The Clare Spark Blog

December 12, 2013

The Wall Street Journal discovers lobotomy craze for vets

VA quackeryAs late as today, December 12, 2013, The Wall Street Journal, has discovered that traumatized veterans of WW2 and even later conflicts were routinely lobotomized, a procedure that is said to have its greatest application in the 1940s and 1950s. Written by Michael M. Phillips (pages A1, A8-A9), the author relies on “dusty” boxes found in the National Archives.  The surgery was primarily applied to “depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals.”

Where have journalists been all these years? Even anti-science, anti-psychiatry students of the history of medicine consider this lurid chapter to be closed, though my blog index to lobotomies remains popular. See

But even more relevant to the WSJ alarming discovery is the series on military psychiatry, which remains in a primitive state, perhaps owing to the assumption that wars are inevitable, and that fighting men are expendable, whereas blundering diplomats and governments are not. Above all, we must maintain hierarchies and obedience to our betters, a message amplified by such favorite television series as NCIS, where the good father (Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon) protects his cohesive fighting family, ever the uncomplaining “team.” On blundering diplomats see (with an addendum by Niall Ferguson).

As I have argued before, WSJ, like Fox News Channel or Commentary is an outpost of the moderate men. (See I had hoped that the WSJ article would exhibit some homework in other archives, hence pointing to our continued confusion over the causes of anxiety, depression, “shell shock,” “PTSD,” and other mental illnesses that might be preventable without the taboo associated with any of the “personality disorders” said to be curable now with cognitive behavioral therapy, guided by DSM-5.  (See, one of my items in the lobotomy blogs.)


The point of this blog is that ordinary people take the rap when our “betters” give the orders and fail in their jobs to keep individual, social, and international peace. Is it possible that our world is run by quacks? Are we quacks for trusting them? If so, what can we do about it? Leave your comments on the blog.

April 26, 2013

The television season goes Dark

The-following-posterI understand that television is not considered to be other than escapist entertainment, and not a business with pretensions to artiness or literariness, but there are many critics who treat its more upscale offerings with the reverence once reserved to Balzac (for instance see the indefatigable Terri Gross in her new interview with Matthew Weiner, creator of MAD MEN: in the part I heard she was insisting that Don Draper has a “death wish”).

As the 2012-2013 season draws to a close, I must say that I can’t remember a time when popular entertainment was as ideological driven or death-obsessed. I admit to not understanding the adolescent craze for vampires or zombies, though I have my suspicions of deranged right-wing Romanticism and/or the adolescent desire to irritate parents. But I do get the populist flavor, laced with morbidity, of the “better” television series, especially those directed to a more upscale, presumably educated audience.

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not nostalgic for the television fare of the 1950s and 1960s, with its frequently inane glorification of the ordinary folksy American family, rural or urban. The material introduced in response to 1960s and 1970s uproars was critical, and though usually anti-American and anti-establishment, was at least well-written, brilliantly acted, and interesting to decode for its (typically populist) politics. Nor do I fail to detect the ideology in the theater popular when I was growing up: at least it was well meaning, brilliantly written, conceived, and performed—and relatively anti-racist.

But what to make of such paranoia-inducing recent offerings as the romantic necrophiliac THE FOLLOWING (internet gossip reports it renewed!), or the ongoing goriness in CRIMINAL MINDS, or the hatred of hedge fund managers profiting off evil drug companies as displayed in the last episode of PERSON OF INTEREST, or amoral rich people as were evident in DECEPTION, now in SCANDAL (the last episode particularly horrifying), MAD MEN, REVENGE, and even the apparently harmless and well-written THE GOOD WIFE, a love triangle that manages to mostly evade the possibly unparalleled corruption of  Democratic Chicago, while “Alicia” wavers between family and sex? (I have been watching reruns of the Dick Wolf generated LAW AND ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, and find the same targets, often Jews, who are either the perps, or who as doctors and lawyers are equally loathsome and corrupt. In one episode, “the Jewish mob” is identified as the most “vicious” of all: oh really?). Add to that the swipes at Mossad in the ever-popular NCIS, and you have the picture. Nouveaux riches and the government enforcers (cops, government regulators, other bureaucrats, CIA, etc.) whom the moneybags obviously control in their own depraved interest, are the chief subjects of the most watched television shows. The poster for THE FOLLOWING (illustrated) shows the dual character of those who serve “law and order.” “Order” for whom? is clearly implied as Bacon and Purefoy are halves of one whole, following Poe’s “William Wilson” in its doppelgänger conception, perhaps a major conceit in the imagination of television writers. And don’t be fooled by the poster for THE FOLLOWING. “Joe Collins” (James Purefoy) is clearly the protagonist, and he stepped out of character in the most recent episode to plug Green living. Why not Kevin Bacon, who barely appears in the series, and whose character is an alcoholic to boot?

