Friday, April 29, 2022

The End of the Affair With Man or God?

“People can love without seeing each other, can’t they, They love You all their lives without seeing You...” This line from Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair creates an extraordinary double entendre, with man and God, faith and passion interposed. The author proposes a kind of free love, intermingling  the carnal and the divine. Remember Bergman’s Passion of Anna?  In German “leidenschaft,” or “passion” contains the root word for “suffering.” The transverbation of Saint Teresa similarly creates the spiritual chimera both human and divine of Bernini's famed "Ecstasy."  The “affair” of the novel's title refers to the relationship between Sarah, the wife of a civil servant, Henry Miles and Maurice, a writer, but what is it? Is the affair, a brief almost elicit fling with God or is it simply the more literal meaning of the word a sexual relationship between two people in which one is being unfaithful to someone else? Caveat Emptor: Grief is one the emotions the novel elicits.

Read "Rome Journal: "Saint Teresa, on Ecstasy" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Cry Baby" by Garnet Mimms

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Are Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump Part of the New Hollywood 10?

Joseph Welch (counsel for the U.S.Army) and Joseph McCarthy 

Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Donald Trump could be the new Hollywood 10 testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joseph McCarthy after the FCC to take away the license of Fox News for supporting the Russians. Strange bedfellows? How about McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover earning the support of liberal Democrats like Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders for their attempts to stop the spread of Communism? Well at least Russian expansionism. Wasn’t that the whole purpose to the John Birch society and Slim Pickens (Maj. ‘King Kong’) the B-52 pilot in Dr. Strangelove using the mushroom cloud--the same one Putin and Lavrov are now threatening--to stop the “Ruskies.” Are dictators like Franco and fascist supporters like Marshall Petain trembling in their graves as they see one of their own, Marine Le Pen, supporting a Red and even getting loans from him to finance her campaigns?

Read "A-Z Quotes" from Francis Levy

and listen to "Reason to Believe" by Tim Hardin

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Washington Crossing the Delaware (Larry Rivers, l953)
Were there pickpockets, liars and rapists accompanying George Washington when he crossed the Delaware? The point is that collective actions like VE Day tend to result in idealization, but when everyone goes home, especially after a war, the shit hits the fan. Remember The Great Santini, the movie made from the Pat Conroy novel starring Robert Duvall as the Marine F-4 Phantom flyers who has trouble adjusting to family life. Kiev is a big city whose population was 2.8 million before the conflict with Russia. Are all its inhabitants heroes like Zelensky? Max Weber famously dichotomized between sect and church, the former like early Christianity being characterized by selfless fervor and the latter by institutionalization, what he termed "the routinization of charisma." It’s wonderful to see the unity of Ukrainians against the evil invader, but is it being a sourpuss to point out that human beings are characterized by their humanity—which includes a certain degree of selfishness and weakness of the flesh. Does a realistic attitude about the human condition make it impossible to hope?

Read "Trumpeters" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Donna" by Richie Valens

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Drawing a Line in the Sand

How easy it is to become trapped by one’s threats. Obama notoriously declared a red line in Syria, then he never made good on it with reprisals. Once you're discovered to be posturing, your future protests carry no weight. But what happens if both parties in a conflict live up to their promises?You see the results all the time in microcosm with couples shouting at each other and opposing groups resorting to violence. January 6 was an example of angry people making good on their threats. No one dreamt that the Retrumplicans protesting the election would invade congress and physically try to overturn the results of an election. It was a power of example to all those who have seemingly far-flung dreams of violence. Putin shoots off at ICBM, threatening nuclear attack as NATO continues to arm Ukraine. “We will bury you” were Khrushchev’s famous words at the UN. Assessing the validity of a threat also means apprising the probability that one side or another will step down, lowering the stakes. It’s all like some kind of geopolitical poker game with the ante constantly being raised until one or another party or in this case country folds. If Putin pulls out of Eastern Ukraine before Victory Day on May 9, is he actually losing if he spares lives of soldiers on both sides?  The Russian president has boxed him himself into a corner in which the obvious answer is yes.

