Archive for May, 2018

Megan Marries Her Prince

Posted in The Royal Wedding of Meghan and Harry with tags , , on May 20, 2018 by playthell

Harry and Megan…The look of Love

A Fairy Tale Wedding Makes History

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin sick soul

There is a balm in Gliead

that Makes the wounded whole

With these poetic words coined by Afro-American slaves, those “Black and Unknown Bards” celebrated in the epic poem of James Weldon Johnson, who wondered how with those who dwelled in hell of American slavery, without the benefit of tutoring in the art of posy, came “to touch the sacred fire,” the Afro-American Bishop and leader of the Episcopal Church in America Michael Curry, proclaimed to the world the power of love just before the paramount leader of the world Anglican Communion Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, blessed the union of a grandson of British kings with the great granddaughter of American slaves as he joined them in holy matrimony.

Resplendent in colorful vestments of a prince of the high Anglican church and Eloquent beyond the power of words to describe, the Bishop treated the British to a sermon forged in the smithy of the Afro-American Religious experience and invested with the magnificent rolling cadences of the Afro-Sermon, an oral art form that most of the world first heard when the Dr. Martin Luther King – whom the bishop quoted in his ecumenical sermon that referenced catholic and protestant thinkers – spoke to the world of the power of love.   The Bishop was the embodiment of what the wonderful writer Zora Neale Hurston said of all successful Afro-American preachers, he was ”The poet he must be to survive in a Negro pulpit…for we are a people that love magnificence and can’t get too much of it.” Indeed, Bishop Curry was one of “God’s Trombones,” to whom the bard James Weldon Johnson pays homage and tells us “had all the devices of eloquence at their command.”  The Archbishop of Canterbury calls the American Bishop “a stunning preacher!”

Due to the early hour I was asleep when the festivities began, but as luck or fate would have it I awoke as the bishop began to speak, and I was convinced that whatever went on in this fairytale affair, the black bishop’s sermon, followed by the angelic voices of the gospel choir singing the Rhythm and Blues anthem “Stand by Me,” made immortal by the late great Ben E. King, was a high point of the day. As one BBC commentator declared with great enthusiasm: “St; Georges’ chapel had never heard anything like it….it almost stole the show.”

God’s Trombone

          Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Epispocal Church

Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury performs the Royal Wedding

This was followed by a marvelous rendition of Shubert’s Ava Maria, performed by a young afro-wearing elegantly attired 19-year old virtuoso, the first black instrumentalist to win the BBC Young Musicians competition, who made the baritone voice of the cello sing with a haunting lyricism.  Then after the saying of their wedding vows, in which Harry and Megan bequeathed to each their world possessions and vowed to love and cherish each other with faces animated by sunshine smiles and the glory of love, pledged till death they do part, the bride and groom strolled down the aisle to the majestic blare of a Baroque trumpet choir and exited the ancient Windsor Chapel to the swelling cheers of the adoring crowds that had assembled to get a glance at the royal couple as they rode in an open carriage drawn by four white horses, escorted by a host of mounted guards decked out in colorful uniforms mounted on sturdy steeds, immaculately groomed for this auspicious occasion. It was a celebration fit for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as the BBC broadcast their journey through the city to a soundtrack of the gospel choir singing Curtis Mayfield’s joyous musical prayer.

Although opinions will vary about the significance of this wedding, it was no picayune affair.  It was a historic moment, an event that changed the course of history.  Perhaps it’s true important can only be fully understood when viewed from the added dimension of historical perspective.  A half century ago Sammy Davis Jr. was mobbed by white racist haters when he came to London to perform with his blond Swedish bride by his side. Hence the fact that a lass issued from the loins of a black woman, and raised to adulthood under her guiding hand, could marry into the revered Royal Family, the cherished dream of many a British maiden, and be roundly applauded by high and low born British subjects, is a sure measure of the declining significance of race in the 21st century.

