YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

October 2, 2015

Unasked questions about Chris Harper Mercer and Barack Obama

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 5:07 pm
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HarperI am scratching my head in wonder that the press, fixated on the Oregon shooting (October 1, 2015) and all those that preceded it (committed by white boys in their late adolescence or early adulthood) is not asking the most obvious questions.

The first of these would focus on his specific family history, the most relevant being his half-black inheritance (as the Daily Beast and others mentioned). Where is his father? The media have mentioned a mother living in California, but we know nothing about her: her work, her values, how she raised her only child. How was he punished growing up, and who was responsible for disciplining him: the mother or the father? Did the father use corporal punishment? Or some other method, such as threats or grounding. Was there a divorce? Was mom even ever married?

I have an idea why such obvious questions are not being asked. The Right insists on the father-led nuclear family as the ideal unit to lift the masses out of poverty (and even the Moynihan Report did this with respect to blacks, and Moynihan was a staunch liberal). They also imply extreme sex-role differentiation. Supposedly, males are rational, females are irrational and likely to spoil the child, even feminize him.

Second, was it simply chance that Chris Harper Mercer chose a science classroom to embark on his killing spree? The first victim is said to be the science teacher. The hostility of some “Christian” sects to science is too well known to dwell upon. [Update: it was an English class, not a science class as had been reported earlier. Thanks for the correction, Jon!]

And who were Mercer’s victims? Were they all white people like himself? Or might there have been a sprinkling of Asians (at UCLA, nearly all the students studying science were some variety of “Asian”). [Also now irrelevant as the shooter was half black.]

Finally, we come to Obama’s almost instantaneous response to the event, not to speak of his startling passivity in the face of concrete threats to the nation. The media have emphasized his “passion” and opportunism. What if he is not merely a “narcissist” as even Krauthammer insists, but enraged about gun ownership because it signifies the rage at having been abandoned by his real father, and who knows how his grandparents disciplined him?

I attribute these glaring lacunae in the press coverage to the abandonment of depth psychology. Instead of taking specific family histories, noting traumas where they exist, mental health professionals are dedicated to downplaying the permanence of trauma, let alone such antique notions as Oedipal rage. It is all happy talk now along with CBT, in the short, cheap cut to rewiring the brain through the power of positive thinking, or maybe prayer: we should beat the Devil within all of us in this fallen world.

Don’t expect anything to change, or a return to supposedly discredited psychoanalytic explanations for deranged mass shooting events by young males, or even more obvious ones, such as adolescent rebellion against authoritarian parents. We are too dumbed down for that.

Our society indulges in escapism even as it fecklessly searches for a “motive.” Those who love “families” but refuse to look too closely into their inner dynamics, are bound to fail. (See related blog: http://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/) Or, since NPR is touting the (loveless, hence hate-filled) “loner” theory out for fame/revenge: see http://clarespark.com/2012/07/24/the-cracked-and-cracking-loner-as-mass-murderer/.

September 30, 2015

Pacifica Radio and how I achieved free speech

The day I got my Ph.D. 1993

The day I got my Ph.D. 1993

Several Facebook friends have sent me the same Guardian article claiming that the Pacifica Foundation is dying and on its last legs. That Pacifica is on its last legs may be true, but the blog is about how loose organization at the top enabled my own intellectual development and courage.

As I have mentioned in my sort of scholarly Pacifica memoir, Pacifica was a creation of corporatist liberals in coalition with such as the Ford Foundation and many Stalinists or Quakers.

Its glory days were at the height of the 1960s civil rights movement, which is when I got involved with it. From 1969 on, that decade was a happy and productive time for me, because I had my own radio program, The Sour Apple Tree, which was devoted to the internal politics of the art world, which few of the radicals then in charge knew of or cared about. These uncensored years were the happiest decade of my life, for management hardly noticed me, and I developed a following of curious listeners, many of them in the arts, academe, or even math or science.

