, because as believers in Sharia they desire a theocracy.  

Hence it is to the rest of the Afghans that American policy must be directed in the battle with the Taliban for the allegiance of the Afghan people. General  McCrystal  correctly argues that we cannot win this war without winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people first.  At present our soldiers who are entrusted with training the Afghan army to fight the highly motivated Taliban forces, who are inspired to selfless sacrifice by visions of an after life in Paradise with a harem of beautiful virgins at their beck and call, report that Karzi’s army is fueled by hashish and Yankee gold.  Check out the video “The Hashish Army” on You Tube and witness the impossible task our young people have been assigned!  The footage in this video was shot on the front lines in the Afghan mountians, and I think it would be criminal to continue sending brave young Americans – many of whom joined the military because they lacked opportunities in civilian society – into this deadly quagmire.

 Thirdly, the mountainous landscape and difficulty in identifying the enemy means that American forces will continue to kill innocent people attending weddings and funerals that our armed forces mistake for Al Qaeda conclaves.  And this is certain to increase hatred for the “Infidel American invaders.”  It is the best recruiting tool the Taliban and the entire Islamic Jihadist movement could wish for.  The recognition of this simple fact led William Hoh, a Foreign Service officer serving in Afghanistan, to recently resign his post after concluding that the very presence of American forces in Afghanistan is the major factor fueling the armed insurgency!   

 Indeed, the recent statement from Mullah Omar marking the end of Ramadan, the holiest period on the Muslim Calendar marked by intense fasting and prayer, supports Mr. Hoh’s conclusion.  “”The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on the public of the West not to be deceived by the assertions of Obama,” the statement reads, “who says the war in Afghanistan, is a war of necessity. The West does not have to wage this war… “The invaders should study the history of Afghanistan from the time of  the Alexander…Still, if they are bent on ignoring the history, then they themselves saw with their own eyes the events of the past eight years. Have they achieved  anything in the past eight years?”  Those who are hell bent on pursuing this war will argue that the lack of progress in a war that has already lasted twice as long as world War II is the natural result of bungling on the part of the Bushmen, who squandered the resources in a war of choice in Iraq that they should have committed to a war of necessity in Afghanistan.  A month ago that was my position too.

 However when I consider Mr. Hoh’s comment in light of Dr. Daniel Ellsberg’s  recent observation that before he joined the Foreign Service Mr. Hoh was a Marine officer who had commanded combat troops in Afghanistan, just as Ellsberg had once done in Vietnam before he became a national security analyst and opposed that war,  therefore Hoh should be regarded as a more reliable authority on the military possibilities than the Generals, I am confirmed in my conclusion that now is the time to quit Afghanistan!  The President should turn the global war against terrorists over to Special Ops and the CIA; and focus on their destruction with the precision of a laser beam.  Policing and restraining the murderous repressive policies of the Taliban – especially their treatment of women and girls – is a noble calling to be sure; but it is a task that should be undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations and regional organizations with generous American support.

 But let there be no mistake: escalating the war in Afghanistan is dangerous folly – as the distinguished historian Barbara Tuchman – who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for historical writing – defined it in her seminal book: “The March Of folly.”  Which is a term she coined to explain the decision of leaders throughout history who pursue policies that all the observable facts testify is against their nation’s interests.  For Lyndon Johnson the motivation was ego; for George Bush it was ignorant macho.  Barack must not bog this nation down in Afghanistan to prove he is a man, not the wimp the Republicans are sure to label him should he decide to pull out. For saving face is not worth a single drop of American blood.

