Archive for May, 2011

Midnight In Paris: A Flawed Masterpiece!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Film Criticism, Movie Reviews on May 31, 2011 by playthell

 The Eiffel Tower Viewed From Pont Alexandre III Bridge


 A Magical Realist Fable

From the moment I saw the notice that Woody Allen had written and directed a movie set in Paris, in which the central character was captivated by the artistic history of the “City of Lights,” I knew it was going to be a fascinating journey.  With America’s most consistently intelligent, inventive and uniquely visionary filmmaker exploring my second favorite city – New York is in first place – I figured it was a can’t miss proposition.

I was not, as it turns out, altogether accurate in my expectations.  Still, the film has many notable achievements.  Since I have long felt that  Woody Allen’s work has more in common with the European art film – ala Luis Buniel’s “Discreet Charm Of the Bourgeoisie,” Lina Wurtmueler’s “Swept Away,” the films of Frederico Fellini, etc. –  he seemed completely at home exploring Paris.

For these European filmmakers Ideas, character development and artistic photography is preferred to guns, explosions and car chases that dominate the content of American films. Deep explorations of complex human motivation and interactions are privileged over ostentatious exhibitions of the technical capability for creating fantastic illusions that is available to the contemporary filmmaker.

Since these films are so costly to produce their primary objective is not artistic but financial success. This is the reason why some of the most interesting films, moving pictures whose narratives increase our knowledge of the world and enrich us culturally and even spiritually, are confined to the small “art movie houses” like the Angelica.

Visually Midnight In Paris may well be Woody’s most beautiful film; his approach to his subject was like a fine artist painting a pertty woman and is determined to faithfully capture her most alluring features and compelling charms.   Although he was helped by the incredible beauty of the City – no American city can match Paris’ timeless beauty; New Orleans is but a pale imitation – Woody managed to present a unique perspective on a cityscape that we have seen many times before.

The lush photography, much of it shot at night, composes a love poem to this celebrated city…Woody’s adoration is palpable.  If it takes one to know one, I think it fair to say that he is a worshipful admirer of this crowning achievement of French civilization.

The tale revolves around a highly successful Hollywood screenwriter who feels that he has missed his true calling as a novelist, and yearns to leave the cultural desert of “La La Land” to relocate in Paris where he hopes to find the muse that inspired the great artists of post war Paris in the 1920’s.  Especially that fabulous coterie of American expatriates collectively known as “The Lost Generation,” whose cross cultural interactions and exchange of aesthetic ideas with the European avant garde created modern art.  A milieu that one of its most illustrious figures, future Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway, called: “A Movable Feast.”

Wonderfully played by Owen Wilson, the bumbling, self-deprecating, somewhat clueless, yet thoughtful and intelligent young American seeker of wisdom and truth is the kind of role that woody usually plays in his films.  I would hazard the guess that Woody cast Owen in the role because he is too old to play it himself.

However it is clear that age has not eroded the incisive wit, penetrating intelligence and riotous humor of Woody Allen.  Like any imaginative writer who is at all familiar with the fascinating history of this city, the temptation to explore that illustrious legacy is ever present. And he makes the most of it.

By juxtaposing the materialistic obsessions and cultural indifference of our hapless hero’s fiancee and her parents – who are visiting Paris on a business trip – he establishes what many people believe to be the central difference in the values of French and the American civilization: Americans worship commerce and the French revere culture.

Hence in America becoming a billionaire is the pinnacle of achievement, while in France it is the great intellectual or artists that is the height of human aspiration.   He does this not by preaching, but in cleaver telling lines casually dropped like silent but deadly farts.  It is also made clear in the aspirations of the writer and his fiancée.

 Star Crossed Lovers


 Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams were entertaining in the roles

While he has become bored with the sterile conspicuous consumption paid for by writing commercially successful but simple minded Hollywood flicks – and the even more banal rewrite jobs on the scripts of less talented writers – and wants to relocate to Paris and live the bohemian life typical of the engaged artists of the 20’s, his future wife dismisses his dream as dangerous foolishness and aspires to own an even bigger house on posh Malibu Beach.

Woody brings all of the disdain of the cosmopolitan New Yorker who finds life in the US nearly impossible outside of Manhattan – a sentiment shared by this writer – to his characterization of the vulgar materialism and cultural impoverishment of the fiancée and her parents.

Since none of the things that interest the writer also  interest her they soon end up going their own way.  After wandering off and getting lost in the winding streets of Paris, unable to speak the language he ends up sitting on the steps of a building trying to gain his bearings. As the clock strikes midnight a cab filled with champagne drinking revelers suddenly stops and insist that he join their party.

This is the beginning of a series of surreal encounters with ghosts from the past, the mythical figures who populate his fantasies.  They are all there, and in a series of encounters over the next few days he engages in conversations that take us back to that halcyon era when the most influential creative personalities of the age were working out the aesthetics of what we now understand as modernism.

 Cole Porter

A Master Tunesmith

“Music gives resonance to memory” wrote Ralph Ellison, and Woody Allen evidently believes it too. A clarinetist of mediocre talent but longstanding interest in traditional New Orleans Jazz and the great American songbook, he demonstrates the power of music to evoke the ambiance of an era.  No composer’s music captures this era of Gay Parisian life like the witty literate lyrics set to the rhythms and harmonies of jazz and blues based music that characterized the songs of Cole Porter; who was a prominent presence among the band of gifted American expatriates that included the poet T.S. Elliot, Novelist Earnest Hemingway, the abstract painter Man Ray, writer/critic and patron of the arts Gertrude Stein, et al.  All through this unique and clever movie the music of Cole Porter plays in the background, supplying the soundtrack of a unique era.  Along with the excellent costumes and elegant settings we are convincingly taken back in time.

The Americans are joined by an equally gifted cast of Europeans that include the film makers Jean Cocteau and Luis Buniel, painters Degas, Rembrandt, Pablo Picasso, Salvadore Dali and Tolouse Le Trec, the talented dwarf whose paintings of Parisian showgirls and whores continue to fascinate art lovers around the world.  That we encounter him sitting at his table in the Moulin Rouge, where many of his paintings were composed, is a measure of the extent to which Woody Allen has attempted to maintain the authenticity of the era in the telling of his revealing fable about the folly of seeking a return to “Golden Ages” long past.

I shall say no more about the plot, or the lessons it teaches, because then I will have said too much and ruined the experience for those who read this.  Which in my view would be something of a sin and a shame; I will have denied to you gentle reader the exquisite pleasure I experienced in the theater just to demonstrate how clever I am.

It is enough to say that this beautifully achieved film reaches a level of intellectual gravitas that one associates with a well written novel of ideas.  In fact, some of the aesthetic devices Woody Allen employs remind me of the “Magical Realism” of great novelists like the Brazilian Jorge Amado, the Columbian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the Afro-American Ishmael Reed.

In fact, the way Allen moves back and forward in time as if traveling from one room to another, and his use of satire and parody to eviscerate the ideas of his philosophical adversaries, remind me very much of  Reed’s Novel’s “Yellow Back Radio Broke Down, “Flight to Canada” and “Japanese By Spring.”  Although it is rumored abroad that Mel Brooks filched the aesthetic concept for his hit movie “Blazing Saddles” from Reed’s “Yellow Back Radio,” I would not suggest that Woody is guilty of the same practice; although one cannot copyright concepts and all writers plagiarize each other all the time.  At the end of the day however, it is the magnificent city of Paris, with its striking architectural beauty and endless cultural attractions that is the star of the show.

When I visited Paris for the first time to attend a conference at the Sorbonne, which explored the history of black artists in that city, I wrote an essay titled, “Le Professors Noir et Paris: Uncovering a Cultural Legacy,” which was published in Ishmael Reed’s cultural journal Conch.  But when that failed to assuage the urge to explore the city’s colorful history, I wrote five big chapters in the second volume of my yet unpublished novel that delves into the it’s exciting past.

