It Don’t Mean a Thing If it ain’t got that Swing!

Remembering Stanley Crouch

BLUES FOR A WORD SORCERER

Alas, the sad news has reached my ears that Stanley Crouch, a unique tribune of our times, has danced and joined the ancestors. A poet, essayist, dramatist, short story writer and novelist. Stanley was by any objective measure a GREAT writer. A native of South Central Los Angeles, Stanley began writing for the theater in a company that grew out of the great Watts riot of 1965. When I met him in 1968, he was a Poet in Residence at Pomona, one of the prestigious Claremont Colleges, just outside LA, popularly known as “The Harvard of the West.”

I was visiting the school as a guest lecturer to help make the case for the importance of Black Studies, add Stanley was part of the black campus movement attempting to establish a Black Studies Department. At the time he was a militant Black Nationalist, decked in a dishiki, dark shades with a big Afro, and had just produced a collection of weaponized words, radical poems titled: “Ain’t No Ambulances for No Niggers Tonight!”

It was clear that Stanley shared the view of writing advocated by the peerless word warrior, Ishmael Reed: “Writin is Fightin.” And although he would eventually reject Radical Black Nationalism, and abandon his leftist literary comrades, he remained a literary pugilist who would later skewer those comrades in a critically acclaimed collection of essays: “Notes Of A Hanging Judge.” For which he was awarded the highly prestigious “MacArthur Genius Award.

Stanley would become one of the most decorated writers in American letters. Primarily an essayist, Stanley wrote on a variety of subjects, but his greatest distinction was as a masterful critic of the quintessential American art of Jazz, which he correctly viewed as the great contribution of US civilization to the canon of great art. I discovered his love for Jazz the first time we met.

After my speech he invited me over to his crib to hang out, and he had a set of drums in his living room. Having once played the drum kit myself, but had long abandoned them for the Afro-Cuban Conga drums, I had remained a fan and was interested in hearing him play. He put on a record and began to play along. He said he was working on “some different stuff,” that he was not ready to reveal. Among the students hangin out was the young lady who later became the famous television star “Judge Mable, and a young saxophonist I believe was Davis Murray, who became one of the truly original voices on the tenor sax.

After that visit I didn’t see Stanley again until about six years later, when we met again in New York. But I had followed his brilliant column “Crouch on Jazz,” which was published in Players magazine, a black version of Playboy. I thought they were the most elegantly crafted insightful was essays I had ever read on the art of Jazz. There was a grandeur to his conception of the music that set his writing apart from the common lot of critics, even in the Big Apple, where good writers are common fare.

Crouch’s writings on Jazz conjured up the observation of Zora Neal Hurston in a letter to James Weldon Johnson – two great early 20th century Afro-American writers who migrated from Northern Florida to the Big Apple just like me – when she said: “We are a people who love magnificence and cannot get too much of it.” In New York he joined the staff at the Village Voice, an incubator of great music critics.

From his conspicuous prestigious perch at the Village Voice, Crouch quickly became the most outstanding Jazz critic in the big Apple…the world capitol of Jazz. And his influence became such that Stanley an intellectual mentor to the trumpet genius and brilliant composer Wynton Marsalis, and was a major force in the creation of “Jazz Lincoln Center,” the nation’s most important monument to Afro-American culture!

Known as “the writer’s paper,” and the “home of the New Journalism,” the Voice, with its reverence for fine English prose and creative storytelling, was the perfect place for Stanley, as the editors prized the individual writers voice – especially the great Bob Christgeau, who edited Stanley’s finest essays penned during his tenure at the voice. Several of which ended up as award winning anthologies.

Stanley really blossomed at the Voice, as he branched out from Jazz criticism and wrote about art, literature and politics. Although the subjects of his interest changed, his poetic style didn’t, concocting a prose style that prized poetic simile and metaphor. Often his prose seemed to dance off the page, animated by the polyrhythmic phrases.

A lover of literature, I was bewitched by Stanley’s compositions and avidly read his texts. In conversations about various and sundry issues, Stanly began to chide me about writing more, At the time my writing was limited to a few academic treatises published in obscure journals, and the lyrics to songs I had written for a great singer with whom I was smitten.

Stanley began to chide me to write more. He would say: “Listen man, it would be so easy for you because you speak in essays.” I was a voracious reader, and I was always telling him about something I had read. But one day he said to me: “You know why you read so much? Because reading is a lot easier than writing!”