 ****************

 

Playthell Benjamin

Commentaries On The Times

             Harlem New York

October 28, 2009

 

*

Encounter with A Georgia Peach

Posted in Cultural Matters, Travels in the New South with tags , , on October 26, 2009 by playthell

on the roqd in the dirty south 083 

 On the Road 

 

Notes from my Journey through the Heart of the New South

 As I boarded the Grey Hound from the District of Columbia and departed from Richmond Virginia, the cradle of the old Confederacy and the home of Afro-American tennis great, US Army officer and sports historian Arthur Ashe, I was perchance seated on the coach beside a righteous elderly southern white woman from the old school of southern grace and charm.  She had clear alabaster skin and her hair was a silvery gray; tucked in a bun like those stern 19th century Anglo-Saxon women who led the temperance movement.  She introduced herself as Mrs. Crisler, and later informed me that she was a widow.  And as I listened to her musical southern speech she soon began to inquire into the fate of my soul. 

I wondered if there was something about my demeanor, unbeknownst to myself, that signaled to her that I was about to bust hell wide open should the bus crash and we suddenly departed this life.  Perhaps it was the rakish angle that I wore my hat, or maybe she had peeped me blowing up some high grade “wisdom weed” – a gift from a righteous Rasta brethren in Washington – as I skulked about in the shadows during my rest stop in Richmond, the cradle of the old Confederacy, the first of many rests and rejuvenations through joy that I would make during my long journey on the big dog from New York City down to Baton Rouge Louisiana, a lovely lazy city sprawled along the Mississippi river, whose population had doubled since Katrina wrecked a million lives.  Maybe I just looked too city slick to be a saved man, and she figured my soul was perched on a slippery slope.  Whatever yardstick she was using to measure the depth of my Christian commitment, the lady sure pegged me right.

I quickly fessed up and frankly told her that my soul was on shaky ground, and as she began to tell me what would be required to get into heaven come judgment day when my soul is finally weighed in the balance, I began to feel like I was hanging over hell’s fire by an eyelash!  Hence I listened carefully as she unfolded a blueprint explaining how I might mend my ways before the good lord ends my days. And she promised that if I followed her advice I might yet escape eternal damnation and come to rest in the bosom of the Lord.  For this, she declared without a smidgeon of doubt, is why the savior died: to wash away our sins with his sacred blood.   I had to concede that it was a heck of a tale, about how and why Jesus died on Calvary’s Cross, but she was such a true believer I could not bear to tell her that the story had long ago ceased to make any sense to me, or that the communion ritual where the believers symbolically ate the body and drank the blood of the Christ strikes me as a grotesque and barbaric act!

Ms Crisler, as it turns out, is a life long Georgian, a small town lady who lives close to the land and pulsates to its rhythms; she is also a true Christian soldier of the Pentecostal faith.  She had a ready answer to all my questions about false prophets and fake Christians, with which I usually flagellate the proselytizers.  When I questioned her about the professed commitment to the Lord by Satin’s minions such as Pat Robertson and George Bush, certain that I had presented her with an unanswerable conundrum, she remained cool as a cucumber and issued this unambiguous instruction: “Center your faith in Christ and follow his word.”  And she assured me that if I did these things I would wind up in heaven at the end of days, even if I was the only one there.  Never mind George Bush because like a tinkling cymbal and a crashing drum, lo his earthly powers were nothing beside the power of God.  She warned that I had best be concerned with the fate of my own soul: “When your time comes you will only have to stand in judgment for yourself.”  She admonished.   It was such an inspirational message  I almost wished I could believe it.  For it would be truly an Amazing Grace that could save a wretch like me!  

*************** 

We chatted about the old South and the disappearance of the racially segregated system that we both had grown up under, she in Georgia and me in Florida, and agreed that we were glad to see it go. I reminded her that when I had left the south in 1959 we would never have been allowed to sit beside each other and carry on a conversation like two human beings created in the image of God.  I told her that I hated the old south so much that it took me 35 years to return to my home!   She seemed truly embarrassed and remorseful about the way southern whites had behaved in the bad old days of American Apartheid, when maintaining white supremacy was a sacred duty of every white person and the vaunted purity of white southern was a pretext for the murder of black men.  After watching her squirm for a moment I decided to drop the subject.  After all, white women in the old south had no more power than black men in relation to the tyranny of white men.  Excepting whatever influence they could exercise as wives, mothers, sisters, and favored aunts.  Like quite a few black women, they were sleeping with the enemy but their influence was limited.  