Once I took a walk around that magical city I immediately understood how France’s colonial subjects who came to Paris to get a university education fell in love with French culture and was willing to assimilate. Its ambiance is intoxicating, its culture infectious and its grandeur cannot be denied.


Alas, while this brilliant master work by Woody Allen captures much of the Parisian milieu of the 1920’s,  he fails to present a completely faithful portrait of  Americans in Paris in the same way that his contemporary portraits of Manhattan also fail.  This failure lies in his treatment of the black presence.

Even as the music playing in the background displays the marked influence of the Blues, Ragtime and New Orleans Jazz – characterized by the syncopated rhythms and prominence of the wailing bluesy clarinet – Allen ignores the tremendous influence of black Americans in the era of “Le Jazz Hot” in Paris.

So prominent was Jazz music in Paris during this period that Anthropologist William Shack, who studied this development tells us: “Between World Wars I and II, Paris became the center for the diffusion in all of Europe of that emerging popular musical genre called jazz. Introduced to France by African American soldiers during World War I, jazz captivated the French, sustaining a despotic hold over them throughout the second Great War. France’s fascination with jazz continues to this day.”

The Parisian love of black American instrumental music began when French musicians heard the great military band of the Fifteenth Infantry Regiment of New York, which was called “The Harlem Hell Fighters” by the French!  They were the most highly decorated American regiment by France in world War I, and wherever they went they were celebrated by the French people.  Especially the mademoiselles!

James Reece Europe Conducting his band in France

They mesmerized the Crowd and confounded French Musicians

Composed of great black New York musicians, and led by master musician James Reese Europe, a pioneer in the development of Afro-American complex instrumental music, this band was called “The greatest military band in the history of the western world” by James Weldon Johnson – himself a twentieth century Renaissance man.  Whether Johnson’s  assessment is true or not – and as a founder of ASCAP and brother of J. Rosamond Johnson, one of America’s greatest musicians, he is a reliable critic.  And as the Puerto Rican musician, poet, and musicologist Aurora Flores points out “Sixteen of the horn players were Afro-Puertoricans that Reese recruited directly from the Island. Among them the internationally acclaimed composer Rafael Hernandez who then remained in N.Y. opening the first Latin music record store in East Harlem in 1927!”

Afro-Puerto Rican Composer Rafael Hernandez

Harlem Hell fighters!  Rafael is on the Left

Jim Europe’s orchestra’s presence in France during World War I changed French music and had a profound effect on French culture.  When the Harlem Hellfighters’ band played a concert of French marches and Afro-American Ragtime music in Paris after the Armistice, the French musicians refused to believe that they were not playing specially designed instruments.  And they changed their minds only after they gave the black American musicians their instruments to play and heard them produce the same exotic sounds.

As Aurora pointed out, one of those brass players that so astonished the French musicians was the great trombonist Jaun Tizol, who went on to world wide fame with the premiere American exponent of Afro-American classical music: The Duke Ellington Orchestra!  In fact he co-wrote one of the Orchestra’s major hits; the American standard “Caravan,” which has been recorded by some of the greatest singers of the twentieth century.  Ellington remembered their collaboration: “One day in 1936,  trombonist Juan “Tizol came up with part of it… it wasn’t in tempo, he stood and sort of ad libbed. He played the  first ten bars, and we took it and worked out the rest of it.”

Jaun would visit Paris and thrill music lovers many times after his historic performance with the Harlem Hell Fighters Band.  They were just as big a hit when they marched down Fifth Avenue with the incomparable dancer Bill Bojangles Robinson marching out front as Drum Major!

Jaun Tizol

Jaun Tizol is in the Middle of Section

When Jim Europe returned from France, he made the following statement about that experience in an article published in a 1919 edition of the Literary Digest titled A Negro Explains Jazz:  “I have come back from France more firmly convinced than ever that Negroes should write Negro music. We have our own racial feeling and if we try to copy whites we will make bad copies…. We won France by playing music which was ours and not a pale imitation of others, and if we are to develop in America we must develop along our own lines.”

This was a decision that had a profound effect on the direction of Afro-American and French music.  In the post war period that followed, many blacks decided to remain in France where they were not the objects of racial hatred but admired liberators.  Afro-American style became en vogue with the dawn of the “Jazz Age.”

Hence during the period covered in this movie, anthropologist William A. Shack tells us in his study Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story Between the Great Wars, “Harlem-style nightclub culture rapidly paved the streets of Montmartre. Like missionaries of jazz, black American musicians spread the gospel of hot sounds in tiny cafes and a few sumptuous settings that attracted rich and famous British and American tourists, and French socialites. In the Parisian music idiom, this era of the Roaring Twenties was often called the era of Le Jazz hot.”

“Paris, in the twenties, witnessed the rise to stardom of black American Josephine Baker in her musical La Revue Negre; she later became the toast of the City of Light. Ada Smith, better known as “Bricktop,” brought to Paris her experience of nightclub life gained in the cabaret worlds of Chicago and Harlem. Eugene Jacques Bullard, the United States first black combat pilot, who flew for France during World War I, held forth at his nightclub, Le Grand Duc, where he served up jazz and soul food, in equal proportions.

“These developments in the Montmartre jazz scene coincided with the making of the Harlem Renaissance, which shaped the professional and personal lives of black American musicians, composers, writers, and artists. In Paris, their interactions among themselves and with the wider Parisian society molded the day-to-day character of Harlem in Montmartre.”

Eugene Bullard: The World’s First Black Military Aviator

He Escaped the Racism of Georgia and found Glory in France!

Any one of these personalities deserve a movie of their own, especially Eugene Bullard, who was not only became an Ace fighter pilot in the French Air Force, after first distinguishing himself as an infantryman, but married a beautiful upper class French woman with the family’s blessings.  However Bullard was not the only dashing black war veteran making the rounds in Post war Paris.  There was the colorful Senegalese prize fighter Amadou M’Barick Fall, whose ring name was  “Battling Siki.” Having  won the highest awards given by the French government  for valor  in combat – the Croix-de-Guerre and Military Medal – Amadou was one of the most decorated veterans in France.

Battling Siki!

A Dapper Gentleman, Siki is on the left

Ready To Rumble!

The First African World Champion

On September 24, 1922, Battling Siki won the World Light-Heavyweight Championship, before a crowd of forty thousand  spectators at the Buffalo Velodrome in Paris.  The crowd was stunned by his spectacular victory, in which he stopped the Frenchman Georges Carpentier in the early rounds with his famous “Windmill Punch.”  Among the astonished spectators was none other than boxing aficionado and amateur pugilist Earnest Hemingway, Who would later write about it.

A fairly typical American racist, who barred Jackie Robinson when he invited the Brooklyn Dodgers to his home in Cuba, Hemingway resented Siki’s humiliation of the white champion – like Muhammad Ali some forty years later Siki taunted Carpentier by telling him “you don’t hit that hard” every time the champ landed a blow.  Siki was an elegant dresser, big partyer and ladies man.

But despite the fact that he was a highly decorated war hero and spoke several languages including reading and writing French, he was often ridiculed by jealous Frenchmen as an “African Savage who spoke in grunts”and the Championzee.  Clearly the admiration that the French felt for the dashing Afro-Americans was not extended to all their African colonial subjects, in spite of the thousands of Senegalese soldiers who died on the the battle field in defense of France in the Great War.