Are there any shows with family values? So far, BLUE BLOODS takes the prize. Irreproachably Irish Catholic and upright, the patriarchal Reagan family holds together in contrast to the decadent cities it valiantly disciplines. Even THE MENTALIST is terror gothic in spirit, and clearly plays on fears of the French Revolution, while teasing its faithful viewers that “Patrick Jane” is actually serial killer Red John, rather than someone likely to be very high up in the government. It too is paranoia inducing. Shame on you Bruno Heller, who should know better.

And SMASH, the backstage story of a Broadway musical, will not likely be renewed, while its writing and music to these ears are downright embarrassing. What a hollow victory for hip movement culture, with its glorification of the ever-misunderstood and pathetic Marilyn Monroe.  On to off-Broadway, inter-racial understanding, and the offbeat rock musical and heterosexual and homosexual pairing off. On television, racism/miscegenation has disappeared if you sing and dance well enough. Perhaps the same thing can be said for new Broadway shows, either PC or living off the bones of its ancestors.

Meanwhile, few in show business pay attention to education reform, the illicit power of the teachers unions, and their relentless, media-supported attempts to undermine the educations of real black and brown children in urban ghettoes and elsewhere. Try to find a decent public school in NYC or Los Angeles, homes of those who write and produce the mindless (though technically advanced) shows I have listed above.

Now tell me the condition of our urban schools is not racist in the extreme. The better historians lament the world wide indifference as the Holocaust and other horrors proceeded in the 1930s and 1940s, while today the hippest among us wallow in gonzo ressentiment, apocalypse, the undead, blood and gore. Who is indifferent now? Should we blame the audience, who allegedly want this polluted fare?

Is the great American experiment going down? If popular culture is any indication, the answer is “you betcha.” Who needs a Fifth Column or other demonic forces when you have the entertainment industry?

[I have blogged about most of the tv shows mentioned here and others: see]

good wife cast pic chris noth 2 season 2

March 24, 2013

The State of the blog (2)

Kidman as GellhornThis is a report to the readers of the Yankee Doodle Society/Clare Spark blog about our progress and how the readership has ebbed and flowed. But also what themes have garnered the most interest, and which have not.

I did not get serious about the blog until I had finished other academic work, sometime in mid-2009. All told, we have had 256,313 views, about half of which appear to have been visitors, as some came because of one title, then stayed to read more (WordPress is now distinguishing between visitors and views). Those reading “About Clare Spark” numbered 9,163, which I am told is a respectable number. The best year was 2012, probably because of the presidential election, and because Nicole Kidman’s performance as Martha Gellhorn drove several thousand viewers to my blog on Hemingway and Gellhorn’s supposed “spy mission” to China in 1941, partly dramatized in a HBO movie. The readership of several conservative websites were also coming to the blog in considerable numbers. I suspect that the latter were pleased to see my criticisms of Obama, but less pleased to see my constant critiques of populism across the political spectrum. (Even at KPFK, I was called an “elitist” by some young listeners, and recently one anonymous internet comment diagnosed me as “a non-coercive leftist.” For those into classification, you are on your own.)