Being connected to a diverse audience willing to put up with long, detailed interviews and an increasing number of essays (all initiated after I had started graduate school in history, 1983-1993, especially during the Bush campaign of 1988) gave me courage to strike out wherever the evidence led me, and I felt loyal to a growing, supportive, audience.

It was not until I became Program Director in 1981 that I learned that free speech at KPFK was sharply circumscribed by Stalinists whose influence till then was unnoticed by me. As I have written before, multiculturalism was enforced at all the stations shortly before I was appointed PD, and I misunderstood it, thinking it to be some kind of inclusive history with no holds barred. (The complete history is laid out in this set of links: http://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/.)

I have written this very brief blog because many on the internet and Facebook believe that they are, in fact, practicing free speech. I questioned this assumption here: http://clarespark.com/2015/01/12/what-free-speech/.

Two factors enabled my political and intellectual development: lack of editing by higher ups, and connection to an audience that cared about the issues I raised. If my graduate education in US and European history was fraught with conflict and took many years, it was because I had already experienced relatively “free speech” and had no intention of regressing to the docility and ignorance that had marked my young adulthood. Loyal to my audience of autodidacts who expected me to “kick against the pricks,” I spoke up where other graduate students or faculty were silent.

In retrospect, I understand why my blog posts seem to be eccentric or ornery at times. Once you have experienced real intellectual freedom (limited only by your ignorance), you can’t go back to unquestioning deference to individuals or institutions. Luckily, I have found kindred souls (other misfits?) on Facebook and elsewhere.

The Pacifica Foundation has been ruined by underdisciplined anarchists or overdisciplined Stalinists. But I shall ever be grateful for the experiences that unleashed me before it was too late.


September 19, 2015

The “Authenticity” gambit

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 4:30 pm
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brand-authenticityThe term “authenticity” was much used by trendy existentialists, and was synonymous with “bad faith.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authenticity_(philosophy). Sometimes racists appropriate the term to explain real “difference,” e.g. an “authentic” black is true to cultural nationalist definitions of blackness (this used to be called “negritude” by radical activists such as Alain Locke).

The word is now being thrown around in the mass media to account for Donald Trump’s lead in the Republican campaign. The businessman/developer is now lauded as “telling it like it is” and as expressing his true inner man. Are we collectively hovering close to insanity by losing touch with things as they are?

There was a time when common sense acknowledged that reality is often impenetrable (owing to high level secrecy, and our own conditioning or ignorance), and, similarly, we are tongue-tied in the face of most social relationships, for, like it or not, all social relations are rule-bound and we occupy places in the pecking order, often as underlings at the mercy of employers, husbands, parents, clerics, and lovers. Top dog or bottom dog, we are rarely “authentic” for managers, no less than employees, are rule-bound and must manipulate their words to maintain cooperation and “brand” loyalty.

But more, we may rely upon various “experts” promoted by mass media to tell us what we are feeling, or who are the heroes/villains in our personal dramas.

Are we participating in an illusion that masks real dangers to our personal and planetary survival, comparable to nuclear warfare in its consequences?

September 12, 2015

Why is gay marriage a hot button issue for religious conservatives?

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:09 pm
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Alabama protest

Alabama protest

The culture wars have overtaken the 2016 political campaign, as the Kim Davis incident in Kentucky, along with the overwhelming importance of “faith” now becoming a favorite topic on Fox News Channel, and no one, including Fiorina, seems to know how to analyze Donald Trump’s put down of Carly’s “face” that he blatantly describes as un-presidential (and indirectly as ugly).

This brings me back to misogyny, and the taboo against excessive androgyny (or blurring of male and female characteristics, apparently the case in ambitious Carly F., who dares to invade male turf).

