Friday, November 27, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty Has His Regression

Trump is an enormously regressive individual. Take for instance the soubriquets he uses to describe people. "Pocahantos" for Elizabeth Warren, "Crooked Hillary" (an interesting choice from a legendary liar). It’s schoolyard name calling elevated to the level of international diplomacy. He famously called Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man.” And what he’s done is to create a movement based on regressive behavior. “Lock her up,” the chant used to demean Hillary Clinton came in handy against the Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer. Rather than discountenancing such behavior Trump has egged his followers on. The total lack of decorum and disrespect for other human beings reflected in the president’s refusing to concede is reflected in the collective regression evidenced in his crowds of supporters on the campaign trail. Regressive behavior is symptomatic of dictators in general. During the years of the Argentine military junta, opponents were literally thrown out of planes. If it weren’t so frighteningly horrible, it might be looked at the behavior of a group of out of control five year olds who attempt to destroy playthings and sometimes each other when no figure of authority is there to protect them from each other. Children in the anal stage of development don’t act like diplomats. They fight over each other’s possessions and constantly cry foul play when they don’t get what the want. Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi one of the greatest imagined despots of all time is really a gigantic baby whose petulant behavior bears a striking resemblance to the tantrum Trump has thrown in the wake of his loss. Unable to gracefully admit defeat, he has refused to come out of  his White House to play with the other kids. Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall/Trumpy Dumpty had a great fall.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Double Life of Veronique

The question of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991) is whether the movie is about one character or two. It starts in Krakow and ends in Paris. A marionette maker produces two identical dolls which seem to mirror the disjunction or two separate selves. At the beginning of the movie Weronika (Irene Jacob) is a pianist whose hand has been injured when the father of one of her friends slams a door on it. However, she's gifted with a magically beautiful voice which earns her a leading role in a choral and operatic work despite the fact that she possesses little more than a high school degree in music. During one of the performances she appears to die, a premature death like that of her mother. The flatline EKG is a symbol in the movie. One of the most bracing scenes is the funeral in which the viewer sees the burial from the lead character’s point of view as the dirt is thrown into her grave. Does one character die so the other may live? Veronique (again Irene Jacob) has a totally separate existence as a music teacher in France. However, from the start there's the sense that Weronika/Veronique is a single entity seeking to reunite the missing parts of herself. Is she simply suffering from mulitple personality disorder? That's too simple. Kieslowski's character resists being pathologized. She’s a voyeur who literally witnesses her disembodied self. Her personality is reconstituted through repeating leitmotifs. She wears red lipstick and has red hair. She sleeps on red sheets. “All my life I felt I was here and somewhere else at the same time,” she explains. In this sense she's like a quantum particle. On a psychological level she also represents the geopolitical concept of irredentism, the tendency of formerly Balkanized countries to reconstitute themselves. She tells her father (Claude Duneton) that she’s in love, but she doesn’t know with who. One of her lovers is writing a book about a stranger who's mysteriously brought to the man she will love. Like many of the images which are rotated from top to bottom, biography is turned upside down. Kieslowski is always putting the cart before the horse and doubting causality in order to redefine the nature of personality itself.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty Burns Paris

Dietrich von Choltitz (German Federal Archives)

The scorched earth policy is a tactic of retreating armies. Paris would famously have been turned to rubble if it weren’t for Lieutenant General Dietrich von Choltitz disobeying the Fuhrer’s orders to destroy the city. Who will be the von Choltitz of the current White House? Apparently not Steve Mnuchin who is reducing emergency lending powers at a particularly vulnerable moment for the economy. Who will be the hero who will sabotage Trump’s last ditch effort to leave America in such tatters that the incoming Biden regime’s efforts will be doomed to failure. Paris may not be burning, but everything it stands for will be on the chopping block. Even though the Ascertainment Letter has been signed, Trump will in likelihood never concede and his rancor will be demonstrated in his attempt to burn diplomatic bridges behind him. The childlike lack of decorum characteristic of dictators is evidenced in the intransigent Trump persona. Whether he succeeds in bringing about some piece of military adventurism that will permanently damage any attempts at détente, in places like Iran where the U.S. has conflicted relationships, remains to be seen. Surely in a short period of time, he can do a good deal of damage. He's bringing troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq opening up the possibility of resurgence of both the Taliban and Isis. Biden can simply rejoin the Paris climate accord, but there are certain things can’t be rectified or restored with an executive order (on the environmental front, theTrump already moved to start selling oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska). "Motiveless malignity," is how Coleridge described Iago's actions. Will Trump's wholesale, unremitting and meritless accusations of a rigged election do lasting damage to the democratic process?

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty's Manchurian Candidate

The United States is a trauma victim. If you’re hit by a car and survive, you go into shock which is a biological form of recusal. However, it's often during the period of recovery that the real problems begin particularly since emotions are released when memory returns. The comorbidity of racial inequity and Coronavirus have been combined with a highly contentious election that has and still may produce numerous incidents of social unrest and violence. You’ve seen the deadened eyes of genocide victims in the Rwandan and Bosnian conflicts, but now many Americans may start to realize that the after effects are almost as severe as the events themselves. One of the ways that a human being can be traumatized is to have their reality doubted. The Trump presidency has been predicated on the notion of lying, with the country’s chief executive being accused  twisting the truth approximately 20,000 times thus far. The torture has been fairly elegant and all-consuming since the more than 79,658,000 people who voted for Joe Biden have been reminded at least once a day that what they’ve seen and done is a fiction. It’s the kind of brainwashing that went on in John Frankenheimer’s Manchurian Candidate which may be one of the great essays on individual and collective trauma. With the Republican party's attempts to invalidate the election finally exhausted, the patient is beginning to understand the full extent of the insult to the body politic.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty: Has the Republican Party Become a Cult?

