Chillin with the Stars at the Cigar City Club

Posted in Cultural Matters, Hangin with Dr. J with tags , , , on October 20, 2015 by playthell
Kwaku Saunders, Playthell, Julius and Doreese Erving
An evening of Fine Cigars, Great Cuisine, Music and Beautiful People

Oh what a night!  When businessman /promoter Dana Pitcher invited Event Producer Kwaku Saunders and me to join him at the Cigar City Club  to watch the Atlanta Falcons football game I thought it would be fun.  As a serious football fan who loves a good cigar it seemed a can’t miss proposition.  I liked the atmosphere of the club from the outset; the elegant décor with fine wood paneling, crystal chandeliers, leather seats and thick carpets complimented by fine food and drinks it was the ideal venue to watch a game with the hometown crowd.  So long as you were not rooting for the other team.

Since I am a Seattle Seahawks fan I had no dog in the fight.  Hence I was not glued to the TV set and was free to roam about taking pictures of the room and the beautiful people lounging about after deciding that I wanted to document this unique Black business. To my knowledge there is nothing like it in Harlem, which has long been considered the Cultural Capitol of Black America, and was once considered the Metropole of the black world.

When I first arrived at the Cigar City Club I didn’t know it was owned by an Afro-American businessman, Julius Bolton, but once it was made known to me I decided to make a record of my visit.  I chose to do this because I view this club as yet another example of the uniqueness of Atlanta’s Afro-American community.  Ever since I was a boy growing up in St. Augustine Florida, black Atlantans were known for two  things: Higher education and black business enterprise.

To this grand tradition has been added black political power and expanded wealth.  One can easily see the expression of black political power from the moment you set foot in the airport and witness that magnificent photographic exhibit on the history of black Atlantans posted along the walls of the corridor, and the marvelous stone sculptures by artists from Zimbabwe!  And the legacy of black enterprise is embodied today in establishments like the Cigar City Club.

After Dana introduced us and we struck up a conversation, Bolton struck me as a low key unassuming guy.  I would never have picked him out of the crowd as the owner, as there were several others in the room who looked the part.  But then some guys look like players and turn out to be farmers.   I was intrigued by how he happened to open this Cigar club, because I have been smoking Cigars for decades and have never visited a Cigar Club…in fact it never occurred to me.

Bolton told me that he liked to enjoy good food and drinks with a fine cigar and entertainment but had noticed that in his travels he could never find all of these things in one place.  This was the inspiration for his establishment and he has realized his dream beautifully.  The club has a great live music act, “The Jas Trio,” which on this night featured swinging performances from singer Quida “Sugapuddin” Fanklin  They are a swinging straight ahead jazz ensemble that plays the classic jazz repertoire known to all aficionados of the music.  They could hold their own in any jazz venue.

Bolton is employing technology to best advantage: The cigar store is a giant humidor with a wide number of choices; the television is programmed to switch from voice to silent text while the game is going on, and he has even employed Social Media man, Joshua McCoy, to keep the public apprised of what’s happenin at the club.

The Real McCoy!


 He’s got the world at his fingertips

 However the highpoint of the evening for me came with a surprise visit from Julius “Dr. J” Erving, a first ballot basketball Hall of Famer who gets my vote as the best ever on the hardwood court.  Kwaku Saunders and Julius Erving have been best friends since boyhood and I met them both when they were students at the University of Massachusetts in 1969.  There were other students in their class who also did well, like the singer Natalie Cole, but I don’t think any have equalled Kwaku and Julius’ impact in their chosen fields.

It was an exciting time in the country, radical changes were taking place in the status of women and minorities, propelled by the energy of the black Civil Rights Movement, which began in the South and engulfed the nation.  Kwaku was a student activist who was a leader of the students that demanded the establishment of a Black Studies Department, and thus sat on the student committee that interviewed the perspective professors who would design the department and offer courses.

I was the first Professor hired and along with a group of distinguished international colleagues we built the first degree granting Black studies Department in the world in Amherst and name it after the most distinguished scholar in the black world: The WEB Dubois Department of Black Studies.  (See:”Dr. DuBois Then and Now” on this site.)  For an extended discussion of Dr.  DuBois’ life and work see the book “Reconsidering the Souls of Black Folk” by the present writer.

They also demanded that black students be given a block of air time on the University radio station, which was called “The Black Mass Communication Project.”   I thought Kwaku a bright young man who was mature beyond his years and would go far in life.

Julius Erving, although just a sophomore, was the most popular student on campus.  People used to point him out to me and declare that he was the “best forward in college basketball.”    I dismissed such talk as home town hype.  Admittedly my opinion was greatly influenced by the fact that at the time I was involved with a lady who was a professor at UCLA, who were the National Champions of collegiate basketball.

Hence I had attende numerous basketball games in the fabulous UCLA arena known as “The House Kareem Built;” it was a fabulous place with real Hollywood stars sitting at courtside.  Sydney Wicks and Curtis Rowe were the forwards on the team and they looked and acted like stars.  Since the conventional wisdom among sports commentators was that this tandem were the best forwards in college basketball I was sure the accolades heaped upon the skinny bushy head kid on campus, who I and nobody I knew outside of Amherst had ever heard of, was nothing more than overinflated puffery and I refused to believe the Hype – as his fellow Long Islanders Chuck D and Public Enemy would exhort us twenty years later.