First, misogyny. It is not widely acknowledged (though obvious) that women compete with other women to snag the most desirable males, and both model and resent gorgeous women, who simultaneously “plain” women strive to emulate, putting themselves through time consuming and expensive regimens of perfect hair, makeup, and recently, toned bodies as desirable as Greek goddesses are imagined to be. Pre-nup agreements guarantee that powerful, successful males can dump their wives with minimal consequences, while competition with younger women adds compulsion to wives striving against the inevitable status of “crone” as she transitions from middle to old age, keeping plastic surgeons busy.

Is it any wonder that social conservatives strive to perpetuate heterosexual marriage as a sacred obligation? Is it any wonder that many women find mothering and housework to be a desirable alternative to competition in the workplace, either as workers or professionals trying to balance the multiple demands of home and work, all the while fearing that husbands will “work late” with presumably more attractive women?

No one is free of some misogyny, unless s/he has worked through ambivalent relations with Mother. As more and more women gained status in the modern world, the rage against MOM became overt for reasons I outlined here (http://clarespark.com/2015/05/09/monster-moms/).

Second, on gay marriage: No other issue, other than abortion, has aroused so many negative emotions in persons of “faith.” I have known gay men and lesbians ever since the 1970s, and have never seen a gay relationship that was free of similar power struggles common to heterosexual relationships. (http://clarespark.com/2013/03/27/power-in-gay-andor-heterosexual-attachments/.)

It has been the contention of this website that all human relationships are problematic and ambivalent, and that no amount of religious conviction can erase the difficulties between even non-sexual contacts. Yet, social conservatives continue to live in denial, imagining that sex-role polarization within the heterosexual family (fathers are the warriors, providers, and disciplinarians, while mothers offer an unconditional love that may be associated with Jesus, hence his notorious “feminization” in the 19th century) can solve the problems of unemployment and illegitimacy in urban minority communities. (This issue is apparently too hot to handle, see http://clarespark.com/2015/08/08/the-moynihan-report-march-1965-and-instability-in-the-black-family/, one of my least read blogs).


I admit to being androgynous, like many other writers or artists, for I do not concede to males a monopoly on intellect, rationality, or insight. When I was in college, my zoology textbook described males as rational and women as irrational; an assumption that I didn’t protest at the time. That was the late 1950’s . Can we move on, please?


September 2, 2015

Catholics, Marxists, and a sprinkling of neocons

Cardinal Mindszenty sculpture, Wikipedia

Cardinal Mindszenty sculpture, Wikipedia

It has occurred to me that there is a close affinity between the early Marx essays and medieval Catholicism. The notion of “profit” (now called “greed”) was anathema during the Middle Ages, and considered a cause of decadence (See Mark La Rochelle’s note on the “just price” in the comments section.) Plus, those of my ex-friends on the Left who are professional scholars have found jobs at Catholic universities and colleges. It may be counter-intuitive, but such Catholic movements as liberation theology, and the Dorothy Day Catholic Workers movement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Day) are more evidence that segments of the Church would have to mirror leftist rejection of Israel, siding with irredentist Palestinians; moreover Pope Francis has lined up with the left-leaning Green movement.

On the face of it, there could be no affinity between Catholicism and Marxism, for weren’t Catholics such as Cardinal Mindszenty (1892-1975) a major figure in the resistance to Communism before and after World War II? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B3zsef_Mindszenty).

And are not Catholics and evangelical Protestants, notwithstanding their doctrinal differences, on the same side in the culture wars, with both sides devoted to family life, and taking up arms against [jewified] modernity? Was not the chief item in the controversial Moynihan report on the alarming increase in black welfare assistance and illegitimacy, the reconstitution of the father-led nuclear family? (http://clarespark.com/2015/08/08/the-moynihan-report-march-1965-and-instability-in-the-black-family/).