Read "The Art of War" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Springtime For Hitler" (The Producers

Monday, April 25, 2022

A Murder in Forest Hills

Orsolya Gaal (Facebook)

Consider these facts in the case of the Forest Hills housewife and mother whose body was found stuffed in her son’s duffel bag, not far from her house. She had been at Lincoln Center with friends the night of her murder. Afterwards she had gone to a bar where, she lingered for 45 minutes over a drink—as she often did (how many upper middle-class housewives drink alone at a bar on a regular basis). She had two sons 17 and 13. The younger one  was in the house at the time of the murder. The l7 year old, a gifted musician, was in Portland Oregon with his father--perhaps visiting a college like Reed? A note about the couple's handyman on the refrigerator led to the killer with whom she’d been having an affair for 18 months. She had been stabbed 58 times in what was deemed to be a crime of passion. Kitty Genovese was famously stabbed on a Kew Gardens street in l964, but that case famous for the indifference of her neighbors only compares in its victim, a woman, its locale, Queens and its weapon, a knife. Another femme fatale, Mary Jo Kopechne also comes to mind, though her case has nothing at all in common with this one. The handyman, David Bonola's disheveled hair and ponytail gave him the appearance of a crazed Marat on his way to arraignment on the night of April 21.The woman, Orsolya Gaal, whose exotic name itself elicits speculation (she significantly hadn't adopted the name of her husband, Howard Klein) was, from her photo, preternaturally beautiful. Some women with exceptional beauty become sexualized due to the high degree of stimulation their appearance has always created. Was the husband totally impervious to his wife’s dalliances? Adultery, especially of an endemic kind, often provokes cries of indignation and expressions of fury from a dejected spouse. Yet how complicit is the partner? How much do they know or not know, at least subliminally? How convenient is it to have their "loved one" cheating on them? To what degree is it a matter of ignorance or simply not wanting to face what they know or what would be clearly obvious, were they not unable or unwilling to face the truth.

Read "The Findings" by Francis Levy, Evergreen Review

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Friday, April 22, 2022

Equation With Two Unknowns

linear function graph (Jim. belk)

A quid pro quo with the universe is a spiritual black hole. That's what Faust discovered. The idea that one can willfully stop the cosmos from yawning by yelling leads to a sore throat. It’s when the notion of the “reward” or remuneration for effort starts to run through one’s mind that alarms should go off. Just making efforts does not guarantee compensation. In fact, it demeans the effort whether it's the love of a parent or child or simply a thing. It's as if the equation were reversed. Reward is not necessarily directly proportional to effort albeit reward does require effort (usually). It’s a common mistake since sometimes huge outpourings are like a drug that comes in the wake of long periods of emptiness or isolation (such as a pandemic). In addition, answered prayers can be fatal for those poor souls who can never get enough.

read "Answered Prayers" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "How Can We Hang On To a Dream"by Tim Hardin

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Magnum Force

Force is the court of last resort. It also creates its own rabbit holes. Putin famously responds only to force. Sanctions are for the most part symbolic, but if it’s apparent that NATO planes will actually engage, he steps back. The schoolyard bully beats everyone up in his path to conquest. What's left once he's claimed his turf is a tarmac emptied of opponents. Russia would no longer be threatened by NATO, if the countries surrounding it were returned to the Russian Federation or U.S.S.R. If the l00,000 Russian troops had been assembled along the Donbas border at the beginning of the conflict had been met with an equal number of NATO troops, the Russians wouldn't have been able to advance. Pawn meets pawn. But what are the two alternatives in chess which is the most profound metaphor for power? Stale or checkmate! In one, no one wins. In the other the victor stands alone. Is power an aphrodisiac, as Kissinger once said? And for whom?

read "Iraqistan" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Love Train" by the O'Jays

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Cenozoic or Coronazoic Era?

coronavirus (CDC)

If you think back to the beginning most people thought the pandemic would wind down by June in time for the summer. Corona hit like a destructive category 5 hurricane, leaving a path of destruction in its wake, just as QAnon began to charge that it was a conspiracy to keep Trump out of office. Fauci and the former president fought it out in front of the camera, as hydroxychloroquine and finally bleach got the White House’s endorsement. Now it seems like Coronavirus in some form is here to stay. Is it like the flu, a relatively harmless seasonal occurrence or a loaded gun, depending on the variant? B.a.2 is now considered more contagious than Omicron which was considered dangerous not due to its severity but because of its transmissibility. The debate about the wisdom of taking a second booster centers upon not if but when the next surge. Will dealing with coronavirus be similar to climate change in which one is perpetually having to dodge the bullet. Actually, that other life, BC (before coronavirus) is beginning to seem like another far away, and relatively carefree period. Shall we say the Cenozoic versus Coronazoic era?