However as it turned out Julius Erving was the real deal.  I first discovered this when a friend of mine, big Jim Corbin, who had been a college All-American football player and later a high-school basketball coach suggested that we go check this young man out and see for ourselves if all the fuss was justified.  That night U-Mass played Providence and Julius was pitted against their 6” 9’ forward Marvin Barnes, who went on to a solid NBA career but was then the terror of the Yankee Conference – which I had never heard of before coming to U-Mass.  Julius dominated this great player – who was bigger than him – in every phase of the game: rebounding, defense and scoring.   And he did it in such a convincing fashion that Big Jim said Julius was “the best college basketball player” he had ever seen.  And he predicted he would go on to achieve greatness as a pro.  History has proved both of our hunches true!

Kwaku went on to make history as the first black music agent at the powerful William Morris Agency, after a stint with the legendary Norby Walters where he represented virtually all of the top black stars in Rhythm & Blues as well as the pioneering Rap acts that rose up from the playgrounds and small clubs in Harlem and the South Bronx and made Hip Hop a billion dollar industry whose product is enthusiastically consumed world-wide and changed the character of youth culture everybody: for good and bad.

He would later become an artist manager whose group “The Sounds of Blackness” was declared his “favorite group” by that intrepid saxophone player in the White House, President Bill Clinton.  During his tenure there Kwaku had several occasions to book his group at White House events and “Sugar Willie” even broke out his horn and joined them on one occasion!

Before Kwaku became the manager of this group they were just another choir in the Twin Cites of Minnesota. It was under his astute and careful guidence that they became a world wide attraction.  Kwaku is now a successful producer of big live events around the world.  As I write he is producing a concert with the legendary R&B artist Charlie Wilson at the River front Amphitheater in Montgomery Alabama on November 7.

After his Hall of Fame basketball career Julius returned to what he would have done had he not made it into pro-basketball, become a successful businessman.  Today Julius is involved in international deals that take him as far away as China!  As a long time student od Chinese society I had many questions for him, and his thoughtful observations conveyed a sense of wonder at the size of Chinese cities and the pace of modernization.

Sitting and rapping with them my mind wandered back over four decades when they were just young men with enormous promise, and reflecting on how that promise has been fulfilled in grand fashion.  In a solemn moment of reflection Julius noted the passing of his former coach in high-school and U-Mass, Ray “Speed” Wilson,” and told me that he would soon be departing for Rhode Island to deliver the Eulogy at his final rites. There was a profound humility in his voice as he spoke of this man who he says taught him much more than the game of basketball.

What I find most impressive about these two old friends – whose relationship is explored in the outstanding NBA Television documentary “The Doctor -”  is how little success has changed their fine personalities and character.  In this documentary, which was aired nationally, we learn that Kwaku actually nicknamed Julius “The Doctor” and he in turn called Kwaku “The Professor.”  And there we were almost a half century later hangin out and reminiscing in Atlanta’s cigar club….Oh what a night!


It was a Grand Party!

The “Doctor” and the “Professor


Friends 4 Life
Debating the Atlanta Falcon vs. New Orleans Saints Game
Much pompous drivel was spouted before the Saints crushed their hopes
 Big Dana Pitcher Was in da House


A Louisiana Businessman and Bon Vivant making his mark in Atlanta
Although he is a relativly Young Man Dr. J’s hair is Steel Grey


Julius Says its a family trait; his father had it and he loves it
And from the look of things…..


…….so do the ladies
A Visionary Entrepreneur


He saw a vacuum and filled it: fine food, drinks, live music and great cigars
He created and elegant environment


That attracts a Smart and Stylish crowd
It’s a Cigar Smoker’s Paradise


That offer a dazzling array of choices
A Well Designed Humidor


Carfully designed to satisfy the taste of the most demanding epicure
Exotic Tobacco Leaf from Far away Lands


Find their way to these shelves
Its the kind of Posh Place…..


Gentleman of high style and substance are drawn to
And beautiful women flitter about…..
Like luminous technicolor fire flies in Africa’s night
Satin Dolls like Duke Elington Conjured up……


In Black, Brown and Biege
It’s also the Lair of…..
…………..Redbone Foxes!
 Even the waitresses are fine!


Like this Tall, Tan, Terriffic Beauty
Or this Pulchritudinous Eye Candy


The guys get a kick outta watching Sarah work the floor….perhaps some girls too
And there was great Music!


James Schneider and the JAS Trio was Killin
 The bass and the drums were locked in the pocket!
Quida “Sugar Puddin” Franklin
Swung a Jazz Song with Blues and Soul
For those whose taste runs to Chess and Champaign


Its Yours Upon Request
From Night to Night you’ll find Him…..


Watching over the care of his customers
And big Dana….Who invited me to the Cigar Club


Scoped the scene with a for real  Louisiana Players Lean


Double Click on links below to view videos
Playthell Benjamin Television Commentary
The Sounds of Blackness
Julius “Dr. J. Erving: A Documentary
Photos and Text: By Playthell Benjamin
Video selections by: Playthell Benjamin
Multi-Media presentation conceived and designed by Playthell
Atlanta, October 2015

On the “Deconfliction” Policy in Syria

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on October 3, 2015 by playthell
Kerry and Larov at deconfliction meeting
 Kerry and Foreign and Sergi Lavrov trying to avoid disaster

A Clear and Present Danger!