The early Marx essays (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, 1844) were not widely published and read until the turmoil of the 1960s (their first publication date was 1932). Anyone who has studied them must be struck by Marx’s argument that “money” is the “universal pimp”, turning ugliness into beauty. During the same period, he decried Jewish “hucksterism” as the obstacle to the Utopia that would be realized through communist revolution. Similarly, the influential German sociologist Max Weber, would describe the rise of capitalism after the Reformation as an onslaught against the lovely sensuality shattered by the iron cages of “materialism,” i.e., worldliness. (The German “radical” Werner Sombart (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werner_Sombart), a colleague of Weber’s, would echo these sentiments, arguing that Jews were incapable of relating to Nature without mysticism:

“[We see “the teleological view”] in all those Jews who, with a soul-weariness within them and a faint smile on their countenances, understanding and forgiving everything, stand and gaze at life from their own heights, far above this world…Jewish poets are unable simply to enjoy the phenomena of this world, whether it be human fate or Nature’s vagaries; they must needs cogitate upon it and turn it about and about.  Nowhere is the air scented with the primrose and the violet; nowhere gleams the spray of the rivulet in the wood.  But to make up for the lack of these they possess the wonderful aroma of old wine and the magic charm of a pair of beautiful eyes gazing sadly in the distance…Goethe said that the essence of the Jewish character was energy and the pursuit of direct ends.” [End, Sombart quote}

Because of our hegemonic racialism, Marx is thought of as a Jewish materialist, though his Jewish father converted to Protestantism for social advancement in 1819. (http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2013/11/karl-marx-as-radical-protestant-infidel.html), and Marx (and his Leninist descendants) continue to rail against religion as the opiate of the masses, an element of feudal socialism (http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Feudal+Socialism).

I have written about the “moderation” of ex-Marxists and ex-New Leftists before, especially in blogs about nostalgia for the Middle Ages, and especially an apparent desire for the return of the Good King, who stands with the People against the social chaos wrought by revolting factions (e.g., feminists!). The same reconstructed historians, political scientists, and journalists, may promiscuously use the term “totalitarianism” to equate communism with fascism (http://clarespark.com/2013/02/02/totalitarianism-polarization-and-single-issue-politics).

So did Cardinal Mindszenty.


August 29, 2015

Questions for education reformers

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 11:04 pm


Re-blogging because education reform is the basis for a reconstituted, politically aware, electorate. It has never mattered more than at the present.

Originally posted on YDS: The Clare Spark Blog:

I have been corresponding with Eva Moskowitz,  a leader in NYC education reform. She is involved with the Charter School movement (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_schools), and has a well-researched critique of the “therapeutic” culture that has distorted our education system since the late 19th century, most recently in the emphasis on “self-esteem” in the multicultural curriculum. Her book illuminated for me some of the “progressive” precursors to New Age thinking, a psychology cult that is particularly strong in California, and which is both silly and dangerous.

What follows are some of my initial thoughts about obstacles to reforming our schools, with some special attention to the charter school movement, though that is not the focus of this blog. I have included links to earlier blogs on this website.

1. Fragmentation of the professions:  because of the way that college education evolved, the holistic “philosophic” approach of such thinkers as Bernard Mandeville…

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August 14, 2015

The Trump Phenomenon: a triumph or a disaster?

Trump on the stump in Iowa

Trump on the stump in Iowa

[Update 9-19-15]: Since writing this, several arguments might be added to my off-the-wall argument that Trump’s followers resemble the populist members of the S.A. under Hitler. 1. The appeal to national greatness was deployed by Hitler after the defeat in WW1. His followers, many of them humble and feeling crowded out by other rising groups, may long for vicarious “greatness”; 2. Hitler was a Pan-Germanist, calling for an all German-speaking unity. Trump’s nativism echoes such grandiloquent notions; 3. Hitler lifted Germany out of the Depression by remilitarizing, defying the terms of the Versailles settlement. Similarly, Trump calls for a massive military expenditure, which can only raise the fantasy of more jobs for the unemployed and semi-employed; and 4. Trump lies a lot. His mob followers are as cynical as he is. (End update)].

Even Fox News Channel can’t make up its collective mind over Donald Trump’s candidacy. Hannity loves him and O’Reilly subtly pushes him, while Charles Krauthammer, their most respected pundit, doesn’t take him all that seriously (though that may change).

