Archive for June, 2010

The Amazing Ramon!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , on June 29, 2010 by playthell

 Beguiling the crowd with his conjurations


Magic Moments In Central Park

    On warm summer days Central Park becomes a wondrous place. It is first and foremost what its creator, Frederick Law Olmstead, wanted it to be: a beautiful arboretum where people from all backgrounds could meet on common ground. Its reputation as one of the world’s great public spaces is well deserved.  Aside from its great physical beauty, its location in the middle of Manhattan makes it easily accessible, and the fame that attends its name makes it a magnet for tourists from all over the world. Hence Central Park is an excellent venue for open air theater of all kinds and performers flock to its hills, meadows and walkways to showcase their acts for monetary donations from the spectators.

       However in a city where world class performances can be seen in the subway tunnels, in order to attract an audience in Central Park the artist must be good at their craft.  I was out in the Park on Father’s Day on my way to meet my daughter Makeda at a smoking concert in the Summer Fest series featuring bands from Haiti and Mali, both part of the World Music scene.  Although I was racing against the clock to be there when the first band hit, I stumbled upon a magic man, and got so carried away watching the fantastic feats performed by Ramon that I missed the first band altogether.

      In order to be a good magician it is not enough to master the tricks, no matter how spectacular.  The great magicians have a complete act, which means it is paced and nuanced to build suspense.  Central to his act is verbal dexterity; the performer must be able to capitivate the audience with his rap and the tricks are like magnificent arias.  Ramon, who was trained by an uncle and began studying the art of magic at six years old, is a master of all aspects of his trade.  His non-stop rap, which is sprinkled with risqué double entendres that titillate the adults, soars over the heads of children, and never becomes vulgar or offensive.  In fact, it is a marvelous display of verbal virtuosity, wit and imagination.

 Slight Of Hand



        Then there are his fantastic feats of magic.  All through his performance, A guy with a heavy Russian accent was standing directly behind me and kept saying “This guy is good…he’s very good.”  When I finally turned around and spoke to him he explained that he was a magician trained in the Moscow Circus – one of the best in the world – and he assured me that he was uniquely qualified to evaluate Ramon’s act.  And then he repeated “He’s very good.”

 Spinning Illusions


       There are various kinds of magicians: grand Illusionists like Doug Henning, escape artists like Harry Houdini and the contemporary master David Blaine, and slight of hand virtuosos like Ramon.  Most magicians can do several kinds of tricks besides their specialty; for instance David Blaine is also an excellent slight of hand artist.   Ramon is also a fire eater but he didn’t devour any flames on this occasion.  However his slight of hand tricks were spell binding, and I am a long time fan of magicians who has attended magician’s conferences to watch them work their splendid alchemy.

 Now You See It Now You Don’t!



 Making Magic With Cigarettes



      Among Ramon’s repertoire of tricks is the ability to make you believe that he can stick a cigar in his ear and spit it out of his mouth, and with a switch of his hand removes the photographer Hakim Mutlaq’s watch from his wrist and deposited a dollar in his hand.  He did it so smoothly it actually took Hakim a minute to figure out what happened.  It became clear when Hakim saw Ramon fastening his watch on his arm.

 The Big Switch


 Smooth As Butter!


 A Moment Of Confusion


Whaaasssup Yo?


 Ramon Displays Hakim’s Watch


  The Crowd Is Flabbergasted!

      Every magic act must have a climax, or perhaps finale is a better word because there are many climaxes in this well designed act.  There’s never a dull moment as he moves along in triple time. However his finale is worth the wait.  The fact that he allows the crowd to come up close and stand in a circle makes Ramon’s act   all the more exciting. 

Drawing facinated spectators into the act


  The sorcerer weaves his spell


The Sorcerer’s  Apprentice pay’s rapt attention



And We Were All Bewitched!



In his improvisational repartee he skillfully builds up the crowd’s expectations with a repeating refrain about the trick that took him five years to learn: placing a quarter in a coke bottle.  Every trick he did led to this one, and when he performed it we were all right up close.  I kept shooting with the camera, trying to capture his every move in order to see if I might discover what he was doing when I ran the pictures as a slide show.  But I am as clueless as before!

 After showing his apprentice The Right Position


         In order to pull this off, Ramon says he must practice several hours a day.  He says that he practices with mirrors all around so that he can see what the spectator sees from all angles. He also points out that although the grand illusionist are more spectacular, what he’s doing is the greater art.  This is because the grand illusionist employ machinery and the control the angels that the audience sees. To be able to pull off these tricks surrounded by spectators determined to catch you in the act is…well….Magic!

 Ramon points to precisely where the quarter will pass



Then He Took Aim and…


Drove the quarter through her hand into the coke bottle!