Nevertheless Siki had plenty of admires – especially among the ladies – and cut a dashing figure promenading about Paris with his pet lion on a leash.  He was also known for firing his pistol in the air after a bit too much champagne.   He was murdered in New York’s Hell’s kitchen by a gunshot in the back in 1925, after having survived an incident with a southern sheriff when he defied segregation laws as a French citizen.  A full fledged biography was published on him by the University of Arkansas Press in 2006, “Battling Siki: A Tale of Ring Fixes, Race, and Murder in the 1920s,” by Professor Peter  Benson.

Then there was the fabulous Josephine Baker, who promenaded about Paris dressed to kill with her pet leopard, and later became a secret agent for the French resistance against the Nazi’s.  How could Old Woody, who shows so much insight otherwise, overlook these marvelous characters that would have added vivid color to his tale – pun intended.

“La Bakiar” and Her Cat!

She was the most Spectacular Woman in Paris! 

In Naughty Paris….

She Redefined Female Sensuality and was Paris’ biggest Star!

This entire cultural phenomenon, as fascinating as it was, is given only a brief cameo in the film when Zelda Fitzgerald –  a vapid suicidal drunk – suggested that they leave the posh white party they were attending and go over to Brick Top’s club where the real action was.  Brick Top, who got her nick name because her hair was the color of red bricks, was a fascinating figure.  she learned about the night club business from World Heavy-weight Champion Jack Johnson, who opened the most fabulous night club in Chicago after he won the the title from Tommy Burns, and  gave it a French name: “Cafe du Champion.”

Brick Top was the featured singer and Girl Friday in the club, so she learned the night club business from the top of the food chain.  She was actually on stage performing when Jack’s white wife blew her brains out upstairs because she was despairing over his open affairs with other women – most of whom were also white!

Once in the club we hear the exciting sound of black Jazz, and observe a beautiful elegantly dressed black woman doing a sensual dance that mesmerized the crowd. However we are left to surmise who she is, for no one speaks her name.  Viewers who are knowledgeable of this period, like the present writer, can assume that she is Josephine Baker.

But why should we have to wonder when he gives ample space to Zelda, who couldn’t wash Josephine’s drawers if talent, beauty, and cultural influence are the measuring stick!  But then, if as spike Lee and others have pointed out, blacks are invisible in Woody’s films about New York – where black people are everywhere – what can we expect when the setting is Paris in the 1920’s.

However all this begs yet another question: “Is this what white folks mean when they talk about the “color blind society?”  Are we to go from objects of derision to the Invisible Man?   Is that to be our fate on the silver screen?  The answer to that question really lies with the black community itself, because we have our own great artists of the cinema:  Spike Lee, the Hudlin Brothers, Julie Dash, Kasi Lemmons, Euzhan Palcy, John Singleton, et al.  These filmmakers are more than capable of producing a body of works about black life to rival the stories of any group of cinematic artists anywhere.  But they have little or no support from their primary audience.

Thanks to the documentarian St. Claire Bourne, we have a film short portraying Langston Hughes in Paris, where he was a ‘cook” and dish washer in Bullard’s Club Le Grand Duc.  Although Woody makes no mention of him either, there is no more influential poet in the 20th century!  Langston is the father of black poetry – poetry based on the rhythms of black music, a genre free of European aesthetic conventions, whether in English, French or Spanish on both sides of the Ocean – this is well documented in the two volume masterwork “The Life of Langston Hughes,” by one of our  our great literary scholars Arnold Rampersad.

I suspect that his omission was motivated as much by ignorance of history as racial chauvinism.  Nevertheless, Langston tutored the great Afro-Cuban poet Nicholas Guillien, who would go on to not only inspire an Afro-Cu ban movement in literature, but would also become the Poet Laureate of revolutionary Cuba!  When Langston met Guillien he was writing in conventional European poetic forms; he asked him one day after listening to Guillien read some of his verse: “Why don’t you write poems based on the rhythms of the rumba?”

Since one of the things Guillien loved about Langston’s poetry was it’s blues forms and cadences, he took heed.  The result was the birth of an entirely new poetic form in the Spanish language.  Langston had the same effect on the great Haitian writer Jacques Romain author of the poetic and insightful novel about the Haitian Peasantry “Masters of the Dew.”  This novel was quite an achievement for a Haitian man of of Jacques color and class.  And Langston helped him see the beauty of the peasantry.

When he met Jacques he was writing French Sonnets, which reflected his French education and francophillc cultural orientation.  Langston told him to listen to the drums in the Voodoo rituals and other “tom toms” for his rhythmic conception.  Langston’s own poems was a critical element in sparking the Negritude Movement in the black Francophone world in Africa and the diaspora, as one of the leading lights of that movement “Leopold Sedar Senghor,” testifies at the beginnig of St. Claire Bourne’s film.

Langston Hughes was clearly as interesting as any personality in the “Lost Generation” of American expatriates in Jazz Age Paris, and was better  looking and a sharper dresser too!  But you wouldn’t know any of this from Woody Allen’s movie. Yet until Afro-Americans support their serious cinematic artists we shall remain invisible in the great film narratives that shape reality in the minds of thoughtful people around the world.  And the failure to include the black presence on the part of serious white filmmakers will continue to result in a gross distortion of reality that, at its best, can only produce a flawed masterpiece like Midnight In Paris.

Langston Hughes:  He worked out the Jazz esthetic

of his poetry while Washing dishes at Le Gran Duc!


See the Harlem Hell fighters Band playing in Paris

Double click on this link!

Witness the influence Afro-American Music and Dance in 1920’s Paris

Le Jazz Hot!

More Footage and A Through Discussion with the Documentarian
Playthell Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 31, 2011

Things Fall Apart!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on May 25, 2011 by playthell

President Obama at the State Department

Building a New Order In the Mid-East

AS the long suffering oppressed masses in the Muslim world rise up against entrenched autocrats, military and civilian, the world looks on in amazement or bewilderment while the US scrambles to construct a policy to accommodate the changing realities.  Given the rapidity and spontaneity of the uprisings that have popped up in twenty countries, threatening to wash entire regimes into the sewers of history in a fortnight, US policy makers are like Alice in wonderland: everything around them is moving so fast they have to run just to stay where they’re at!  Under the best of circumstances formulating an effective foreign policy is both a science and a fine art.  In the current situation foreign policy wonks are all dancing it the dark alas.

The success or failure of US policy in the Middle East will be largely determined by the ideology of the new regimes that arise from the present turmoil. From what we have been able to glean from the attitudes of many of the protesters, the new leaders of the Arab world will not be as malleable to American concerns as the old regime.

That’s why the charges from Left wing and Black Nationalist circles that the CIA is behind the overthrow of these regimes are absurd!  It demonstrates a thorough misunderstanding of the character of the populist revolts sweeping the Islamic countries, and a willingness to believe conspiracy theories no matter how improbable.  The US, like everybody else, got caught napping.   Now the CIA is everywhere on the ground as nations crumble all over the region.  But they cannot predict the future; they are simply trying to gain some measure of understanding as to who is who and what their vision for the new order is.

In the absence of clearly identifiable leaders and well defined ideologies, this is no easy matter.  Since each of these situations is unique, there is no cookie cutter policy that can address each crisis.  None-the-less the architects of our foreign policy must still find a way to steadfastly pursue American interests in the world, while accommodating the interests of each country with whom we have diplomatic relations.

That’s why everybody stood with bated breath waiting to hear from the President what the new marching orders are going to be.  He gave a great speech on Middle East situation that began with a concise historical narrative of the development of the massive upheavals throughout the Arab world that has become popularly known as “The Arab Spring;” a term with poetic resonance but little in the way of specificity.

However there are some underlying themes that resonate through these populist revolts: more personal freedom, an end to tyrannical regimes, and greater economic opportunity.  In spite of the absence of clear cut intelligence about the rebels, President Obama enunciated a set of broad based policies that seeks to address these general aspirations:

First, the United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region. Second, we support a set of universal rights including free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly and association; equality for men and women under the rule of law; the right to practice your religion without fear of violence or discrimination; and the right to choose your own leaders through democratic elections. Third, we support political and economic change in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of the people throughout the region.”