I do.

For most of my adult life I have studied the influence of fascism in Europe and America, in all its manifestations. While others castigate Trump as a bully, a fraud, a celebrity tied to mass culture, a narcissistic businessman allied with dubious companies (such as ACN, see page one story in WSJ

8-14-15), I agree with my son-in-law who nailed him as a street fighter and a primitive. I go even further, for he reminds me of a parody of masculinity, but more, the S.A., Hitler’s populist Brownshirts, led by the Strasser brothers, who made trouble throughout the 1920s and early 30s until they were purged in The Night of the Long Knives, June 30, 1934, an event that led William E. Dodd, the US Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, resign his post. (http://clarespark.com/2011/08/14/review-in-the-garden-of-beasts-by-erik-larson/.)

Hitler with S.A. comrades

Hitler with S.A. comrades

[Although propagandists and even historians emphasize “the Nazi seizure of power” the better scholars emphasize Hitler’s coalition with monarchists and conservatives opposed to the social democratic Weimar Republic. Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg in order to destroy communism (a communism that today’s Right frequently associates with the Democratic Party), and the 1933 elections were no Nazi landslide, but garnered only 43.91% of the vote (almost the same plurality that elected Bill Clinton). For my blog on how the Democratic Party has absorbed ideas originally associated with Marxist practice, see http://clarespark.com/2012/07/19/communist-ideas-go-mainstream/.

Sturmabteilung poster

Sturmabteilung poster

As for big lying to the public, Trump has already delivered some whoppers. For instance, he takes credit for introducing the subject of illegal immigration, when anyone following the records of other Republican candidates is familiar with how and when the views of Bush and Rubio have been modified regarding amnesty. Similarly, in an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump mentioned “health savings accounts” as if he had just dreamed it up. (Both Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have supported such accounts, but see the idea’s origins here: http://www.afcm.org/hsahistory.html.)

I have my own suspicions of why so many voters are wowed by The Donald. Noting the popularity of The Godfather, The Sopranos, and lately, the wealthy can-do, know-it-all killer played by James Spader on NBC’s The Blacklist, it is not surprising that another larger-than-life character would suddenly capture the imaginations of many populist voters.

So we now have a choice: creeping fascist/populism on the Left with Hillary Clinton/Sanders/Warren/, or creepy fascism on the Right with Donald Trump, our latest Knight in Shining, Glitzy, Armor.

Trump Tower Atrium, NYC

Trump Tower Atrium, NYC

August 8, 2015

The Moynihan Report (March 1965) and “instability” in “the black family”

Daniel Patrick Moynihan 1965

Daniel Patrick Moynihan 1965

This blog is about The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy, written by sociologists Lee Rainwater and William L. Yancey, published by MIT Press in 1966, the gist of which turned out to be fine tuning the interactions between social scientists and the administrative state to correct the pathology viewed as inherent in the “matriarchal,” hence deteriorating, “black family.”

The Moynihan Report, owing to its author’s later prominence, has been publicized recently here: http://www.biographile.com/daniel-patrick-moynihans-leap-into-the-racially-charged-1960s/43315/, and was partly excerpted on History News Network, 8-7-15.

Where did Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a minor figure in the Department of Labor in the Lyndon Johnson administration get his argument and the impetus to write what was initially an internal secret report (but later partially leaked to the press that made fun of the notion that the male animal was a rooster trained to strut). There were several drivers to the Report: the growing civil rights movement, the unrest exemplified in the Mississippi Freedom Summer and urban riots in 1964, and most importantly, the book authored by black political scientist E. Franklin Frazier in 1957. Here is an excerpt from Frazier quoted by the authors of the 1966 gloss on the Report and its mixed reception:

“The widespread disorganization of family life among Negroes has affected practically every aspect of their community life and adjustments to the larger white world. Because of the absence of stability…there is a lack of traditions…With a fourth to a third of Negro families in cities without a male head, many Negro children suffer the initial handicap of not having the discipline and authority of the father in the home. Negro mothers…are forced to neglect their children who pick up all forms of socially disapproved behavior in the disorganized areas in which these families are concentrated.

