Hillary Speaks to the Vets

Posted in Playthell on politics, The 2016 Presidential Race with tags , , on September 2, 2016 by playthell
Hillary Clinton at American LegionCiting her long involvement with military matters as her qualification for CIC

 Making a Pitch for the Military Vote

 Hillary Clinton made a campaign stop at an American Legion convention in Ohio on Wednesday, a pivotal state in the coming presidential elections.  Although she faced an audience that was staunchly Republican and neither warm nor welcoming – blase skepticism and frosty reserve would more faithfully characterize their demeanor – she nevertheless took to the podium and commanded their grudging respect with a combination of passionate patriotism – recounting tales of military heroism told by her ex-soldier dad – and unimpeachable knowledge regarding the anatomy of war, peace and diplomacy.  Even the Five Blind Boys could clearly see that Hillary’s credentials for the gig are heads and shoulders above anything that blustering real estate huckster from Queens can muster.

The quality of the Democratic candidate’s speech depends upon the criteria one employs to evaluate it.  As a political oration designed to win votes it was perfect for her audience and thus must be judged a rousing success…that is to say it went as well as possible.  She touched all of the right bases she needed to touch to hit a home run.  Yet as a statement of political reality and astute realpolitique – which is to say a proper assessment of the relationship of political forces in the world and where our real interests lay – Hillary’s stance on foreign relations left much to be desired.  Since I have made this case elsewhere, re-litigating it here would be akin to reinventing the wheel.  Hence I shall refer the reader who cares to fathom the issue to: “The World According to Hillary” at https://commentariesonthetimes.me/2016/04/03/the-world-according-to-hillary/.

As I argue in the essay cited above, in order to fully comprehend Hilary’s view of the world, and the role of American power in the international order, one must first take into account the fact that her basic views were molded in the heat of the Cold War era.  It is a measure of how bad Trump is that even when he is clearly right he can be dismissed out of hand.  Given that the game of politics is a system by which relationships of power are created and maintained alas, and considering the monumental issues that will be decided by this election that demand Democratic leadership, I hesitate to speak frankly of the folly of certain of Hillary’s bedrock views regarding foreign policy…even when they offend my sense of reality.

These are no picayune issues of which I speak; they are at the very root of why the US remains in a state of perpetual war at a great price in blood and treasure!  For instance, Hillary gained big brownie points with the Vets as she vociferously attacked Trump for suggesting that the concept of “American Exceptionalism” was “an insult to other nations” and that it is unreasonable to expect them to accept our vision of the world.

The specific example she used to highlight Trump’s foreign policy blasphemy was his comment that “If you are in Russia might not view America as Exceptional.”  Hillary acted as if Trump had voiced some unspeakable heresy that alone disqualified him for the US Presidency.  She looked into the cameras and said with all of the indignation she could muster: “Just because Putin does not recognize it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”  That kind self-righteous messianic view is a dangerous way to understand the role of the US in the community of nations.  The late Senator J. William Fulbright from Arkansas published a book about this attitude in 1966, titled “The Arrogance of Power.”

Fulbright, who was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, presented an argument that Hillary Clinton needs to consider just now. For although a half century has passed, Senator Fulbright’s argument is as relevant now as it was then.  At the time the US was in a protracted war in Viet Nam, fighting to “contain the communist menace,” a threat that has now been replaced with the “Radical Islamist menace” from which we are now called upon to save the world.  Senator Fulbright, a thoughtful man who was a Rhodes Scholar, offered the following observation:

The attitude above all others which I feel sure is no longer valid is the arrogance of power, the tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission. The dilemmas involved are preeminently American dilemmas, not because America has weaknesses that others do not have but because America is powerful as no nation has ever been before and the discrepancy between its power and the power of others appears to be increasing….”

Senator Fulbright went on to analyze how the arrogance of American power shaped our mission in Vietnam:

We are now engaged in a war to “defend freedom” in South Vietnam. Unlike the Republic of Korea, South Vietnam has an army which [is] without notable success and a weak, dictatorial government which does not command the loyalty of the South Vietnamese people. The official war aims of the United States Government, as I understand them, are to defeat what is regarded as North Vietnamese aggression, to demonstrate the futility of what the communists call “wars of national liberation,” and to create conditions under which the South Vietnamese people will be able freely to determine their own future. I have not the slightest doubt of the sincerity of the President and the Vice President and the Secretaries of State and Defense in propounding these aims.

What I do doubt and doubt very much is the ability of the United States to achieve these aims by the means being used. I do not question the power of our weapons and the efficiency of our logistics; I cannot say these things delight me as they seem to delight some of our officials, but they are certainly impressive. What I do question is the ability of the United States, or France or any other Western nation, to go into a small, alien, undeveloped Asian nation and create stability where there is chaos, the will to fight where there is defeatism, democracy where there is no tradition of it and honest government where corruption is almost a way of life. Our handicap is well expressed in the pungent Chinese proverb: “In shallow waters dragons become the sport of shrimps.”