Beyond the allusions to general principles, United States interests in the Middle East region is clear: to guarantee an unimpeded flow of cheap oil; to defeat the militant Islamic Jihadist movement, and the defense of Israel.  Historically US policy toward the Arabs has been to march in lock step with the policies of the Israeli government.

In the case of Arab countries that task is made immeasurably more difficult by the fact that we cannot know what their national interests is because they are in the process of radical change and we don’t know what interests will be paramount in the eyes of the new regime.  But even so, in some areas no matter how much things change, some issues will remain the same; the Arab Israeli conflict is first among them.

How the US seeks to resolve this issue will be a major factor in determining the extent to which we will have harmonious relations with the Arab world and, given the power of the US Israel Lobby, it could also determine whether the President will be elected to a second term.  The amazing reception accorded to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu when he addressed a joint session of Congress earlier today does not bode well for the President’s attempts to find a solution to the festering Arab/Israeli conflict. Netanyahu played the Congress like a like a master fiddler plays the violin.

Uneasy Allies?

Barack and Bibi: Politics Make Strange Bedfellows

Bibi received over two dozen standing ovations – more than the President got at his last state of the Union Address – as he trashed the basic negotiating principles enunciated by Mr. Obama just days ago,   It was like stabbing our President in the back in the interest of a foreign nation!  And it has fairly destroyed the President’s credibility in his dealings with the Muslim world. Furthermore,  we may well end up as the only country in the UN to oppose the recognition of the emerging Palestinian nation when the General Assembly votes on the issue later this year.

Rachid Arieikat, the Palestinian Representative at the UN, quickly rejected Netanyahu’s vision for the region.  As President Obama hop scotches around Europe like Netanyahu’s  errand boy, trying to convince the Europeans to support the American position, the world watches in horror while the possibilities for peace in the Middle East evaporates like snowflakes in a microwave oven.


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 25, 2011

A Poot-Butt Professor Dis’s America’s President!

Posted in My Struggle On the Left!, On Dr. Cornell West, Playthell on politics with tags , on May 22, 2011 by playthell

Hip hop Philosopher Professor Longhair and Chilly B.

 “This discussion is in no way about me, it has to do with poor and working people having low priority in US governmental policy including the Obama Administration. My personal words had to do with being disrespected by the President. People are disrespected every day, and they can raise their voices in response to it.” A tweet from Dr. Cornell West aka “Professor Longhair”

Reflections on the Rejected Lover Syndrome

The brouhaha in the black community sparked by Princeton religion Professor Cornell West’s increasingly tasteless and personal attacks on President Obama has all the elements of what my grandmother used to call “A big nigger mess!”  The distinguished novelist and Syracuse University Professor Arthur Flowers offers an observation that is perplexing many thoughtful African Americans all over the country – the present writer included.   ‘It boggles the mind that Cornell West does not understand the destructive role he is playing,” says Professor Flowers”  Nathan Hare, a San Francisco  Psychologist who holds PhD’s  in psychology and sociology had this to say:

“Cornel appeared to have some ambition to play a role in the 2008 election, probably with Hillary Clinton, or a run on his own. He’s never forgiven Obama since day one. Many years ago a brother, taking the words out of my mouth, wrote that Cornel is ‘one thousand miles wide and one inch deep.’ When you can bounce up and down the Ivy League because your university president called you in and suggested you do some scholarship for a change, you are not a big bad Marxist revolutionary so much as a bonafide member of what they used to call “the niggerati;”  a term invented by the iconoclastic  Florida writer Zora Neale Hurston to describe certain literary poseurs during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s .

Michel Wallace, a best-selling author and professor in the City University of New York, recently remarked after the Hip Hop philosopher held forth on her campus: “He seems to be living in a different world from the rest of us.”  Well…if you compare Princeton to Harlem – one of the whitest and the blackest towns in America – plus the praises and riches showered on Fess Longhair by the white cultural establishment, he is indeed living in a different world from the rest of us!

There is a special irony about this because his relevance as an intellectual is his role as interpreter of the souls of black folks and proctor of our spiritual strivings for white folks. But the fact that he is so alienated from the feelings of the black majority means that his white sponsors are getting a flawed message from their chosen messenger.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the recent panegyric to Fess Longhair written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and celebrated tribune of the white left Chris Hedges.  So heroic is West’s stature in the estimation of Hedges – whom I regard as one of hysterics of the left – that he feels compelled to cast him in a Shakespearean Dramatis Personae.  Hence the praise song begins with the following hyperbole:

“The moral philosopher Cornell West, if Barack Obama’s ascent to power was a morality play, would be the voice of conscience. Rahm Emanuel, a cynical product of the Chicago political machine, would be Satan. Emanuel in the first scene of the play would dangle power, privilege, fame and money before Obama. West would warn Obama that the quality of a life is defined by its moral commitment, that his legacy will be determined by his willingness to defy the cruel assault by the corporate state and the financial elite against the poor and working men and women, and that justice must never be sacrificed on the altar of power.

Perhaps there was never much of a struggle in Obama’s heart. Perhaps West only provided a moral veneer. Perhaps the dark heart of Emanuel was always the dark heart of Obama. Only Obama knows. But we know how the play ends. West is banished like honest Kent in “King Lear.” 

Methinks, however, that our Shakespeare aficionado is not as clever as he fancies himself.   He has chosen the wrong play.  For as The Bard pointed out: “The play is the thing!”  In this case “Othello” is a more fitting vehicle for exploring the character and motivations of the actors in this modern political drama, and telling lines from Macbeth offers the best assessment of both the object of his veneration and the scribe’s pious prattle.  I would cast Barack and Cornell in the roles of Othello, the Nobel Moor, and Iago: the scheming, deceitful, treacherous, charlatan.

For quite a while it was conventional wisdom among white male drama critics, who didn’t want to deal with the questions of sex and race that supply the dramatic force of the play, that Iago is driven by “A motiveless malignancy,” as one 19th century British critic elegantly put it.   However we are left with no explanation of Iago’s devious behavior toward Othello as he engineers his destruction.

But upon a close reading of the text for a weighty essay interrogating the meaning of the complex color symbolism in the Bard’s work – “Did Shakespeare Intend Othello to be Black?  A Meditation on Blacks and the Bard” – I found ample evidence that Iago’s treachery was motivated by thwarted professional ambitions and personal envy of Othello’s position, covetousness of Othello’s beautiful wife and disdain for his racial background.  In rereading the play I find that these lines by Iago in the opening scene of Othello could have been uttered by Cornell in regard to Barack.

“In personal suit to make me his lieutenant/ Off-capp’d to him: and, by the faith of man, I know my price, I am worth no worse a place: But he, as loving his own pride and purposes…Nonsuits my mediators; for, ‘Certs’ says he, ‘I have already chose my officer.’  And what was he?  Forsooth, a great arithmetician, One Michael Cassio, a Florentine” Offended by what he considers the great injustice of having been overlooked by Othello in favor of a man he considers inferior in qualifications and character to himself Iago asks Rodrigo: “Now, sir, am I affined to love the Moor?”

Then Iago plots his revenge upon Othello for what he regards as an egregious slight.  “I follow him to serve my turn upon him: We cannot all be masters, nor all masters cannot be truly followed…Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago; In following him I follow but myself; Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty, but seeming so, for my peculiar end…I am not what I am.”