“…the public schools cannot make up for the deficiency in family training…Out of such an environment come the large number of criminals and juvenile delinquents in the cities of the country.” (p.312)

(Clearly, Frazier had discarded his pre-war radicalism and had now come out on the side of Order, notwithstanding comments to the contrary in academe. https://www.bu.edu/bridge/archive/2002/08-30/scholars.htm.)

Return to Rainwater and Yancey’s extensive commentary on the Moynihan Report. Throughout their analysis, they complain that Moynihan’s report should have been kept secret from the general public, which they imply was too unacquainted with the feedback loop between economic conditions and family structure.

Besides the obvious example of Frazier, such (white) Harvard sociologists as Talcott Parsons and Erik Erikson advised the novice Moynihan (Rainwater was also a Harvard sociologist, while Yancey taught at Vanderbilt U.). Moynihan’s report blamed slavery and urbanization for the lamentable state of poor black families, and his attack on matriarchy does not sit well with modern feminism, for Moynihan, like Frazier, insisted that a strong father was necessary for healthy families. But in 1966, Protestants and their Jewish allies were less fearful of attacking the tenets of Catholicism, for these authors tell us that Catholic family welfare ideology informed Moynihan’s support of family-focused Big Government solutions.

Lee Rainwater, Harvard sociologist, 1955

Lee Rainwater, Harvard sociologist, 1955

Some of the pushback came from black “militant” civil rights leaders who wanted to continue anti-discrimination and other existing new laws, and all around poverty solutions, including job training, public education, justice, and “decent housing” that would deliver equality of results/life chances, as opposed to “liberty” (with the latter considered to be a [capitalist?] ruse opposed to “equality”).

Some black “militants” considered the Moynihan Report to be insulting to black males, and objected to the focus on the family, seen as victim-blaming.  Rather than the emphasis on “the tangled pathology” in the black family, such organizations as CORE preferred to blame the sickness of America (i.e., white racism).

In any case, the Moynihan Report supported black power and preferential treatment, responding above all, to urban riots in the summer of 1964 but ostensibly to a startling rise in black unemployment and hence increasing welfare payments. (But liberal academics were still fretting over urban unrest in 1968, as I showed here: http://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/.)

Preparations for a Johnson administration-instigated national conference to discuss The Moynihan Report’s “findings” would be diverted by the massive billions diverted to supporting the Vietnam War, with the outcome that civil rights black activists now challenged the war itself.

Conclusion: By (understandably) advocating preferential treatment instead of dealing with class  (not “caste”) disparities and lily-white New Deal unionism (the solutions advocated by such black radicals as Ralph Bunche, Sam Dorsey, and L. Abram Harris in the 1930s: http://clarespark.com/2013/09/02/labor-day-2013/), the administrative state, aided by social psychologists and “moderate” sociologists, increased divisions in the electorate and finally aroused even more antagonism to statist solutions to “the Negro problem.”

Why did they do this? As I have argued previously, the overwhelming imperative to apply band-aids to structural problems in order to prevent red revolution, or to stop more moderate solutions such as school choice, only ripped the “social fabric” that organic conservatives sponsor.

What about the Irish, Polish, and Italian urban ethnics of the working-class who have taken up police work to control urban crime? The measures taken by “moderate conservatives” (the progressives), can be seen as directly leading to the confrontations between white police and lumpen black mobs in such places as Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri.

Civil Rights activist John Lewis rose out of the movement to become a prominent Democrat, but the antagonisms his head wound embodied, disconcertingly remain.