 As we continued to talk I discovered that she worked with the sick and elderly who are shut in.  And when I discovered that she sang to them our conversation turned to sacred songs.  When I asked her about the songs she sang, she said simply said: “I sing the old songs.”  I took this to mean the traditional church music of the south, as opposed to a lot of these modern songs that you can’t tell from the Devils music.  I could tell this because it’s the exact same way that I feel about the new So-called “Gospel” music; we can’t tell a lot of it from the Devil’s music!  The more we discussed the music the more obvious it became that we had grown up singing out of the same hymn book.  As we both recognized the songs the other had sang it became clear to me that the reason we had sung the same songs is because black and white southerners share the same culture, the same protestant values and beliefs.

 Listening to Mrs. Crisler talk was just like listening to my Aunt Gussie, or my grandfather, George Benjamin, my father’s father, who was a righteous deacon in the Pentecostal church, a mighty servant of the Lord who gave generous tithes to his church. As we talked it became clear that a great part of the reason that black and white folks get along better in the south than the north today is because black and white northerners do not share a common culture.  Northern whites are largely of immigrant stock of fairly recent origin.  And furthermore English is not their first language, and most are not protestant Christians.  For instance, in New York City, the largest metropolis in the world, most whites are either Catholics or Jews.  

Thus the liturgy of their churches and synagogues are foreign to black Americans, who are virtually all Protestants and many are conservative fundamentalists.  For instance, among the hymns that Mrs. Crisler knew and loved was “Precious Lord Take My Hand.”  Since I am fascinated at the paths through which different people find religion, and the ways in which religious ecstasy has inspired great art from Michael Angelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the sacred  music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Mary Lou Williams, I told her the story of how professor Thomas A. Dorsey – a blues musician who was playing piano with Ma Rainey at the time – came to compose this sadly moving and  beautiful sacred song upon learning that his wife and child had both died in childbirth.  It is perhaps a tribute to the majesty of the human spirit that such beauty could come from such sadness.  But I’m sure that Mrs. Crisler would see this as one of the many ways that God extends his grace to mankind.  “All things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to his purpose,” she said.

Professor Thomas Dorsey: Father Of Modern Gospel Music

 Dorsey_Thomas with Mahalia Jackson

 

With his protégé the great Mahalia Jackson

 

Since neither of us could sleep through the motion of the bus, we talked through the evening and I discovered that like my mother and grandmother she likes to preserve fruits and vegetables.  And like my grand mother – my mother was too “nice/nasty” to play in sand – Mrs. Crisler has a green thumb and actually raises the vegetables she cans in her garden, although she confessed that she bought her peaches from farmers in South Carolina, and act of treason for a native daughter of the “peach state.”  And like my grandmother Claudia Bellamy, who also played the piano and sang in church, she also grew flowers that her neighbors complimented her on.  

 After a rest stop in Charlotte North Carolina I took out my laptop to demonstrate how a computer works.  Like my mother, Mrs. Crisler is somewhat leery of the computer – for which, like my sister Melba, I hold her computer literate sons responsible! -  But I think having a computer and access to the internet can greatly expand the universe of our senior citizens.  That’s why I seize upon every opportunity to introduce them to the magic of the personal computer.   And in this case, because she is such a good speller and has a solid knowledge of English grammar, we ended up writing an essay together.  Mrs. Crisler, a lively septuagenarian was, in every way, an ideal traveling companion.  Although her attempt to win me for Christ has thus far proved futile, for if George Bush and Pat Robertson are men of Christ, I’m down with the Devil!