Based on his actions, it looks like our poot-butt philosopher Fess Longhair had the same plan.  He certainly has expressed the same grievances.  In fact he sounds like nothing so much as a rejected lover as he tells Chris Hedges:

“I used to call my dear brother [Obama] every two weeks. I said a prayer on the phone for him, especially before a debate. And I never got a call back. And when I ran into him in the state Capitol in South Carolina when I was down there campaigning for him he was very kind. The first thing he told me was, ‘Brother West, I feel so bad. I haven’t called you back. You been calling me so much. You been giving me so much love, so much support and what have you.’ And I said, ‘I know you’re busy.’ But then a month and half later I would run into other people on the campaign and he’s calling them all the time. I said, wow, this is kind of strange. He doesn’t have time, even two seconds, to say thank you or I’m glad you’re pulling for me and praying for me, but he’s calling these other people.”

The hurt and disappointment in West’s voice is palpable, he sounds as if he thinks Barack has been two timing him!

Yet this is not the end of Fess Longhairs complaints against the President. He prattles on, shamelessly spilling his guts and airing dirty laundry.

And then as it turns out with the inauguration,” he continues, “I couldn’t get a ticket with my mother and my brother. I said this is very strange. We drive into the hotel and the guy who picks up my bags from the hotel has a ticket to the inauguration. My mom says, ‘That’s something that this dear brother can get a ticket and you can’t get one, honey, all the work you did for him from Iowa.’ Beginning in Iowa to Ohio. We had to watch the thing in the hotel.”

If this story is true, it raises more questions about Cornell West than President Obama.  The most important question is why did West show up at the inaugural Ball without an invitation in the first place?  What does that say about his sense of entitlement?  After all, I know several people who attended the inauguration, and they all had their invitations well in hand before they ever set out for the capitol.   For instance, my boyhood friend Erroll Jones, the only black elected official in my home town, who is forced to run as a Republican, openly worked for Barack and was rewarded with an invite.  I crashed at his crib while he was cavorting about Washington.

Commissioner Erroll Jones and President Obama

Homeboy  got his invite…whassup wit Fess?

One is forced to wonder if  Fess’ mother really talks the way he quotes her, referring to a chauffeur as “that dear brother.”  That’s the way Fess talks, but its part of his act; I have a hard time believing that his mother actually talks that way.  This may seem like a picayune point, but I make it in order to suggest that there is artifice in his telling of this tale of woe.  And if so, it begs the question as to how much more of his story is contrived?

Since there is no way to tell, it cast suspicion over the veracity of the entire episode, and the cautious observer must view all else he has to say about the President in matters of politics and policy with a jaundiced eye.  Personally, as one who has studied and analyzed all the President’s major moves in 200 essays I feel as competent to assess what he is about as anybody…including Fess Longhair.

My assessment of Barack Obama’s accomplishments during his tenure in the Oval are succinctly stated in the essay “Civilization or Savagery” on this blog.   Suffice it to say that when I weigh the President’s accomplishments against the racism and resistance of the Republican opposition – who have come very close treason – I give Barack an “A.”

Hence when I read Fess Longhair’s vulgar and superficial diatribes posing as serious intellectual analysis, it is hard not to conclude that they were authored by an ignoramus, a charlatan, or a hopelessly misguided ideologue!  Consider this recent public temper tantrum.

“And even at this moment, when the empire is in deep decline, the culture is in deep decay, the political system is broken, where nearly everyone is up for sale, you say all I have is the subversive memory of those who came before, personal integrity, trying to live a decent life, and a willingness to live and die for the love of folk who are catching hell. This means civil disobedience, going to jail, supporting progressive forums of social unrest if they in fact awaken the conscience, whatever conscience is left, of the nation. And that’s where I find myself now.”

Not content with this dramatic baring of his soul, Fess prattles on: “I was thinking maybe he has at least some progressive populist instincts that could become more manifest after the cautious policies of being a senator… at least he would have some voices concerned about working people, dealing with issues of jobs and downsizing and banks, some semblance of democratic accountability for Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats who are just running amuck. I was completely wrong.”

It is instructive to note here, that the United Auto Workers, the most powerful independent organization in the world representing working people, recently gave the President high marks at their national convention!  Which casts Fess Longhair in the role of “the stranger who comes to the funeral and cries louder than the bereaved family;” a joker our wise Ibo ancestors warned us to beware of.   Yet is is characteristic of  Fess Longhair to think him self as more royal than the King.

Since Dr. West poses as a philosopher from time to time, when he is not making a rap album or playing at politics, I assume that he is familiar with the work of Professor Harry G. Franks, who is in the philosophy department right there at Princeton.  If so he will recognize the title of Dr. Frank’s book, although I doubt that he would have read it because he is afraid that he may bump into himself in the pages.

For the book’s title and subject matter identifies Fess Longhair’s critique of the President perfectly: “Bullshit”   Shakespeare also has more to teach us about the poot-butt Professor’s complaint about being ignored by the President even as he sought the advice of the the great “aritmatician” Laurence Summers, the renowned economist and the former Harvard President who had called Fess on the carpet for academic malingering!

However this time the words of Iago describe Fess himself, especially in his role as leader of a radical movement posing an alternative to the politics and policies of Barack Obama – a role for which he has demonstrated himself to be unsuited.  What Iyago says of Cassio is also true of Cornel, a great pretender: “That never set a squadron in the field, Nor the division of a battle knows/ More than a spinster; unless the bookish theoric…mere prattle without practice.”

These lines from Macbeth brilliantly sums up the place of the Poot-butt Professor in the sweep of history, notwithstanding his ability to bogart his way into the national conversation through bombast and base pretense, compared to the monumental achievements of Barack Obama he is, “but a walking shadow, a poor player / that struts and frets his hour upon the stage / and then is heard no more.” As for the panegyrics of Chris Hedges, and other white leftist intellectuals, ‘it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”


*** My  analytical essay on Shakespeare can be found in the anthology “Othello: New Essays by Black Writers,” edited by Dr. Mathili Kaul, former President of the Shakespeare Society of Cambridge England.  Professor and Chair, Department of English, University of New Deli, India.  Published by Howard University Press.

Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 22, 2011

On The Strauss Kahn Affair!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics on May 19, 2011 by playthell
IMF Director Dominique Strauss Khan and High Powered Lawyer Ben Brafman


 A Reflection on Racism, Sexism, Power and Privilege

As people around the world struggle to make sense of the rape charge against Dominique Strauss Khan, the rich suave Frenchman who is one of the most powerful men in the world, the contemptuous stare on Micah Brzezinski’s face as Joe Scarborough and the other guys assembled on “Morning Joe” attempted to explain the predatory sexual behavior of powerful men who risk everything for sexual conquests, signaled both confusion and disgust.  If she wanted to prove that the smartest men can behave like the proverbial dog on the railroad track who lost his head over a little piece of tail, on this particular morning she had a cornucopia of choices, and a plethora of convincing evidence to make her case.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just confessed that he fathered a child with a member of their household staff and concealed it for the last ten years. Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich – once the most powerful man on Capitol Hill – led an impeachment and public flagellation of Bill Clinton for getting his knob polished by a brazen intern in the Oval Office, while he was regularly getting his polished by a campaign worker in his car – yet he was also married at the time. Furthermore Newt has the chutzpah to say his love for country made him do it…and is parading the shameless home wrecking hussy around as the new Mrs. Gingrich, a union he now assures us is blessed of God.

Then there is the sad spectacle of John Edwards, who might have made a splendid President…had he not fathered a child by a campaign photographer!  Nevada Senator John Ensign has fallen from grace and quit the Senate over a sexual Scandal…and Congressman Paul Stanley, the shirtless sensation from upstate New York, has fled from the House of Representatives when he was busted soliciting sexual favors online!  Except for Slick Willie Clinton and Johnny Boy all of these jokers are Republicans…the Party that never tires of lecturing the rest of us on matters of sexual morality!  The Gods never blew breath in a more shameless bunch of hypocrites.