My family and some friends are staggered when I report these numbers. I am less satisfied: there should be more comments and presumably helpful feedback. Why, I wonder? Though the internet is crowded with blogs, perhaps mine are less predictable, less easily classified or labeled as “conservative”, “liberal”, “moderate,” or “radical”, and are consequently more demanding upon the reader. Perhaps they discomfit some who want echoes, not reconfigurations of old problems and new questions. Since I started writing about Freud’s continued relevance and/or about the culture wars, where I come out as a student of the psyche and am also strongly supportive of the separation of church and state, I have seen the number of visitors diminish. (For my blogs on what is useful about Freud or about the abuse of “Freud” see

When I was first hired as Program Director of Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles, the News Director Marc Cooper stated flat out that my radicalism consisted in believing that the audience wasn’t stupid. Indeed, one of my core beliefs is that “public intellectuals” are less interested in teaching their readers or viewers to be independent analysts, than in getting paid in money and celebrity with “niche” followers. I was vindicated as PD of KPFK, for our subscriptions swelled by 20%, and I continue to be impressed by the quality and learnedness of comments I get on some blogs and on Facebook.

What themes have I found most vanguard in planning future essays?

  1. Antisemitism is still not discussed in all its manifold forms, in spite of the liberal enthusiasm for studying “prejudice” and “hate speech.” Assimilated Jews want to believe that they are safe in America by hewing to the Democratic Party, and few Americans of my generation recognized that anyone who lived through all or part of the twentieth century has suffered multiple traumas.  So if many are obsessed with Israel (pro or con), it is probably because they don’t feel safe in America, particularly those who are descended from Holocaust survivors. While we study “hate speech” we don’t study why people hate, and I am determined to get to the bottom of “misogyny” in all its forms, and particular, its intertwining with antisemitism. Is Woman the Jew of the Home?
  2. The very notion of the “individual” is under attack, whether it be in the regressive, infantilizing rhetoric of “family” that pervades the discourse of both left and right, or in the general, often well-founded, suspicion of mental health professionals.
  3. Popular culture needs much more decoding, including primitivism and death cults among youth or the military model throughout (think NCIS and its popularity). Lately, I have been studying the “degeneration” narrative that alleges that the modern world necessarily leads to the death of the planet and civilization as we have known it. This pervasive belief is dangerous to political will, and possibly affects all of us, whatever our political preferences.

I will probably continue my offensive against antidemocratic propaganda, doing my best to decode loaded language and images, while remaining detached from any particular politics. Scholarship demands that distance, though my personal feelings toward readers of my work continue to be warm and protective. I love teaching, and always have, even in a war zone.

Gellhorn ca. WW2

Gellhorn ca. WW2

March 16, 2012

Index to blogs on popular tv shows

Dick Wolf and Judith Light

I haven’t commented on all the crime shows. It is enough to say that we are to believe that good cops will eventually triumph over bad cops, and that most criminals are tracked down and punished. I.e., the State is looking out for you and me, with all the tools that modern science (including profiling) can muster. Law and Order: Criminal Intent (not analyzed here) adds a flourish: the Vincent D’Onofrio character is often dissatisfied with normal procedures, co-opts Freud, and seemingly obeys a higher (more compassionate) law. (Read this first)

April 22, 2010

Links to blogs on military psychiatry

Roy R. Grinker, Sr. (I added an excerpt from leading military psychiatrist Roy Grinker up front)

Note that military psychiatry evolved from the perspective of the officer class, not that of the enlisted men. Here is a telling excerpt from Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford UP, 1975):

[Fussell, pp 84-85:]   No soldier who has fought ever entirely overcomes his disrespect for the Staff. David Jones is one in whom forty-five years after the war that disrespect is still vital and fructive. In his essay “The Utile,” in Epoch and Artist (1959), his point is that to make art one must hurl oneself into it, get down into one’s material, roll in it, snuff it up: know it, in fact, the way troops know fighting, rather than the way the Staff conjectures about it: [quoting Jones:] Ars is adamant about one thing: she compels you to do an infantryman’s job. She insists on the tactile. The artist in man is the infantryman in man…all men are aboriginally of  this infantry, though not all serve with this infantry. To pursue the analogy, this continued employment “away from the unit” has made habitual and widespread a “staff mentality.”

[Fussell, cont.] Which is to say that the artist is overweighed by critics, reviewers, discussants, conjecturers, manipulators. “Today,” Jones concludes, “most of us are staff-wallahs of one sort or another.”