Charles Manson

"The Times Called Officials in Every State: No Evidence of Voter Fraud," (NYT, 11/10/20) ran the headline. How is it then that a recent poll indicated that one half of Republicans think the election was a fraud? "Half of Republicans say Biden lost due to 'rigged' election: Reuters/lpsos poll(11/18/20) How to account for the implacability of the assault on truth and the attempt to undermine the democratic process? Let’s say this becomes a way of life. Elections occur and the losers discredit results, in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Elections have been troubled and contested, but usually there's a consensus following the kind of recount by hand that has, for instance, gone on in Georgia. However, that's not the case. There's, in fact, no length that election commissions could go beyond handing the election over to Donald Trump that would satisfy this one half of recalcitrant Republican voters and apparently the president, who took  the unusual step of inviting Michigan Republican legislative  leaders to The White House. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, "This is not a political party. This is a cult" when asked why so few Republicans have broken ranks. “A misplaced or excessive admiration for a person or thing,” is one of the definitions for "cult" offered by the Oxford Languages dictionary.” Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Trumpty Dumpty had a great fall…

Friday, November 20, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty Gets His Ego Split

Statue of Paul Bunyan in Bangor, Me (photo: Dennis Jarvis)

One tends to look at a polity as a number of parts which make up a whole. In other words, let’s say the population of the United States is approximately 328,000,000 with approximately half of these representing the electorate. Hence that figure would comprise the number of consciousnesses a candidate would ostensibly have to address. But is it possible to take another approach and start with the whole rather than the sum of the parts? In this case one might conclude that the collective consciousness of the country is suffering from what psychiatrists call ego-spitting or the inability to reconcile conflicting  parts of the psyche. America currently is a kind of all or nothing personality, with the civil war in this case actually representing a pathological condition. When a person’s erratic behavior defies rational understanding, it’s possible to conclude he or she is suffering from subliminal and often maladaptive drives. Hence that part of the population which insists that the current election is a fraud despite the fact that every election commission in the country has confirmed there was no malfeasance is suffering from delusional or at least extremely neurotic behavior—which may be motivated by phobias. What can one say on the other hand about the Democrats?  They are justifiably celebrating a victory. However, this current majority in many cases claims to have no understanding of their opponents' behavior. Therein may reside the problem. You don’t have to agree with someone to understand them. Understanding is the first step in unifying a divided self. If the Democratic majority is able to  aisle-cross at least on a metaphoric level (along with President-elect Biden's calls for unity) they might reduce some of the toxicity that characterizes the current psycho-social and political climate. Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall/Trumpty Dumpty had a great fall/All the king's horses and all the king's couldn't put Dumpty together again.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The thing about cults is that they depend on a certain degree of despair. Hopelessness is the springbooard from which people are willing to throw themselves into a safe harbor from truths which are hard to face. It’s like the person suffering from a chronic illness who  runs off to quack doctors selling magic potions. Democrats are dumbfounded by Trump and Guiliani’s unfounded claims about the election. After tweeting “He won because the election was rigged,” Trump made a correction saying simply, “I won the election.” Living in an alternate universe is something that many people do and it comprises in fact a whole genre of science fiction. For instance Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle imagines a world in which the Axis powers won World War II. In order to understand the world of Trump’s base who buy his claims lock, stock and barrel, you probably would have to have street signs in Russian since the Russians, who have been promoting Trump since 2016, would be the chief beneficiaries of the failure of democracy. Nevertheless the whole Trump phenomena is really nothing compared to cults like those of Jim Jones (whose followers drank a deadly poison), Nxivm (whose adherents allowed themselves to be branded and turned into sex slaves), or Charles Manson whose murderous attack on Sharon Tate itself was made into an alternate reality, where the event is forestalled, in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Trumpty Dumpty had a great fall...

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty: On the QT?


"Shocked by Trump’s Loss, QAnon Struggles to Keep the Faith" ran the Times headline. In the days following the election Q, the voice of the theory that held that the pandemic was part of a conspiracy to get Trump out of office, went temporarily silent. Curiously so did Mr. Trump himself, up until last Friday when he erroneously took credit for the development of the Pfizer vaccine. Is it possible that T is Q? . Trump has long argued that COVID was just a way of getting him out of office. After November 3, he proclaimed, you wouldn’t hear about the virus anymore. Say no more. The virus, which is raging, apparently has a mind of its own. But it was like a twofer, in which the air was suddenly cleared and Democratic voters could then go on with the frustrating process of waiting for a concession speech that's unlikely to come--in peace and quiet. However, who could put it past the president to be the very deep state, the swamp that he's so wary of, perhaps even the originator of Pizzagate. It's all reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz, who turns out to be a little man making a lot of smoke, with the seemingly impregnably evil Witch of the West turning out to have an Achilles heel, which simply makes her dissolve. If water made the Wicked Witch evaporate, could it be that loss itself is Trump’s weak spot?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty: Tyrannosaurus Rex