The trick worked like a charm




Photos and text by:

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 29th, 2010

Why Are We Still Listening to Republicans?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on June 22, 2010 by playthell


 Mitch McConnell: Shameless Shill for the Plutocrats


 Even as Republicans attempt to cast themselves as defenders of the working class their top ranking member of the House Energy Committee, Congressman Joe Barton from Texas, called the President’s magnificent achievement in getting BP to put up a fund of 20 billion dollars to compensate victims of the oil spill,  a “shake down” of  private business by the government. The fact that the fund is open ended, can be increased if the situation requires it, includes a separate fund of 100 million dollars to pay lost wages for oil rig workers during the moratorium on drilling, and will be managed by Ken Feinberg a highly skilled independent arbiter who managed the 9/11 compensation payments failed to impress Mr. Barton

       The Republican Congressman went on to say the agreement was one of the worst tragedies he had witnessed in his life time, and that he was ashamed to live in a country where this could happen.  Then he had the unmitigated gall to apologize to BP executives on national television. These comments horrified the Republican leadership because they well know that it would be disastrous for the GOP to be portrayed as the defenders of BP against the people of the Gulf coast – a Republican stronghold – and Barton was called on the carpet and ordered to go out on the floor and take back everything he had just said. 

    Yet it is important to understand that this was no gaffe on the part of Joe Barton, it is true to the bankrupt ideology of the GOP. It is echoed in the opinions of Minnesota Congressperson Michel Bachman, along with over 100 others in the House Republican Study Committee – who called the compensation deal “A Chicago style shakedown” – and this thinking resounds in the opinions of the prolific pundit Pat Buchanan as well as the mass voice and ideological policeman of the Republican Party: Rush Limbaugh. 

  Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Senator and Republican leader in the Senate, has distanced himself from Congressman Barton’s statement, but he still clings to his anti-government mantra in his attempt to blame the Obama Administration rather than BP for the failure to stop the leak and clean up the mess.  The logical implication of his argument is that if we had just left it to BP everything would be alright.

       I can envision no action that more clearly demonstrates the GOP’s contempt for the working class – even the BP execs were embarrassed by Barton’s apology and quickly disassociated   themselves from it – and it magnifies the paradox of the masses of white southern workers passionately supporting the Republicans.        The media air heads have made much of BP’s Chairman’s declaration that they “care about the little people,” which was a somewhat awkward expression of concern from a man whose native language is Swedish.

  But the real story here is the contempt for “the little people” expressed by the Republicans who think that people facing bankruptcy and struggling to put bread on the table should have to go to court and pursue individual claims against a mammoth international corporation!  The Republicans attempt to play the role as leaders of a populist revolt in league with the “Tea Party” buffoons, whose racist posters routinely attempt to demonize our President, while shilling for corporate interests, are but the latest example of political charlatans employing the race issue to get poor whites to act against their best interests. 

  Ever since the civil rights movement succeeded in destroying the legal racial caste system in the southern states the Republicans have played on white resentment for political advantage. In President Obama – whose election is a recurrent nightmare for this crowd – they have the ultimate racial villain.  And they intend to make the most of it.  Alas, the upshot of all this is that the Grand Obstructionist Party will oppose anything and everything President Obama does – even if the fate of the nation is at stake. Hence all of this begs the question: why is any patriotic American still listening to Republicans?




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 21, 2010


As The President Addressed The Nation

Posted in Playthell on politics on June 19, 2010 by playthell


 The BP Disaster Threatens to Destroy the culture and economy of the Gulf


More Than Birds Died….Many of Our Illusions Died Too

It is enough to listen to the confused and near hysterical ramblings of ordinarily sensible commentators like Chris Matthews, after President Obama’s sober and insightful speech from the Oval office last night addressing the swelling crisis resulting from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, in order to recognize that Americans are beginning to understand that there is no quick fix to this catastrophe and it’s causing wide spread disillusionment and mental instability. Much of what the best and brightest commentators have had to say on the matter amount to little more than hopelessly confused gibberish.

The prescriptions they offer the President often sound as silly and irrelevant as the ranting of air-head bloviators on the Fox Network and WABC talk radio. For instance Chris Matthews, one of the most reasonable and informed voices in the corporate media complained about everything from the President’s mention of his Energy Secretary’s Nobel Prize in physics to the fact that he did not detail the government’s legal strategy for making BP pay for the damage they have caused. And Chris is not alone this kind of nit picking silliness. 