On the symbolic level it is second only to the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency. Some skeptical observers and petty haters will point to the fact that both Megan and Barack were not “genuine blacks,” in that each had a white parent, but as for the designation of who is considered black that has been a distinction without a difference in America, and to a lesser degree in Britain too.  However, I will leave the measure of it’s true significance for future historians to decide.

The wedding ceremony was also a measure of the diminishing significance of gender roles. The bride, awash in sparkling diamonds and begowned in a white dress with flowing sixteen-foot veil, chose to march down the aisle alone to the sacred sound of George Frederick Handel’s Baroque masterpiece “Eternal Source of Light Divine” – which was originally composed as an “Ode to the Birthday of Queen Anne.” Alas, despite the majesty of the music it sounded somewhat impoverished to my ears after having hear it sung by the peerless coloratura soprano Kathleen Battle, accompanied by the gifted trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis, who enriched the composition with the magic Afro-Americans bring to the art of music making. Tis a pity they did not command a performance from these marvelous artists.

Meghan consented to be escorted to the alter by Prince Charles, heir to the British Crown, only near the end of the aisle; and she refused to promise to “obey” her husband.  It was the independent modern woman and political activist on women’s issues that Meghan is.  She is a very bright, highly educated, talented woman who had made a very successful life for herself before she ever met Harry.  She was no damsel in distress waiting to be rescued and swept away by a dashing prince in shining armor. In fact, as my friend Kwaku, whose family hails from the British West Indies, pointed out “Charlie is a lucky guy; she is a catch!”  Harry chose a woman much like his mother the late Princess Diana: A great commoner and humanitarian.  And much of Meghan’s character is due to the way she was raised by her mother, Doria Ragland, who cut an elegant fashionable figure as she sat in the pews shedding silent tears watching her daughter make history marrying the British prince.

Doria Ragland Bears Silent Witness

Meghan’s Afro-American Mom

But most of all, the Bishop’s sermon and the gospel choir – which was mostly Afro-Brits but sang in a convincing Afro-American style – put on display the dramatic difference between the exuberant style and manner of the Afro-American worship tradition, and the staid rituals of the Anglican church in Britain; which the Reverend Susanne, a priest in the Anglican Communion of Canada, mockingly called “the chosen frozen,” as many pious Britons sat stiff as stuffed owls perched in their pews.  As I took it all in, I was reminded of the comment of the outstanding German theologian and Nazi resister Deidrick Baumhofer, who remarked after visiting a Sunday morning service at Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem, “This is the way God was meant to be worshipped!”

Many members of the audience however were visibly moved by the spirit of the soulful music and the dramatic power of the Bishop’s sermon, which one British commentator described as “Afro-Americacentric.” It was the spirit of Christianity transmogrified by Afro-Americans in the New World, nudging out the antique conventions of the Old World.  Judging from the expressions of sublime joy on their beaming faces, none enjoyed the ceremony more that the bride and groom.  Although like the Afro-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, I don’t believe in aristocrats, and would just as soon do away with the lot of them,  I say all the best to Meghan and Harry as they experience the joy of each other.  It was a jolly good show with the full measure of pomp and circumstance for which the British are world famous… Dilly Dilly!

Click on Link to hear

The Bishop Speak On The Power Of Love

“There is a Balm in Gilead”

Performed by the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Click on Link to see:

Kathleen Battle and Wynton Marsalis perform, “Eternal Source of Light Divine,” by George Fredrick Handel



Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 20, 2018

End of A Delusion?

Posted in On Donald Trump, On Foreign Affairs, Playthell on politics with tags , , on May 17, 2018 by playthell

Kim Jung Un and Donald Trump

Did Kim Chump Trump?

North Korea’s dramatic termination of a scheduled meeting with the leaders of south Korea, and the rejection of Donald Trump’s proposal for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, caught clueless Donnie and his acolytes off guard and left them stumbling around like dancers in the dark.  Just a fortnight ago, like Giddy high school girls with their knickers a twitter waiting their prom date, Republicans in Congress were projecting Donald Trump as the next Nobel Laureate for peacemaker.