It’s dangerous work to destroy a beehive, since you have to contend with all the angry bees. Remember those menacing figures who reveal their insides, unleashing torrents of vermin, rats, and snakes when their armor is finally pierced. Hieronymous Bosch created such ghoulish creatures. Though a monster may be destroyed, it can still do a good deal of damage on the way out. Petulant and retributive to the end, Donald Trump is turning out to be one of those ghouls who is not easy to fell. He's throwing up a good fight, intent on doing as much damage as is possible right until the end. William Esper, the secretary of Defense was one of the first to go. But Chris Krebs, director of DHS Cybersecurity Agency may be headed for the chopping block. His crime: creating a website to do away with fraudulent information related to the election. Gina Haspel, head of the CIA is another candidate. The fact that the country will be left vulnerable at the moment when the pandemic is raging seems not only to be absent from consideration, but precisely the point as is the president’s refusal to initiate the normal transition steps through the GSA. It was determined that another slow transition process partly explained intelligence failures on 9/11. What a perfect time for terrorists to strike! Trump doesn’t need to inform his autocrat buddies. Weakened on every front, the once most powerful country in the world will become fair game for attack. Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall/Trumpty Dumpty had a great fall...

Monday, November 16, 2020

The Dignity of Difference

In a Times obit ("Jonathan Sacks, the United Kingdom’s Former Chief Rabbi, Dies at 72,NYT, 11/9/20), the prominent religious figure is quoted thusly: “God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to the Jews, Christianity to Christians and Islam to Muslims. No one has created a monopoly on spiritual truths, no one civilization encompasses all the spiritual, ethical and artistic expressions of mankind.” Sacks also wrote a books with titles like Universalizing Particularity and The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations.” Even though he was an Orthodox Jew his opinions got him into trouble with more rigid members of his faith who believed that Jews were literally the chosen people. Plainly Sacks and the current president- elect Joseph Biden, who has said “I am running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president” share this unifying impulse. Biden’s tone lies is stark contrast to that of the current lame duck who has appealed to factionalism, divisiveness and the prejudices of his so-called base. Joe Biden will inherit a deeply divided country and congress. He, like the former chief rabbi, is already urging both an ethics and politics of inclusion.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty: "The Banality of Evil?"

Hannah Arendt famously coined the expression “the banality of evil” in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem:A Report on the Banality of Evil. Trump is turning out to be right up there with the most gallantly evil of autocrats. Manslaughter is defined by Merriam Webster as “the unlawful killing of a human being without express or implied malice.” The crime seemed to be fitting description for the president’s insolent indifference to a scourge that was killing thousands all through the pandemic. Now the charge goes from manslaughter to murder #1 since his behavior is plainly premeditated. In this he has something in common with Eichmann who was one of the engineers of the Holocaust that ended in the killing of six million Jews. However, can one really call Trump’s brand of evil "banal?" Arendt described Eichmann as displaying an “inability to think.” The Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman’s view of Trump as being “smarter and less competent than his enemies believe” is probably closer to the point. His program which began with “fake news” and ended with the denying of all assertions about the nature of empirical reality is truly one of the most brilliant coups against the regime of humanism in all of recorded history. It's truly hard to categorize Trump as banal. He’s more a revolting buffoon, one of the clowns in the horror movies who's totally out of control. The comedian John Mulaney compared him to a “horse loose in a hospital” on The Late Show. He's also like a zombie who crawls out of its coffin to terrorize the living in his implacability, in the way he keeps coming back. When he's finally relieved of the title of president, whose duties he has all but relinquished in his desperate attempt to retain his throne, he may eventually be brought to trial at least at the state level. Eichmann was impassive as he sat in his glass booth, but Trump will likely be wearing his red hat and raging to supporters who will cheer him from the peanut gallery.Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall/Trumpty Dumpty had a great fall...

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Trumpty Dumpty: "Smarter and Less Competent"

Maggie Haberman at 2018 Pulitzer Prize Ceremony

In his Times piece (NYT, 11/8/20, “The Trump Presidency is Ending. So is Maggie Haberman’ Wild Ride") about his fellow journalist Maggie Haberman’s White House beat coming to an end, Ben Smith makes the following comment, “She has consistently painted a portrait of a man who is both smarter and less competent than his enemies believe.” When you think about it it’s a rather brilliant remark about the President. In the unlikely event the election ever goes to the Supreme Court, he would simply say the courts were corrupt, if they failed to rule in his favor.” Such a statement epitomizing Trump’s approach throughout the election exhibits both a keen intelligence and incompetence at the same time. The intelligence resides in the questioning of reality. Is there a virus? Are the QAnon people right in seeing it as a conspiracy by a deep state. Who’s to know? To propose a value-free view of reality is the kind of solipsism and skepticism practiced by some medieval scholastics. The incompetence lies in the fact that the impotent speculating in the service of a Panglossian optimism, has only made a bad situation worse. The President may propose any idea he wants but the fact is,  he lost the election and failed to produce a cohesive strategy for combating the coronavirus which is currently raging everywhere. Trumpty Dumpty sat on a wall/Trumpty Dumpty had a great fall...

