Tuesday, March 21, 2023


 Will Rogers (photo: Underwood & Underwood)

“Will” as a verb is an expression of futurity. Also, “to will” something is to wish or desire it. As a noun, “will” is an expression of desire or appetite. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung is the title of the Schopenhauer work which deals with reason as a resort in the face of irrational passions. Will also happens to be a proper name. Shakespeare is the most famous Will. The title  of Stephen Greenblatt’s Will and the World plays upon the double entendre between the proper name and the noun. Will is also a name given to male children. You don’t find any females Wills in spite of Wilhelmina. Will Rogers is one of the most famous Wills. Will Rogers was sui generis, but many Wills are really Johns in disguise. Parents who want to belong will name their offspring Will to fit in. The choice of the name can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that takes the form of a blond haired kid from Darien wearing Topsiders and sailing their skiff into the harbor. Babies get stamped with Will, eventually becoming advertisements for chains with names like The Gap.

read "Will and the World Wars" by Francis Levy, TheScreamingPope

and listen to "Earth Angel" by The Penguins

Monday, March 20, 2023

Will and the World Wars

It’s dourly fascinating how a good thing, say the raising of interest rates by the fed to slow inflation, nets both good and bad results. Yes, raising interest rates has curbed inflation, but it’s also caused a run on some banks. The downside of more jobs is the possibility of an overheated economy and again inflation. Whether there was malfeasance involved in the suspicious sale of stock by SVB executives several weeks before the bank’s failure is currently the subject of investigation by the Senate. Or take another example from the international sphere. Glasnost, Perestroika and the taking down of the Berlin Wall were all welcome, but they led to "paranoiastroika"—about a diminishing of Russia's importance on the world stage. By the same token Versailles led to Hitler and Obama to Trump. What about the politicization of the Supreme Court? MAGA Republicanism? Will the judiciary be reshaped? Will a third party elect Liz Cheney president?

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

and listen to "Pain in My Heart" by Otis Redding

Friday, March 17, 2023

Will in the World

There are thousands of examples of interdependence. Most recently the fed raised interest rates to curb inflation. However, this caused the values of bonds, that banks like SVB held, to plummet. The run by panicked depositers followed.The Jewish religion differs from Protestantism to the extent that it deems man to be free; fate is not predetermined as it is say for Calvinists for whom grace itself becomes a barometer of worth. The notion of free will is complicated because it runs in the face of science; determinism diminishes the importance of volition. One God is distant and another has created a world which leaves no stone unturned. Is free will merely an illusion propagated by those who wish to believe there are no consequences for their acts? Countervailingly, is the notion of a universe where everything is part of a plan, a good excuse to avoid taking responsibility? Where does humanity stand, if everything is as it’s supposed to be? Is the notion of conscience, for instance, merely delusory? Or is the end result of all existence a mixture of the earthly and the divine?

read "Shakespeare's Alternate Reality" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Mr. Pitiful" by Otis Redding

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Person to Person

photo: Seattle Municipal Archives

In the days when Bell Telephone operators covered switchboards, there were “person to person” calls.
  “Person to person” from New York to LA was more expensive than a simple long-distance call since you were not simply linking one place with another, but specific people. The switchboard like the old locomotive barreling down wooden track beds constituted the montage of many 30s and 40s movies. Now that cellular phone service has eliminated the idea of people, places or things, the very concept of “person to person” communication is increasingly under attack. Instead of "person to person," you may connect with someone’s digital assistant or bot. In a radical turnabout, it's less likely to find a real person on the other side of any conversation. Intimacy has been the victim of technology. Face to Face was the title of a famous Bergman movie, but the real issue is human connection something which is increasingly being destroyed by expediency. One-on-one conversation in which you talk directly with another person, undermined as it has been by the advent of A.I.,  is increasingly becoming as rarified as cursive writing.

read Francis Levy's review of Fit Nation, The East Hampton Star

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Vidkun Quisling

 Vidkun Quisling at left (1919)