Since she is likely to become the next President of the USA, and Commander-In-Chief of the most destructive military force ever assembled on this planet, I can think of several aphorisms that would serve as wise council to Hillary Clinton. As one who voted for her and worked to convince others to cast their votes for her, I feel at liberty to suggest the following: “A hint to the wise should be sufficient,” and I would buttress that sentiment with the philosopher George Santayana’s warning: “Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes!”

Old Soldiers Paying close Attention

Hillary at American Legion

Click on link to view Hillary’s Speech


See Report on Hillar voicing the view that Putin is comparble to Hitler
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
September 2, 2016

Freedom Music that Inspired South Africans

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , on August 19, 2016 by playthell
Maz and Abey IIRevolutionaty Music: Background sound to the Liberation Movement

The Sound Heard Around the World!

The videos posted below  brings to mind the role both Max Roach and Amonata Moseka played in the arts movement of South Africa. I say this because I got to know about Max and Amonata as a very young boy. What they did for African Americans, they also did very effectively for the arts and music in South Africa. I actually learned and got to see Max’s influence in many drummers of the early fifties and sixties in South Africa, like Gordon Mfandu, Early Mabuza, Louis Mofolo, and countless drummers who collected his music, and played like Max, emulated and refined some of his licks and so forth;

Then there was the ladies who sang in the sultry notes of Aminata  Moseka, singers like Dolly Rather, Dorothy Masuka, Thandi Klaasen, and of the younger generation, Sibongile  Khumalo – daughter of Khabi Mgoma who was the conductor of the Ionian Choir of Africans in South Africa.  He would go on to become the Director and curator of Dorkay House, lcated on Elloff Street in Johannesburg.   Dorkay House was the Hub of African Jazz musicians and music students Dorkay House was situated next to BMCC, where all the artist – painters, poets, dramatist, et al were practicing their artistic endeavors.

Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln

Max and Abbey

Father and Mother of the Black Arts Movement

These institutions were very influential in spreading what Max and Abbey were doing for the arts and music world in the USA. Max’s 78 rpm’s and LPs were exchanged amongst the artists, and we, the children of some of these musicians, were encouraged to go to BMCC to learn about up and coming painters and sculptors. Some of my young friends took piano, drum and other instrumental lessons in Dorkay House.

Khabi Mgoma, after his creation of the Ionian Classical Music choir, went on to teach in Natal. But before he left he served as the Director of Dorkay House, and this was frowned upon by the Apartheid Goons who wanted to suppress any sign of modern cultural nationalism among blacks. We children from the townships who loved Jazz got to listen to and watch our African Brothers and uncles practice the new licks from Max Roach, while hanging out with many artists like Dumile Feni, Fikile Magadlela and Solly Bobela, and so forth.

They all came out of that mix.   BMCC played a major role in churning out these young musicians and artists.. Dorkay House was also a hangout for the Musicans /Artists, etc  who played Billiards at BMCC.   It is from such settings that I got to hear and know about Max and Amonata Moseka.

Musicians played his LPs on their gramophones and newly acquired Hi-Fi Radio system. Although we grew up listening to the great drummer Philly Jo Jones and other contemporaries, Max topped the bill for our listening pleasure. This was long before there were the Jazz Clubs that have become a staple since the coming to Power of the ANC. For us, Jazz clubs during my teenage years was hanging out with all types of artists and musicians, and it was from such esteemed people, that I developed a reverence for Jazz that has stayed with me to this day.

As For Leroi Jones, I got to know him from his book, “Blues People”, but I will reserve my comments for now regarding this book. Anyway, we did not read Jazz, only form Magazines like ‘Down Beat”, but the experience of living with, hanging out, and  listening to musicians from a very young Age.  The intoxicating sound of Jazz reaffirmed the oceanic connections that we had with our African bothers, specifically in the US.   I know the influence of the “African Jazz Art society” was certainly felt in South Africa because I remember that my father used to get information on them.

Living within the Jazz Milieu of Apartheid South provided a kind of spiritual refuge…where our souls could dance freely, transcending the physical oppressions of the House of Bondage that our beautiful country had become. Thus the powerful race conscious music of Max and Amonata – such as the “Freedom Suite: We Insist Freedom Now”- made life worth living for many of us here in South Africa.

Those who fought and defeated the apartheid regime are still affected by their cultural contributions more than I can put into words. Max and Amonata was it for us, especially my Age group.   I am older now, but I still listen to my pristine Vinyl recordings of their music and am still inspired by the art of the politically conscious Jazz Giants.  All one need do to understand why is to check out their performance on the videos below.



Freedom Day!


Cosmic Freedom Sounds!

Max Roach and South African Pianst Dollar Brand

May the Circle Remain Unbroken!

The Struggle Continues….
South African Revolutionary
August 1, 2016

Donald Trump’s Economic Plan: SOS!