 What their response, and that of much of the public, tells us is that many of the illusions Americans have held about the omnipotence of our technology or the honesty and efficiency of giant corporations are dying a painful death.  This dogma which combines the “can do Yankee” ideology with the myth that technology can exploit nature’s resources without serious concern for the damage it does to our echo-systems, and if disaster strikes science can fix it, has led us into a blind alley from which no one appears to know the way out. And only a hopeless ignoramus or a shameless charlatan could argue that the anti-big government rhetoric of the Republican Party has any thing to offer in solving the critical problems that confront our nation.

In fact, nothing exposes the Grand Obstructionist Party’s  moral bankruptcy, spiritual impoverishment and dreath of imagination like their response to President Obama’s magnificent performance in pursuading BP to set up a twenty Billion dollar escrow account to pay the damages incurred by the people and and repair the environment. Furthermore, he made it clear that this was an open ended financial commitment and the final sum will be determined by the finally tally on the damage. 

Yet aside from these funds the Prez got BP to set up another account  and fund it with a hundred million dollars to cover the salary’s of the workers who will be laid off during the moratorium on off shore oil drilling. Among other things they called this fabulous exercise in diplomacy a: “shake down” of a private business by a “Chicago thug!”  One Republican leader in the house actually apologized to the top executives of BP, those whose decisions to cut cost and risk causing the greatest environmental diasater in American history! 

By their words and deeds they Republicns have revealed their true character.  They are racist shills for the investor class whose policies reveal a deep contempt for the working class and unemployed poor, whicle at the same time employing duplicitous arguments and rhetoric that has hopelessly confused unemployed white workers to the point that some are supporting policies that will destroy you.  Ironically it is the suffering people in states where the Republican Party is strong, whose life and death struggle is being used as a political football by callous servants of the Plutocracy. 


 Playthell Benjamin

June 16, 2010


At The Puerto Rican Day Parade!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays on June 16, 2010 by playthell

 Cover Photo by: Playthell

 Fifth Avenue Becomes Borican Boulevard!


A  Borican Celebration!

Every year near the end of spring, just before the first burst of summer, Puerto Rican New Yorkers turn out on Fifth Avenue for one of the largest and liveliest ethnic parades in the nation.  Actually I believe this celebration has only two rivals: When the Irish takes over Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day and The great West Indian Bacchanal on Eastern Parkway during Labor Day in Brooklyn.  Although it is hard to ascertain which parade is actually the largest, it is commonly agreed that all of them attract over a million people -which, of course, is no picayune achievement.

What do these great ethnic celebrations tell us about America, and why do they happen in New York?  Well, this phenomenon obviously speaks to the poly-ethnic and multi-racial character of the United States – although the dominant political institutions are Anglo-Saxon and its culture Anglo-African – there are other cultural inventories that are shaping the character of contemporary American society. And among the most influential is the Hispanic community.  The Puerto-Ricans along with the Mexicans have the longest tenure in this country. Hence they have well developed American identities: Tex Mex, and California Chicanos out West, and Nuyoricans in the Big Apple.

I cannot imagine New York without the Nuyorican Salsa sound. When I first started coming to the City regularly in the 1960’s one of my favorite things to do was to go out and hear these bands perform.  I had a beautiful Puerto Rican girlfriend who was a dancer, and she introduced me to the conga drums, which I had begun to seriously study.  And since the roots of Salsa is the Afro-Cuban Son, I eventually fell so much in love with the music I married a Cuban woman.  So when I go out on Fifth Avenue to celebrate with my Puerto Rican peeps, it’s straight from the heart. I got nothing but love for these beautiful, soulful, rainbow people.




Photo by: Playthell


It Was An Outpouring Of Love!

 Photo by: Hakim

A Rainbow People Celebrate Their Heritage 


Millions Turned Out


 To Represent On El Cinco!

Photo by: Hakim

They Were All Ages



 And Colors

Photo by: Hakim

The Politicos Were There

 Photo by: Hakim

Adam Clayton Powell III Salutes The Crowd


And Queens Of All Ages

Photo by: Hakim

Waved The Puerto Rican Flag


There Were Spectacular Cars!

Photo by: Hakim


And Fly Bicycles Too!

Photo By: Hakim

 Music Filled The Air!

Photo by: Hakim

Zon Del Barrio



The Great Oreste Rocks The Congas

Photo by: Playthell

Set It Off!


 Sammy Gets Down    

 Photo by: Playthell

 Partying With A Purpose




Aurora Droppin Science and Enlightening the Crowd

Photo by: Playthell


Children Frolicked About






Photo by: Hakim

And Grownups Danced In The Street!



Photo by: Hakim

The Cat Lady Prowled!



Photo by: Playthell

The Cat Lady In Hindsight!


Photo by: Playthell

A Swirl Of Gold!