He badgered me until I began to take myself seriously as a writer. And once I started I have been unable to stop having now written hundreds of serious essays…1000 of them posted at www.commentariesonthetimes.wordpress.com.  (However at present I have a dispute with WordPress and the site is suspended, which is why I started this blog) I have written for some of the finest publications in the English language, here and in England. Along the way I have won several awards, and two Pulitzer Prize nominations for Feature Writing and Distinguished Commentary.

The nominating letters are posted on by bio here. Had it not been for Stanley’s insistent prodding and encouragement, I might never have pursued a writing career. We became serious intellectual sparring partners for years.

In 2003, Stanley and I was commissioned to write a book commemorating the 100th anniversary of Dr. WEB DuBois’ classic American text: “The Souls of Black Folk.” Since I was a co-founder of the WEB DuBois Department of Black Studies at the University of Massachusetts in 1969, one year after our first meeting – the first free standing, degree granting, Black Studies department in the world, and acquired Dr, DuBois’s voluminous papers – and held a professorship in history there, we agreed that I would write the historical overview, reconstructing the intellectual milieu, in the US and Germany – that shaped DuBois’s education and worldview.

Reconsidering The Souls of Black Folk” consists of two complex essays in intellectual, cultural and political history and criticism centered around the historical context, text and legacy of “The Souls of Black Folk” and its brilliant author. The book was selected for discussion at the opening session of the National Black Writers Conference, sponsored by Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, and hosted by the Studio Museum of Harlem. C-Spans Book World covered the event, and I have appended the link to their video below.

See> https://www.c-span.org/video/

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September, 2020 {Original Publication}

Flirting with Catastrophe!

One of these bombs can incinerate Manhattan

On American Exceptionalism and the Pax Americana

It was a surreal experience listening to the conversation between Joe Scarborough and Richard Hass discussing foreign affairs on WNBC television’s popular early show, Morning Joe. Scarborough, who hosts the show, was pressing Hass, who is Director  of the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes the widely influential Journal of Foreign Affairs, to prescribe what the US response should be if a looming military conflict breaks out between Russia and Ukraine, or if China finally moves to reunite the island of Taiwan with the People’s Republic of China.

After confessing that he is an “American Exceptionalist,” Scarborough goes on to argue that the US must stand up to Russia and China with military actions should either scenario arise. A stance which also exposes him as a true believer in the Pax-Americana doctrine. In fact, the cable TV host, who has never experienced combat in America’s “forever wars” was like a kid egging on a schoolyard brawl. Although I often find myself in disagreement with Hass, despite the fact that he comes armed with a prodigious array of factual information, I found his remarks refreshing.  It was a departure from the kinds of opinions that I am often forced to dismiss as “erudite nonsense.”

Although “erudite nonsense” strikes many readers as an oxymoron, it accurately describes an argument that is based in fact but arrives at a conclusion that makes no sense. One could also classify such arguments as sophistry. Scarborough raised the question as to “What is the most aggressive move we can make to send a message to Putin that we are not going to back down like we did in 2014, we are not going to back down like we did in Georgia in 08, that we are actually going to respond in kind if they go into the Ukraine.”

No doubt mindful of the notoriety that appearances on Morning Joe provide him, Hass was patient and polite in his response to what was a transparently absurd question. “The answer is we are not,” says Hass. “Why Not?” Scarborough asks. Hass replies:

“Because the military balance and the geography is tilted dramatically in Russia’s Direction…Ukraine is not a member of NATO. There are things we can do to strengthen Ukraine’s self-defense, there are sanctions we can threaten, but at the end of the day Putin is willing to Put more chips on the table. And he has more chips to put on the table, both in capability and will, so we are not going to offer direct defense of Ukraine, we are not going to war with Russia over the Ukraine.”

Obviously dissatisfied with such a tepid response Scarborough quickly suggested that we deploy a large contingent of American troops and weaponry to Poland. Which, he noted, the Poles would “love for us to do.” He went on to point out:” That would actually embarrass Putin, so he knows if he moves troops into Ukraine to flex his muscles, we are going to move troops and defensive weapons into Poland that will make it, maybe, not worth is while.”

In response to this light-weight prattle proposing reckless and dangerous ideas, Hass explained:

“That’s a serious option. Are there things we can and should do to strengthen NATO? So that whatever Putin might gain in Ukraine would be strategically offset.  That should be on the table; that’s exactly the sort of thing we out to be thinking about. Never letting a crisis go to waste. Are there things that maybe we should have been doing all along with NATO.  One of the questions is whether the Europeans will go along with it, a bigger issue.”