Read "MAGA and the Coronavirus" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and listen to Oop Boop Pah Doo by Jesse Hill

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The l9th Century discovered the labile nature of personality. The innovation of Ibsen’s. Peer Gynt was to see personality as layered. Dreams, which Freud termed the "royal road" to the unconscious, enabled mental health professionals to work from the "inside out." Nietzsche's "Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence," also a product of the l9th century, proposed that given infinite time, anyone could be anything. Change in this futuristic paradigm would be accomplished "outside in," through a highly sophisticated form of time travel. Which brings us to Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert's Everything Everywhere All at Once. The directors, who call themselves "Daniels," set their narrative in a Chinese laundromat. Evelyn, the owner (Michele Yeon), is having trouble with an IRS agent, Deirdre Beaudeirdra (Jamie Lee Curtis), her husband Waymong (Ke Huy Quan), who has served her divorce papers, her lesbian daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hu), and her tradition-bound father Gong Gong (James Hong). If you had quotidian problems like these you'd need to escape is the joke. However seriously one takes the situation, Evelyn's plight is only mitigated by "versing;" she and others find other forms of themselves in alternate universes. It's My Beautiful Launderette meets Being John Malkovich. It also recalls Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, which also famously theatricalizes the structure of personality. The  enormous filo dough pastry or accordion of disquisition requires constant expansion and contraction to render its effect. If there is a drawback it's that the viewer begins to feel they've jumped into an alternate universe called The Never Ending Movie.

Read "The Wormhole Society" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Monday, April 18, 2022

Ukraine and the Gift of Meaning

The Ukrainians have been given the gift of single-mindedness--purchased, of course, at a horrible price. The package also comes with the kind of unity that derives from a shared sense of purpose. While the rest of the industrialized world goes to their therapy appointments, their yoga classes and afternoon trysts, a population under siege is infused with an otherworldly energy. It’s an extreme paradigm shift comprising both altruism and self-sacrifice. Ukraine is an exception as was the French resistance to the Vichy regime. It's more common for human beings to sell their souls in a Mephistophelian bargain. Fear and temptation can create a potent anesthetic. Just across the border in Russia and Belarus, much of the population is marching to the beat of, to put it mildly, a "different" drummer.

Read "Strangers Drowning" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "If You Don't Know Me By Now" by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes

Friday, April 15, 2022

Spaghetti Putinesca

Simmer hostility over a period of years, preferably generations. Make sure your pot calls the kettle black. Your sauce should be blood red, your tomatoes explosively ripe. You don’t want to forget the kind of seasonings that will make you hot under the collar. Before you get ready to serve turn the flame up high under your cauldron until it boils vigorously. Your cup in this case should definitely run over. Remember, where there’s smoke, there’s fire so don’t worry about setting off any alarms, After you’re done you’re going to want the embers to continue smoldering.

Read "Adulthood and Armageddon" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Sympathy for the Devil" by The Rolling Stones

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Rome Journal: Monteverde

stairs at end Glorioso, leading up Gianicolo 

The barista at the bistro down from the majestic flight of steps at the end of Glorioso will be walking 150 KM in five days on May 27. Previously he’d done 100 KM in the same time span and this second walk will be uphill. Of course, for those who inhabit the Gianicolo with its gracious old villas nestled behind tree-shaded cul de sacs, life is an uphill climb, except when you leave for the day. Monteverde is the town "in cima," at the top. If you’re looking to escape tourism, this is where the real Italians live, at least the ones with enough money to inhabit the equivalent of a suburb. The town actually splays two ways from a fork in the road, shortly after the arch of the Porta Pancrazio, leading to the Pamphilia Gardens on one side, and the Via Carini with its bus shelter and PAM superette on the other. There's a plaque to Pier Paolo Pasolini who made the neighborhood his home when his mother moved there from Ribibbia, the last stop on the B line and the station you go to when you're visiting someone in prison. The hotel and Bar Gianicolo grace the top. If you want to have the experience of knowing and being known, the hillside provides an experience that’s hard to come by amidst the monumental pace of life in the ruins. 

Read "Rome Journal: The Janiculum Hill," HuffPost

from the soundtrack of Trainspotting, "Temptation (Heaven 17)"

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Are Putin and Trump For The Birds?

What does it say that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are both germophobes? Remember the famous scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen is chasing the lobster? Not to compare, but back in the days when the OSS performed psychohistories, the phobia about insects would have been added to a leader's folder. Also remember The Birds? Since Biden is loathe to create a no fly zone, what about deriving a strategy from the master of suspense? The rock group Flock of Seagulls might not be enough to bring down a plane, but remember Sully Sullenberger and the famed U.S. Air flight? How about sending birds into the air to combat Russian planes? Or a plague of locusts at the Kremlin? Drones are powerful weapons but they're nothing compared to vermin, which to the Russian president are like Kryptonite or the equivalent of the powerful nerve agent Novichok, used on Alexei Navalny.