October 15, 2009

The Americanization of Ziva David (NCIS)?

Versace, NYT, Dec.28, 1992

[Update, Oct.16, 2009: This blog may seem too trivial to most readers of this website to even mention, and I almost deleted it. But upon reflection, think it is more important than meets the eye. I am referring to more than the startling rise in anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda and boycotts emanating from the West. The audience for NCIS is obviously “the heartland” where there is more likely to be an unreflective patriotism, strong support of the U.S. military (in this case, Navy and Marines), and a culture that is unabashedly sentimental and Christian. At the same time, some normally (socially) liberal supporters of Israel have counted upon conservatives and Republicans in the South and West to support a pro-Israel foreign policy. What NCIS has made clear to me, is that Israel gets their support on condition: that Israel subordinates its national interests to those of the United States. If it goes off on its own, the antisemitism we used to identify with populists, other American conservatives and the Republican Party will once more be expressed openly.  (It was already present in prior episodes, for instance, when Ari, Ziva’s half-brother, shoots one of Gibbs’ pet agents. Ziva will then shoot Ari, apparently to save Gibbs’ life, but later, she reveals it was upon her father’s orders.  Yesterday’s blog follows, unedited.]

Is it my imagination, or has the character Ziva David (played by Cote de Pablo, whose Chilean family is upper-class Catholic) on the hugely popular NCIS television series, undergone a change in identity? No longer the amoral, enigmatic, heartless assassin seemingly divided in her loyalties (but always the Israeli) that she has been for the last few seasons, on last Tuesday’s episode (Oct.13, 2009) , she underwent the final phase in the transfer of her affections and loyalty from her equally cold-blooded father Eli (head of Israel’s Mossad) to the fatherly character Agent Gibbs (played by gracefully aging Mark Harmon, son of  U. Michigan football hero Tom Harmon, Mark once deemed the sexiest man alive, and in this series, as silent as Gary Cooper).  Ziva’s eyes filled with tears as her application to become an American agent attached to NCIS was accepted, and a prior episode featuring her return to the team after an implausible rescue by her superhero NCIS comrades, attracted 21 million viewers. Normally, superhero Ziva doesn’t cry, even under torture by Islamic terrorists. Am I forgetting something? I remember anger and stoicism, but not the qualities usually associated with women.

So Ziva now has a heart, unambiguously, and I’m wondering if she will still wear her Star of David necklace. [Added, Oct.21, 2009: on last night’s episode her neck was conspicuously bare, made even more visible by a low cut draped blouse. In the January 12, 2010 episode, the necklace is back, now gold. Ziva is preparing for her citizenship test and knows more about the Constitution than (Gibbs?).] [Added Nov. 11, 2009: this blog has been read consistently since it was first posted, and I can see why it remains current. After reflecting upon the apparently sequestered field of military psychiatry in the wake of the Hasan jihad, it seems to me that NCIS in its very conception reflects the tight team bonding of a military unit. No one questions the hierarchy, and the team, brilliant and versed in the most advanced technology, adores Gibbs and is fiercely loyal to each other. No one ever questions U.S. foreign policy or the possible mismanagement of American wars, past or present. I.e., the show bonds the audience to military authority as if we were all part of the team, and these attractive young people part of our own families. The unqestioning obedience to upper members of military hierarchies is documented in this series of blogs:, and more than hinted at here:]

[Added 12-16-09: I am almost speechless over tonight’s NCIS, in which a marine is killed by his brother because the family honor was soiled after the victim converted to Islam. We also learn from the Leader (Mark Harmon) that there is no difference in the conceptions of the Christian God and Allah. So tactful for Chanukah week. There is a strong contrast made between tolerant liberal Christians (the victim’s father, a clergyman) and “rednecks.” The latter resent the marine’s conversion to Islam and see it as destroying morale in his unit (veterans of Iraq). They are portrayed as angry animals and Ziva and de Nozo make short work of them, leaving every one of the “rednecks” (charmingly called “red-throats” by the Israel-born Ziva) vanquished and literally floored.