Unwilling to  accept the possibility that the US cannot dictate the outcome of a Russian/Ukraine conflict, Scarborough simply ignores the “bigger issue” raised by Hass and suggest: “The Poles will go along” with his proposal. “The Poles will, but  direct defense of the Ukraine I don’t think is in the cards, not if you are talking about the United States or  other European countries going to bat for the Ukraine.  That’s not gonna happen.”  Scarborough seems to be obsessed with “embarrassing Putin,” hence he says that American troops in Poland will be a “nightmare, a black eye” for Putin.  Then he goes on the offer the ridiculous suggestion that deploying US Troops in Poland “wouldn’t be confrontational because we are not invading.”  Hence Putin’s moves on Ukraine would “not be a clean political victory.”

Playing past Joe’s jingoistic prattle, Hass calmly points out the critical importance of  getting “certain understandings about things we are not going to do. We would not go into the Ukraine…or put troops from other parts of NATO up against the Russian Border. Hass explained:

“Part of this is not simply Russia’s unique relationship with Ukraine that Putin writes about and talks about…this is also a delayed reaction to the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and NATO enlargement.  One of the things that should be on the table for ourselves is what are we prepared to think about both in an assertive way and in a reassuring way. Both ought to be on the table

This sage advice takes on a special relevance just now, because as I write the Russian government has released a statement warning the US and NATO not to cross the “Red Lines” they have set in Ukraine. They have made it clear, defying this ultimation, which bans NATO troops from Ukrainian soil, will trigger a military response from Russia. Although Putin’s fears about NATO’s expansionist ambitions are routinely dismissed as paranoia, the fact remains that just because a person is paranoid does not mean the danger they fear is not real.

The fact is that the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has trashed the understanding they had with Russia when they dissolved the Soviet Union and scrapped the Warsaw Pact, an alliance among Communist countries that served as a check NATO, a military alliance whose raison d’être was to encircle the Soviet Union and “Contain” communist power. This strategy was conjured up by the brilliant albeit misguided foreign policy wonk George Kennan, and implemented as the “Truman Doctrine” on communism.

Hence, in light of its original mission, NATO should have been dismantled with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The “Cold War,” which characterized the growing hostility between US and Russia following the end of World War II – although they had been allies against the fascist Axis Powers during the great war just four years ago – was symbolized by the formation of NATO from 11 nations under American hegemony in 1949. It was fully six years later, in 1955, that the Warsaw Pact was formed out of 7 socialist nations in eastern and central Europe, taking its name from the Polish city where the Pact was signed.  And like the NATO agreement, the Warsaw Pact called for collective defense against any aggressor – setting the stage for a Third World War.

The catalyst for this alliance of socialist states was NATO’s decision to admit West Germany in 1955, a country which only ten years ago had been ruled by Nazis, fascist murderers that had wreaked havoc on all of them. Except for the USA, the lone nation who had avoided the devastation of the World War on its soil. The Russians alone lost 27 million citizens in the war, most of whom had been killed by the Germans.  They are determined that it will not happen again. The centrality of the West German issue was unambiguously stated in the introduction to the Warsaw treaty:

“Western Germany, which is being remilitarized, and her inclusion in the North Atlantic bloc, which increases the danger of a new war and creates a threat to the national security of peace-loving states.” 

Alas, while the dissolution of the Soviet Union removed the issue of Communism, it did not resolve the issues arising from Russian nationalism and their anxieties about national security. And these fears only have been fed by US actions since the end of the Cold War. When US Secretary of State, James Baker, met with Mikhail Gorbachev in February 1990 –  as the Russian leader was in the process of dismantling the Communist Party and dissolving the Soviet Union – Baker assured him: “There would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east” And Baker unconditionally agreed to Gorbachev’s demand: “Any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.”

Alas, under US leadership NATO has not only reneged on promises not to expand eastward into what Russia rightfully regards as her sphere of influence, but has incorporated four nations that were once a part of the Warsaw Pact into its ranks –   Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia – and three former Soviet Republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  Slovenia, which was once part of Czechoslovakia, has also joined NATO.  This brings these nations under the protection of Article 5 of the NATO treaty that binds other members to come to their defense with armed forces should they get in a conflict with Russia!