Photo by: Playthell




Photo by: Playthell

A Dance Of Magic!


Photo by: Playthell

Latina Alchemy!


Photo by: Hakim

Seeing Is Believing

 Photo by: Hakim

I Believe She Can Fly!


Photo by: Playthell

Up, Up and Away!


Photo by: Hakim


There Were Pretty Little Girls


Photo by: Playthell

And Big Beautiful Women!


Photo by: Playthell

 Borican Beauties



Photo by: Hakim

Were Everywhere!


Photo by: Hakim


Salsa Dancing in the Street


Photo by: Hakim

Or Just Struttin Their Stuff!


 Photo by: Hakim

In High Heels and Daisy Dukes!



Luscious Gams


Photo by: Hakim

Bouncing Boobs


Photos by: Hakim

And Jaunting Derrieres


Photo by: Hakim

Photo by: Playthell

 Were Ubiquitous!


These Beautiful Borican Babes


Photo by: Playthell

Proudly Display Their Assets!


Mui Caliente!


Photo by: Playthell

Well, If you’ve Got It…

 A Latin king and his Queen

Photo by: Playthell

Flaunt It!


The Civil Servants Turned Out


 Photo by: Hakim

 While Jesters And Queens


Photo by: Playthell

Floated By



 And In Spite Of The Rains


Photo by: Hakim

 We All Had A Ball!


 Singing In The Rain

 Photo by: Hakim




Photo by: Hakim

 Things Got Mucho Loco!


But Stalwart Men On Spirited Horses



Kept da Thugs In Check!


Photo by: Hakim



 Viva La Musica!


One Of My Favorite Things


Playthell “”El Chocolate Caliente” Benjamin

Harlem, New york

June 16, 2010

* It was a great pleasure to collaborate with Hakim Mutlaq, a fabulous photographer, my  mentor, and  a member of the New Harlem Renissiance photographers.

On Abe Foxman and the Helen Thomas Affair

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , on June 10, 2010 by playthell

  Paleface who speaks with forked tongue


A case of the pot maligning the kettle

Upon hearing of Helen Thomas’ forced retirement after a distinguished career spanning 67 years in journalism, a half century of which was spent as a White house correspondent, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League openly rejoiced.  “…she’s a bigot and should no longer maintain a role as a journalist,” he declared. “There was a permissiveness about the questions she asked. Nobody ever challenged her. She always colored the news — she was always bigoted about Israel. This is better late than never, but it should have happened earlier.”   Although Mr. Foxman likes to present himself as the voice of the Jewish community, the fact is that many thoughtful Jews disagree with his narrow nationalist perspective.

Typical of those Jews who oppose his views is the writer of a letter on the Washington post website on June 7, 2010, regarding the fate of Helen Thomas.

Helen Thomas was forced to retire after making anti-Zionist comments in an interview where she never even uttered the word “Jew” or “Jewish” in that interview.  Only people who are ignorant equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.  Even Nathan Birnbaum, the man credited with coining the word Zionism turned against it in his later years. Together with my grandfather Henri B. van Leeuwen, an Orthodox Jew, they published a newspaper in the Netherlands the late 1930’s called ‘Der Ruf’ which argued like Helen Thomas that European Jews had no right to move to Palestine and displace the Palestinian people who had been there for many generations.  This week I demonstrated with hundreds of other Jews in Los Angeles to protest Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Does that make us all anti-Semitic?  I love and support Helen Thomas. She is my hero and absolutely right! “

Mr. Foxman, who is far from a paragon of objectivity on the question, offered this evaluation of Ms. Thomas’ career and how she acquired the famous “reserved seat” on the front row at White House Press Conferences: “”She got that seat because she was an icon, a trailblazer not because she was brilliant or an objective reporter. I’m glad she’s gone, period. It will be better for everyone not to have a bigoted journalist sitting at press conferences asking the first question.”  Here Foxman is arguing that anyone who expresses an opinion he disagrees with should be silenced: which means he preaches what he practices.

Just ask Jewish scholars and intellectuals who disagree with him like the theologian and prolific author Mark Ellis, or historian and son of holocaust survivor Norm Finklestein, or Marxist historian Lenni Brenner.  And the late Village Voice writer Robert I. Freedman – a brilliant investigative journalist – detailed the machinations of the ADL to silence and destroy the careers of writers and scholars with whom Foxman had disagreements.  It is well worth looking up his articles and reading them, Mr. Freedman died a very young man – in his early forties I think – and he often told me that he was being threatened by shadowy figures who warned him to quit the work he was doing.  Although Mr. Freidman is gone, his wife is very much alive and can testify to the truth of what I am saying.