Wednesday, November 11, 2020


There were cries of jubilation and the sound of pots being beaten, as Wolf Blitzer announced Joe Biden was 46thpresident of the United States. It was a little like the ticker tape parades that go down Lower Fifth Avenue when the Yankees win a series or perhaps even VE Day. In our era of COVID there certainly isn’t the equivalent of the iconic picture of the sailor and an itinerant woman throwing their arms around each other. But it was a change from the angry Trump demonstrations in front of the counting center in Maricopa Country . Now there was pure untampered joy that brought people with sometimes opposing viewpoints together. Everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop. When would the Trump caravans start retaliating by slowing down traffic on the Garden State Parkway again? When would Trump begin the pushback that eventually occurred. However for now, the networks (including Fox) calling the race in unison, seemed to break the yoke of a demonic and malevolent force. Would that Wolf Blitzer could have poured water on the Wicked Witch forcing her to evaporate into thin air. Hopefully, the aftermath won't be like one of those horror movies where zombies emerge from the graveyard to reek terror in their neighborhoods.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Is it Time for the First Family to Call the Movers?

The question is, when will Melania and Donald call the movers? A company named Monster Movers specializes in long hauls and with a name like that the foot may just fit the shoe. Now where will the Trumps move? The answer to all those who voted for Biden will be as far away as possible. What’s the closest thing to Siberia? The fact is that there are plenty of towns and villages that would be happy to have the Trumps. Joe Biden may have gotten the largest number of votes in electoral history, but Trump garnered the second highest which is like gold for Republican senators and congressman seeking reelection. Mitch McConnell lives in Louisville. Lindsay Graham is a resident of Central, SC. Surely the lame duck would be welcome in either of those places. Nauru and Manus are two islands where the Australian government dumps asylum seekers. What if it turns out that Trump is not really an American? He who smelt it dealt it is an expression applied to farts. Could the same can be said about Trump’s birther accusations concerning Obama? Could it be that Trump is the one who doesn’t belong here? Maybe he should be extradited by the Australian government and sent to Nauru or Manus. You’ve seen those advertisements on TV about getting out of your timeshare payments? Perhaps Trump will pick up a discounted timeshare, albeit a really nice one with a view of Biscayne Bay. However, the truth is that Monster would probably take most of Don’s stuff to Mar-A-Lago and most of Melania’s to Trump Tower where the ex-president and first lady can respectively golf and shop. Monster would probably send one of its representative to The White House with cardboard boxes. After looking over the premises, Monster would figure out how many were required to get the first family cartoned. As the Trumps pull out, you can be assured there will be no “just married” pendant hanging from the fender of their armored SUV.

Monday, November 9, 2020

All the World's a Stage

Edwin Booth as Iago

Shakespeare is all about politics. And what a cast of political figures: Henry the Fourth and Fifth, Richard the Second and Third, Lear, Julius Caesar, of course, Hamlet. Let’s not forget the rogues like Iago and Antonio and cynics like Jaques. Octave Mannoni’s  Prospero and Caliban is an examination of colonialism. American politics can be dull, particularly since there have been periods when the political sphere has not drawn great or innovative minds--when  no Jeffersons, Madisons, Lincolns, Roosevelts or Obamas walked onto the stage. But the current cast of characters might actually outdo some Shakespeare plays. Biden is one of soft spoken equanimous Shakespearean personalities like Prospero if you listen to his “I will be the president of all Americans.” But where would Donald Trump fall within the pantheon of Shakespearean characters? Though Trump emanates from a less ambitious form of entertainment than Shakespeare ie reality television, he has inadvertently become a character with the bluster of Falstaff, to quote Coleridge the seemingly “motiveless malignity” of Iago, the murderousness of Macbeth and the duplicity of Cassius. Trump is an injustice collector like Richard the Third, blaming the press and the Democrats for all his problems from the very start of his reign. Here is a recent Trump tweet: “STOP THE FRAUD!” Speaking of which, the idea of monarchy and the divine right of kings in which the leader receives unquestioning loyalty from all his courtiers lives on in the Trumpocracy. Will it move to a new capital as the papacy did during the Babylonian Captivity of the 14th century? And then there's the notion that words of a President are true just because he or she says them--without regard to the facts. Will Hamlet’s last lines, “the rest is silence,” end up being the epitaph of Trump's tenure? 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Martin Eden

Pietro Marcello's Martin Eden is based on the autobiographical l909 novel by Jack London. It’s both simple and enormously complex. It deals with the chrysalis of ambition that creates the writer and then produces something which, in this case, is a monstrous mutation. In the beginning the story is a simple bildungsroman. Eden (Luca Marinelli) a sailor comes to the rescue of an aristocratic young man. His bravado is rewarded with entrée to the Orsini family. Elena Orsini  (Jessica Cressy), the sister of the young man who Eden saves, introduces Martin to Baudelaire and fires his interest in becoming a writer. At first his baby steps meet with failure. He’s totally uneducated; his submissions are summarily rejected. Anyone who has been a writer will identify with the manila envelopes returned in the mail. Finally, his first story, The Apostate, is accepted. The title is indicative of Martin’s course which is the act of total renunciation of literally everything, for the sake of the individual. His idol is Herbert Spencer and his beliefs may be summed up as championing the strong over the weak. Ayn Rand navigated a similar territory. There's one scene where Martin is at dinner in the Orsini household. There he rails against liberals with their championing of both the free market and regulation. Actually, the disquisition is both contradictory and confusing. Yet the contrarieties make for Martin’s success. However, there's another side to the movie. Though Martin, now a famous poet and essayist, is a megalomaniacal egotist, he also possesses a complex inner life which Marcello's camera mines. "The writer Martin Eden doesn't exist," Eden intones, "he is a product of your imagination." The viewer is constantly living in a world of sepia shots of the past, gratuitous seeming non sequiturs that can be hard to parse and displacements (at the end of the movie Eden is pictured chasing his youthful self) which fitfully attempt to give access to the writer’s inner world. The virtuosity is often disjointed and can be at odds with the character of Eden itself. However, cinematically, Martin Eden is a bold undertaking which takes liberties with its realistic landscape to create a visual vocabulary that renders its central figure's tortured mind. 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Law and Order