[Added 4-22-10: the episode “Faith” was repeated this week, and I noted that “Ducky” advised his assistant that wars would be prevented if more people understood diversity.  Fatherhood was as usual the dominant theme, and in the end everyone forgives everyone else: it was a Cain and Abel story, this time with a repentant Cain. Gibbs’ father was traumatized by having shot a robber in his store to protect a woman and a young girl, and he asks Gibbs if he isn’t disturbed by taking the lives of others. Gibbs, ever the stoic, indicates that it is difficult, but has to be done.]

[Added, 2-16-12: POTUS urged that we copy the military model in his State of the Union speech. I wrote about the implications of such policy here:]

[Updated, 1-9-13: NCIS returned after winter break with a new, especially violent and disturbing episode (“Shabbat Shalom”), in which relations between the U.S. and Israel, or Israel and Iran take front and center. Ziva’s father Eli, the head of Mossad, makes a secret visit to the US, presumably to heal relations between Israel and Iran, but murders a journalist who recognizes him. At a Shabbat dinner attended by Ziva, her father, and Leon Vance and his wife, Ziva leaves in anger, missing an assassination that kills her father and Vance’s wife. In turn, she captures the assassin, who commits suicide. We do not know his nationality, but the logic of the story suggests that he must be a right-wing Israeli spoiling for an attack on Iran by Israel. Coming at a time when the anti-“Jewish lobby” Chuck Hagel has been nominated for Secretary of Defense, I wonder if the writers of NCIS are independent of government influence. The episode was certainly bad for the Jews. It ended with the death of a sympathetic black character and will be continued next Tuesday. It is most likely that the target of the NCIS writers is Mossad in general, which is not politically correct, and which has been killing off Iranian “genocide-scientists” to quote WSJ of January 13, 2012, p.A13, Andrew Roberts book review.

I just got this comment from “Raymond in DC” who adds to my evidence: “I used to enjoy NCIS, but the repeated slams against Mossad just turned me off. Earlier episodes included Mossad operatives operating illegally on US streets, another involving a rogue agent ultimately killed by Tony. In another, Ziva is sent on a mission and abandoned by Mossad somewhere in the Horn of Africa, only to be rescued by her American friends. Gibbs describes Mossad (or maybe it was just her father) as “not one of the good guys”. Ziva subsequently disavows her homeland (Israel) and becomes an American.

Ironically, only a few days ago the NY Times – which almost daily finds something about Israel to criticize – reported that Israeli intelligence (which might be Mossad or Military Intelligence) discovered that Syrian forces were assembling chemical weapons for delivery, and that subsequent warnings by the
US, Russia and others based on that intelligence convinced Syria against such action.” ]

[Updated 1-15-12:] Ziva’s Jewish “blood” is highlighted, as she returns to Israel, picks olives, plants a tree, and leaves a note in the Wailing Wall. A new character, the deputy director of Mossad appears, and he seems to be negatively portrayed as devious and untrustworthy as an ally . It is possible that the writers of NCIS are peaceniks of the liberal left, and that they view Mossad as a force for continued enmity between Israel and her neighbors.

[Updated, 1-23-13:] Ziva may or may not have been killed in the last episode, possibly at the hands of “rogue” Mossad agents. In the same episode, there is a flashback wherein the child Ziva must say goodbye to her father Eli, who is going away for an unstated time. Eli, the abandoner, is thus contrasted with the good father played by Mark Harmon, who is ever present to  protect his surrogate children on the team. Moreover, the new director of Mossad, a woman, is distinctly a negative character, not to be trusted (as Ziva says); moreover NCIS is shown to have hacked into the Mossad data base, an action which gains the wrath of the new director. Since a shrouded figure is shown in a short preview of the next episode, and since Cote de Pablo is said not to have signed a contract for next year (HuffPo), the entirely Americanized Ziva may have died at the hands of bad Jews.

[Updated 5-16-13:] Ziva lives! and is entirely integrated into the team, but the season finale leaves viewers wondering if Gibbs and/or his team have crossed lines imagined to exist by the writers of this series. From internet postmortems, I have the impression that the writers do not have a conscious ideological agenda, but are unclear themselves what will develop. All biases described above are probably internalized attitudes, which makes NCIS even more suspect as an accurate depiction of a government agency.

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