Read "Die Hard With a Vengeance" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Collective Humiliation?

newsreel footage of signing Versailles Treaty

Can countries collectively experience humiliation? Did the onerous conditions of Versailles make for the rise of Hitler? Did the inviting of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia into NATO in 2004 following the period of Perestroika and Glasnost set the stage for Putin’s brand of nationalism? Santayana’s old saw, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” should be signposted in history classrooms around the world. In the exhilaration at the end of the Cold War, the United States engaged in its own form of millenarianism. Democracy and technology would be the beacons; it was the heyday of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of Ideology and the Last Man. Fukuyama’s mentor Samuel Huntington thought differently, correctly predicting the tribalism which characterizes the current age. Still in all, Putin’s gamble is bound to fail; NATO will be back where they left off in the 90s. Can a moderate, less vindictive peace, a Marshall Plan with religious overtones, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission following the examples of Tunisia and South Africa be negotiated? Will Navalny, Zelensky, and Pussy Riot be the troika presiding over a new peace?

read "Pornosophy: Secession" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Tell It Like It Is" by Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville and Gregg Allman

Monday, April 11, 2022


MIGs (photo: Alan Wilson)

You might be asking yourself, what is Biden waiting for? The Polish, for instance, are ready to green light their MIGs. If Putin’s ultimate aim is irridentist, ie to reconstitute a Balkanized state, then the US and Russia are going to butt heads anyway. Isn’t this a repetition of what happened during the Bosnian civil war. The US entered but only after the damage was done. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. If "war is simply the continuation of policy with other means"  as Clausewitz famously pointed out, talks is part of the arsenal. But what kind of words are tantamount to heavy artillery? Sanctions have been touted, but are these ultimately “the kind of words that will never harm me?” Will Europe ever wean itself entirely form Russian oil? And what is a limited major conflict actually going to be like. The Chinese interceded in the Korean War, but they didn’t have nukes yet. There has actually been no test of a full out conflict on European soil in the new world of hypersonic missiles and tactical nuclear weapons.

Read "From the Jan. 6 Archive," by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Friday, April 8, 2022

Is Putin the World's Greatest Suicide Bomber?

From a millenarian perspective, the only way Russia is going to win this one is to blow up the world. Intelligence analysts at the C.I.A. and N.S.A. must be assessing the probability that Putin will become the world’s greatest suicide bomber. Formerly the province of ISIS   terrorists, Putin has now got the biggest explosive  hitched to his waist. Either NATO caves in or he blows himself up. Will the New York City hostage negotiation team, usually employed to talk jumpers down from the Brooklyn Bridge, come to the rescue? The fact that Putin is one of Randy Newman’s “short people,” is the only thing he has in common with Peter Sellers. However, Biden is obviously worried about a Dr. Strangelove situation with the tragicomedy ending in a mushroom cloud. Is that how desperate and angry the Russian president is? If he doesn’t make good on his nuclear alert, then his power exponentially deletes. “The dog that barks doesn’t bite” goes the old proverb.

read "Why Big German Words Like Vergangenbangenheit Carry Weight, " HuffPost

listen to "Short People" by Randy Newman

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Putin in 2024

photo: Kremlin. ru

Consider this scenario. Russia continues to amass a huge force in Crimea and the contested Donbas region, simply waiting for Trump’s election. Trump never liked NATO, claiming that the US was paying the freight. But more significantly he's likely to put the reports of the brutalities in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities in the category of "The Big Lie." Like the election results, the reports of murder and rape are "fake news," doctored images. Is Putin waiting for 2024? At that time Trump will again distance himself from NATO, pull out troops from Poland, Lithuania and other formerly Eastern Bloc countries, allowing the Russians to reconstitute the old USSR. Under the Trump/Putin alliance, Imperial Russia will be reborn! Amidst the flood of executive orders repealing the US participation in the Paris Climate Accords and ending the renegotiation the Iran nuclear deal, will be a number of right of ways allowing the Trump International to finally build skyscraper hotels and casino in Moscow and Minsk. Remember the famous the photo op where Trump said he had no reason to doubt what Putin said? After Putin denies all his war crimes at the press conference organized after his visit to Trump White House II, both tanks and heads will roll.

Read "Died Young" by Francis Levy, The Brooklyn Rail

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Is Solipsism the Next Paradigm Shift?