We also have the disturbing case of Time Magazine columnist Joe Klien, one of the smartest voices at the center of the American political spectrum. A solid reporter and philosophical pragmatist Klien gave a candid critique of the right-wing neo-conservative movement, whose intelligentsia is largely Jewish and strongly pro-Israel, in a 2008 article.  Among other things he said : “a great many Jewish neoconservatives—people like (Sen.) Joe Lieberman and the crowd at Commentary—plumped for this war (in Iraq), and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties.”  He also said that they were prepared to risk “U.S. lives and money … to make the world safe for Israel.”

The fact that Joe Klien is Jewish didn’t insulate him from the charge of anti-Semitism by the Neo-Cons, and Foxman jumped into the imbroglio the day after the magazine hit the stands.  His critique is instructive, and demonstrates the extent to which he is willing to demonize anyone who holds ideas different from his rigid and self-righteous view of the world.  Dredging up the long history of Jewish oppression in Europe, Abe accuses Klien of promoting “age-old anti-Semitic canards about a Jewish conspiracy to control and manipulate government.” Instead of engaging Klien in debate Foxman turned to character assassination.

Although Klein’s argument is demonstrably true, the attack on him became so intense he felt a need to speak out about it and defend his motives while reaffirming his Jewishness.

There is a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who unsuccessfully tried to get Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Saddam Hussein in the 1990s,” he writes “ and then successfully helped provide the intellectual rationale for George Bush to do it in 2003… Happily, these people represent a very small sliver of the Jewish population in this country…I remain proud of my Jewish heritage, a strong supporter of Israel…But I am not willing to grant these ideologues the anonymity they seek…I believe there are a small group of Jewish neoconservatives who are pushing for war with Iran because they believe it is in America’s long-term interests and because they believe Israel’s existence is at stake. They are wrong and recent history tells us they are dangerous. They are also bullies and I’m not going to be intimidated by them.”  

Furthermore, Mr. Foxman’s concerns about bigotry in Ms. Thomas’ case must be regarded as selective outrage given his actions in the past.  For instance, Mr. Foxman had no problem serving as chief apologist for Israel’s shameful policy of cooperation with the Apartheid regime in South Africa –  a racist clique who had been pro-Nazi during World War II – whose official ideology bore such a striking resemblance to Nazism their disagreements were distinctions without a difference.

And it is a matter of record that the ADL under his leadership spied on Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress for South Africa’s fascist Bureau of State Security, an agency with the blood of untold black people on its hands.  Furthermore, an article in the Jewish Daily Forward by Lenoard Fine recounts a meeting of Jewish groups in which Mr. Foxman was confronted by a Rabbi who asked him how he could work with the Reverend John Hagee, a pro-Israel Protestant evangelist, when Hagee had said such bigoted things about Catholics – calling the Catholic Church “The whore of Babylon” for instance – and Abe’s answer was “that’s not a Jewish issue.”  It does not require much imagination to conjure images of the hysterical reponse it would provoke in Mr. Foxman should a Catholic leader say: “I’m tired of hearing about the Nazi’s, it’s not a Catholic issue!”

Abe’s indifference to bigotry against non-Jews also explains why he is passionately criticized  by Jews whose moral concerns  extend beyond the narrow nationalist interests of the Jewish community – of which there are many. Some of them find Mr. Foxman’s morality and his politics abhorrent, just go to the website “Jewcy” and look up the critiques by Jewish writers regarding Mr. Foxman’s reluctance to call the Armenian holocaust “genocide” and his opposition to the US Congress passing legislation recognizing the historical fact that the Turks committed genocide against the Armenians.

Hence while Mr. Foxman fulminates about Iranian President Mahmoud Armidinijad’s skepticism about the German genocide against Jews, he has nothing to say about the entire Turkish nation denying the Armenian holocaust. Since Turkey was the strongest supporter of Israel in the Muslim world – a situation that’s rapidly changing after the recent slaughter of nine of it’s unarmed citizens on a humanitarian mission to Gaza by Israeli commandos – could Foxman’s long time denial of the Armenian holocaust result from the same reasoning that led him into the arms of Big John Hagee?

Hence Abe’s selective morality is motivated by unabashed nationalist objectives; he is more than willing to embrace the most despicable bigots and even fudge the issue of genocide if it serves his interests!  Thus it is altogether fitting and proper to conclude that when it comes to moral principles Mr. Foxman’s allegiance is dictated by expedience.  Although the ADL leader has succeeded in making NOI leader Minister Louis Farrakhan a moral pariah who should be excluded from the public debate, Mr. Farrakhan’s transgressions regarding Jews have been purely rhetorical; he has committed no offenses comparable to the ADL’s collaboration with the fascist South African government, or Foxman’s apologies for Israel’s military cooperation with that murderous anti-black regime.