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags on August 13, 2016 by playthell

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers an economic policy speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Charlatan at Work

Trump’s Message is same old Republican Shit

It is both accurate and charitable to say that Donald Trump’s new economic plan presented before the Detroit Economic Club last Monday is just old Republican wine in a new bottle.  He may try to change the label and brand himself a bold innovator – which is not the only illusion he confuses with reality – but it really is the same old Republican babble.   As has been noted by more than a few political wise guys, except for his anti-free trade protectionist rhetoric – which is heresy to the Republican establishment – Trump’s speech could have been given by any run-of-the-mill Republican politico!  This is because it was a script written by professional party propagandist and delivered by Trump.

The major distinction of Trump’s speech – aside from repudiating much of the dream that he has been selling the impassioned but woefully untutored mob that form the foundation of his support – is his tendency to tell blatant lies that can be easily disproved by a simple fact check, even when speaking in venues where the press is omnipresent. Although the Republican Party has thrived on lies and mass disinformation over the last 20 years, “The Donald” has taken it to new heights.  And since this arrogant churl constantly bullies the press, they will be sure to point it out every time he tells a whopper.

In the present speech fact checkers have pointed out at least 16 outright lies involving a range of issues such as Clinton’s tax proposals and her husband’s role in passing NAFTA, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.  PolitiFact, one of the more reliable sources, gave Trump a “Pants on Fire” rating – their most severe rating for liars – about his claim that Clinton promised to raise taxes on the middle class in a public statement.

A fact check quickly proved that she said the exact the opposite.   But this is characteristic of the veracity of Trump’s comments about Clinton’s tax policy – virtually everything the rascal said has been shown to be a lie by the fact checkers in the Washington Post. Then there is Trump’s constant wail about the evils of NAFTA and how the Clinton’s imposed this treaty on the nation, destroying the American industrial sector. He even claims that act accounts for the jobless rate among the working class whites who once flourished during the period of industrial prosperity when America was a manufacturing giant and huge factories littered the landscape.

However the truth is that Hillary had nothing to do with that, and while her husband introduced the Bill and shepherded it through Congress, it was George H. W. Bush that actually negotiated the agreement. Hence passing NAFTA was a bi-partisan effort.  Furthermore, when the Agreement came up for a vote in Congress the Republicans voted for it in greater numbers than the Democrats!  The leaders of the Democratic majority in the House – Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, and Majority Whip David Bonner – both opposed it!

When the vote was taken NAFTA passed by 34 votes 235 to 200, with 132 Republicans voting for it, as opposed to only 102 Democrats. It passed the Senate 61-38, 34 Republicans vs 27 Democrats.   NAFTA became law on January 1, 1994.  However to listen to Trump talk it was the evil Bill and Hillary Clinton that imposed this monstrous agreement on the US and it is responsible for the present employment crisis in the white working class.  This, like all of Trump’s arguments, is a shameless lie born of ignorance, nurtured on malice and presented with duplicity.

Reduced to its simplest terms Trump’s economic policy is based on the traditional pillars of Republican economic dogma: Sharply reduce corporate taxes, abolish the inheritance tax, and cut back government regulation of business. Since there is nothing in these policies that directly benefit the beleaguered workers who seek their salvation in Trump, as an afterthought he threw in a tax deduction for child care expenses which he claims was the brain child of his daughter Ivana, whom he claims is concerned about the plight of working mothers because she is one herself.

But since few poor working mothers file itemized tax returns this measure will be of no benefit to them alas. Ironically this deduction will benefit wealthy people like Ivana because there is no limit on the costs covered by this deduction. Trump’s economic plan is a rehash of the “Laffer Curve,” or “Supply Side Economics,” which postulates the hokum that if we give more money to the rich i.e. the “job creators,” they will in turn invest in the US economy and create more employment opportunities which will greatly reduce the unemployment rate.

However most jobs in the US today are created by small business, and when I interviewed business owners in New York, Atlanta and LA they all told me the same thing: Tax breaks alone will not prompt them to hire more workers.  That is determined by market conditions i.e. a demand for their goods or services.  Absent that demand they will simply save the tax cut or invest it elsewhere.

This type of  decision is adopted even more so  regarding the big multi-national corporations which are owned by investors all over the world and have no loyalty to nation states. Hence the decisions made by the executives, and corporate Boards of Directors that oversee their activities, are guided by the desire to constantly increase profits, not provide employment for unemployed American factory workers.  To suggest otherwise is a cold blooded deception and nobody knows this better than Donald Trump, who manufactures all of his products in foreign sweatshops lcated in places like China and Vietnam.

It is a transparent con by a megalomaniacal bunko artist and pathological liar who believes he can tell his fanatical blue collar supporters anything and they will believe it. In a moment of extreme hubris he declared: “I could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and get away with it!”   The truth is that Trump does not have a clue how to solve the problem of growing joblessness.  The guy is an amoral showman who will say whatever will get his act a laugh.  He even treats his wife like a prop.

The Donald and our Future First Lady?