Benedict Arnold was a traitor. The Norwegians actually coined a word “quisling” derived from the case of a military officer who turned out to be a Nazi spy. In the wake of Kari Lake’s defeat in the Arizona gubernatorial race, MAGA Republicans expressed their vitriol at election authorities by accusing them of being traitors—who should even be put to death. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger received death threats after he failed to find the ll,780 votes Trump infamously asked him for over the phone. Trump isn’t facing seditious conspiracy charges like the ones Oath Keepers Elmer Rhodes and Kelly Megs were convicted of, though he's the closest thing to a Benedict Arnold Americans have ever witnessed, to the extent that his aim has apparently been the end of democracy—something which is a little worse than being a spy.Trump coined the term “fake news” and claimed the election was “rigged and stolen.” Rigging an election might not be as bad as totally killing democratic institutions but that’s like comparing apples and oranges. It’s a false equivalent. The problem is this. If two people call each other traitors who rig and steal elections with “fake news” which one is actually guilty of the crime?

read "The Final Solution: Was Hitler a New York Liberal At Heart?" HuffPost

and listen to "Land of a 1000 Dances" by Wilson Pickett


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Congratulations to Trump U Valedictorian Kevin McCarthy!

taken from Ted Cruz 2016 campaign website

Kevin McCarthy is on his way to becoming a three-time loser. He has refused to take the train to Kiev to show his support for Ukraine. He's handed over the January 6 tapes to Tucker Carlson, and will very likely be forced to push against raising the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, just in time to take the blame for the first ever default on US government debt. You might be kind to attribute McCarthy’s behavior to expediency. Without his alt right stances, he runs the risk of being toppled by MAGA Republican like Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert. The doctrine of "principleless leadership" has become a central tenant of Republican policy from the advent of the Trump administration. Paul Ryan and John Boehner, however one might have opposed their positions, were shaped by a different die and one in which principles still ruled above the kind of naked power plays which might have won Newt Gingrich a tenured position at Trump University. Talking of that storied alma mater, graduates of Trump University are filling leadership positions all over the world. Vladimir Putin has repeated his valedictory speech many times, with Xi Jinping not far behind as salutatorian. The ruling junta in Myanmar are Trump University graduates along with Victor Orban of Hungry and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Trump University may be long gone, but McCarthy may end up graduating at the head of his virtual reality class.

read "The Final Solution: The Trumpenproletariat" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to "Reason to Believe" by Tim Hardin

Monday, March 13, 2023

The Whale

Darren Aronofsky's adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s play, The Whale. offers a unique interpretation of Moby Dick. Melville in the guise of Ishmael, offers so many boring chapters about whales to spare us from his own sad story. It’s a theme or leitmotif that runs throughout the movie. The divorced mother Mary (Samantha Morton) of the teenaged Ellie (Sadie Sink) has kept her from her father, Charlie (Brendan Fraser), because she wants to spare her Charlie's story and by proxy hers. Speaking of Ellie, it's not clear if she wants to “help or “hurt. “ She blows the whistle on a traveling evangelist Thomas (Ty Simpkins)  who has run away with the appropriately named New Life Church's money, but the result is not bad. Thomas is told it’s only money and welcomed back into the fold. The movie is about altruism and whether humans really care about one another considering all their selfish desires. “I need to know I have done one right thing with my life,” Charlie cries. That and his need to see his disturbed daughter as a fundamentally great person due to her honesty is selfish too. "Virtue signaling" is the term that's sometimes used to describe this need. So what's the verdict? Do humans care? The Whale is not the only movie about a person who eats themselves to death. There were a whole castle filled with them in La Grande Bouffe (1973) but that movie was a gratuitous existential act and here the perverse stuffing and subsequent obesity directly results from the pain of living. BTW, Obesity can be looked at as a form of padding, a protective defense. The Whale is controversial since it melodramatically pulls at one's heartstrings but so what, if you’re touched by Aronofsky's tortured characters? Brendan Fraser won the Academy Award for best actor for his "outsized" performance.

read "Diasporic Dining: Fast Food Inc." by Francis Levy, HuffPost

and listen to Tim Hardin's version of "Bird on a Wire"