If you think this isn’t the America you knew or think you know, then there's a reason for it. Even if Biden prevails and weathers all the legal challenges to the vote, it will have been an incredibly tight election. You may hate Trump, but there wouldn't be a Trump unless there were those willing to vote for him. Those crowds who chanted "lock her up" about the Michigan governor who was the object of a kidnapping plot are not an anomaly, any more than the lumpenproletariat disenfranchised by the Versailles treaty who would eventually become Hitler’s brown shirts. In fact, the whole idea of fascism is to further exacerbate disorder by creating random violence in the streets. Law and order begins to seem appealing even when its right wing groups like the Oath Keepers who will turn out to be your protectors. It’s a version of the Stockholm Syndrome and part of the engine that drives most totalitarian regimes. Make yourself the cure for the unrest that you set out to foment. So regardless of the disposition of the election, the angry crowds who filled those Trump rallies will still be there cheering their exiled leader who will likely preside over a media network that's the equivalent of a government in exile (where QAnon is the operant ideology)--and which Facebook, You Tube, Sinclair Media and Fox News are likely to keep in business. And whatever the final outcome of the election there will likely be areas of the country in which the rule of law will no longer be enforced and no Democrats are welcome.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Powerless Over People, Places and Things

Bill W.

There is a strange contradiction at work in human existence that’s been underscored by the current election. Early voting records have been set in many states. There has been a clarion call for action, particularly amongst the Democrats who have been out to unseat Trump. Of course every little bit helps. Whether it’s a matter of making a donation, getting and mailing an absentee ballot in on time or actually showing up at the polls, the presupposition is that individuals make a difference. The flip side is that many people are taking the election personally under the theory that it's their voice which is being silenced or heard. However, there's another issue. Anyone who thinks that their behavior can have a life-changing effect on something like an election is playing god. "I" gets confused with "we." It’s a huge burden to bear and ultimately a disappointment once you come back down to earth and realize you're just a cog in the wheel. In fact, while it’s important to act, it’s also relieving to know that if there is a God, you’re not it. This last is one of the shibboleths of the recovery movement which sells the notion of powerlessness. So, while it’s crucial to take a moral stance in most instances, it's delusional to believe that you're in control. It’s like the person who watches the television monitor and thinks that the nightly newscaster whether its Anderson Cooper or Chris Wallace is talking to them. You vote, you may even knock on doors, but basically your candidate doesn't and shouldn't know who you are. Otherwise he or she is not doing their job--which is to attend to his or her flock.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Plot Against America

There are many Twilight Zones in which an individual nightmare becomes a collective experience. “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” (March 4, 1960) is just one example. A groundless rumor of an alien invasion becomes an inquisition. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” which appeared in the June 26, 1948 edition of The New Yorker is similar, a writer’s waking nightmare of institutionalized insanity becoming an imaginative reality. Neither Rod Serling nor Shirley Jackson could probably have dreamt up an apocalyptically contentious presidential election amidst a pandemic with trucks full of goons cruising through towns and even going so far as surrounding the opposition’s campaign bus. Call the police? The hijackers may be member of the Oath Keepers, a right wing organization made up of former cops and military. In the case of the town of Northport on Long Island,  a member of a Trump caravan thought nothing of pulling out a gun to subdue a heckler (and it was the heckler who was arrested) The German SS created a similar atmosphere of intimidation. Is this America or some alternate universe where the Axis powers have really been holding sway like say Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle or Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America?

Monday, November 2, 2020

Holocaust and Coronavirus Denial

The British author David Irving is one of the best-known Holocaust deniers. Apparently, his views evolved from claiming Hitler didn’t know about the extermination of Jews to the fact that the Holocaust itself never happened. Unfortunately, the president is now waving the banner for another kind of denial, i.e. about the seriousness of the coronavirus and the fact that it’s spreading. “Trump’s Closing Argument on Virus, Clashes With Science and Voters’ Lives," NYT 10/28/20) “With the fake news everything is Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid,” Trump is quoted as saying, “I had it. Here I am, right?” Guess he didn’t get a look at the refrigeration trucks filled with bodies in NYC after the outbreak of a pandemic which if it’s anything like that of 1918 threatens to do more damage in a second surge. There's something about the procrustean denial of an ongoing reality that only heightens the pain for victims. Tell one of the emaciated survivors who were liberated by Allied forces in l945 that there was  no genocide. Never again! A similar language is almost universally employed by deniers. It’s a conspiracy. For instance, back in the spring Eric Trump argued, Democratic governors slow reopening of their states was simply to prevent his father from holding rallies. "Eric Trump’s Wild, Dangerous Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory,CNN, 5/18/20. CNN went on to quote Eric Trump as saying, "After November 3, coronavirus, will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen."