John Lewis's fractured skull bandaged

John Lewis’s fractured skull bandaged

July 31, 2015

Is there life after birth? Dogs, children, Henry Kissinger, and the breakdown of civil society

“Sugar” as depicted in the Mike Masnick blog

Here (below) is the astounding number of dogs in America. For those attentive to television advertising, dogs are the new love objects (for either sex), and earn the personal sacrifices once reserved for children: even old, feeble dogs warrant backbreaking devotion in a recent Aleve commercial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuhAKS6Ee0o, also the Subaru Love commercial: http://www.ispot.tv/ad/709i/subaru-impreza-make-a-dogs-day-song-by-willie-nelson). The stats suggest to me that I was correct to ask if we love our dogs more than our children, in my blog on depraved indifference to the fights over school choice. (http://clarespark.com/2015/07/14/depraved-indifference-to-education-reform/.)

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership_statistics.html, and, http://www.statista.com/statistics/198100/dogs-in-the-united-states-since-2000/

I haven’t blogged in a while because I have been immersed in the lengthy, sometimes lascivious, biography of Henry Kissinger, as attempted by an inside dopester moderate man, Walter Isaacson (1992). (Isaacson is a celebrity himself, and featured interviews or memoirs with Kissinger’s famous former associates.)

HK as power behind the throne (Corbis photo in The Economist)

HK as power behind the throne (Corbis photo in The Economist)

I have several responses to this mammoth, detailed, behind the scenes effort. The author has not the foggiest idea where the notion of “human rights” came from, incorrectly identifying them with Wilsonian internationalism, with its bogus “self-determination.” (For my own views see http://clarespark.com/2011/10/24/turning-points-in-the-ascentdecline-of-the-west/. I see the invention of the printing press as a key turning point making possible mass literacy.) And such internationalism was “idealistic” compared to Kissinger’s Realpolitik approach to foreign relations, which sought stability through European balance of power politics this author associates with Metternich, Castlereagh, Talleyrand, and Bismarck.

Along the way, he also praises HK for brilliance, wit, and charm, but faults him for backbiting, malevolent gossip, and over-the-top ambition. I.e., HK is an uppity German Jew whose secret, previously hidden maneuvers fulfill the antisemitic stereotype, and proves the author to be properly assimilated, unlike his subject HK (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Isaacson).

But there is more to be said about this book, which links the subjects in the title to this blog:

  1. I was aware of the crises of the 1960s-1980s mostly as filtered through Pacifica radio, an outfit controlled by Stalinists and pitched to the counter-culture. I simply had no time as a mother of small and adolescent children to pore through contending published versions of the civil rights movement or the women’s movement, let alone US diplomacy regarding arms control, China, détente with the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Cambodia, Africa, Chile, East Timor, Israel,  etc. –all subjects taken up in the Kissinger biography. Even my unique radio shows on the art world were irrelevant to the larger questions convulsing the world, and can be viewed as an extension of women’s work.
  2. The behind the scenes diplomacy uncovered by Isaacson (minus its gratuitous digs at HK) suggests that no matter what publications we may scour for an accurate account of what our government is doing, all we have to participate in as citizens is partisan propaganda of one stripe or another.

Which brings me to my first and last question: “Is there life after birth”?

That query was prompted by the Fox News Channel obsession with Planned Parenthood and the alleged chopping up of “babies” by sinister forces (although the last video is alarming and the questions raise by the Right are reasonable).

I asked my Facebook friends what are our obligations to children as parents? One would guess that there would be dozens of responses, but it is “summertime and the living is easy.” So here are my own answers, in schematic form: we owe our living children attention to their developing brains, to their maximum health, to an education in hygiene and science, especially physiology, and above all, to critical awareness of the often confusing, even impenetrable, world outside the family, which they will have to navigate on their own someday without parental guidance.

wish list

We do not owe them messages that reinforce human weakness and deference to illegitimate authority. It will take the focused effort of all of us, old and young, to rebuild the civil society that has been snatched away from us by authoritarians of many stripes.     