The Donald Trump show….Playing to the Cheap Seats

He has promised to bring the giant manufacturing companies back to the US if elected President, but he fails to explain how he will make autonomous corporations in a privately owned economy do his bidding. The US government does not have the power to tell businessmen where they must locate their plants.

Trump tells us that he can make these corporations do his bidding by slapping exorbitant tariffs on their goods when they try to sell them in the US market. But that will result in a dramatic rise in prices for these goods, which are in great demand by American consumers, unless he also institutes price controls.  He has also promised to “renegotiate” trade agreements like NAFTA.

Although he often talks like he thinks he is running for Benevolent Dictator rather than President, the fact is that no American president has the power to do such things.  In order to carry out these policies “The Donald” will have to gain the approval of Congress and since the Republican Party is committed to “free trade” theology his chances of pulling it off are about equal to a snowball’s chances of survival in hell.

Yet even if Trump could lure these corporations back to the US with extravagant tax holidays, the plants they build will be robotized.  This fact brings us face to face with the real problem confronting the working class; what the great British economist John Maynard Keynes, the architect of the “New Deal” that did much to halt the economic collapse of the 1930’s, called “technological unemployment” and the US autoworker /economic analyst James Boggs called “the cybernation of the economy” in his 1960 book “The American Revolution: Pages From a Negro Worker’s Notebook.

Ironically, Boggs was a resident of Detroit when he penned this text, and Detroit was one of the world’s leading industrial centers.  Viewed from historical perspective both of these writers have proven to be prescient thinkers because there predictions have come to pass. The workers rendered obsolete by the advance of technology have vastly increased just as Keynes warned, and Detroit has turned into an economic wasteland as industrial work disappeared.

It is worth noting however, that neither Keyes nor Boggs foresaw the creation of the internet, which has been the midwife to the expanding phenomenon of globalization that has exported those manufacturing jobs that still exist  to the underdeveloped countries where workers are so desperately poor they will work for a fraction of what unionized workers demand in the advanced economies of the US and Europe.

All of these factors help to explain why the US economy emerged from the devastating Bush Depression yet left seven million workers who were employed before the crash unemployed.  Far too many politicians and policy wonks treated the economic collapse under Bush as if it were the same class of event as the Great Depression of the 30’s. But the persistence of unacceptably high unemployment after the “recovery” is caused by different forces.

The present crisis of the working class is not due to the traditional “boom and bust” of the business cycle, but to permanent changes in the structure of the US economy.  While our government planners refuse to look this problem squarely in the face and respond to what they see, there are other thoughtful analyst who are pointing to the real problem in books like “The Rise of the Robots” and “People Get Ready,”

In a review/essay on the book for the New York Times, Barbara Ehrenreich, who has written so perceptively about the problems of finding employment at a living wage in the contemporary American economy, noted that the disappearance of work has not been given the attention it deserves because the educated classes considered it a problem that only affected unskilled workers.  Then she issues a note of caution.

But, as Martin Ford documents in “Rise of the Robots,” the job-eating maw of technology now threatens even the nimblest and most expensively educated. Lawyers, radiologists and software designers, among others, have seen their work evaporate to India or China. Tasks that would seem to require a distinctively human capacity for nuance are increasingly assigned to algorithms, like the ones currently being introduced to grade essays on college exams. Particularly terrifying to me, computer programs can now write clear, publishable articles, and, as Ford reports, Wired magazine quotes an expert’s prediction that within about a decade 90 percent of news articles will be computer-­generated.  It’s impossible to read “Rise of the Robots” — for review anyway — without thinking about how the business of book reviewing could itself be automated and possibly improved by computers.”

This is the reality that political leaders must address because the nature of the solution required cannot be left up to the investor class. It is not in their interest to solve this problem; they are only interested in maximizing their profits.  We know from in depth sociological studies of the dire consequence of widespread and prolonged joblessness such as “When Work Disappears,” by Harvard sociologist William J. Wilson, the absence of honest work at a living wage for large numbers of any community affects everything.  Homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse; crime and incarceration rates; suicide and marriage rates, and the number of out of wedlock births, are all affected by widespread structural unemployment.

This is what’s driving the alarming rates of all these pathologies among the white working class, which has the fastest rising death rate of any demographic in American society.  The high incidence of opiate and alcohol addiction is a sure sign of extreme stress among them.  Interestingly, black men have been suffering from these maladies for decades but most Americans – especially working a lower middle class whites – never connected this to the stresses resulting from the absence of employment opportunities.

It is no small irony that many of those who benefitted from the institutional  racism that kept black men – and women of all races – out of the good jobs in manufacturing and the trades are these same white male workers.  Having been born into a society where just being a straight white male gave them a built in advantage, they cannot cope with a transformed social order.  In today’s economy employment discrimination based on race and gender is a crime, and the educational demands of the economy take precedence over race or gender.

Hence unskilled white industrial workers are gradually discovering what non-white workers have been experiencing for a while: they are an anachronism…..DonTrump othe odd man out.  They are lost souls, insecure in the present and pessimistic about the future.  And that makes them easy pickings for a fast talking charlatan from queens, who honed his salesman skills as a real estate huckster in Manhattan and a TV reality show host.