Friday, October 30, 2020

Miracle on 34th Street

This is a very bad time to live in the now or take things a day at a time. Most people probably fuel their hopes by imagining themselves a year from now when ostensibly the whole pandemic hopefully will  be passed. Remember when you used to go to Rockefeller Center to skate or just to see the  holiday windows? With midtown crowded again and the same Salvation Army soldiers parked out in front of Saks Fifth Avenue, across from the statue of Atlas with the world on his shoulders, you may in fact find yourself running into one of the few fellow sufferers you were lucky to see at the time of the troubles. There’s always someone, perhaps it’s the receptionist at the dentist’s office where you were forced to go when your bridge cracked,who's going to elicit a double take as you negotiate the holiday throngs. It’s all like one of those old celluloid projectors where the film would get jammed. When you re-threaded it, you’d start Miracle on 34th Street just where you left off. Depending on how old you are, 2020 will undoubtedly end up being one of those events people tell to their children or grandchildren, say like war years when there was rationing or the previous Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 which created its own historical legacy and left its own scars.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Free-range, Cage-free Eggcorns

Gilda Radner (photo: Solters and Roskin)

For all intensive purposes is an eggcorn. The correct phrase is for all intents and purposes. When you look up the derivation of the meaning of the linguistic faux pas, it appears to derive from an auditory failure like mistaking an acorn for an eggcorn. Eggcorns definitely occur when the spoken word is not heard correctly. Escape goat instead of scapegoat, biting your time instead of biding your time. According to Miriam-Webster the term was created by the linguist Geoffrey Pullum in 2003 so if you’re feeling behind the eight ball, it’s not something that Strunk and White would have identified in that bible of grammar, The Elements of Style which goes back to l918. What’s interesting about Pullum besides the fact that he’s been married three times is that in his youth he founded a soul group, Geno Washington and the Ram, Jam Band. He’s Scottish, but this of course recalls The Commitments, the famous Irish soul band which came into existence before there was any label for mispronunciation of this kind. Pass mustard is the eggcorn for pass musterEx-patriot instead of expatriot and curve rather than curb your enthusiasm is another. Imagine how much funnier it would have been if Larry David had called his series Curve Your Enthusiasm? Substituting the misconstuction creates a walking double entendre recalling Gilda Radner's famous "Saving Soviet Jewelry" skit on Saturday Night Live.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Trump and Deconstruction

drawing of Derrida by Arturo Espinosa Seguir

The central issue of the Civil War was slavery, but what drives the current divide? Could it be the perpetuation of a fancied old order, not slavery exactly, but a hegemonic white male deregulated universe. What does Trump model in his behavior other than the notion that you can say and do what you want and that there are no absolutes, no morality, no sense of right and wrong. It’s pure untempered male libido on the march. Ironically Trump has something in common with deconstruction to the extent that he’s also  relativist. Who’s to say  QAnon is bad? After all he hears they don’t like pedophiles. The concept of “fake news” itself is a watered down form of so-called “new history” in which assumptions about happenstance are all dependent on the context of a subjective observer. If there's no truth, if mask wearing could help or not, if the virus could be spreading or not, if America is thriving (when many people are experiencing huge suffering and poverty) or not, then how can you make definitive statements? You might as well do what you feel. Don’t worry about coronavirus says the President, using himself as the example. With the finest medical care on earth, he’s back on the campaign trail, promising a dose of Regeneron in every pot.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020


"The Suicide of Seneca" by Manuel Domingez Sanchez (1871)

Apocolocyntosis is the name of a play by Seneca. You probably will never read it, but it’s one of those exotic transliterations from the Latin, which produces its own nexus of associations. The word is onomatopoeic imitating as it does the sound of literary terms like onomatopoeia. If you look up the meaning, it states that the play is about the "pumkinification" of the Emperor Claudius on his way to hell. It’s identified as satire particularly since the tyrannical emperor’s fate, one would guess, is to end up as a pumpkin. The Urban Dictionary identifies the word as slang for being turned into a pumpkin, but with the exception of rivalrous scholars in a classics department, who would wish this on anyone? You have the great classics by Seneca like Medea and Phaedra which are mainstays of the canon and then you come to this send up with the weird name that also sounds like a gum condition that requires treatment by a periodontist. Can you imagine Mark Rylance starring in Apocolocyntosis? That’s one production that deserves a production on Zoom.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Final Solution: Birth of a Salesman

A good salesman is able to intuit what a customer wants while making them feel good about their choice. Salesmanship is a value-free occupation. It’s market driven. You don’t try to sell people what they don’t want, even if you are trying to get rid of inventory. The customer has to have confidence in you. Once you break that confidence, you’re lost. They go onto the next salesman. If your buyer is screaming for blood, blood is what he has to get. If it’s bile, they want, give it to them. If they want to be told that the stock market is going up, then echo their own words. If they want to sell, roll with their emotions and find something good in what you’ve done after. For instance, you might mirror your client’s fear by being overly cautious but you can find something good in a loss  It’s called investor discipline.That’s what you sell them. Whatever it is, the bottom line is you can’t be the agent of gloom and doom. In other words, to be a good salesman you can’t tell the truth because the truth is not something the market can bear. To be a good salesman, you have to be a purveyor of hope. You have to cater to your client’s dreams no matter how unrealistic they might be.Maybe that was what was wrong with Willy Loman. He'd lost his hope.