In view of this betrayal, and that’s what it is no matter how the US defines it, Russia has drawn a “Red Line” at Ukraine, which shares a border and was once a part of Russia.  There is every reason to believe that should NATO attempt to deploy military forces in Ukraine will result in war with Russia. And there should be no doubt that any military conflict between two nuclear armed nations could accidently lead to doomsday, the much-dreaded atomic war that would end life on this planet. This is what’s at stake if the US military meddles in the conflict between the Russians and their Slavic cousins in Ukraine .

Joe Scarborough then raised the question with Hass as to what the US should do if the Chinese moved to reunite the island of Taiwan with the Peoples Republic of China. He pointed out with growing impatience that the US promised Ukraine in the Budapest Accord, signed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine had been a part, that if they gave up their nuclear arsenal NATO would protect them from Russian aggression. Now we are waffling on that commitment. And we have made a similar commitment to Taiwan,  which we must keep because we cannot continue to allow ourselves to be pushed around. Hass astutely pointed out that the remedy to this dilemma is for the US to cease making promises that we have neither the will nor capacity to keep.

This in my view, is the wisest path to take. Russia is a vast country with 11 time zones, the Grand Army of Napoleon and Hitler’s Nazi Juggernaut both met their doom in Russia. And China, with a population of a billion and a half people and the ability to put millions of armed citizens in the field to defend their homeland, would easily vanquish any foreign invader. With no chance of victory on the ground, it would not be long before the war would turn on air and naval power, which would greatly increase the possibility of accidental nuclear catastrophe now that these doomsday weapons are online!

The thing that I find most most remarkable about this discussion, is the fact that nobody pointed out the folly of American intervention in conflicts between peoples with long standing geographic and family ties. Neither Joe Scarborough nor Richard Hass recognized that the US is not the arbiter of world affairs, dictating what shall happen in nations thousands of miles and oceans away from our shores. That there are problems in international relations which the US cannot solve, and our intervention will only increase the death and destruction. Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq are dramatic cases in point.  And when the adversary is armed with nuclear arsenals capable of delivering atomic warheads on targets anywhere in America, that destruction might well be our own.

Alas, it is the blind, irrational, commitment to the flawed ideologies of “American Exceptionalism” and “Pax-Americana” – that the US is the moral standard to which all other nations should aspire, and a world order based on the American capitalist model can be enforced by the prolific employment of US military power – that continues to lead us into costly and futile wars.

It would seem that the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two underdeveloped preindustrial countries – squandering vast amounts of American blood and treasure – in which we finally slithered away after 20 years of combat in humiliating defeat, would make reasonable people dismiss the idea of provoking a war with major military powers like China and Russia as extreme folly!  This, above all else, is what made the conversation between Hass and Scarborough, two highly educated men, seem unmoored from reality…surreal.

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Witness the Awesome Power of a Nuclear Explosion

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

127/2021

Note: President biden will be meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a face to face video conference today.  I will post my analysis of the metting at a later date.

A CONFEDERACY OF CHARLATANS, CLOWNS, FOPS, AND FOOLS!!!

Congressman Jim Jordon R-Ohio

Republican Hyproctites Insults Voter’s Intelligence!

It would be hard to find a more despicable group of shameless lying hypocrites than the members of the House Republican Caucus, who recently took to the floor to denounce so-called “Cancel Culture.”  In a brazen display of double-talk that would astonish George Orwell, the Republicans passionately denounced activities that they are feverishly engaged in for all the world to see.  There is absolutely no shame in these joker’s game.

These impudent charlatans had the unmitigated gall to denounce “Cancel Culture,” even as they removed long time conservative congresswoman Liz Cheyney from her post as the third most powerful member of the Republican caucus, and kicked her crusty cakes to the curb, and these scurrilous scoundrels are passing voter suppression laws all over the country in states controlled by Republican legislatures.  The purpose of these new laws is clear, to stop democratic constituencies from voting!  Black and brown folks, poor people, students, young people in general, et al.

It is the most blatant attack on the voting rights of Afro-Americans since the collapse of Radical Reconstruction in 1877.  Laws such as those making it a crime to give water to people waiting for hours to vote in the scorching southern sun, after they have made it nearly impossible to vote by mail and reduced the number of ballot drop boxes, resemble the “literacy test” widely employed in the south after the ratification of the 15th Amendment to prevent Afro-Americans from voting.  This test, given only to Afro-Americans, contained questions such as “Quote Article 4, Section 2 of the Constitution and interpret it’s meaning?”  Or “How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?”