What can be fairly predicted from the facts at hand alas, is that The Donald has sold them a dream that would quickly become a nightmare if he were elected President.  His plan for a massive tax giveaway to the rich; tacking tariffs on imported goods; loosening regulation of the business and financial sector; scrapping the Affordable Health Care Act, while introducing a large scale American military force back into the Middle East quagmire, is essentially the same formula that brought on the bad old days of the Bush collapse!

Hence we can safely predict that the angry white mob that revere Trump will find no salvation in his economic plans for America.   It’s the same old shit!


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 2016



Posted in You Tube Classics with tags , , on August 7, 2016 by playthell
Allen Counter_MandelaPresident Nelson Mandela recieves renowned scimtist Dr. Allen Counter

An American Original…Scientist and Bon Vivant

I have a friend on Facebook who likes to say that the guy in the famous Don Equis beer commercial who is advertised as “The Most Interesting Man in the World” is a Fraud! Cedrick McCliester insists that yours truly is “The most interesting man in the world.” Although I am deeply flattered by the claim, and my life has been an exciting adventure even by the standards of a romance novel, I beg to differ with Brother Cedrick and nominate another in my stead.

I believe that my former student and longtime friend, Dr. S. Allen Counter, is the most interesting man in the world. I have known several certifiable geniuses in my life time: Wynton Marsalis, John Coltrane and Allen Counter among them. And the most interesting among the geniuses is Dr. Counter. A professor of Nuero-Science at Harvard and a Professor of Medicine at the world famous Mass General Hospital, Dr. Counter is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Nobel/Korolinska institute in Stockholm Sweden, where the much coveted Nobel Prizes in medicine and biology are awarded. Many believe that Dr. Counter could become the first black scientist to win the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Counter  has published scores of original research papers in the leading scientific journals in his field and they have been simultaneously translated into all the major languages of the world. Dr. Counter is also the only black member of the world renowned New York Explorer’s Club, whose members include some of the greatest explorers in history!

Dr. Counter has led important expeditions to the North Pole – following in the footsteps of Matthew Henson, the Afro-American explorer that dicovere the North Pole – and the Amazon Jungles, where he met and studied the Saramacans, a community of escaped African slaves who had lived deep in these jngles for centuries. A tall handsome ex-football player of high style who once considered becoming a professional actor before deciding to seek a career as a scientist, in his youth he was a chick magnet that attracted a wide array of gifted, powerful and beautiful women from all walks of life.

Dr. Counter and Oprah Winfrey




Dr. Counter, Super Model Naomi Campbell
Actors/Producters Debbie Allen amd Sister Felicia Rachad

Allen counter_Debbie allen_Felecia rashad

Hangin with the Doctor!
Dr. Counter and the Crown Princess of Sweden
Allen Counter and Swedish Crown Princess
Dr. Counter and the Crown Princess of Sweden
The Doctor Escorts  Miss Sweden to the Ball


The Knight Squires the first Black Miss Sweden in High Society

Both a man’s man and a woman’s man, Dr. Counter began what has become one of the most consequental best lived lives ever in dire poverty down in Boyington Beach Florida, in a black community largely composed of fruit pickers and servants to the mansions of the Super Rich WASP elite in Palm Beach. His academic climb began with a scholarship to Tennessee State, a historicall black college in Nashville, which he attended with the encouragement and aid of a devoted black teacher in his all-black high school.
Growing up in the segregated American south where racial discrimination and inequality were legal,,,,his is one of the most heroic and inspiring stories of American achievement in the 20th century!

Dr. Counter and President Obama


In Sweden for the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony honoring POTUS
Dr. Counter honoring Densel Washington 

Allen Counter - DenzelandAllen

Presenting an Award as President of Harvard Foundation
The Swedish Ambassdor to New England!

Allen Counter and Crown Prince of Sweden

“The Count and The Prince”

Artic Explorer

Allen countergreenland

Resting with is dogs
Arriving aboard a Nuclear Submarine

Allen Counter- USS Annapolis Atomic Sub_Commander _ Michael Brunner

Dr. Counter Plants an American Flag and Momento  honoring Matthew Henson
Winning Pothumous Recognition for Matthew Henson

Allen counter_audreymebane

Presenting the National Geographic Award to Henson’s Great Neice
Dr. Counter lecturing at Harvard

allen counter -lecturing on the human brain at Harvard

Unraveling the Mysteries of the Human Brain

Never forgetting the needs of communities like the one from which he came, he thinks that President Obama’s Affordable Health ACT is a good first step toward what ought to be free healthcare for everyone under a single payer system.  Dr. Counter, who is alo a licensed practicing doctor that treats patients, thinks medical care for profit is a crime against humanity. He also thinks that Dr. Ben Carson is merely a talented technician, a clueless artist badly in need of a brain transplant to help him understand the complexities of American politics.