Since the guiding ambition of Trump’s political career is to outdo former President Barack Obama, a political Super Nova, and undo his legacy, Trump became quickly enamored with the idea of wining the Nobel Prize because the much-coveted award was conferred upon President Obama.  Alas, being the brazen braggart and tireless self-promoter that he is, Trump could barely contain his delight at the prospect.  In fact, one got the impression that Trump believes this award could salvage what promises to be a tarnished legacy.  Alas, the North Koreans are paying close attention and understand that they are the key to realizing Trump’s grandiose ambition…and they are suddenly playing hard to get.

That he so easily swallowed the fiddle faddle about the North Koreans being willing to scrap their nuclear arsenal is further evidence that Trump is a rank amateur at the game of politics, and clueless about the complexities of international relations. On the face of it the proposition struck me as absurd, given the threat the US poses to North Korea’s national existence. The Trump administration’s position wandered into the realm of fantasy when they began to demand that the North Koreans disarm even while the US kept military forces station on it’s border; has yet to sign a peace treaty ending the war that resulted from a horrific American invasion over half a century ago; maintains injurious economic sanctions against them and is presently conducting a joint military exercise with South Korea just off their shores, which they rightly regard as a rehearsal for an invasion of their country.

Hence it should come as no surprise to anyone whose head is not buried in their ass and has a reasonable understanding of the political realities that shape the state of US-North Korean relations, that Kim and his posse are backing away from any idea of Nuclear disarmament.  And the fact that Trump’s newly appointed National Security Advisor John Bolton, a crazy old warmonger, has suggested in a public statement that the US should impose “the Libyan Model” on North Korea does not inspire confidence that American objectives coincide with theirs.

Trump’s fumbling attempt to fudge Bolton’s statement in his White House press conference with the Secretary General of NATO, a day after the release of the North Korean statement of their position on the matter, only revealed his confusion on the subject and almost certainly had the opposite effect of his intention to put Kim Jung Un’s mind at ease.  The point of referencing the Lybian Model for the Koreans was to remind Americans that after Mumar Khadaffi voluntarily gave up his nuclear weapons program he was later overthrown and assasinated with the help of the US and NATO.  Trump was arguing that if they gave up their nukes the US would insure the safety of Kim Jung Un’s regime, but should they fail to comply with US demands they would suffer the same fate as Lybia.  Neither position was acceptable to the North Koreans.

Alas, Donald Trump has been running about crowing like a barnyard rooster, telling the world that he has convinced Kim Jung Un to “completely denuclearize,” before the US will consider any concession to North Korean concerns.   But in light of the official government statement issued by Kim Kye Gwan, the first vice-minister of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK, it looks as if The Donald has been “cuttin tha fool” before the world…again, as my grandfather would put it.  The North Korean’s were unambiguous in their position.

prior to the DPRK-U.S. summit, unbridled remarks provoking the other side of dialogue are recklessly made in the U.S. and I am totally disappointed as these constitute extremely unjust behavior. High-ranking officials of the White House and the Department of State including Bolton, White House national security adviser, are letting loose the assertions of so-called Libya mode of nuclear abandonment, “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” “total decommissioning of nuclear weapons, missiles and biochemical weapons” etc. while talking about formula of “abandoning nuclear weapons first, compensating afterwards.”

Wherever the Trump administration got the idea that the North Koreans would go for the okey doke and concede to demands that the US would consider the acme of absurdities if demanded of them by a foreign power, the Korean statement leaves no doubt that it is not anchored in reality. The candid statement goes on to say:

This is not an expression of intention to address the issue through dialogue. It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.

I cannot suppress indignation at such moves of the U.S., and harbor doubt about the U.S. sincerity for improved DPRK-U.S. relations through sound dialogue and negotiations. World knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate. It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya which had been at the initial state of nuclear development.”