The gravity of the situation in Syria – where the US and Russia both have armed forces operating, with drones and planes flying around dropping bombs all over the place – was clearly reflected in the faces of John Kerry and Sergei Lovrov as they announced their policy of “deconfliction” in Syria at the United Nations.  Tasked with devising a policy designed to prevent an accidental clash between the US and Russian military forces deployed in Syria – the consequences of which are too frightening to contemplate, except for those religious fanatics who believe they are going to ascend to heaven when the earth goes up in the flames of nuclear holocaust – the American Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister have given us “deconfliction,” a new word coinage of uncertain intent conjured up to explain a hastily drafted policy.

However what is all too clear is that the two top foreign policy officials of the world’s greatest military powers felt the situation in Syria is so serious that taking measures to prevent an accidental conflict between their countries cannot be postponed or confused by employing provocative language, or inciting tensions with jingoistic posturing.  Hence when they called for an immediate meeting of Russian and American military commanders in Syria, to work out the details of a strategy to implement the newly minted policy of “deconfliction,” I let out a sigh of relief.   I view this move as evidence that the Obama Administration has finally accepted reality in Syria.

However anyone who watched President Vladimir Putin of Russia on CBS’ Sixty Minutes last Sunday heard him present a coherent policy on Syria that recognizes the political and religious conflicts in the region – which are often the same thing – and explicate the dire consequences of following the ill-conceived, unrealistic, policy of the American government.  Putin correctly recognized that the very existence of ISIS is the result of the epic failures of past US decisions in the Middle East – like the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Sadam Hussein.  And he astutely warns that present US policy based on the overthrow of the Assad regime will lead to an even worse disaster.

Vladimir Putin interviewed by Charlie Rose

Putin’s policy is to support the existing Syrian government against the insurgent forces because they are controlled by Islamic Jihadists, many of whom support ISIS, the dreaded enemy that both the US and Russia have vowed to wipe out. And while he exempts the “Free Syrian Army” from the “terrorist” list he does not know how many Jihadist are within their ranks ut would support negotiations between them and the Syrian government once the Jihadist have been defeated. The Russian President’s analysis on Sixty Minutes was cogent and fully takes the facts on the ground into consideration.  The most important fact is that everywhere strong secular leaders have been overthrown the Islamic forces come to power because there is no countervailing force to resist them.   Arming these anti-government insurgents is clearly folly because the arms inevitably end up in the hands of the Jihadists.  Hence this cure is demonstrably worse than the disease.

The most striking revelation provided by Putin’s interview is that the Russians have clearly defined objectives in Syria: shoring up the Assad government while assisting in the fight against the anti-government insurgents.  By comparison the US has no clear policy and thus our strategy is in disarray.  The US is committed to the overthrow of the Assad government but has no idea who will replace it.  Calls from the Republican right to arm some factions demonstrates that they have learned nothing from our recent history in the region.

Virtually all of the arms that were used against American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq were manufactured and delivered to the region by the US government.  That is the plain fact of the matter.  It goes without saying – but I must say it so that my remarks will not be seized upon by conspiracy theorist and add to the confusion – when the US armed these insurgent groups they considered them allies against Communist influence in the region.  Some clueless policy wonks came up with the silly idea that because Americans were Christians, “People of the Book” and “Children of Abraham” like them this gave us a leg up over the communists with the Islamic fundamentalist.

They took our weapons, killed the Marxists, then turned them against us, our clients like the Saudi Royal family, the Egyptian government and their religious rivals like the Shia..  The result is the Taliban, al Qaeda, Al Nusra, ISIS, and only Allah seems to know what’s next.  Hence to arm ANY faction in Syria would be criminal folly that will only add to the tragic waste of American blood and treasure in the region.  And unless the US and Russian governments can coordinate their military efforts in Syria the result could be make the conflict with ISIS look like a play pen fight.  And as of this writing the principle of “deconfliction” appears to be the best way out of this perilous imbroglio.

Joining forces with Russia and Iran is without a doubt the best approach to defeating ISIS. Alas, when we hear the howls rising from Congress, driven by the demands of the Israel Lobby, the major influence in shaping US policy in the region, there is little likelihood that such a sensible policy will be pursued.   If the Republican right considers cutting deals with President Obama to govern the US as a betrayal of their constituents, they will surely view any alliance the President makes with Russia and Iran an act of treason! And it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they attempted to impeach him for it!  After all, some have called for his impeachment for exercising his executive authority to foil Republican attempts to prevent him from governing effectively.

In this sense President Putin is far better positioned to play an effective role in the war against ISIS than President Obama, who is reduced by a Congress controlled by the Grand Obstructionist Party to spouting pious platitudes about the oppressiveness of the Assad regime even as we remain close allies with the Saudi Royal family – a murderous desert monarchy that promotes medieval religious practices enforced by modern police state tactics, again employing weapons supplied by the US.

I know this analysis will sound distasteful to many Americans – especially the avowed “American Exceptionalists” in the Republican Party.  But these are grave matters that involve the survival of modern civilization and even life itself on this planet. Hence it is both a sin and a shame to sacrifice honest analysis for self-serving fables; to reject truth in favor of national pride.  It is axiomatic that the first casualty of war is truth.  However we are not at war yet…at least not a hot one that involves the use of armed forces. And all parties must do everything in their power to keep the peace….because any military conflict between tihe US and Russia will involve NATO and the Russians will be forced to go on  nuclear alert and that could lead to doomsday!

With American and Russian War Planes firing Missiles
World War III could accidently break out in Syria!

It is precisely because the present situation in Syrian, where American and Russian forces are operating in a theater of war, is so dangerous that a policy of de-confliction is imperative.  We need to emphasize the objectives we hold in common and compromise where we disagree.  This is no picayune task, but failure to resolve the antagonisms between the US, Russia and Iran in Syria represents a clear and present danger to all mankind.