The videos below provide scenes from the magnificent life of Dr. S. Allen Counter, Professor of  Neuro-biology and medicine at Harvard and Mass General Hospital; Research Fellow and Visiting Professor at the Nobel Khorolinska in Sweden; great explorer; cutting edge researcher on the human brain; Pesident of the influential Harvard Foundation – where he sponsors the annual “Kumba Christmas” ceremonies put on by the Afro-American students – Author, ethnologist, filmaker;  engaged intellectual, scientific activist on behalf of the poor and powerles,  and charming personality. All of these elements combine in him to produce the most interesting man in the world.  As you have observed from the photographs, Dr. Counter is a heroic figure that attracts stars from from all quarters, drawing them to him like a Super Nova.


Scenes from a fantastic life


Exposing Lead Poisioning from Industrial Pollution in Central America

Narrated by Debbie Allen

On The Kumba Choir

Each year Dr. Counter Presents them in a special Christmas performance


Playthell G. Bemjamin
Harlem, New York
August 2016

Wynton is The Greatest!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , on August 2, 2016 by playthell
Maestro Marsalis at work

The Evidence on Video and Audio

The great composer, arranger, bandleader and trumpeter Gerald Wilson once told me emphatically during an interview: “Wynton Marsalis is the greatest trumpeter in the world!” And as a failed trumpeter who retained a passionate love for the instrument, as well as an acute appreciation for the formidable obstacles and treacherous pitfalls which confronted the aspiring artist that attempted to master it, I wholeheartedly agreed.

As a serious lover of complex instrumental music I had listened to many great trumpeters in Jazz and European concert music – the former a New World invention, a 20th century art that expressed the Afro-American love of freedom as well as the quintessential American ideals of Democracy, Personal Liberty and Innovation. The latter a great art music from the Old World of Europe that was already centuries old, and reflected the hierarchal and highly formalized character of the societies that produced it. And although both musical idioms employ the same instrument, and the music they make is based on the same system of melody and harmony – a European invention that produced sublime sounds by their great master composers – the two musical forms were profoundly different in instrumental technique, compositional structure and artistic philosophy.

In the classical music of Europe the instrumentalist is a vehicle for the ideas of the composer. And if they perform in symphony orchestras, operas or chorales they are also subjected to the dictates of tyrannical composers. Hence in European concert music the creativity of the instrumentalist is severely circumscribed. Everything from tempo, intonation and interpretation of the music is dictated the composer and enforced by the conductor with an iron fist.  Hence conformity to tradition and achieving excellence based upon well-established standards of performance is the objective to which the successful artists must aspire.

Conversely, the art of Jazz performance demands that the performer seek their own voice, follow their personal muse, and create something new under the sun.  Furthermore the music must swing to the clockwork rhythms of the unique machine age milieu in which it was born…the most modern civilization the world had ever seen.  Hence all Jazz is modern music.  That’s why visual artists from American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollard and Wilheim de Kooning, to European masters of Modernism such as Pablo Picasso and Salvadore Dahli lionized their music.

The difficulty of mastering both musical idioms is self-evident in the fact that of all the great musicians that have lived in the world there are so few that have achieved virtuosity in both that we can count them on our fingers and toes. Flautist Hubert Laws, Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, pianists Chucho Valdez and Herbie Hancock, bassists Ron Carter, Carlos del Pino, Richard Davis and Ortiz Walton first among them. However Mr. Marsalis is the only musician on any instrument who has won the coveted Grammy for performances in both genres.  And he has achieved this impossible feat nine times!  Four were for “Best Classical Performance” and five for “Best Jazz Performance.”

For this presentation I have chosen one of the most difficult instrumental pieces from each genre where Wynton is featured as a soloist.  Added to this are two performances with Wynton as accompanist to a singer…a fine art unto itself.  For the instrumental Classical repertoire I have selected “The Carnival of Venice,” and for the Jazz performance I have chosen “Cherokee.” As to the difficulties posed by the first piece suffice it to say that when trumpeters auditioned for the great United States Marine Band, billed as “The Greatest Brass Band in the World” – under the direction of its founder and premiere composer Maestro John Phillip Sousa – who wrote such enduring works as El Capitan, Semper Fidelis, Anchors Away! And the immortal Stars and Stripes Forever – “The Carnival of Venice “ was the piece that they were required to play.

This is because Arbans’ Carnival presents the trumpeter with a series of obstacles that requires mastery of all the technical problems posed by trumpet performance: Legato and staccato phrasing; triple tonguing, circular breathing, fingering the keys, exquisite timing, embouchure and intonation. Cleary Wynton masters them all…and with ease!  This is a heroic achievement, because a trumpet after all is just some twisted brass pipes with a hard metal mouthpiece and only three keys!  Yet it is capable of playing all the notes in the musical lexicon.