Yet none of the home grown Lotharios can match the scandalous and apparently criminal antics of Monsieur Dominique Strauss-Khan, who was up until a day ago the leading contender for the Presidency of France.  As the head of the International Monetary Fund, Mr. Khan is one of the most powerful men in the world!  And according to Ms. Tiffany Williams, these are the types of men who are most likely to sexually assault women like the African women Strauss-Khan is accused of sexually abusing: poor, powerless, non-white, immigrant.

Although she studies this phenomenon Ms. Williams is clearly taken aback about all of the sympathy being expended on Strauss-Khan.  In a piece in the Huffington Post she observes:

No one is talking about the countless other household and hotel workers who have endured sexual harassment and assault at the hands of wealthy (or even middle-class) men around the world. Why? Perhaps because it’s supposed to be a fact of life that poor women’s bodies are collateral damage of war, prizes for global accomplishment, or simply a means to an end. Women who are household workers or “servants” are even more vulnerable to dehumanizing sexual assault than others because their relationships are inherently unequal to their employers. We don’t have scientific studies of the relative risks, but we have hundreds of testimonies of household workers who have been trafficked, exploited, and assaulted, and our common sense that tells us there are many more out there.”

Ms. Williams, who regularly studies this problem, observations come as no surprise to me. I saw this as a case containing elements of racism, sexism, power and privilege from jump street!  The sad truth is that had this happened to this chamber maid in her native francophone African country, where Frenchmen still strut around like overlords acting like masters of all they survey; chances are nothing would have happened to her abuser if he were rich, white and French.  If this had happened in many other third world countries there is no way they would arrest and jail a European of Strauss-Khan’s status.  Even a French female novelist says she was the victim of a sexual assault by Monsieur Strauss Khan, but her mother advised her against filing charges against so powerful a man.

Fortunately for the maid and unfortunately for the millionaire it happened in Manhattan!  And rich white political superstar or not…this arrogant Frenchie’s ass is sitting on the hot seat at Riker’s Island under suicide watch.  There is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy about this bizarre incident; Dominique Strauss-Khan predicted that the Sitting President of France, Monsieur Sarkozy, would try to frame him with a false rape charge!  This leads me to believe that he suspected that if he looked like he was going to win the Presidential election some women he had abused would step forward and accuse him.

Why else would someone in his position make such an outlandish charge?  Given the actions of the New York District Attorney, and the Judge’s decision to hold Monsieur Strauss Khan in jail, I am inclined to believe the maid.  But this is America and therefore from a legal standpoint he is assumed to be innocent until a court proves him guilty.  I shall be watching these proceedings like a hawk!

Beautiful African Women has always intrigued European Men


Miss Ghana: Agnes Ntow



Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

May 19, 2011


A Rapper Up In the White House…Holla!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Playthell on politics with tags , , on May 17, 2011 by playthell
The Chi-Town Crew up in the Black House!

On Race, Culture and the Grand Obstructionist Party

 I am surprised at the silence on the left in the face of the torrent of virulent invective leveled against President Obama by a chorus of racist charlatans on the right for inviting his Chi-Town home boy, the progressive rapper known as “Common,” to bust some rhymes up in the white house. It is clear from the sense of outrage expressed by a succession of commentators on the FOX television Network – who howl like hell hounds about the rapper’s panegyrics to his home boy and fellow bard Jeremiah Wright, and exiled revolutionary activist Assata Shekur – that we are witnessing another episode in the culture wars initiated by Pat Buchanan at the Republican convention back in the day.  It has been a major weapon in their assault on the left.

The tactics employed in what amounts to an no holds barred attack on the popular culture was designed to mobilize the untutored, racist, paranoid, white squares against the changes in American society inspired by the counter-culture of peace, love and celebration of universal humanism that flowered in the 1960’s.  The goal of right-wing reactionaries was to develop a counter-narrative that cast the Grand Obstructionist Party as defenders of true American virtues against the hedonism, atheism and socialism of the “New Left.”  It is from this historical perspective that the present attack on Hip Hop must be viewed.

 Chi-town Players Living Large and In Charge


No Drama Obama aka “Chilly B.” and Common: I love it!!!!!

Since these clueless old poot-butt white bread Republican squares don’t know “Common” from “Fitty Cent,” their attack is really leveled at the art form itself…and thus a repudiation of the dissonant narratives and oppositional logic that arose from the young, black, urban proletariat and became the voice of a generation: transcending race, geography and class.  This is the source of Republican hysteria about a rapper in the White House. They see it as the triumph of black urban culture in American society – an accomplished fact among the masses of young people everywhere!  After all, Obama has already abandoned bowling for basketball! cry the racist hysterics on the right.

This is why the grand Obstructionist Party must not be allowed to get away with using racist invective disguised as music criticism as an effective weapon in the culture war.  In his thoughtful and path breaking book “Racism, Power and Privilege” sociologist William Julius Wilson argues that racist propaganda must be opposed; otherwise it will take root in the public mind and become a substitute for reality.  That’s why I feel compelled to set the record straight about Common.  I reached out to Leon Saunders, producer of the annual Miami based music festival, “Jazz In the Gardens,” and has represented a wide array of major Hip Hop artist as booking agent, Manager or promoter, and I asked his opinion of the rapper called Common.

After explaining that he detested Gangsta Rap that glorifies violence, and misogynist rap that degrades women, as well as the cavaleir use of the racist epithet “nigger,” Saunders said: “Whenever I’m promoting a show and need a rapper I always call on Common; he represents the epitome of Hip Hop as a vehicle for positive poets.”  The ultimate beat down of the right wing cultural warriors came from comedian Jon Stewart in his clash with the pompous intellectual poseur and silly sophist Bill O’Reiley.  He put a simple question to smarmy Billy: “Would you also bar Bono, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dillon from the White House?  They have all made songs celebrating people convicted for murder!”

And I would add that the intent of the teller of the tale determines its ultimate meaning; hence Common wrote a song about a black revolutionary Shero!   I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Dirty Dick Cheney hangs out all over Washington and he is a mass murderer!  And besides, Common’s performance at the white was da bomb!  Intelligent; Spiritual; uplifting; transcendent; flowing smooth as honey; black love; universal truth…all that and more!  Bravo!!!!!!

 Common Dropping Lyrical Science!

 An American master at work



BY: Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 17, 2011

The Empire Strikes Back!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on May 11, 2011 by playthell

Navy Seals In Action

 “Turning and turning in the widening gyre | The falcon cannot hear the falconer | Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold | Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world | The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere | The ceremony of innocence is drowned | The best lack all conviction, while the worst | Are full of passionate intensity.” — W.B. Yeats, the Second Coming


Why I’m Giving Big Ups to the Seals

 Just as the Commander-In-Chief travelled to Fort Campbell to congratulate the magnificent Navy Seals who iced Osama bin Laden, the shadowy Muslim terrorist icon who had become “Osama been Forgotten”  under the Republicans, it is time for a grateful nation to say “Thanks for a job well done.”  When the President praised our armed forces  in his pep talk with the elite units based at the fort, it was obvious from the expressions on their faces that the troops were delighted by the visit and it increased their sense of espirit de corps.  No amount of paranoid gibberish from the right, or insane in the brain condemnation from the mindless opposition on the left, can diminish their heroic action on behalf of the American people.

Most of these motor mouths on both extremes of the ideological spectrum have never served a day in the armed forces; yet some have the unmitigated gall to offer critiques of the way the strike went down. This is especially true of the critics on the Left.  For instance Michael Moore, who I agree with on most issues being a partisan of the left, has been popping off about how the operation should have been conducted.  As I watched this rotund figure on television vociferously critiquing how the Seals conducted the raid, I kept thinking of an old Jamaican folk saying: “The bwai mouth run like sick baboon batte!”