July 26, 2015

Masters of Sex, second wave feminism, and the ratings game

masters-and-johnson-4140196600[Update: the third season finale left me infuriated, for “Bill” cannot escape his father’s whippings so as to pursue Virginia who is running off with her new lover. As psychoanalyst Henry Murray once wisely  wrote, the variation of the myth where the hero fails to beat the monster is “unendurable for a small child to endure.” The small child in me was disappointed and agitated. But perhaps that is what season finales are designed to do: cliff hanging, but it struck an unnecessarily pessimistic note about the human capacity to ever overcome the traumas of childhood. I think that Thomas Maier is uncomfortable with this series.]

I have written about this series before, twice. (See http://clarespark.com/2014/08/16/ferguson-mi-masters-of-sex-and-the-dilemma-of-the-white-liberal/, with link to the first one.)

The second episode the third season of Masters of Sex  threw me for a loop, so, especially in light of the controversy over Planned Parenthood, I thought I should write a blog about it.

The series about Masters and Johnson’s path breaking studies of the physiology of the human sexual response (1966) takes great liberties with the facts of their lives, in my view, because of the need to appeal to an audience which is already “liberated” but which also might retain many social conservative viewers, or sadder but wiser ex-feminists.

Michelle Ashford (b. 1960), the creator of the Showtime hit series, was hip to the sexual revolution, and appears to have taken advantage of the second wave of feminism, along with the gay movement, and the early civil rights movement, but this season she seems more attuned to broadening her audience beyond aging veterans of 60s social movements.

First, a word about the character of Virginia Masters (played by Lizzy Caplan), who is constantly billed as “ahead of her time,” because as a former night club singer, she is neither frigid, nor hung up on monogamy, but participates in non-committed sleeping around. In other words, she behaves like a single heterosexual male. (This is only attributed to ‘feminism by conservatives, for many second wave feminists were indeed doormats for men, but were more often interested in breaking into male-dominated professions and businesses.)

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan

But this season, the chickens come to roost, and the (fictionalized) children of both chief characters are teen agers, and predictably defiant and critical of their parents’ unavailability. This causes Virginia’s underage son to enlist in the military (during Viet Nam!), and leads to comfort sex with her first husband, which leaves her pregnant, just in time for the release of the Masters and Johnson book on the physiology of the human sexual response.

Since Bill Masters (played to perfection by Michael Sheen) won’t leave his wife, Virginia remains unmarried. She tells Bill that she is about to have an abortion, but as the abortion is about to take place, she abruptly decides to bring the baby to term. (A hat tip to pro-lifers? Or a way to advance the plot, for Bill is now aghast at having a pregnant unmarried co-author who will come off as a slut, marring the respectability of their twelve-year endeavor?)

So Virginia and husband #1 remarry to save the book, much to George Johnson’s discomfort, for he wants a real re-marriage.

Now comes the part that shocked me. Perhaps under the influence of pregnancy hormones that have aroused her maternal instincts, Virginia has a fit of self-incrimination, as she declares that she was never there for her two children, and should have chosen devoted stay-at-home motherhood instead of her career. I don’t know an intelligent woman who has not had these same doubts.

Indeed, my own conclusion is that we, the gifted women, are doomed, should we want both children and the full development of our ambitions to achieve outside the home.

The episode ends with Bill driving off after looking at the new baby, a girl, and the first husband hangs around the nursery with Virginia, gazing at their new child. I sense a double triangle in the next episodes, or more likely Virginia will sleep with a new character played by Josh Charles, prompting Bill to finally leave a sexless, old-fashioned, marriage.

In real life, Masters and Johnson were married until 1991, when Bill left her. For author’s Thomas Maier’s comments on these characters see http://time.com/3880364/the-real-masters-of-sex-life-with-masters-and-johnson/. (Maier does not comment on the pandering in the Showtime series to the soft-porn audience along with hot button social movements, but does raise the possibility that Virginia never loved Bill.)


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