Watch President Putin on Sixty Minutes 
Watch Secretary Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov

 Magic Mike: Nightmare in Steel City?

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , on October 1, 2015 by playthell

Michael Vick II

Opponents beware!

The Third Resurrection of Michael Vick

Although I don’t wish Big Ben Roethlisberger any harm and hope he completely recovers in a month or so, I’d be lying if I said that I am not overjoyed that Michael Vick will be starting at quarterback for the Pittsburg Steelers. While some will regard my position as amoral or morally ambiguous at best, my attitude is easy enough to understand.  I am a dyed in the wool football fan, down with and can’t quit it.

It’s as simple as that!  And if you like football, Michael Vick at his best is the greatest show on earth!   That’s why it was a drag when the season was about to start and Vick was still sitting at home with no hope of ever leading another team in the NFL.  But Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Steelers and the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, is a longtime Vick fan and convinced management to sign him as a backup to Big Ben.

Since Vick’s signing there has been a lot of invective leveled at him by white dog lovers because of his past history of dogfighting, in which loser dogs who couldn’t compete were put to death.  Yet once a dog has been trained to fight it it would be irresponsible to allow them to roam the streets where they will attack other dogs and their masters too should they attempt to intervene.  And one of the world’s most prominent animal Rights advocates Henry Spira, Coordinator of Animal Rights International, has pointed out the glaring hypocricy of many in the movement:

Looking at the universe of animal suffering in America today, we see pain dominated by the more than eight billion farm animals, who suffer roughly 95% of all animal misery…. Let’s get out of the past and quit ignoring the vast majority of animal suffering.”

According to Mr. Spira’s argument anybody who eats meat is an animal abuser…hence only Vegans are without sin!  Yet to hear the pooch huggers talk Mike Vick is the most depraved person on earth; although most of them are not only guilty of animal crulety according to Animal Rights International, but many of these same people  sympathize or empathize with the Cracker cops that murder unarmed black men!

Some even sympathize with racist asshole murderers like George Zimmerman.  Yet Mike Vick must be a permanent pariah scorned by respectable society because he treated a dog like a dog?  These Crackers are not only racist but crazy!  And I, for one, am tired of hearing about it; especially from a group of people who have yet to join a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration.

To those who scream that the Pittsburg franchise should not have hired him – even after suffering public disgrace, millions of dollars lost at the peak of his career from incarceration, and never reaching his full potential as a player who was on track to win a Superbowl because of it – I say fuck tha pooches; fuck yhall, and on with football!  My contempt for these holier-than-thou crazies, the sob squad that hang around the dog pounds, is exacerbated by the fact that they act as if the quarterback that Vick is replacing is a modern day saint….or like Caesar’s wife, pure as the driven snow.

That’s how they are talking, one need only look at the comments on the webpages of the Pittsburg media. Yet it is a matter of public record that Big Ben has been accused of sexual assault by at least two women!  And although he beat both cases the women insists that they are telling the truth.  I have repeatedly argued that the feminist demand that we “always believe women” is at best dangerous nonsense, since everybody is entitled to the presumption of innocence before the law until somebody proves in court that they have committed a crime, I nevertheless find it curious that white females who make up the majority of Animal Rights astivists are willing to give Big Ben the benefit of doubt – i.e. the White Boy Pass – while refusing to cut Vick any slack even after he has paid dearly for his acts.

In other words Big Ben remains squeaky clean despite the allegations of rape, but they just can’t stop throwing stink on Vick’s good name.  Given the notorious history of racist double standards employed by Euro-Americans in their relations with Afro-Americans – a centuries old tradition that lingers with us today – any reasonable person must wonder if the fact that Big Ben is blond with pale alabaster skin and Vick is very black plays any role in defining the attitudes of white fans regarding the two quarterbacks.  After all, white Pittsburg fans once destroyed the career of a gifted black quarterback – “Jefferson St.” Joe Gilliam – just because they preferred a blond haired player.  The great Terry Bradshaw, who is the white quarterback in question, has repeatedly said on television “I was handed the job; I didn’t win it.”

Bradshaw said when he saw Gilliam he wanted to be traded because he was the best that Bradshaw had ever seen.  Check out Bradshaw’s tribute when Gilliam died.  He also said in an interview with Maury Z. Levy in Playboy magazine six years later: “Joe Gilliam had a phenomenal preseason; he won the starting job and I lost it.” This is why as annoying as the self-righteous blather about the departed pooches is, the incessant commentary from empty headed white fans who regard themselves as football experts – even if the are working a job they despise rather than as highly paid General Managers of a football franchise – disparaging Vick’s skills as a quarterback is an even bigger pain in the ass.

I see some of those old feelings popping up in the assessment of Vick by hysterical white fans who are running around like Chicken Little crying that the sky is about to fall because Big Ben went down and is lost to injury for five or six weeks according to some estimates.  It was the same kind of reaction that wrecked Gilliam’s NFL career and ruined his life, despite the fact that he led Pittsburg to a 30-0 victory over the Baltimore franchise before being benched in favor of Bradshaw by fan demand.  Vick will also be facing the Buffalo team on Thursday night; let’s hope he does as well in the game as Gilliam and fare better than him from the salutory results.