In other words, old Mikie is having a public outbreak of diarrhea of the mouth.  It also appears that he is suffering from foot in mouth disease!  He is beginning to look more and more like a cartoon character; a multi-millionaire camouflaged in a factory worker’s costume.  He is a poster boy for why the left is an increasingly insignificant factor in contemporary American political life.  Moore became famous because of his exposes on economic injustice in American society, and I applaud him for that.

I also dug Mike’s movie Fahrenheit 9/11 and his film on health care in the US.  It is no exaggeration to say that his films are a valuable service to the American people.  But his ideas about how the Navy Seals should have conducted the raid are ludicrous and reveal a man who knows nothing about military combat. Motor Mouth Moore seems to believe the Seals should have read Osama the Miranda rights!

When I was in the Combat Defense unit of the United States Strategic Air Command, tasked with protecting the US nuclear arsenal from the intrigues of Russian spies and would be saboteurs – if I had been a platoon leader in a raid of this sort, my paramount objective would have been to accomplish the mission without taking casualties.  And I’m sure that’s what the leader of this raid was thinking.  I would not have hesitated to put a bullet right between Osama’s eyes!  A free fire zone in the crib of the world’s most notorious terrorist  is no place for legal niceties….. or chivalry for that matter!

Hence I am highly impressed with the way the Seals removed the women and children from the line of fire. They could have just shot everything that moved!  That’s what Al Qaeda’s soldiers would have done!  We know this from their repeated and willful slaughter of innocents – we are not talking collateral damage here – they routinely put bombs in the Mosque of rival Muslim sects; cold bloodedly murdering entire families of fellow Muslims while they pray to Allah!  They have done this in Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere.  So they deserve no mercy once they are in our gun sights…and they would receive none from me!

The recent statement from Osama ‘s sons whining about his killing being “a violation of international law” is hilarious!  Their father was a mass murderer who had absolutely no respect for the laws of God or man, and now his evil spawn have the unmitigated gall to call upon the institutions of international law?  As silly, presumptuous and hypocritical as their complaints are, they are only echoing some of the blabbermouths on the American left; who act as if they are rooting for the Jihadists.  Even if this perception is untrue, the mere presumption of it causes many Americans to view them as traitors to their country.  And it seems that the lunatic Left never learns!  While individuals may be able to brush off such charges, if you are trying to build a movement it can be the kiss of death!  The American communist Party was successfully discredited and its good works erased from public memory because their adversaries managed to successfully paint them as tools of the Soviet Union, and therefore clandestine agents of a foreign power who was an enemy of the United States. The Congress even passed a law – the Smith Act – that required members of the American communist Party to register as agents for a foreign power.  This effectively criminalized the Party and gave the government a legal tool to crush them!

If the radical Left is not careful, and mind their mouths, the Tea Party Republicans and their shills in the media will succeed in painting them as traitors again.  That’s no way to win the allegiance of the “working class,” which the diehard Marxists, and even pampered bourgeois intellectuals, claim to represent.  However most of these people have no relation with the working class and have never spent much time fraternizing with – rather than studying – blue collar workers.  That’s why they don’t understand that workers are very patriotic – which is why they are the first to answer the call to defend the nation, and their neighborhoods are where you see the flags displayed in the front yards!  It is this tragic misunderstanding that leads members of the lunatic left to believe that 9/11 was an “inside job.”

Thus they go around citing that so called “documentary” Loose Change” as evidence.  These people are so hungry for a conspiracy they don’t ask one simple question: If the Bush Administration was ruthless enough to pull of the 9/11 attack, killing thousands of American citizens, why would they let to little pooty-pop nerds like the producers of “Loose Change” make a film exposing it…when a bullet through the head could have ended the project?   It doesn’t make a damned bit of sense; only a fanatical ideologue with their head stuck so far up their ass can’t tell if it’s sunny or night could go for some silly bullshit like this!

I must admit that I find some of my comrades on the left to be both clueless and comical – especially the impassioned Marxist ideologues.  These people hover about popping up like Banquo’s Ghost quoting Marx the way fundamentalist Christian’s quote the Bible; Hassidic Jews cite the endless proscriptions and prescriptions of more than 600 laws that govern all aspects of their lives; or the way the Taliban memorize the entire Koran and wish to  impose Sharia Law on the world.

I know them all too well…because I was once one of them!   That’s what makes these leftist “revolutionaries” so funny to me: none of them can match my credentials as an activist and institution builder on the left…or as a member of the working class.  As I write I am a member in good standing of Local 18 of district Council 37: Painters, Plasters and allied Trades.

The most important thing I learned from that experience – and I learned many important things about the how forces in organized crime, construction contractors, corrupt union officials and government functionaries conspired against non-white workers in big time construction – was how the communist societies of Eastern Europe were viewed by real workers who lived under it!   It is far too much to reiterate it here, but I shall explore it at length in a forthcoming essay: “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual Redux.”

However for the moment, suffice it to say that after working side by side with these workers – who did the same job in Eastern European cities that they were doing here – the collapse of the Communist order in Eastern Europe came as no surprise to me!  Neither did the genocidal “ethnic cleansing” wars that followed.  But it shocked the shit out of American Communists and they have been running around in circles like barnyard chickens with their heads cut off ever since.

I am proud of my membership in the Society of Master Painters.  It has served me well every time I got fired from a writing job for basically telling some editor to kiss my ass!  And as far as I know I am the first working painter to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  During my painting days I often worked in the World Trade Center, where they kept a Union Shop of onsite painters.  I can remember working on the upper floors on thick cloudy days, and I’d wonder what would happen if a plane accidently hit one of the towers.  The day a plane did hit one of the towers I was standing at my bathroom window shaving, it was a perfectly clear day and I couldn’t imagine what had happened.

Pitch black smoke was pouring out of the windows, but I knew that the building was constructed of fire resistant materials and there were massive water sprinklers that would quickly douse any fire before it could get started. I was thoroughly confused.  I would later learn that it was the jet fuel that burned.  Seven of my union brothers were killed that day…and my former wife died an agonizing death from the toxic soup she inhaled in downtown Manhattan as she went about her business.  So it’s personal with me…although I expected a terrorist assault of some sort because of the increasingly violent Israeli suppression of the latest Palestinian Intifada.

Me and My First Wife

A Beautiful, Brilliant, Talented, Generous, Spirit

However as I later studied the Jihadists I discovered that the Palestinian question was of little concern to the Taliban or Al Qaeda.  They are driven by theological concerns, and ironically, their main target is the leaders of the Islamic nations.  We got dragged into the conflict because of our government’s support for people that the Jihadist consider “apostates,”   and therefore punishment by death is justified.

The fact that Barack Obama is trying to change American policy in that volatile region of the world gets no props from the radical left, or fuzzy headed black nationalists and Muslims for that matter, exposes just how clueless they are.   Most of these leftist are pompous poseurs intoxicated by the sound of their own voices quoting Marxist dogma.  The fact that the Russians dismantled their Communist state and now talk about it like a bad dream, and the Jihadists hated it so much their protracted  war against the Red Army in Afghanistan help bring on Soviet Union’s collapse, seems not to shake the faith of Communist true believers. However the difference between them and the old CPUSA is that the old Communist always said that if the United States were attacked by foreigners – even if they were Communists – they would fight to defend the nation.  I am not hearing this from many Marxist today, who seem to be apologist for the Jihadists.