Since we had stayed up all night composing the first draft of the essay, we remained awake until she departed in the small town of Gainesville Georgia, where she had lived most of her life.  As I watched her meet her ride, another proper southern lady whom I assumed was also a righteous servant of the lord, I speculated that Mrs. Crisler could not imagine the world from which I came, and I felt acutely the great divide in the country that is the inevitable result of our radically different world views.  For while the north is aggressively secular, meaning they still believe in the Thomas Jefferson’s “firewall” between church and state, the south is a cauldron boiling over with religious passions that increasingly resembles the Islamic revival, with increasing numbers of people apparently longing for an American theocracy.  That’s why Bush has been such a success down here with his simple minded messages about being born again, and advocating ludicrous measures like a Constitutional Amendment against Gay Marriage, both of which are highly improbable.  

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The King Is Dead!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Movie Reviews with tags , , , on September 19, 2009 by playthell

The Most Famous Man In the World!

 

His music will live forever!

 

Quincy Jones, one of the world’s premiere musicians and the producer of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the biggest selling album in history, was once asked to evaluate Michael’s musical talent.  Jones explained that the things he does – such as orchestrating film scores and arranging big bad charts  – can be taught in conservatories.  But the ability to create a song – music and lyrics – is a gift from God, the process of whose creation remains a mystery.  The same thing can be said about why some artists manage to create hysterical responses and devoted loyalty from multitudes of fans across racial, geographical and cultural boundaries.  Michael Jackson had that gift too.  We have only to witness the avalanche of praise and remembrances from devoted fans around the world.  Unless you’ve got a hole in your soul you can feel the love.

It is clearly the most extraordinary response to the passing of a public personality that I have seen in my lifetime – and I remember the funeral of President John Kennedy, and attended the funerals of Dr. Martin Luther King and Duke Ellington.  Three of the greatest men of the twentieth century! It is quite enough to just turn on the radio or television in order to experience the massive outpouring of grief and nostalgia.  Since music is the most emotionally moving of all the arts, and often serves as the background sound for the major events of our lives  – immortalizing special  occasions of joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy – the death of a favorite musical artist often creates a personal sense of loss.

When I first heard that Michael had suffered a heart attack I was on the road traveling from Savanna to Atlanta Georgia.  By the time I reached my destination, the ATL Record Pool Hip Hop competition at the notorious Club Libra, deep in the hood, Michael had danced and joined the ancestors.  When it was announced that The King of Pop had died, there were open expressions of grief among this thugged out crowd whose rhymes were panegyrics to guns, dope, money and sex.  Then there was a call for a moment of silence and the boisterous crowd obediently heeded the call. Then the testimonies began.  From that moment on I have been surprised by the number of successful musicians, dancers, singers and record producers who say that they chose these fields of endeavor because of Michael Jackson.   The BET Awards for instance, became a memorial service for the fallen superstar.

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However not enough has been said about what Michael did for black people in the music business.  While there have been numerous allusions to the doors he opened by his spectacular performances – such as opening up MTV to Afro-American artists, which was no small feat but it was dictated by market forces – I have heard next to nothing about his insistence that a black promoter be included in his major concerts.  But talking with Leon Kwaku Saunders – who produced the recent “Jazz in the Gardens” concert in Miami which attracted an audience of over 40 thousand – and a former agent at William Morris, Michael made special efforts to include a black promoter in his national tours..  And he gave Al Sharpton thousands of tickets to distribute among financially stressed black communities where his spectacular shows were playing.  Hence when Rev. Sharpton says “Michael never left us,” he has a point.

Yet  in spite of his virtues Michael Jackson was a very troubled man.  And I remain surprised by the number of people who are willing to ignore his pathologies – after all, here was a man who disfigured himself in public while we watched with horror, sorrow or amusement.  From the first time I saw him perform as the enormously gifted lead singer of the Jackson Five I thought he – like his brothers – was one of the cutest kids I’d ever seen.