To say that Foxman has no moral superiority to Minister Farrakhan is to state the obvious!  And the fact that he has been able to make it appear so is a tribute to his vast propaganda machine.  The latest instance of Abe’s moral duplicity can be seen in his silence about the fact that the Rabbi who reported on Ms. Thomas’s statements can been seen on an internet video exposed by Keith Olberman on June 9, 2010 performing a racist skit ridiculing Hispanic people. I await Mr. Foxman’s public denunciation of the Rabbi – or will he decide this is also not of “Jewish interests.”

The Bigoted Rabbi


A Consummate Hypocrite!

 If Mr. Foxman is willing to debate these issues I can easily arrange it live on WBAI radio in New York, and put the entire thing online for the world to hear. But I seriously doubt that he will accept such an invitation, because he knows that the facts I have set forth here are indisputable, and besides, forthright debate with his critics is not really Abe’s style.  Political action and character assassination directed at silencing them is more his kind of thing.  That’s why he shamelessly rejoices at the destruction of Ms. Thomas’ career because she expressed an opinion that he finds offensive.  Whatever happened to protecting unpopular speech, which is the essence of our democracy?

Ms. Thomas is of Lebanese background, and her feelings about the horrid plight of the Palestinians under Israeli domination obviously represent the same type of nationalist sentiment for her kith and kin as Mr. Foxman feels for his.  And it is undeniable that her view is widely held among millions of Muslims around the world.  And let me say that from a Pan-African perspective – which is the black counterpart to Zionism, and even springs from the same intellectual roots in 19th century German universities where pan-Germanic ideas were ubiquitous – Ms. Thomas’ transgressions have been far less odious than Ms. Foxman’s.

Silencing the voice of Ms. Thomas – A journalist who paved the way for women in big time journalism and was so good at her craft that the Association of Professional Journalists, who is far better qualified to evaluate her career than Mr. Foxman, named a major prize in her honor – will not make the explosive Israeli Palestinian problems go away nor make us safer from terrorist attacks.  But it will give added credibility to those argue that the US media is controlled by Zionists – whether armed white christian fascist who routinely refer to the federal government as the ZOG i.e. “Zionist Occupied Government,” or the Islamic Jihadists who are dedicated to our destruction.  And it will also deprive the American people of a relentless watchdog willing to speak truth to power and keep those who rule us in check.  Whether Mr. Foxman understands this or not: That is precisely the role the framers of the US Constitution envisioned for the press!

 Helen Thomas: Venerable journalist


           All women journalist owe a debt to her


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York 

June 10, 2010


A Night at the Brainwash!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , , on June 6, 2010 by playthell

 Hangin Out at Frisco’s Avant Garde Comedy Club


 A Hip Young Chinese Comic


 One does not often get the opportunity to hear Chinese American comics in New York, so it was delightful to hear a couple of really talented Chinese comedians in one night.  I saw their show at the Brainwash, an off beat comedy club in San Francisco, where wisdom weed is freely consumed on the sidewalk café and the comics border on blasphemy and treason in their acts. 

Like all comics, the young Chinese draw from their cultural experiences in creating their material.  But what makes them different from ethnic humorist such as the Jewish Borscht Belt comics, is that they are thoroughly integrated into American society. The Borscht Belt comedians fashioned a tradition that was deeply rooted in inside Jewish Shtick because they were addressing audiences that were not far removed from those who had attended performances of the Yiddish theater. 

Milton Berle in Performance

Anybody who ever saw these comedians perform in the Jewish resorts up in New York’s  Catskill mountains will recognize the dramatic changes in the American Jewish comedic tradition when it crosses over to goyim audiences.  While they used some of the same comedic devices they employed in the Borscht Belt – such as maledicta and one liners – the cultural differences are dramatically different. There is a reason why comedians are always the last group of performers from minority groups to cross over to the main stream audience.

 This is because comedy is an intellectual art and dares to speak about the unspeakable.  If the life’s blood of drama is conflict, the currency of comedy is irreverence and irony.  Hence telling jokes in cross cultural milieu, especially when there are class and race issues involved, is a risky business.  One way of dealing with this is the way Bill Cosby did it: build your act around universal themes.  While there was no doubt that the Cosby Kids were black, it was not the central fact around which their characters existed.  So it was with the Chinese comics in Frisco.  While they made no attempt to obfuscate their Chinese heritage, the situations they address in their comedy speak to what Andre Malraux called “La Condition Humaine.”