Friday, March 10, 2023

Carlson Serves It Up

photo: Gage Skidmore
Patricia Swanson married Tucker Carlson’s father when the once and a future commentator was 10 years old. Carlson’s mother was the daughter of Carl Swanson and heiress to the wealth generated by Swanson TV dinners—which left an indelible imprint on American children who ate them while watching the tube. Actually, these mass produced packaged foods were part and parcel of a cycle beginning in the Golden Age of TV, which led to the disintegration of the nuclear family. Later, keyboards would betoken the decline of cursive writing, with chat bots heralding the end of the human presence in the turf once known as "interpersonal communications." It’s no wonder that that e mails about January 6 from Carlson are so duplicitous with regard to what happened on the infamous day that democracy itself came under fire. It’s no coincidence that the scion of a TV dinner dynasty would ultimately be producing "false news" about the election being "rigged and stolen." Carlson learned his lessons well. He knows how to serve it up.

read Francis Levy's review of Fit Nation, The East Hampton Star

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Thursday, March 9, 2023

A Difficult Life

Una Vita Difficile is the title of the novel, Silvio Magnozzi (Alberto Sordi) the feckless protagonist of Dino Risi’s film is writing.  A Difficult Life (1961) is an ironic understatement. Sordi’s character is a maudlin Chaplin clown, buffeted by historical forces which begin with Mussolini’s surrender in l943 and end with the founding of the Italian Republic and the advent of the Communist party. The tone of the movie is sad and at the same time hilarious. In his helplessness, Sordi’s character emanates the tristesse of Giulietta Masina in La Strada (1954). BTW Silvio, unable to sell his book to publishers, heads to Cinecitta where he pleads for the attention of a director who swings away from him on a boom. In Alberto Lattuada's Mafioso (1962), Sordi played a character who was also torn, in that case between the urbane North and the South with its dark criminality. A scene which takes place in the aftermath of the plebiscite, which resulted in the defeat of the monarchy, epitomizes how the movie finds the humor in life and death issues. Neither Silvio, who barely makes a living writing for The Worker nor his wife Elena have eaten for days. However, they inadvertently find themselves at the table of monarchist aristocrats where food and wine flow freely as the votes are being counted. If they declare their allegiance to the Republic they won’t eat, but they pile the food high, at the same time carefully "mincing" their words. The denouement of the movie is redolent of similar ironies. Silvio who seems to be selling out as part of his attempt to win back Elena (Lea Massari) finds himself totally humiliated when his imperious capitalist employer sprays seltzer water into his face. In a final gesture of defiance he throws his boss into a swimming pool. This moment of triumph is truly tragic-comic since, leaving Silvio right back where he started, ie nowhere, it walks a thin line between the two. NB. The choreography of the comedy in one scene where Sordi staggers out of a nightclub onto a highway filled with tourist buses is a cinematic classic. A Difficult Life is completing a run at Film Forum. Don't miss it!

read Francis Levy's review of Fit Nation, The East Hampton Star

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

A CV of Obsession

A CV is usually a record of employment. However what if you created a resume of obsession? That’s what Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom is, along with Frank Harris' My Life and Loves. Look at Job whose employment (how odd that his name so neatly describes his destiny) was dealing with adversity. "To thine own self be true" says Polonius to Laertes. Beneath the scrim of propriety, the face that everyone shows the world, lurks a raging unconscious, a world of dream and desire that's the engine driving the train. Freud actually used the passenger’s eye view as a metaphor for free association. So imagine a vade mecum of places you have really been in your heart and mind.

read Francis Levy's review of Fit NationThe East Hampton Star

and listen to "Daddy's Home" by Shep and the Limelites

Tuesday, March 7, 2023


photo of Comet Pizza (Farragutful)

The Axis powers Germany and Japan were the threat to the liberal world order during the Second World War. Today the threats are Russia and China who have both moved away from periods of "glasnost" in which notions of a free market economy also led to the restoration of individual rights. However, the factors influencing the latest rise in autocracy are far more complex than they were in either the Second World War or its parallel universe iteration in say Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle. A paranoia about been engulfed or overwhelmed (in much the same way on a personal level individuals fear being overwhelmed by particularly strong personalities) characterizes the fundamentalism which has now become an important element in international politics. Just as fundamentalist religions fear the weakening of belief structures that facilitate conformity, China and Russia have both edged towards a cult-like concentration of power in single individuals, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. It's Jim Jones on the level of the nation state and something that's more characteristic of religions than left or right wing parties. ISIS and the philosophy of Sayyid Qtub, who supplied the ideology for Al Qaeda are two sides of the same coin. Another way of stating this quandary in terms of America's growing political divide is, why are so many willing to subscribe to QAnon and Pizzagate  at the expense of the constitution and the Bill of Rights?