But in the years before his untimely demise he began to resemble a cartoon character – namely the joker in the Bat Man comics.  I have often wondered why those close to him didn’t intervene, and the fans did not protest this public immolation of the beautiful golden boy we first knew.  Instead, as his friend Dr. Depak Chopra has recently pointed out in a fit of anger and disgust, Michael was surrounded by lackeys and enablers who were only too happy to concede his every wish so long as fame and fortune were to be had – no matter how dangerous or bizarre his behavior – like the thirty something plastic surgeries.

 The worst offenders, according to Dr. Chopra, were the medical professionals who served as his drug pushers; for he believes that when the whole truth is told we will discover that it is they who killed Michael.  The toxicology reports will testify to the veracity of this claim, but based on the evidence of our senses we can see that this good and gifted man was in deep trouble and none closest to him cried out for help.  Alas, this will be Michael Jackson’s legacy as much as his splendid musical gifts; yet the artistic treasures he bequeathed to us will live forever.

 

 

Playthell Benjamin

Commentaries on the Times

Atlanta Georgia

June 29, 2009

In Opposing The President’s Speech…

Posted in On Right Wing Pundits and Bloviators with tags , , on September 18, 2009 by playthell

Pat Buchanan

 Verbal Arsonist Pat Buchanan

 The Republicans Promote Stupidity!

The swelling Republican attacks on President Obama’s decision to give a pep talk to the nation’s students on opening day – which turned out to be an old fashion lecture on the virtues of hard work and personal responsibility which American students desperately needed to hear – tells us much about the nature of the contemporary Republican Party.  For those who have followed my commentaries over the years it will come as no surprise that the Republicans encourage racism and ignorance in the American electorate. In fact I have argued that they figure these factors into their calculus for victory.

 As I observed during the presidential election, the selection of Sarah Palin for VP was a play for “the Dumb Dora vote.”  The Republican Party is so committed to this strategy that they continuously emphasized that their support came largely from non-college educated whites.  One has only to look at the demographics of the Republican base to see that they are largely concentrated in those states with the lowest level of educational achievement.  This fact led the GOP to adopt a strategy of attacking and ridiculing an Ivy League education – Which both the President and the first Lady successfully completed.

The most shameful example of this was posited by a leading Republican intellectual, Pat Buchanan.  In his attempt to defend a racist/sexist argument that Justice Sonia Sotomayor was unqualified to serve on the Supreme Court, he first said that she was unjustly admitted to Princeton and Yale because she was admitted under Affirmative Action guidelines.  But when it was pointed out that she graduated with top honors from Princeton – which is presently rated above Harvard – and she was an editor on the Yale Law Journal, this shameless charlatan said on the MSNBC talk show Morning Joe: “Everybody knows they just give out A’s to everybody in Ivy League schools!”

Buchanan, intellectual anachronism and moral cripple that he is, had nothing to say about the fact that there were several thousand students were more qualified than George Bush when he was admitted to Yale on a rich white boy legacy, or that he was refused admission to the University of Texas Law School!  Then he went on to become the worst President in history.  Nor did he have anything to say about their Negro errand boy Uncle Clarence Thomas, who, according to the distinguished Dean of the Yale Law School, Vito Calibrisi, was admitted only after they shaved 250 points of the standard admission score!

All the talk about Barack Obama being “elitist” combined both pillars of Republican strategy: promoting racism and ignorance.  Of course in their twisted minds this is a stealth strategy whose real intents and purposes are not visible to the electorate because it is obscured by smoke screens. They wrap their racist reactionary ideology in transparently bullshit polemics about speaking for “the real America” – which is to say small town bumpkins or disillusioned and confused white workers who are so clueless as to the real reasons for their deepening economic and identity crisis that they are willing to vote against their class interests and make their situation worse.