In his attempt to explain the deal he is offering to North Korea at the press conference to discuss NATO – i.e. give up their nukes in exchange for American private sector assistance with economic development – it was embarrassingly clear that Trump, a notorious non-reader, had not read the North Korean statement.  For they had unambiguously addressed and dismissed this offer:

The U.S. is trumpeting as if it would offer economic compensation and benefit in case we abandon nuke. But we have never had any expectation of U.S. support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future, too.  It is a ridiculous comedy to see that the Trump administration, claiming to take a different road from the previous administrations, still clings to the outdated policy on the DPRK… If President Trump follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, he will be recorded as more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors, far from his initial ambition to make unprecedented success… if the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit.

It is abundantly clear that Trump has embraced a dangerous delusion.  Fueled by the arrogance of power and blinded by the self-serving doctrine of “American Exceptionalism,” Donald Trump believes he can seduce or coerce Kim Jung Un into accepting a deal hatched in the fevered imagination of John Bolton, that insults the dignity of North Korea as a sovereign nation and threatens their security.  The Koreans recognized Bolton as the incubator of aggressive policies in the Trump Administration and called him out on it: “We shed light on the quality of Bolton already in the past, and we do not hide our feelings of repugnance towards him.”

Dredged up from the pits of foreign policy purgatory and provided unmediated access to the ear of Donald Trump – whose head is a tabula rasa on which anything can be written by an advisor – Bolton, a bellicose neo-con ideologue from the Project for a New American Century, the think tank whose misguided foreign policy views landed us in the Iraq War – which is still in progress 17 years later – will increasingly shape Trump’s view of the world.  Hence, as the bluesman Percy Mayfield warned: “The whole-world is in trouble…and the danger zone is everywhere!”


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York




Is Trump Having a Beckett Moment?

Posted in On Donald Trump with tags , on May 2, 2018 by playthell

North Korean Leader Kim Jung-Un and his Warriors

Giving Diplomacy A Chance?

After months of hurling insults and threats at Kim Jung Un, the leader of North Korea, calling him “Little Rocket Man” and posturing over who’s got the biggest balls and nukes, and who would blink first in a nuclear confrontation, Donald Trump, with his vain eyes on the Nobel Peace Prize, has now adopted the posture of peacemaker. And it should surprise no one to discover that a chance to bask in Norwegian limelight accepting the Nobel, more than saving a million innocent souls from the slaughter house of modern war, is Dastardly Donald’s true motivation.

Recently Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who had just resigned as head of the CIA to accept the yet unconfirmed nomination – returned from a secret mission to North Korea where he conducted negotiations to prepare the way for a Summit Meeting between Trump and Un. An unexpected and unprecedented development in American foreign relations.

The stated reason for the Summit is to negotiate a historic deal for lasting peace between the US and North Korea, two nations that have been at war ever since the Armistice of 1953, which stopped the shooting but never formally ended the war with a peace treaty.   Hence, under international law we have been in a state of war with Korea for over 60 years!

During all this time the two nations have been at a stand-off, with US troops stationed only a few miles from the border of North Korea, a burlesque of a nation created out of the division of the Korean peninsula along the 38th Parallel in an attempt to create order out of the chaos of war by splitting the Korean people into two hostile nations reflecting the Communist and Capitalist power blocs that defined the post war world.  If Trump can successfully negotiate a treaty finally ending hostilities with North Korea it would insure him a unique place among American presidents in our diplomatic history.  It would stand him alongside Richard Nixon in his “China Opening;” which poses a supreme irony because as things now stand Trump is headed for another Nixonian moment: impeachment or resignation.