 The black comics were more edgy, one talks about how he wants to be a down black thug and race man…but he likes fucking white girls in the back seat of cars in shopping malls and skate boarding!  The other’s humor centers around being a struggling black dude with an attitude.  His humor conjures up the art of Steppin Fetchit and Red Fox.  Thus it is more risky, because it speaks directly to questions of race, class and black anger.  Although at first glance it seems incongruous to speak of Stepin Fetchit and Red fox in the same breath, a closer look will reveal that both traditions can be seen in Walden Jordon’s art.  

Like Stepin Fetchit, he assumes a dramatis persona that would be totally cool in a black club, but becomes problematic – for blacks and whites in the audience – when his act is performed before a racially mixed audience.  And like Red Foxx, he frightens or titillates the whites who suspect that he might just be the real deal: the “bad nigger” who haunts their nightmares.  Red Foxx used to dare white audience not to laugh at his jokes, threatening to lay for them in the ally with his black jack if he lost his gig.  And there were hints of that in Walden Jordon’s act, and like the guy Malcolm X remembers as the hustler “Chicago Red,” Jordon was funny as hell!

Thursday night at the Brainwash comedy Club



Walden Jordon and Renaldo Ricketts After His Act


Like Salesmen Stand Up Comics Must Win Their Audience With their rap

 Stepin Fetchit

A Misunderstood pioneer


 Red Foxx



 Blacks and Asians Have Complex Relations in Frisco


In Fact, They Are Creating A New Race Called “Blasians”


A Classic Blasian Cutie


 Asian Eyes and African-Booty




 Another Blasian Beauty


The Reluctant Gangsta/Race Man


 This Guy Was Hilarious!


Is Something Wrong With Me?

Bemoaning The Fact That He Was Not Molested As A Child!


 Fired Up Off Spirits and Cannabis



The Discerning Audience Demanded Excellence


 Their Love Didn’t Come Easy…


One comic fled from the stage in fright!


 Although Rumored To Be Talented



Some Artist Never Made It To The Mike


 The Master Of Ceremonies


 Was Funny As A Muthafucka Too!




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 6, 2010

  All Photos by: Playthell

* Except for Milton Berle, Stephin Fetchit and Redd Foxx



Michelle…Oh, Well!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , on June 4, 2010 by playthell

 The Knight Troubadour and The First Lady


Sir Paul McCartney Serenades America’s First Lady

It was the stuff fairy tales are made of, and little girls dream about: to be publicly serenaded by a world renowned crooner.  And it is a measure of the extraordinary character of our times that the object of this British knight and world renowned song poet is a beautiful dusky daughter of the South Side of Chi town.  The elegance, intelligence and charm she exudes does not come from nowhere.  She is an exquisite black pearl formed in the crucible of Black America from whence she inheriets her style and beauty and draws her strength.

Although white Americans look at every outstanding Afro-American as a singular phenomenon, an curious orchid among weeds, anybody who has spent any time among the Chicago black bourgeoisie knows that Michelle is the exemplar of a grand tradition.  Every time I visited Chicago over the years I was smitten by some black, brown or beige Chi town beauty.  They are, with no qualification, among the most cultivated and stylish women in the world.  Hence the high style of our first lady is characteristic of the splendid taste and daring attitude of her class.

It seemed altogether fitting that a Knight should sing her praises before the world.  No matter how he came to write “Michelle” it will forever belong to the First Lady.  Alas, like so many popular songs, once the music is removed the lyrics lose much of its power when forced to stand alone.  The lyrics of Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Billy Strayhorn, or James Weldon Johnson are often exceptions to this general trend and retain their poetic power after the melody is silenced.

However Sir Paul’s song does not begin to offer images of sufficient power and poetry to describe the beauty and depth of our first lady.  The emotional power of the song is in its hauntingly beautiful melody, and Sir Paul’s soulful heartfelt performance.  It was a magic moment in a night on which Mr. McCartney was honored with the George Gershwin award for his contribution to popular music.

Whether one is a Beatles fan or not, their music was the background sound to which many of the best and brightest souls of a generation acted out their lives and loves. And thus to have this song that bears her name dedicated to the first lady by the song poet who penned it will surely add to her immortality.  It was a magic and unforgettable moment when Sir Paul confessed that it was his dream to sing his song to our Black  first Lady in the White House, and he begged the President’s indulgence.

Then the haunting melody began softly as a summer morning.   Now  little black girls who witness the musical panegyric to this elegant ebony satin doll will no longer question their beauty, because all previous first ladies literally pale in comparison to Michelle!












Sunshine Smiles

 We Love Your


 Grace and Charm


 We Admire Your

 Elegance Of Style and Manners

We Need Your

Wisdom and Strength


Towering Over Madame Sarkozy: A Supermodel!