Jefferson St. Joe Gilliam
Joe Gilliam- Steelr Quarterback
The first black Steeler starting Quarterback

I’m taking a wait and see attitude.  But while I think those who expect to see that old black magic that Vick weaved so well, and put all who witnessed it under his spell, will be disappointed, I also believe that at his best Vick was so much better than everybody else that even if his skills are diminished he will still be as competitive as any quarterback in the league.  And if Vick is healthy enough to play his best he is going to give defensive coordinators and players nightmares!

Vick is unquestionably one of the most gifted athletes to ever play the quarterback position and he demonstrated this on every level:  from high school to the Pros.  He is one of the fastest players in the league, a quarterback that can match future first ballot Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss’ 4.25 time in the 40 yard dash, the basic measure of football speed.  He is smart, elusive and has the human equivalent of a high powered rifle for a throwing arm.  The first thing white fans do when they want to disparage a black quarterback is the say that he can run but can’t throw.  Back in the day they would just switch these great athletes to running back, defensive back, or wide receiver- who, by the way, are the best athletes on the field.

As the desire to win triumphed over racism General Managers started trying to get the best athletes that could help them win – in fact their jobs depended on building a winning team – so the black quarterbacks finally got their shot.  And they are changing the game with their dual threat play; equally dangerous throwing or running.  Michael Vick is the quintessential dual threat quarterback, and two of the most dangerous young dual threat quarterbacks starting in the league today – Tyrod Taylor and Russell Wilson – are from his state and watched Vick play during their formative years.  Tyrod actually was mentored by Vick when he first came into the League. And while he has a style of his own, Stevie Wonder can see that it is in the same tradition of Vick.  However the same can be said of Wilson.

It’s got to be something about that Virginia area – great sports programs in the schools I suspect – that enables them to consistently produce great athletes.  For instance, Allen Iverson, a sure shot Hall of Fame basketball player, was also a great dual threat quarterback in high-school and led his high-school team to State Championships in basketball and football; the only athlete to ever accomplish such a feat.  So Michael Vick did not suddenly appear from nowhere, bursting into the world like the goddess Athena from the forehead of Zeus, he represents the grand athletic tradition of his community.

I have not burdened the reader with a lot of talk about statistics, because the objectives of this essay are to address some of the negativity that dogs this superb athlete – who from all the available evidence is a good husband, father and all around solid citizen – the worst that can be said of him is that he treated some dogs badly.  I hope that is the worst that can be said of me after I have danced and joined the ancestors.   I thank the Gods of my fathers fathers that I am not George Bush or Dirty Dick Cheney, who has the blood of a million innocents on their hands!

I also intend this essay as an introduction to the video tapes of Vicks performance from high-school, college at Virginia Tech, and the professional ranks.  Here one can see Vick in action and even hear from his high-school coach about the early revelations of his superb gifts as a runner and passer.  I still expect to see some version of this from Michael Vick in his fourth incarnation and third resurrection with the talent laden, well coached, Pittsburg Steelers.  I can hardly wait for Vick to silence his critics!  Now he’s got to play the game.

Magic Mike at Work!


Vick was the most exciting quarterback in college football at Virginia Tech
He was the same in the Pros!


 First Incarnation at the Atlanta Falcons
First Resurrection with the Philadelphia Eagles

Michael+Vick+Houston+Texans II

After going to the dogs he soared with the Eagles and made All-Pro again!
Second Resurrection


A backup with the New York Jets; everyody thought he was through
Third Resurrection

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Michael Vick (2) passes against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of a preseason NFL football game on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

He’s Baaaaaaack!
And he is starting for the Pittsburg Steelers in a Marquee Matchup


For video of Mike Vick in Action see the following:
Michael Vicks Highlights
The Great Comeback: Eagles vs. Giants
College Highlights
Mike Vick: Sports Science
(This video employs Sports Science to demonstrate why Vick is so great!”)

US Employing Wrong Strategy Against ISIS

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Uncategorized with tags , , on September 6, 2015 by playthell
ISIS Leader Caliph Ibrahim: The Sword of Allah

On Repeating the Mistakes of History

American foreign policy and diplomacy seems to have lost its way. While we spend thousands of hours in league with other nations negotiating a treaty to prevent Iran from acquiring a single primitive atomic bomb – which the US Senate is threatening to reject – a US led NATO is engaging in activities in Eastern Europe that could accidently lead to a nuclear war that would destroy all life on this planet in an hour!  And our search for an effective strategy against ISIS, a clear and present menace to much of the world, has proved an exercise in futility characterized by a series of fool’s errands alas.  In fact, all the evidence suggests that US policy makers have learned nothing from the disastrous adventure in Iraq under George Bush.

While there are myriad lessons to be learned from that catastrophe, I believe the most important is to understand that the US invasion of Iraq as a response to Al Qaeda, the perpetrator of the 9/11 attack on the US, was a cold and cynical deception.   It was clear to all serious students of politics in the Islamic world that Iraq had no relationship to al Qaeda; yet Dirty Dick Cheney, Donny Rumsfeld and their henchmen among the policy wonks like Dr. Paul Wolfowitz argued that their objective was to prevent Al Qaeda from obtaining weapons of mass destruction.  Hence these incompetent ideologues invaded Iraq, when subsequent events have shown that the wisest course of action for US policy would have been to form a military alliance with Sadam Hussein against Osama bin Ladin.  This would have been a piece of cake!