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Final Solution: We vs. I

Martin Buber

Martin Buber famously coined the term “Ich und Du” (“I and Thou”). The pandemic and its current comorbidities economic and racial inequality have created a condition of universal collective trauma. Usually there's a solace in discovering that one’s personality has been adversely affected by a circumstance that’s unique. Now when you’re about to complain or explain you tend to be stopped in your tracks by the fact that everyone is the victim of the same conditions. Even victims of the virus can't complain since so many people have it. There's always someone worse off than you. It’s neither good nor bad, but the pandemic has made people think in the first-person plural. It’s a “we vs. I” universe--an enormous change bought at the price of great suffering and also not likely to endure, past the pandemic, considering the proclivity of animate beings to individuate. While most people are confined or at the very least practicing a good deal of social distancing, they will inadvertently be given an opportunity to step back (every time they start feeling sorry for themselves) and realize they’re part of a greater whole.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Enough to Turn You Crimson

If you manage to get into Harvard and then go to Harvard Law School and from then on, The New Yorker and CNN, can you do anything you want? Are you like Caligula? That’s the question being scrutinized by The Cambridge (England) Union. Of course, the real issue derives in psychobabese from “narcissistic grandiosity.” In words that any Harvard graduate can understand, this means you develop the notion you can masturbate in front of prominent women colleagues on Zoom. The idea may insinuate itself as the germ of titillating temptation until it becomes a downright obsession, convincing yourself nothing untoward is happening anyway, since your video and audio functions are off (when, in fact, they're not). However, wouldn’t this action qualify as an old-fashioned Freudian slip? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but most of the time a cigar is a penis.


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Woman Under the Influence

There's a famous line in Long Day’s Journey when Mary Tyrone walks in with her wedding gown and her son, Jamie mockingly intones, “The Mad Scene. Enter Ophelia!" That might describe Gena Rowland's performance as Mabel Longhetti in John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence (l974). The movie is, of course, like catnip for any actor. Rowlands makes the most of a plum opportunity for virtuosity, playing up her character’s boundary problems by sexualizing her encounters with every stranger she meets. The depiction of this kind of free-floating hysteria is not unrealistic. However, there’s a sense that in eschewing the normal constraints of the commercial cinema with it’s well scripted encounters, for the handheld camera and natural lighting the film somehow errs, becoming unrealistic and even histrionic in its search for realism. Peter Falk plays the part of the harried husband Nick and there’s one really telling moment at the end when he attempts to bully his wife into becoming sane, by threatening to throw her to the floor when she doesn’t come down from a couch. Besides Bo Harwood's score, the   film employs Italian opera that improbably comes out of almost everyone’s mouth; at least two of the members of Nick’s construction crew are tenors of note. The arias are highly romantic and soaring yet they’re a markedly dissonant considering the psychological deterioration that's taking place. This is a clever piece of artifice that unfortunately, like many of the director’s gambits, ends up calling more attention to itself than the world it aims to portray.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Final Solution: The Red Zone

Will the US become like Germany after the war? Will the country be partitioned into Red and Blue zones? It’s apparent that there will be no peaceful transition. Even if the movers come and Trump leaves The White House, you’re going to have a reluctant leader in exile, carrying on the duties for his base and a growing subculture of QAnon followers.Trump's wall with Mexico will be expanded. It'll become like the famed Berlin Wall, which effectively divided a country. Trump's media empire will make Breitbart under Steve Bannon look sick. Imagine whole networks of television and radio funded by the Koch Brothers with Sinclair Broadcasting and Fox piping out varying kinds of right wing propaganda.Trump Inc. will become the ultimate reality TV show, something so all encompassing that it actually becomes like the Holographic level of Star Trek. It will be a Second Coming of sorts, Trump will descend as a new savior. He won’t need to rush to appoint Supreme Court justices since his words will be worshipped as the rule of law in those lands under his control. The coronavirus is known to have an impact on the brain, but whatever the cause, the President’s bout with the malady has obviously exacerbated all the traits which had been evident all along—amongst them a linguistic perseveration in his attack on scientific evidence. For the first time in their histories both The New England Journal of Medicine and Scientific American featured editorials alternately condemning Trump and endorsing Biden. When you read in Genesis that God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th, you generally treat it as metaphor and poetry, though there are obviously fundamentalists who read the bible as literally as the originalists do the constitution. No one in the Red Zone is going to take the former president’s words with a grain of salt.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Final Solution: Mr. Creosote

Kellyanne Conway (photo: Gage Skidmore)

The paranormal has become the new normal. One supposes people and even countries will begin to paranormalize after the pandemic is so-called over, if that ever takes place. But part of the current cultural norm is an increase in logorrhea or paradigm shifting. Trump is one of the great deconstructionists and would have probably have buddied up with Derrida on the issue that everything is culturally created. It’s easy to call something “fake news” when it’s the product of say CNN headquarters in Atlanta. So QAnon might be a dangerous cult, but maybe not. He hears they don’t like pedophiles. However the logorrhea is really at the heart of the current paranormality. Lara Trump is the wife of Eric. She appeared as a kind of pinch hitter (since apparently no other members of the clan agreed to come on) to answer Jake Tapper’s questions on State of the Union Sunday morning. Plainly Lara had studied at the Kellyanne Conway school of rhetoric. Conway notoriously suffers from diarrhea of the mouth which makes it virtually impossible for her to stop talking. It’s not her fault or for that matter her protégé Lara’s. Their Russian handlers have given them verbal laxatives which make them run off at the mouth. Remember the Monty Python "Mr. Creosote" skit? Jake Tapper seemed irate when he tried to get a word in edgewise, but he should have been more tolerant considering the problems of his interview subject. For the record, Donald Trump is one of the great paradigm shifters. You may remember the term from Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It’s unlikely that Trump has ever read it, but uncanny that he's able to perfectly paradigm shift anytime anyone asks him a question like: Did you get COVID tested on the day of the first debate?