You Represent Our Nation So Swell!

My Dear Michelle

No First Lady Ever Wore The Title So Well!


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 4, 2010


An American Dilemma

Posted in On Black Pundits, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , , on June 2, 2010 by playthell


Israeli patrol boat stopping relief ship in International waters


After the blood Bath…what now?

The horrific slaughter of unarmed relief workers in international waters, who were bringing much needed supplies to the besieged Palestinians of Gaza, has the world in an uproar and threatens to become a major foreign policy crisis for President Obama. After killing nine workers and wounding dozens of others on the Mavi Marmara – a Turkish ship that was a part of the “Free Gaza Flotilla” – the Israelis are unrepentant. This has already resulted in the Turkish government calling the Israeli actions “murder by a state,” recalling their ambassador home and canceling a scheduled joint military operation.  Turkey’s actions amount to a diplomatic disaster for Israel, since Turkey has been the Jewish state’s staunchest ally among Islamic states.

Already we can gage the outrage around the world by the swelling protests, which have come from every quarter of the globe. The European Union, which has distinguished citizens including members of parliament on board the relief boats, has roundly condemned the slaughter and is calling for it’s own investigation. The moral and legal issues are clear; all that remains is to establish the facts about what actually happened. 

What we know for sure is that this incident was inspired by the fact that Israel decided to ignore the democratically elected government in GAZA, which is headed by the dreaded HAMAS, and starve the Palestinians into submission through an economic blockade.  The Israeli plan was to make life so difficult under HAMAS’ rule that they Palestinian people would regret their decision to elect HAMAS and throw them out of office.

We Also know that the US has acquiesced in this anti-democratic policy, just as successive American governments – Republicans and Democrats – have turned a blind eye to the fact that the Israeli’s have already amassed a nuclear arsenal, even as we insist on a “nuclear free zone” in the Mid-East and threaten the Iranians who may be approaching the capacity to build one bomb sometime in the future.  And we know that no matter what crimes the Israeli government commits against the Palestinians the US government will either endorse Israeli actions or say nothing.  The Israelis know it too, that’s why so small a state has been able to ignore United Nations condemnations and thumb its nose at the world!

While all this may or may not be good for Israel, the question remains: Is this good for the USA?  This is the question President Obama must now answer. Although this incident would be disastrous for any president at any time, it is very bad news for this President at this time.  Aside from the fact that he is despised by the majority of Israelis – who don’t trust him because they suspect he is pro-Arab – militant Muslims believe he is a Zionist pawn!  Here at home the left wants him to condemn the Israeli slaughter and put this renegade ruling clique in check, but the Republican right will yell “betrayal if he does so. Hence Barack is the object of suspicions and hostilities from all sides.

It is also an unpropitious time for a crisis in the Middle East because the President is already consumed with multiple crises – the massive oil spill in the gulf Of Mexico, widespread structural unemployment and the threat of war on the Korean Peninsula among them. And he is also conducting two wars in Muslim countries who are Israel’s neighbors and supporters of the Palestinian struggle. 

As Israel’s foremost ally and sponsor, the US is automatically drawn into any conflict Israel enters into in the Middle East, and is blamed for any acts of aggression by our client state.  Hence an anxious world wonders how long the tail will continue to wag the dog while waiting for the US to denounce Israel’s actions and take the lead in seeking redress for the injured parties.  But the President says he is weighting the claims and counter claims of all parties in an effort to ascertain the facts. Yet to the rest of the world, this writer included, it appears the Middle East is burning while Barack fiddles.

By any objective analysis of the Israel/Palestinian relationship, and its effect on America’s relations with the Islamic world, it is clearly not in the US interest to swim against the tide of world opinion and give the Israeli government a pass on their decision to slaughter unarmed people on a humanitarian mission to the beleaguered Palestinians. Under any circumstances this would be a bad decision because it exposes American foreign policy as an amoral doctrine based on the concept that “might makes right,” but silent acquiescence would be disastrous for America just now, when the Obama Administration is crowing about their assassination of Shiek Sa’id Al Masri, a hero to the Jihadists who founded Al Qaeda with Osama bin Laden and is said to be third in command. 

Hence slavish US support for the Israel slaughter of innocents on a humanitarian mission to Palestine would be the best recruiting material Al Qaeda could possibly wish for; they couldn’t do better if they wrote the script themselves and spent a billion dollars in advertising! Yet if the President does the right thing for our country it might well insure him a one term presidency due to the power of the Israel Lobby.  This is the fundamental choice President Obama must make: will he stand on principle and protect American interests come what may? or will Barack bend to the pressure of special interests and inspire yet another generation of Jihadists dedicated to destroying America.




Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 2, 2010