In Sadam we would have found a wise, willing and ruthless ally; exactly what we needed to defeat the Jihadists in al Qaeda.  He was wise because no one had been more effective in suppressing Muslim fundamentalist militants i.e. “Jihadists” than the secular military strongmen of the Islamic world.   Abdel Gamel Nasser of Egypt, and his successors Anwar Sadat (who was assassinated by a Muslim fanatic) and Honsi  Mubarak.  Mummar Quadafi of Lybia; General Musharif in Pakistan, and Sadam Hussein in Iraq were all cut from the same mold as anti-Jihadist strongmen.

Sadam and al Qaeda were natural enemies because according to the theology of al Qaeda all Arab heads of secular states are apostates.  And the penalty for apostasy is death!    The only legitimate governments are those based on Sharia Law in their view.  Hence if al Qaeda came to power in Iraq Sadam was a dead man. Thus it was either madness, or a grand deception, guided by the advice of right-wing Republican policy wonks in The Project for a New American Century, that led George Bush to invade Iraq in response to an attack by Jihadists from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, America’s closest allies in the Middle-East.  (See: “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank” on this blog)  It would be like us getting attacked by Canadian terrorists and invading Mexico in retaliation.  As silly as it sounds, the decision to invade Iraq was not a jot or tittle smarter.

Now we are facing a far more deadly Jihadist enemy that al Qaeda, The Islamic State of Iraq, Syria and the Levant aka ISIL or ISIS.  Whereas al Qaeda is a stateless organization consisting of loosely coordinated cells spread around the world that can be activated to carry out clandestine surprise attacks, ISIL is an actual 21st century Islamic Caliphate with a government structure that is divided into civilian and military departments, a tax collection system and a sizable territorial base that is divided into provinces.  But most of all it is a base for revolutionary Islamic forces who ae pledged to cleanse the Islamic world of apostates and then spread the law of Muhammad to the entire world.

Ready to die for Islam…..
ISIS Militants II
And Kill Too!

ISIS Burns Pilot

Even Committ Mass Murders….

ISIS Mass Killings

In the Name of God!

As with al Qaeda, ISIS is first of all concerned with its enemies in the Muslim world, those who refuse to accept their version of Islam as the one true doctrine.  The question of what sacred edicts and scripture actually mean in the real world has been the cause of much bloodshed throughout history – especially among the Semitic monotheists i.e. Christians, Muslims and Jews – but with ISIS it has become a matter of life and death as it was in the medieval world.  And to make matters even more horrifying they have greatly expanded the definition as to which acts qualify as apostasy.

Originally apostasy had to do with denying the divine mission of the Prophet Muhammad or rejecting his teachings, but under ISIS’s theology it can range from selling alcohol and shaving your beard, to voting for a Muslim candidate in an election and being s Shite.  All Shiites are considered Apostates because they innovated on the original teachings of the prophets such as praying at the gravesides of departed Imams, and the public self-flagellation rituals that are central to Shiite religious practice.  For these eighteen hundred year old theological disputes Caliph Ibrahim, the absolute ruler of ISIS who holds a PhD in Sharia Law, thinks all Shiites should be put to the sword.  Hence it is perfectly acceptable to blow up their Mosques and murder them where the practice their apostasy!

Who could make better allies against ISIS than Iran: the greatest nation of Shiites in the world?  Try as I might I can conjure no rival to the Shiite Persians as allies against the Sunni Jihadists.   An August 27 article by Rick Francona – a former air-force intelligence officer and CIA operative stationed in Iraq during the Iraqi invasion of Iran, who now works as a military analyst for CNN – titled “Is your Government lying to you about ISIS?” supplies further evidence in support of my position.  After questioning “the rosy portrayal” of American successes against ISIS forces “coming out of the pentagon,” assuring us that ISIS forces are on the defensive, Col Francona tells us:

I remember the reports of the “success” of the Iraqi Army in ejecting ISIS from the city of Tikrit, when most of the actual fighting was done by Iranian-trained and led Shi’a militias. As the Pentagon assured us that ISIS was now contained, the Islamists mounted a successful assault on the city of al-Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province, located on the Euphrates River just 65 miles from Baghdad – all the while under attack from the air. This hardly fits the definition of ‘on the defensive’”

From all observable signs and measurable activities the US is not winning the war against ISIS; they are growing more powerful as I write alas.  And the Republicans are sure to attempt to block any workable strategy.  They are to blinded by ideology, racism and Iranophobia that they propose absurd self-defeating policies and oppose strategies that could lead to success.  It would be crazy to arm the so-called “Free Syrian Army” because if we employ history as our guide it is easy to predict that those arms will end up in the hands of ISIS.

However if victory is the goal of US policy against ISIS an alliance with Iran will insure it!  President Obama’s looming success on the nuclear treaty with Iran will avert the probability of war just now,  but the Republican’s show no signs of concede defeat on Iran policy; the Coker-Cardin bill , which attempts to bar President Obama from waiving the sanctions that were imposed by Congress is their latest effort.  But because this legislation, pretentiously titled “the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015,” would violate the terms of the treaty, it has no real chance of becoming law unless the Republicans hold the Congress and elect a Republican president in 2016.

However, I believe that running on a platform of repealing the treaty and starting a war with Iran may help win the Republican primary, it will prove a milestone around the necks of Republican candidates that could well sink the Grand Obstructionist Party in the general election.  And that would be a good thing for America….and the world.