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Final Solution: Conscience

David Garrick as Hamlet seeng the Ghost

There are two types of behaviors that are exuded by the president, one is smug self-satisfaction that is part of his PR message. Every experience even COVID is turned into a major triumph. Then comes the destructive part. He does what he wants which in this case means going prematurely back to work and putting others including staff members and secret service agents in danger. It would be wonderful to think that Trump was an exception, but you probably know plenty of people who behave exactly this way, trumpeting their latest victories while barely heeding the damage they inflict as they go about the pursuit of their pleasures. What's the missing component in those who demonstrate these kind of characteristics? The answer is, conscience. It’s not hard to understand how the absence of this trait can lead to success in the world. Have you ever met a successful Lothario who's known for his conscience? Hamlet, the literary figure most famous for having an overactive superego, has enough trouble just dealing with one girl. Hamlet is also different than Trump in that he lacks bravado. “Thus, conscience doth makes cowards of us all.” Hamlet does his share of damage but would he have risked infecting, his friend and protector, Horatio by making an appearance in an SUV? Still what's disconcerting is that pathological personalities proceed along their merry way showing little concern about the wreckage left in their wake. What's the toll of those infected and what's the extent of their illness from having attending the Rose Garden or Bedminster fundraising events?

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Tyson vs. Trump

Mike Tyson is scheduled to fence off with Roy Jones Jr. at the Dignity Health Park in Carson, California on November 28th. And then there's Trump vs. Biden. Who knows if the bout between the incumbent president and the challenger will be decided by then, seeing that there are upwards of 300 million judges, with the possibility that the 9 judges of the Supreme Court will eventually be called upon if there’s a “split decision.” Trump vs. Biden might have made a good undercard considering all the shenanigans perpetrated by The White House which at least on the basis of the first debate enjoys hitting below the belt, with the Republican office holder who currently possesses the heavyweight belt (if for no other reason than the fact that he’s obese) refusing to go back into his corner and let the Democratic challenger speak. One of Trumpty Dumpty’s other tactics is to put words in his opponent’s mouth in an attempt to win by suffocation. What a wonderful coincidence if the election were finally settled on the day of the Tyson/Jones fight! However, from what the president is indicating the only way to get him out of the ring will be by way of knockout. As Iron Mike himself once said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

My Octopus Teacher

Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed’s My Octopus Teacher deals with a beloved mollusk that diners in Italian restaurants often confuse with calamari.The movie seeks to disabuse viewers of the notion they might have had that octopuses are unlikely pets. Craig Foster who produced the film is also the star along with the putative octopus and his son, who plays a cameo. No doubt it’s amazing to see an octopus using its 200 suction cups to grasp onto its new friend, though one does wonder if the film is not being a bit pollyannish. Does the octopus see Foster as a friend or potential meal? Indeed, some parts of the film seem contrived. Foster uses only a snorkel to make his dives, yet the octopus is shown in long periods of repose and the romanticizing of the creature’s “invertebrate intelligence” brings to mind a famous Twilight Zone, “To Serve Man,” in which the motives behind an alien creatures seeming friendliness are revealed by a cook book entitled To Serve Man. Foster is shocked and saddened when one of the octopus's tentacles are bitten off by a pyjama shark and he’s amazed to see natural selection at work as his friend uses ingenious ploys in its struggle to survive. In his next film Foster should consider taking his snorkel to the Galapagos where he can trace his mentor’s footsteps.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Tivoli Journal: Ferncliff Forest

fire tower in Ferncliff Forest (photo: F. Levy)

Ferncliff Forest in Rhinebeck, one of the grand old preserved pieces of nature in the Hudson Valley, has a fire tower at the top of its trail. When you stare up it’s like looking into a majestic spider’s web. It also exudes a bit of the sublime to the extent that you may see giant trees falling even as you meander in the otherwise peaceful surroundings. They tumble effortlessly and without danger to anyone, but the grounds are littered with fallen trees which have been the victims of one or another infestation of creatures like the Southern pine beetle. You might say that Ferncliff is a forested version of Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey--a church of nature with its own forested ruins. You can take a two mile hike past an algae covered pond and then finally return to the starting point whose pond in autumn reflects a dazzling supernova of seasonal colors.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Tivoli Journal: Defining Quaintness

photo (Francis Levy)

The town of Tivoli in upstate New York down the road from Red Hook and Rhinebeck gives new meaning to the word “quaint.” Actually quaintness is a labile concept, an architectural and historical sensibility that germinates partially out of geography and partly from the demographic that inhabits it. The brand of quaintness which Tivoli exudes is eccentric in and of itself. A water tower with the name of the town hangs like a deity over the chapel of the local church and across the street is the Watts de Peyster Fireman’s Hall. The red brick structure is part of the National Register of Historic Places and the Hudson River Historic District and it contributes another layer to the charm with the Dutch sounding name of the l9th century village president after whom it is named.These strata make themselves visible to those who cultivate a sensibility. On one side of the hall is a green and gold painted sign which reads “Village of Tivoli, Offices, Library.” On the other side, is a similarly painted sign which reads, “Tivoli Free Library” and below that “Justice Court.” Talk about multi-use. Stop off at Fortunes, the ice cream parlor whose mint ice cream exudes the taste of a real herb. As you leave town, there’s a steep incline past the Kaatsbaan Cultural Park, a 153 acre dancer's retreat. From there the main thoroughfare, "quaintly" named Broadway, makes a steep incline to railroad tracks where on a recent Saturday an Amtrak train zoomed by, then giving way to a majestic view of the Hudson.