The spreading of doubt about the nature of reality has paralleled the coronavirus epidemic and started with the notion perpetrated by Trump and his QAnon proxy that the pandemic was a conspiracy devised to remove him from power. There has been a lot of talk about what set the stage. During the 90s, when Russia was weak NATO took advantage; the minute Trump got into power Democrats set to work at litigating the existence of his presidency. It would be interesting if the creation of solipsism by the Bishop Berkeley was motivated by a similar perception of threat. In his landmark, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn proposed the notion of paradigm shifts—out of which movements like the new historicism propounded by Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt developed. Underlying Kuhn’s notion is the labile nature of reality. There's no absolute truth in history or in fact science itself. Remember Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle?” The idea that there is no Kantian "categorical imperative" is somewhat vindicated by the quantum universe where a subatomic particle can exist in two places at the same time.  Such radical skepticism obviously has its downsides. "The Big Lie" is one example as is the current assertion by Russia that the images of slaughter in Bucha are the result of Western media doctoring images. Holocaust deniers like David Irving thrive in this kind of atmosphere.

Read "Dream Hoarders" by Francis Levy, HuffPost 

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Ukraine and Russia: the Tragic Mask

Head of Janus, Vatican Museum (photo: Loudon Dodd)

The hatred between the Russians in like bipolar disorder, ego splitting or some psychic pathology predicated on a divided self. What about The Civil War or any civil war, say like that between the Bosnians and Serbs or Tutsi and Hulas in Rwanda, or the Tigray in Eritrea? The complexity is that Russian culture, at least the part involved in the current conflicts, is more proximate. Minsk, Kiev, Moscow, Odessa have represented the most sophisticated and, in some ways, most homogeneous strains of Russian culture. The Pale of Settlement, in which Jews were confined, producing the thriving Yiddish language, crossed all three terrains. Chekhov’s famous short story “Lady With the Dog” is set in the Crimean resort of Yalta. In addition, many Ukrainians and Russians are cousins and even husbands and wives. When you watch the scenes of carnage you think about the death instinct and the propensity of human beings to destroy as well as create. Ukrainians rightly accuse Putin of genocide. Despite the biblical example of Cain and Abel, it takes work to turn a brother against his other. In the case of Ukraine and Russia, the reconciliation commission will be dealing with the same Solomonic issues faced by failed marriages. Russia and Ukraine are one person riven by self-annihilating intra-psychic conflict. The tragic mask is Janus faced.

Read "Polymathic Perversity" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and watch the animation of Erotomania

Monday, April 4, 2022

Autocracy By the People For the People

Berezniki (photo: Macrep Choa)

Apparently, Putin has high approval ratings from Russians—despite all the reports of emigration ("Shaken At First, Many Russians Now Rally Behind Putin's Invasion,NYT, 4/1/22). Anne Applebaum and others have written on the mechanism by which tyrants like Putin, Bolsonaro and Orban perpetuate autocracy. A recent
 Times story gave in depth reporting on the resistance to Lukashenko in Belarus ("The Battle for the Mural and the Future of Belarus,NYT, 3/30/22). It’s chilling reading. But the bottom line is that even dictators serve at the pleasure of vox populi whether their vote is valid or not. Caesar’s murder by Brutus in 44 AD was in fact sanctioned by Romans. That’s the significance, in fact. One's always surprised by the televised images of arenas filled with Trump fanatics. Who are these people? Where do they come from? You don’t see much of Trump on CNN anymore, but he runs a good chance of being reelected. By the way what does that mean for his old pal Putin since Trump and the Russian leader belong to the same crew of tyrants who have proved so efficient maintaining each other’s political longevity? Putin has another friend too, Xi Jinping. With Russia a bona fide member of the UN’s Security Council, what does that mean for the future of the organization? It would be a little like Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany joining the League of Nations. Imagine a clean glass structure situated  in Pyongyang’s Kim II Sung Square and shaped like a drone, in which representatives form a new organization representing dictatorships holds court regularly on matters relating to the safety and security of the planet—funded in part by oligarchs like potash billionaire Dimitry Rybolovlev who turned the Russian village of Berezniki into a sinkhole and whose daughter Ekaterina purchased Sandy Weill's 15 CPW penthouse for a record breaking $88 million dollars.

Read "The Final Solution: Two Dark Horses" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Juicy"by Notorious B.I.G.

Friday, April 1, 2022

The Tyrant's Club

There’s a Tyrant’s Club where people like Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban, Lukashenko and Kim Jong-un relax and tell their war stories after a hard day’s work. The interior looks a little like the one David Niven occupied in Around the World In 80 Days. Even adversaries whether they are an Assad, a Maduro, a Modi or a Myint Swe face each other in clubby leather chairs to lick their wounds before divvying up the spoils. Admittance to the club is by invite only. Xi Jinping was finally accredited after he devised concentration camps for Uyghurs. The Tyrant’s Club sponsors an annual charity event, a Sex Traffickers Ball, which raises money for the Dispossessed Dictators Home which is located on the grounds of Mar-A-Lago.

Read "MAGA and the Coronavirus" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

and watch the animation of Erotomania