read Francis Levy's review of Fit NationThe East Hampton Star

and listen to "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang

Monday, March 6, 2023

War and Peace

 Vladimir Mayakovsky (1920)

Former president Medvedev recently said Russia's failure to prevail in Ukraine "potentially poses a threat to the existence of humanity." History negates his premise. After two stunning defeats Germany rose to become one of the wealthiest and influential nations in the world albeit as a democracy rather than autocracy. The human tendency to self-implode was demonstrated in the recent failed uprising in which antediluvian elements, fascists in tandem with a nostalgic aristocrat, attempted a coup. The last time that happened was in an episode of Babylon Berlin! If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. So what about reforming the mythology of the Russian state. Bring back the Trotskyites under which constructivism, Mayakovsky (one of his famous poems about Russian freedom is War and Peace) and Dziga Vertov all thrived. Long live Pussy Riot! Putin's contribution to Russian history is a dying plutocracy in which a few oligarchs knighted by Yeltsin keep the oversized yacht industry afloat. 

read Francis Levy's review of Fit NationThe East Hampton Star

and listen to "Irreplaceable" by Beyonce

Friday, March 3, 2023

Special Military Operation

"Portrait of Peter" by Jean-Marc Nattier

What's astounding is the extent of Russian nationalism. A member of The Times Moscow bureau, interviewed on CNN reported that her interviews with average Russians indicated an overwhelming solidarity with the "special military operation," which is the now infamous euphemism. Further there have been reports (also onCNN) that the Wagner group has been recruiting teenaged boys from Moscow schools who will be prepared to make up for the huge losses that their military has incurred. A fifteen year old high school sophomore would be ripe for service in three years. Obviously Wagner, at least, sees the battle of attrition going on 3 years hence. The Russians are seasoned martyrs for the mother land when you consider that 27 million died during World War II. What accounts for this strong irredentist impulse that has infected even literary figures like Dostoevsky and accounts for the historical racism towards Ukrainians? Peter the Great of course championed Imperial Russia. Then the revolution brought about The USSR. Interestingly nationalism crossed warring ideologies and institutions. The Chinese show a similar inclination when it comes to what they perceive as fractious assertions of identity --for instance by the Uyghurs. If the Versailles Treaty ultimately brought about the Second World War, then Glasnost, Perestroika and Gorbachov might be regarded as hastening the rise of Putin's brand of ultranationalism. The causes are almost self-evident. What's harder to understand is the perseveration in an action, towards a hostile populace, whose victory could only be Pyrrhic, at best.

read Francis Levy's review of Fit NationThe East Hampton Star

and watch the trailer for Erotomania

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Easy Rider

It’s a road movie. Everyone has one in them even when they aren’t going anywhere. At the very least you have a car which has to be moved due to alternate side of the street parking. For American youth the car is the emblematic symbol of freedom. Route 66 was a famous TV show yet modern technology will eventually force the driver to relinquish their hard earned freedom. Self-driving cars or not (Tesla just recalled 365,000 vehicles), Americans will ultimately find themselves on a kind of auto-drive which knows too much for anybody’s own good. Control and independence are ultimately relinquished for the sake of expediency. Easy Rider, a 60s classic is also a harbinger of the future. 

read Francis Levy's review of Fit Nation, The East Hampton Star

and listen to 'Baby-You Can Drive My Car' by The Beatles

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

The Misanthrope

Self-hatred is an emotion that's totally foreign to certain kinds of individuals. You may recognize the personality type who's never stymied and never assumes the burden or responsibility for hardly anything. On the off chance that they do admit wrong doing they show little remorse or need to castigate themselves. A self-flagellator might take some lessons from insouciant individuals, but he or she will never feel absolved. Just the reverse in fact. Such personalities tend to blame themselves for even those events they have little or nothing to do with. Self-hatred in turn produces its own form of punishment and persistent premonitions of failure are rarely assuaged by so-called success. Depression is sometimes defined as anger turned against the self, but it’s only one of the products of this negative narcissism. Subliminally self-defeating and maladaptive behavior of this sort characterizes Moliere’s greatest invention, Alceste, a character who succeeds in vilifying himself and others at the same time.

read "Sarcasm" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

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