This amazing feat is achieved by manipulating sound from the way one blows into the instrument, which is to say mastering embouchure.  It is such a marvelous feat the only reason that great athletes such as Michael Jordon and Russell Wilson attract more fans that Wynton is because more people understand the greatness of what they do. Everybody has had some experience playing sports – if only because physical education is a required component of every school curriculum…and sadly instrumental music is not.  However to grasp the brilliance of Wynton’s performance on Carnival, one need only read the comments of trumpet players from all over the world under the video and note their astonishment – one even said that “suicide” would be easier and a lot less painful that the epic failure one would experience trying to duplicate this performance!”


 Cherokee, the Jazz selection, was the piece that the hep cats at Minton’s Playhouse threw on Charlie “Yardbird” Parker to prove his mettle when he showed up at Minton’s Playhouse from Kansas City “looking country” totin his alto-sax in a cardboard case.  But when he took out his axe and begin to “cut heads” with his complex, erudite and original musical statements, Bird astonished everybody who witnessed it.  Dizzy Gillespie, a key figure in the aggregation of musical rebels who congregated in Minton’s and experimented with new ideas, said when he heard Bird he thought: “There it is, this is the sound we have been searching for.”  He said that they had bits and pieces of the music that would become world famous as Be-bop, and Bird filled in the gaps and brought the whole thing together.

From that musical communion came a genre of Jazz that would change the way musicians heard and played music all over the world. The artistic challenges Bop presented intrigued musicians from the great to near great to apprentices.  If I had to sum up Bird’s achievement I would say that he did for the world of music what Einstein did for theoretical physics: change the relationship between time and space forever.

The great writer Ralph Ellison, a well-schooled trumpet player competent in both the classical repertoire – he was a music major at Tuskegee, where he studied with the outstanding Afro-American composer in the classical European style but with an Afro-American voice. William Dawson – and was also grounded in the hard swinging blues style of the “Stomp” that was popular among the “Territorial Bands” that played in his native Oklahoma City – bird hailed from nearby Kansas City.

Ellison, was so astonished and overwhelmed by what he head in Minton’s that he wrote “They were playing be-bops…I mean re-bopped be-bops.” The drummers had abandoned the steady bass drum pulse that was so essential to the dancers who got down to the Stomp, that Ellison was horrified by the seemingly free form complexity of their rhythms and described them as “frozen faced introverts dedicated to chaos!”

The experience of hearing this new music called “Be-Bop” invented in Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse by players like trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, bassist Oscar Pettiford, drummer Kenny “Klook” Clarke and others that he gave up playing the trumpet and became a writer -.one of the greats.  So music’s lost was literature’s gain.

When listening to Cherokee, remember that essential to the genius of Jazz is not only the requirement of virtuosity on the part of each instrumentalist…but one must be able to compose complex music while swinging the blues over chord changes  at the SPEED OF THOUGHT!!!  Hence the speed at which Wynton is playing adds to the magic of it all!  So Kick back and check out the marvelous vibes from the horn of Maestro Marsalis…THE GREATEST TRUMPETER IN THE WORLD!!!

Chillin Back Stage
Wynton in Berkley After a triumphant concert at U-Cal Berkeley

Click to see: CHEROKEE
Boroque Duets: Wynton and Kathleen Battle

Watch Wynton Accompany Jazz Great Sarah Vaughn

Watch Wynton Warm up before a Concert

The concert featured legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal with the JALC Orchestra


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 1, 2016
***Cover Photo by Frank Stewart
U-Cal Berkeley Photo by: Playthell Benjamin

On Blacks in the White House

Posted in Cultural Matters, You Tube Classics with tags on July 25, 2016 by playthell


President Obama and the First Lady

A Must See Documentay by Professor H.L. Gates

Serious students of history have a different, and deeper, understanding of the present. Indeed, as the great Afro-American historian Benjamin Quarles – a long time professor of history at Morgan State University and author of “The Negro in the American Revolution,” warned: “He who would understand the complexities of the present need the added dimension of historical perspective.” The video below supplies that mush need historical perspective what the election of Barack Obama as President of the USA tells us about how far we have advanced in America.

This is a much needed perspective because there are far too many black people, especially the so-called “radicals,” who evaluate everything in terms of political victories i.e. the achievement of specific policy goals. Yet the election of Barack Obama has a significance that goes beyond politics and speaks to a pscho-cultural revolution in race relations that has opened up possibilities that were unimaginable when I went off the college at Florida A&M University in the fall of 1959.

The student sit-ins began that spring of 1960, and a brash young boxer named Cassius Marcellous Clay danced himself to a Gold Medal in Rome a few months later. He would go on the become a powerful symbol of the revolt of my generation. We set out to change race relations in ths country by destroying the de jure (legal) racial caste system in which the subordination of black people and white supremacy was the law!

There was no shame in those crackers game. Well we did destroy it! And while we have not solved all of the problems confronting America, and others gave arisen over the last half century:We have come a long way baby! I know first hand of which I speak because I WITNESSED IT!!! I watched these events unfold as an activist; a soldier in America’s nuclear strike force; a professor of history; an award winning journalist; music and theater critic; broadcaster; bandleader and boxing promoter. I saw it from ALL SIDES!