Playthell G. Benjamin

On the Road in Cali

September 6, 2015

A Pompous, Duplicitous, Souless, SCHMUCK!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On Israel, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on August 13, 2015 by playthell
A Phony Windbag for Sale
 Chucky C shows his True Colors

Oy Vey!  How could I have been so wrong about a politician; especially one from New York City that I have been watching for years?  However in my defense I should point out that “watching” a public figure is not the same thing as covering them.  I have never covered Schumer during the years when I was an active member of the New York media.  There just always seemed to be more interesting subjects that commanded my time and attention.

However he is such a ubiquitous figure on the Big Apple political scene you can’t miss noticing him….kinda like the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge.  But I have always considered him to be a progressive New York Democrat, a champion of liberal policies cut from the same mold as Congressman Andrew Weiner – whose brilliant career as an uncompromising liberal progressive voice was abruptly ended because he couldn’t keep his pecker in his pants; alas Weiner flashed his weenie on the internet and Shazaam damn he was gone!

Although given the stranglehold pro-Israeli Jews have on New york politics, there is no guarantee that Weiner would have behaved any differently were he in the Senate.  Yet as things stand Schmuck Schumer’s sin is far worse than Weiner’s – who only engaged in “safe sex” from a distance, as I argued in my feeble defense of the flasher Congressman from Brooklyn – for Chucky has royally screwed us all.

When he rejected the arduously and creatively negotiated Iran nuclear deal, a great model of diplomatic acumen, he callously broke his dick off in us and we will suffer from this dastardly deed for many moons.  Furthermore, pompous Putz that he is, he had the unmitigated gall to try and play us for fools….to pile insult upon injury, when he tells us that his position on the deal is “a matter of conscience.”

What does he take us for anyway?  We are not the clueless untutored mob that call themselves the “Republican base” and dominate the presidential electoral process in the Grand Obstructionist Party; forcing even reasonably intelligent pretenders to the presidency to say embarrassingly stupid things.  We are New Yorkers Dog!  We are a different breed of animal from those “low information” churls.

The plain truth is that Schumer’s rejection of the Iran treaty is one of the most brazen, unprincipled and shameful acts of political opportunism I have ever witnessed in all my years of observing serious political actors on the stage of history.  What Schumer has tried to camouflage as an “act of conscience,” is in reality a shameless surrender to the demands of the Israel Lobby and its activist arm AIPAC: American Israel Political Action Committee, who is waging a relentless struggle to kill the deal.

Hence the question that begs to be asked of Senator Schumer is just what is he agonizing over, what are the issues at stake that has so deeply touched his moral core?  To listen to the Senator’s public expressions of angst one is not certain as to the source of his suffering.  Is it fear for the security of Israel, the USA? Or is there nothing more important at stake than salvaging his political career….a courser commentator indifferent to the imperatives good manners and unencumbered by the niceties of language, might just say that old Schmucky Chucky is just covering his ass!

Yet, as is characteristic of pompous poseurs driven by vanity, blind ambition and addiction to power, the Senator attempts to disguise his malignant motives with pious self-serving rhetoric.  However we are fortunate to be living in a nation with a free press, which means that reporters and pundits can say what they want.

Thus even in a city where it is dangerous to disagree with the aims of AIPAC, risking a possible career ending censure from Abe The Inquisitor over at the ADL, ala the great Helen Thomas, we sometimes get pearls of wisdom from thoughtful observers that can be employed in the service of an elusive truth that blind supporters of Israel wish to obfuscate.  They have often tried,  been often denied, but they are certainly willing to be tried again!   However Tom Freedman, the Three times Pulitzer Prize winning Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times wrote a very revealing column titled “If I Were An Israeli…”

Freedman poses his argument by viewing the deal through the eyes of three Israeli’s of different status and responsibility: a grocer, a general and the Prime Minister.  “If I were a grocer just following the deal on the radio,” says Freedman, “I’d hate it for enshrining Iran’s right to enrich uranium…If I were an Israeli general, I’d share my grocer’s skepticism, but end up somewhere else (as many Israeli military officers have).  I’d start by recalling what the Israeli statesman Abba Eban used to say when Israeli hawks would argue against taking risks for peace with the Palestinians, that Israel is not ‘a disarmed Costa Rica.’”  Freedman candidly points out a reality that the US and Israeli governments have gone to uncanny lengths to deny in order to maintain the dangerous fiction that the Middle East is a nuclear free zone, arguing that Israel “not only possesses some 100 to 200 nuclear weapons, it also can deliver them to Iran by plane, submarine and long range rocket.”  Even if we take the lowest estimate of 100 the Israeli arsenal would have 40 more nuclear weapons than Great Britain!

Freedman makes yet another point that Israel’s Islamic enemies understand well but is ignored by its all powerful ally the USA.  “Israel plays, when it has to, by what I’ve called ‘Hama rules’ –war without mercy.  The Israeli army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets, but it has demonstrated in both Lebanon and Gaza that it will not be deterred by the threat of civilian Arab casualties when Hezbollah and or Hamas launches its rockets from civilian areas.”

Freedman makes no attempt to disguise the ugly realities of this policy: “It is not pretty, but this is not Scandinavia.  The Jewish state has survived in an Arab Muslim sea because its neighbors know that for all its western mores it will not be out-crazied.  It will play by local rules.  Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah know this, which is why Israel’s generals know they possess significant deterrence against an Iranian bomb.” Given the great superiority of Israeli military might, and its demonstrated willingness to deploy it without restraint, it would take a collective fit of madness among Iran’s political and military leaders in order for them to attack Israel…a death wish.

Thus those who, like Senator Schumer, posit an Iranian attack on Israel as a real threat that should determine America’s posture toward the nuclear treaty negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry at the behest of President Obama, are either ignoramuses or charlatans cavalierly playing Russian roulette with the fate of Middle East peoples.