How else do you explain John McCain, a man who graduated from the elite Naval Academy, holding up Joe the Plumber as “My Hero?”  Here is a guy that was so stupid he opposed Social Security because it is “a government giveaway.”  And this is a guy who is as poor as the snake without a pit to hiss in!  To anybody who is not a certifiable moron this was insulting; it was greeted as an outrage by the unionized plumbers I talked to!  It would be interesting just for the historical record, to see how many times John and Cindy has had Joe and his wife out to dinner since the election.

Like the air head Joe Six Packs who voted for George bush twice, Joe The Plumber acted as if he had some interests in common with John McCain, a man with so many houses he couldn’t remember them all in a presidential debate.  These people are a sad and dangerous crowd, because they can be manipulated into doing whatever their Republican puppet meisters want them to do, even if it’s against their own and the public interests.

Joe The Plumber

Joe the Plummer

McCain’s Hero?

 It is an indisputable fact that the Republican party is, as the Nobel Laureate in Economics Paul Krugman observed, “the party of the plutocrats”- Which is to say the super rich!  However there are not enough of these people to win national elections, so the Republicans cultivate the untutored white mob, who are driven to the brink of madness by economic frustration and racist resentment over the fact that a black family now occupies the White House and a black man is President of these United States Of America.   Having achieved little in life, and standing in danger of losing even that, they desperately cling to their whiteness because that’s the only asset they have. The value of which – in a multi-racial America where participation in the work force is more and more based on merit rather than racial and gender  nepotism – becoming more and more like Confederate money.

However while the Republicans take ridiculous positions like  disparaging educational achievement in order to discredit the President, and hold up transparent ignoramuses like Sarah Palin and Joe The Plummer as “heroes” and Presidential candidates, they are encouraging educational failure in our students by stigmatizing academic excellence. They are echoing the rap of high school drop outs who disdain school and think its hip to be dumb.  And this is by all measurable indices a disastrous course for the United states that will hasten our demise as a world power.  That the future belongs to the nations whose students master math and science in the largest numbers is beyond question.  So what does the arithmetic tell us about America’s future?

According to the latest results of the Third International Math and Science Study American 12th graders who are a few months away from college, were out performed by 90% of the students from the other 21 nations who took the math exam and 76% 0t those who took the science test.  China is graduating four times as many engineers as the US and Japan is graduating twice as many.  On advanced placement math and Science exams American students were outperformed by 94% of students from these other nations in math and 100% in science!  The result of these frightening statistics is summed up by Rice University Professor R.E. Smalley, a Nobel Laureate in Science, who predicted in 2005 that if current trends continue: ”By 2010 90% of all Ph.D.  physical scientist and engineers in the world will be Asians living in Asia!

Even if Dr. Smalley’s timetable is off by a decade, the trend is unmistakable and spells the end of America as a dominant power in the world, let alone the leader in science and technology.  Especially when we consider the conclusions of the American Association For the Advancement Of Science that “90 percent” of our math textbooks and 1oo% of our science textbooks are inadequate.

Furthermore it is no secret that India has outpaced the US in the production of computer scientist, and this is due entirely to the decision of the Indian government to fund the Indian Institute of Technology as a vehicle for making the most of their intellectual capital.  A closer look at the cybernetic revolution in the so-called “Silicone Valley” of Northern California will reveal the IIT engineers played a major role in that development. Hence if ever the United states need a strongly pro-education President it is now.  And I can think of no better example than President Obama, who is living proof of the power of education.

George W. Bush, who bragged about being a C student spoke to school children; Ronal Reagan, a smiling ignoramus who said you could call nuclear missiles back once they were launched, and George Herbert Walker Bush all addressed America’s school children with the blessings of the same crowd who are now up in arms because President wants to address the nation’s school children!  The racist rage that the Republicans and their media spokes are whipping up in this country may well retard the President’s efforts to make the changes that are necessary to put America in position to compete in this new century.  And for those who argue that it’s a good thing for him to speak because “minority students” need to hear him are also missing the point: All students need to hear this president; the future of the nation my well depend on it! 

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 Commentaries On the Times

September 8, 2009

Harlem N.Y.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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