Although the available evidence suggests that “The Donald” is not a thoughtful man given to meditating on history, he has been formally diagnosed by a multitude of psychiatrist and psychologist as suffering from “Malignant Narcissism.” A poignant example of this is the recent revelation that Devious Donnie dictated his own initial medical assessment, which declared him “the healthiest president in history!” The assessment also said he weighed 230 pounds, although he looks like he has worked at a carnival engaging in pie eating contests over the last ten years!  These facts lead many skeptical critics – this writer first among them – to suspect that as usual Trump’s diplomatic overture to North Korea is driven by egotism rather than altruism.  Alas, the accidental president is more concerned with proving he is master at “the art of the deal” than playing peacemaker.

In any case, like Thomas Beckett after the King appointed him the Archbishop of Canterbury, Trump seems to have suddenly become aware of the gravitas of his office and wants to leave a legacy that lives up to his high station which, like Beckett, he arrived at by accident and is totally unprepared for.  And thus, he has peeped at the man in the mirror and wondered what his legacy will be…where will he stand in the pantheon of presidents?  Will his grandchildren beam with pride when his name is mentioned in their history classes…or seek to hide under their desks?

Whatever his motivation, Trump’s move toward diplomacy rather than nuclear war comes as glad tidings to an astonished world that has looked on in horror from the sidelines as relations between leaders of the US and North Korea – two nuclear armed nations – rapidly deteriorated amid the clamor of saber rattling and name calling. Although relations between these two countries have been troubled for nearly three quarters of a century, they have grown dramatically worse during the short presidency of Donald J. Trump, who sought to impose his will on them by military action.

Since the possibility of a successful land invasion is an obvious fantasy, Dangerous Donnie openly threatened to destroy North Korea with nuclear weapons: “Raining fire and fury upon them such as the world has never seen!” And North Korea promised to retaliate by destroying American allies and assets in Asia, and even drop a nuke or two on the US homeland.

After Trump issued that threat we have witnessed an increase of ballistic missile tests, as the North Koreans race to develop a missile that can serve as a credible deterrent to American aggression. The latest ballistic missile test by North Korea – which introduced an ICBM they claim is capable of hitting the White House – offers compelling evidence that “The Donald’s” public proclamations and actions went over like a lead balloon with the so-called “hermit nation,” which has been bracing for an American attack since the middle of the 20th century.  It began to look like war was inevitable.

In a dramatic turnabout we now have Trump reaching out to Kim Jung Un for a Summit Meeting. Kim in return has decided to suspend ballistic missile tests, and the leaders of the two Koreas, Un and Moon, have met and talked, each stepping across the 38th parallel setting foot on the other’s soil for the first time since the peninsula was divided over half a century ago.  The question is: What are the chances of success? If one faces the hard facts objectively, free of fantasy, Kim and Donnie could well be like the couple sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams.

Trump is not simply demanding that North Korea stop its missile testing and halt its production of nuclear weapons but give up their nuclear arsenal altogether…to “denuclearize.”  Yet finding foreign policy experts who believe the North Koreans will accede to such a demand may prove harder than finding needles in haystacks.  For instance, the former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, who once served as Ambassador to South Korea and is one of America’s foremost experts on the region says: “It will never happen!  The North Koreans will never give up their nuclear weapons.”

Dr. James Stavridis, a former Four-Star Admiral in the US Navy, who is Dean of the distinguished Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, echoes Governor Richardson’s belief that the North Koreans will not agree to scrap their nuclear arsenal and says that if he was advising Kim Jung Un he would not tell him to do so.  Richard Haas, longtime president of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations and author of A World in Disarray also believes there is no chance that Trump’s upcoming talks with Kim Jung Un will result in the North Koreans agreeing to give up their Nukes.

In fact, Haas believes there is a danger in entering these negotiations with such unrealistic expectations. Given his volatile temperament alas, who knows what will happen when Trump doesn’t get what he wants; his response is unpredictable and could prove catastrophic.  And now that Trump has selected John Bolton, that old neo-con warmonger from the Project for a New American Century – the think tank that gave us the Iraq War* – as his National Security Advisor anything can happen!


Playthell G. Benlamin

Harlem, New York

May, 1 2018