The effort to prevent people from voting is the ultimate expression of “Cancel Culture.” And the shameful attempt to eradicate the deadly assault on the US capitol by a murderous mob intent on arresting the orderly transfer of power based on the expressed will of the American people at the ballot box, is yet another case in point.  And the attempt to cancel the Justice Department’s investigation and prosecution of those who incited and participated in the insurrection – a treasonous act of war against the US government – is yet another graphic example.

As I witness these actions by the Republicans, it is abundantly clear that this nation is in the deepest trouble that I have seen in my lifetime, which spans more than three quarters of a century, and I have seen plenty.  In the words of the venerable Afro-American spiritual, composed by “Those Black and Unknown Bards” – as the Afro-American poet/polymath/ activist, James Weldon Johnson, called our anonymous enslaved ancestors who wrote these beautiful soul searing songs: ”Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen.”

Alas, I grew up in the American south, the former Confederacy that fought the bloodiest war in history at the time to keep Afro-Americans in chattel slavery, which had been going on for 250 years!   And the white majority who ruled those states employed the full powers of law and custom to keep Afro-Americans from exercising the citizenship rights guaranteed them under the “Equal Protection Clause” of the 14th Amendment.  And the most effective way to accomplish this nefarious policy was the keep black Americans from voting!  And they accomplished this by finding ways to nullify the 15th Amendment, which empowered Afro-Americans to vote.

This critical part of  American history can shed great light on what is happening just now.  Yet as I write,  the Republicans are frantically trying to cancel any discussion of this shameful history, some Republican controlled states have already begun passing laws against teaching the real history of race relations in America, complaining that it “traumatizes” white children to learn the truth about their ancestor’s deeds. This allows them to use the power of the state over education policy to continue lying about a history they passionately claim to be proud of.

Indeed, by cancelling the teaching of our real history, as has been carefully researched and written down in the texts of our great scholars, the duplicitous Republican sophists can lay claim to the good works of others.  For instance, it has become standard fare for todays Trumpist reactionary Republicans to lay claim to the legacy of the progressive revolutionary “Republicans” who were the architects of the “Radical Reconstruction” program following the Civil War that passed the 13, 14, and 15, Amendments to the constitution.

These Amendments transformed Afro-Americans from the status of chattel slaves with no rights under the US Constitution to fully empowered American Citizens, who elected black officials across the board from State legislatures to the Senate.  Today’s Republicans rightly point out that the Democrats were the Pro-Slavery party who also enacted the Apartheid “Jim Crow” Laws after the Civil War.

However, after a Democrat controlled Congress – House and Senate –  passed the 1964 Omnibus Civil Rights Bill, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Economic Opportunity Act that same year, and was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, also a Democrat, which amounted to a second radical Reconstruction in its empowerment of Afro-Americans, THE RACIST SOUTHERN DIXIECRATS WHO FOUGHT AGAINST ALL THESE LAWS FLED FROM THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND SOUGHT REFUGE IN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!

These unapologetic southern racist would transform the Republican Party from the Grand Old Party of Lincoln and Eisenhower, to the “GRAND OBSTRUCTIONIST PARTY of Ronald Reagan and Dirty Don tha Con!  And, try as they might, the “Never Trumpers” who are embarrassed and appalled by Trump, as is his present antagonist Liz Cheney, cannot obscure the fact that there is A STRAIGHT LINE FROM REAGAN TO TRUMP!   You can follow this transformation in great detail in the excellent seminal study of this question, “The Politics of Rage,” written by the Bancroft Prize winning southern historian Dr. Dan T. Carter.

Hence by CANCELLING the teaching of real American history, and substituting racist myths for objective history, chauvinistic white nationalists like the Trumpanzees, the devotees who genuflect before Dirty Don tha Con in a permanent-lips to posterior posture, adopting his tactic of promoting “THE BIG LIE,” can continuously preach the bogus doctrine of “American Exceptionalism” to the world.  This is the ULTIMATE CANCEL CULTURE!

NOTE: Bear these facts in mind as you listen to these lying clueless clowns rant and rave against “Cancel Culture.”  These Republican follies would be hilarious if the results were not so tragic for our country.

To witness this ludicrous spectacle, CLICK ON LINK, https://youtu.be/0khGwfrOXRU

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

5/17/2021