This film below, produced by “The Root” and narrated by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, is a brilliant, succintly rendered, history of Afro-Americans in the White House. This is a GREAT CONTRIBUTION to the full understanding of our history in this Republic, and Professor Gates – a cultural treasure – presents a learned and moving narrative accompanied by a splendid array of photographs and paintings.



A You Tube Classic
Selected and posted by: 
Playthell G. Benjamin

Paul Ryan is a Shameless Charlatan!

Posted in On the 2016 Presidential Election, Playthell on politics with tags , on July 10, 2016 by playthell
Paul Ryan - charlatan
Paul Ryan: Bunko Artist

On Playing Politics with National Security

It is nearly impossible to find a principled Republican these days.  In fact, it is becoming something of an oxymoron.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way they routinely deal with the dangerous enigma that is Donald Trump – talking out of both sides of their mouth in an attempt to endorse him as their presidential candidate while disassociating themselves from his offensive and often anti-Republican ideas – and now their response to the FBI investigation into the E-mail accounts of Hillary Clinton.  After making much ado about nothing when Bill Clinton and Attorney Lynch had an unscheduled meeting on the tarmac of an airport where both of their planes were parked, the Republicans in Congress are now refusing to accept the FBI report and the recommendations of the FBI Director.

No one personifies this Republican duplicity more than Paul Ryan, the current Speaker of the House, a sleazy apparently amoral guy who will compromise the integrity of his office for political advantage.  This is not the first occasion that I have pointed out these flaws in Speaker Ryan’s character.  During his run for Vice-President with Mitt Romney topping the ticket I wrote four essays on Ryan.

In one essay titled “Is Ryan a Bullshit Artist” I pointed out “Ryan is trying his best to bury his intellectual debt to the atheistic Russian Social Darwinist philosopher Ayn Rand.” But “MSNBC host Laurence O’Donnell aired a video tape…recorded in 2008, where Ryan tells us that Rand is the source of his entire political philosophy; he says that she inspired him to enter politics to help realize her vision of society.  And he required all of his congressional staff to read and discuss Rand’s books “Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.” 

“Then, with a devilish Grin,” I reminded the reader “O’ Donnell produced some rare footage of Ms. Ryan in an interview with Johnny Carson where she scoffs at the idea of God, said the family was not a necessary institution, and said the Vietnam war was and said he Vietnam war was an absurd American imperialism.  She is also on Record calling Ronald Reagan a moron!”  All of these positions of Ms. Rand contradict core Republican beliefs. Yet these blatant contradictions had no discernable effect on Mr. Ryan as he went merrily about his way like a drunken man running down the street and stumbles across the naked truth but gets up runs on as if nothing had happened.

When subjected to rigorous inquiries about his cold-blooded economic proposals Ryan said that his ideas were based on “traditional Catholic teachings” on social policy.  However it quickly became apparent that this duplicitous scam artist would find no sanctuary in the Catholic Church.  For as I reminded the reader “Catholic theologians and the Council of Bishops rebuked him for elevating the teachings of Ayn Rand on the ideal society over the teachings of Jesus Christ…If  Mitt is Mr. Chameleon  Ryan is trying his best to become “The Invisible Man.”

This is the tactic Ryan is presently employing in the Presidential race, where he is trying to support the Republican presidential race without mentioning their deeply flawed candidate’s name.  Hence he has adopted a strategy of tearing down Hillary Clinton without risking his political credibility by building up Donald Trump.  He has very much been the Invisible Man when it comes to singing the praises of Trump.

Indeed it is only when viewed from this perspective that one can understand the contrast between his extreme caution in supporting Trump with his reckless demand that Hillary Clinton be denied access to the classified National Security briefings that are given to presidential nominees…despite the fact that from all appearances she might well be the next president of the USA!

Yet Ryan has no objection to this Top Secret intelligence be given to Donald Trump – an undisciplined, unprincipled, megalomaniac and compulsive liar with the temperament of a schoolyard bully.  A joker whom Ryan finds an embarrassment and supports with the attitude of Hollywood stunt man who must hold his breath and role in horseshit because the script calls for it.

Paul Ryan would deny Inteligence Reports to Hillary

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at his South Carolina campaign kickoff rally in Bluffton, S.C., Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

And give them to this guy?

This is an act of shameless political opportunism that would compromise the national security of this country if Ryan’s request were granted.  But since such an act is the prerogative of the executive branch, which means that President Obama would have to sign off on it.  Nobody knows better than Congressman Ryan that there is no chance of this happening, so it is an act of transparent and shameless duplicity designed to gain a partisan political advantage in the presidential elections.

This is clearly the act of a charlatan who is willing to play Russian Roulette with the fate of the nation in order to win an election.  It is a good thing that the America electorate was wise enough not to put this flawed man just a heartbeat away from the presidency.


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
July 7, 2016