Whaaasup with that?  Well, although I am as opposed to western imperialism as any of them, and denounce the history of American meddling in the Muslim world – and have said so in my writings  ad nauseum –  I also say fuck bin Laden and all of his sympathizers!!!  May he, and them, rot in hell if there is such a place.  And I, for sure, was ecstatic when the news reached my ears that the Navy Seals had iced Osama!  And no matter what the Candy Asses say, with their paralysis of analysis and endless hand wringing over whether Osama was “executed” or not, everybody who has ever served in the military applaud this action as a masterpiece of the art and science of war!   I read this commentary to my old friend Hank Thomas – a decorated combat veteran and hero of the Civil Rights Movement who was recently featured on Oprah – and he loved it!  So I could care less what the verbose candy-asses who have never served under arms think…and I have never been prouder of President Obama in the artful way in which he has deployed American military might.  To the brave Navy Seals I say:  Boolya!  Semper Fi!!!

Lightening Strikes!

Whether on Land

Or Sea

Or Descending from the Skies

It’s Apocalypse Now!

In Sleet or Snow!

They Push On!

Night Or Day!

They strike like lightening!

 Real Cool Killers!

Mission Accomplished!

Its back to the chopper…and outta there!

 He’s History!

Who’s Smiling Now?


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New york

May 11, 2011

On The Royal Wedding!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on May 9, 2011 by playthell
A Tawdry Anachronism or symbol of the Nation?

An American Radical Reflects on the Royals

“I never believed in aristocrats” Paul Laurence Dunbar”

Church bells tolled all over that Sceptered Isle with the unmitigated gall to continue to call itself “Great Britain;” in spite of the fact that their once vast colonial empire had shrunk like a two dollar shirt!  Bugles blared and flags unfurled in the cool morning air; it was a fairy tale affair.  The wedding of the commoner Kate Middleton and Prince William, heir to the British throne, was a stunning display of the British gift for pomp and circumstance.  It was an impressive spectacle even for one who wishes a curse upon the house of all kings…including the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Asantehene, the Alafin Of Oyo, the Emperor of Japan, and the house of Windsor too!  If it was left up to me all Kings and Queens would have long since met the fate of the Romanoff’s of Russia and Louie the 16th and his infamous Queen Marie Antoinette.  But it’s not up to me.  In this case it’s up to the British people, and they obviously love their royals!

After all, the British Monarchy does not now rule as “The Elect of God,” a status based upon the long ago rejected doctrine: “The Divine right Of Kings.”  Today the British people vote to retain the royals, and actually pay them handsomely to perform the role.   But it is all symbol and no substance because as a “Constitutional Monarchy” they have no power: they rein not rule!

I found that the attitude toward them varies with one’s personal perspective on the matter.  Among the professional intellectuals, journalist and commentators, and the college educated middle class in general, the attitude ranges from grudging admiration to open contempt.    I base this conjecture on my observations of, and interactions with, this class.  For a several years I wrote regularly for the best newspapers and cultural journal in England: the Guardian-Observor – which was then the Manchester Guardian – and the Sunday Times Of London.  The guardian is the most widely read English language news paper among progressive intellectuals around the world.

At the Guardian I wrote for both the front and the back of the paper – hard news features, commentary, Arts and an occasional boxing essay.  I was given carte blance to write about whatever I wanted regarding the American scene, and I got to know some top British journalists, editors and intellectuals/scholars.  When I went to lecture at the Sorbonne at the invitation of the European and US Associations of American Studies – headed by Skip Gates and the great French Afro-Americanist Michel Farbre – all the scholars there knew me and some acted as if they wanted to ask for my autograph because they had been reading my accounts of the O.J. Simpson trial in the Guardian.

When the Arts Editor, Jocelyn Targett, moved to the Sunday times Of London as the Editor of “the Culture,” one of the most distinguished journals on cultural matters in the English language, I was given the green light to write a piece every Sunday if I wanted. Through conversations with people of this class, men and women, I got an earful of opinions about the Royal Family from the most astute observers of the British political and cultural scene

Therefore my opinion about the attitudes of the educated class in England is based on first hand interviews – albeit informal ones…which is often when you get a truer picture of a subject’s feelings on a matter. For instance, a top editor at the Guardian told me over drinks about taking a trip around the Common Wealth with Prince Charles; which is to say the remnants of the empire on which “the sun never set.”  And his description of the heir to the British throne, after observing him up close for a couple of weeks, was one of amused contempt!

The Editor said he watched closely as the Prince greeted commoners and dignitaries in several countries and he said exactly the same thing.  He would greet them, ask their name, and wish them well.  It was an official role that he is paid to perform on behalf of the British nation, and he has a uniform for each occasion.  “It was clear to see that it was a well rehearsed act,” said the editor, “Prince Charles was totally detached from the performance and he really didn’t give a fuck!”

When you are paid to appear and perform on cue like an actor it hard to see how it could be otherwise. That’s why Prince William could be seen telling the new Princess that she must continue to wave to the crowd even if her arm is tired. They royals may appear to live a carefree life where they do what they want, but in a Constitutional Monarchy the Royals actually work for the people and exist at their pleasure. It is the prime Minister who is the head of the government and rules while the Queen reigns.  In spite of how much it may offend the sensibilities of many Americans, who have been raised in a country that despises royalty to the point that it is illegal to confer an aristocratic title on someone; the Brits clearly adore their Royals!  Yet judging by the celebratory behavior, it is clear that many Americans are actually ambivalent in their attitude toward royalty…what psychologist call the “attraction/repulsion syndrome.”

When I went to England one of the main things I wanted to know was how the “Commoners” felt about the Aristocrats.  That curiosity increased when I arrived at Heathrow airport and decided to take the “underground” train into the city.  I chose the train rather than a taxi because it was the morning rush hour and I was warned by a Brit that it could cost me a king’s ransom.  The most poignant memory of that trip – which was also my first impressions of England – was the shabby way the people were dressed.

I kept thinking that these were white collar workers and yet they were dressed in bargain basement type togs that no self respecting Harlemite of a similar class would be caught wearing to work on a bad day.  When I arrived at my destination, the fabulous Dorchester Hotel, which is situated on the edge of Hyde Park, I was astonished by the fleet of shiny Rolls Royce’s and Bentleys parked out front.   And the people were dressed in high style.

The class divide was obvious.  Yet when I broached the subject of the Royals with the hotel workers none had any criticism of the Royal Family and a couple even told me that they felt criticism of the Queen was unjustified.  They thought her a great person and wished her a long reign.  I was puzzled by the lack of anger.   But I am an American, and we don’t believe in aristocrats.  But the million people who gathered in the streets outside Buckingham Palace to salute the new heirs to the throne clearly do!  It is also true that people all over the world are in love with the idea of a Prince sweeping up a Commoner and making her a Princess; it’s in all our fairy tales.  As the lyrics to the theme of Snow White says: “Someday my Prince will come.”  Even the cynical tough guy Jazz man Miles Davis recorded the tune.

Thus it is embedded in the psyche of young girls.  That’s why so many of them were wearing hats in celebration of the wedding and a billion people around the world watched the spectacle.  Even in China they are offering weddings where the bride and groom dress like the Prince and Princess.  About the attraction itself; it was a jolly good show if you love finely tailored clothes, grand architecture, exquisitely appointed halls dripping with gold leafing, great hats, beautiful prancing horses, fabulous carriages, and eloquent oratory in the English language which reminds you that Chaucer and Sweet Willie Shakespeare was a Brit.

If these things strike your fancy you would get a big kick out of the Royal wedding ceremony.  It is make believe on a grand scale, a fantastic parade, and all the world loves a good parade!  While all this may look like a vulgar anachronism to many Americans; to the Brits  it is a symbol of their nation – a reminder of their Golden Age – without which they cannot be that “sceptered isle” on whose empire once upon a time the sun never set.  That’s why they fervently sing “God Save the Queen,” with passion and continue to pay them to play the role.

A Real Life Fairy Tale

Every Little Girl’s Dream!


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem New York

May 9, 2911

*** My delay in posting this essay results from the fact that I bumped it last week to deal with the assassination of Osama bin Laden.