As I have argued repeatedly: There is no evidence that the leaders of Iran are any more willing to commit national suicide than any other nation on earth.  Deterrence works, as is demonstrated by the fact that nation’s with huge nuclear arsenals have been restrained from using them by the knowledge that it would result in the nuclear obliteration of their nation.

This has held true for Russia, China, North Korea and even Pakistan, whose nuclear weapon was developed under the reign of General Muhammad Zia, who called it “the Islamic Bomb” and whose nuclear scientists have more than a few Muslim fanatics in its ranks.  Tom Freedman shares my view of the Iranian leadership’s disinclination to commit national suicide. “Iran’s ayatollahs have long demonstrated they are not suicidal. As the Israeli strategists Shai Feldman and Ariel Levite wrote recently in National Interests : It is noteworthy that during its noteworthy that during its thirty six year history the Islamic Public of Iran never gambled its survival as Iraq Saddam Hussein did three times.”

As for of Bibi Netanyahu’s attempts to kill the deal by getting the US Senate to vote against ratification-  an incredibly hubristic act – thereby checking the power of President Obama to carry out his constitutional responsibility to conduct US foreign policy, Freedman suggests an alternative strategy.    “I’d recognize that that if my lobbyist in Washington actually succeeded in getting Congress to scrap this deal, the result wouldn’t be a better deal. It would be no deal, so Iran would remain three months from a bomb – and with no intrusive inspectors, with collapsing sanctions and Israel, not Iran, diplomatically isolated. So rather than fighting with President Obama, as prime minister I’d be telling him Israel will support this deal but it wants the US to increase what really matters – its deterrence capability….”  Freedman goes on to suggest measures to accomplish this that strikes this writer as silly and redundant.

First of all, I consider the entire fuss about the consequences of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon much ado about nothing.  Should the Iranians get such a weapon they will pose no great danger to anyone because it will become part of Iran’s defensive arsenal not a weapon of aggression which, as we have already established, would be an act of national suicide. Secondly this charade around Iran is taking our attention away from dealing with the real nuclear threat to our existence – indeed the existence of all life on earth – is the creeping threat of an outbreak of war between NATO forces in Eastern Europe and Russia!

In my view the only real explanation for American hysteria about an Iranian bomb is the desire of Israel to maintain its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, and to a lesser degree the fears of the medieval, corrupt, anti—democratic, Sunni monarchy Saudi Arabia.  Neither objective even comes close to justifying the war that will inevitably result from the scrapping of this nuclear deal with Iran should the Senate reject it, a war that will make the Iraq invasion look like a dress rehearsal for the real drama.

In view of the facts revealed in Mr. Freedman’s erudite and insightful commentary, and the additional points I have elaborated on, the thoughtful observer is forced to ask:” How is it that Mr. Freedman, a mere newspaper columnist, or an independent public intellectual like this writer, can understand these critical questions so much better than Senator Schumer; especially when we can only commentate while the Senator will deliberate…casting a vote that will affect the course of these historic events.

Since Schumer is not, by any objective measure, a fool or ignoramus, his actions suggest that he is a callous charlatan who places his political survival above any sense of a greater duty to support what is best for the people of Israel and America.  Are we to believe that Senator Schumer, a Harvard Law graduate with a well trained staff to brief him on important matters, does not understand the critical points Freedman so adroitly argues in this  Commentary.

Despite the denigration of a Harvard Law education by the brazen buffoonery of Senator Ted Cruz – who sometimes reminds me of the insane in the brain 20th century Democratic Senator Joseph McCarthy, and at other times Daffy Duck alas –we still have a right to expect Harvard Law grads to be armed with basic information about critical issues – not present us with transparently bogus moralizing cynically contrived to confuse the issue…issues of life and death.

I find this kind of cold blooded amoral political calculous beyond despicable!   It is so odious that I could find no words of invective, even employing the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare, powerful enough to fully express my contempt for his scurrilous decision!  This is why I have expended no effort in addressing Schumer’s specific complaints against the deal; I regard them as nothing more than a transparent attempt to justify a foregone conclusion that he knows in his heart and mind to be false.

Many progressive who have supported  Senator Schumer in the past are now running away from him as if he was diagnosed with Ebola.  People who have raised millions of dollars for him such as, whose 8 million members have pledged not to give him another nickel!   And I shall enthusiastically follow their lead!  Schmuck Schumer has permanently torn his ass with me…I wouldn’t vote for Chucky again even if the office up for grabs was village dog catcher!  It is high time that we support real progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders, and bid the homo sapien invertebrates that would try and confuse us by advertising cowardice as virtue,  adieu.

 Sneaky Rascal: Trying to hide his real motives!
Chuck Schumer
But we see you for what you really are!


  Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York 
August 13, 2015


A Brave New World!

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

Are Killer Robots with Artificial Intelligence a Good Idea?

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this terse but profoundly troubling letter the scientists warn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A vision of the future?

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

If robots could Think….



Double click to view scientific docuentary on Killer Robots


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

Geeks in the Hood!

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

Shamiek Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Geek Squad Rocks tha House
Their songs were innovative and musically demanding

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

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

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

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

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

The Intrepid Bikers
Adroitly navigating the pitfalls of da hood

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

That Girl

Zoe Kravitz

Zoe Kravitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Click to see preview (cast Interview)
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
July, 2, 2015

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 154 other followers