Political Psychology Feed

Oppression, Feminism, & Motherhood

I was on several excellent panels at Anticipation which I hope to write about later, and on one panel that was hopelessly ill-construed. It was a panel on which four white people were assigned the task of discussing whether ethnic and sexual minorities ought to write for the mainstream sf audience or whether they could or should write for more specialized audiences more connected to their concerns, and if they were to do that, how would they make it into the SF canon (this last point was illustrated by a quote from Joanna Russ.).

One of the designated panelists did not attend the convention, one overslept and missed the panel by accident, so it was me and this white guy who later remarked online that he has clearly been assigned to the wrong panel. 

This was not THE most socially awkward panel assignment I've ever been given. That would be the panel entitled "Politics & Bad Manners" at a Minnicon many years ago, where as I recall one of my fellow panelists was dressed in a monk's habit, and everyone but me had known in advance that this was the annual Libertarian revival panel. I  spent the panel defending things like the existence of public sidewalks. But this pannel at Anticipation was certainly up there.

Several audience members seemed to have a lot to say on the actual topic assigned, so I invited "Ide Cyan" and a woman whose name badge said "Isobel" to join me as panelists. "Isobel" declined, but made many productive comments from the audience. "Ide Cyan" joined me on the panel, but only after anxiously showing me her name badge so I would know who I was tangling with. She tried hard as a panelist, but also was extremely tense and trembling and talking very fast, as though frightened of me. (I think that is the first time I've ever been on a panel with someone who appeared physically frighten of me.)

The panel went how it went, which is as well as could be expected given both the panelist problem and an oddly constructed mandate. (Canonicty is a completely separate issue from the economic and artistic viability of subgenres with specialized audiences.) I'm told that Jo Walton had written beautiful and lucid panel descriptions that were then mercilessly pruned by a clumsy editorial hand. I think this panel description was one of the victims.

"Ide Cyan" argued that the central issue was oppression. I attempted to get her to unpack her argument, and asked interview style questions about what she meant by oppression. Another blogger has described her as becoming "tongue-tied" when presented with this line of inquiry.

After the panel, I invited her to join me for a cup of tea for further discussion, but she declined; she and a group of other audience members, who seemed to be a portion of Fail Fandom, left as a group. According to their blogs this group went off and discussed how appalling it is that I claim to be oppressed because I am a parent and because of where I live.

Before departing, "Ide Cyan" instructed me to read Joanna Russ's book What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism, a book which as it happened was sitting on my night table. A while back I blogged my dismay with the opening chapter. It is a book that Joanna worked long and hard on, the book in which she intended to reconcile socialism and feminism, and which was published too late to have the impact it might have had because it took her so long to write. (Our collective recollection is that she was already working on that book when I attended the Seattle Clarion in 1984; its copyright date is 1998.)

Joanna Russ was my first science fiction mentor. She was my professor at the University of Washington for two years. I spent many happy hours taking up her office hours when everyone else was scared to talk to her. A few decades ago, I knew her pretty well. She was in chronic pain. She was on heavy-duty anti-depressants that messed up her short-term memory in ways that were sometimes comical. She is also a genius, and I treasure the time I spent sitting at her feet (sometimes literally) listening to her hold forth.

That having been said, I don't think What We Are Fighting For? works in the way she intended. In trying to reconcile socialism & feminism, she has for the most part left out the problem of motherhood and the relationship between the parent and the State. Her discussion of motherhood is extremely slight. The most extensive passage I was able to find, via index and skimming, is a mother-blaming section on the role of families in perpetuating oppression and sexism. (p. 347) Clearly, something had to go or this book never would have got finished, but I think it is unfortunate that the oppression of mothers by the State was omitted from discussion.

So what is oppression? Its definition is not one of Joanna's central concerns in this book; she is writing for an audience that thinks it already knows what oppression is. Oppression is depression — "a feeling of being oppressed"; persecution —"the act of subjugating by cruelty";  and subjugation — "the state of being kept down by unjust use of force or authority." In my daily life, I have experienced all three in connection with being a mother and it is not a minor thing. It is a major force in my life.

I seriously doubt that Joanna Russ I know would argue that I and other American mothers are not oppressed. And I wonder by what right self-described feminists discard out-of-hand claims by individual mothers that they suffer oppression.

Is 21st century feminism really feminism at all? If it has abandonded mothers as such, it has abandoned its task of advocating the liberation of women. 

"Defining Characteristics of the Posthuman & the Emergent Transition to the Transhuman: a Dystopian Scenario" by Kathryn Cramer

Posthumans communicate electronically. Pay no attention to the geek behind the handle.

A posthuman outnumbers a human: their emergent relationship is often predator and prey.

Humans are single, identifiable individuals. Posthumans are legion; they are multi-headed hydra. When fully developed, they contain multitudes, as many identities as they need.

Posthumans are the heroes of their own stories.

Humans may have several social identities, usually dependent on contexts such as work, parenting, gaming. Posthumans have more.

Humans are cursed with continuous lives; posthumans are not. Posthumans can go underground with a keystroke. Bingo, another identity!

Posthumans are lonely, they are looking for love and companionship and attention. Self-love does not ease the ache for another, more satisfying identity. Perhaps even as a superhero.

Posthumans are disinhibited.

Posthumans are thrill-seekers, enjoying the rush of the group demagogic skydive.

Posthumans live in constant fear of exposure as insignificant meat.

Posthumans argue against the unique identification of moral actors.

To protect them from predation, children are taught in elementary school how to become posthuman when going online. As with many top predators, by adolescence, these proto-posthumans with have learned the role of predator. Social networking plays a major and perhaps even Darwinian role in this socialization.

Posthumans hunt in legions. If no one else will hunt, posthumans become the legion.

Posthumans bear no responsibility for the past. For posthumans, electronic life is an organizing principle imposed on the past, which is chaos.

All the truth posthumans need is available online. And if it isn’t there, they can make something up and put it online.

For a human to seek a human's address and phone number, she looks in the phone book. For a human to seek a posthuman's address and phone number is stalking!

Humans privilege relationships formed in and founded on what they call "real life." Posthumans either deny a distinction between “real life” and online relationships, or disparage the idea that "meatspace" relationships have any privileged meaning.

Posthumans like to watch. They especially like to watch humans and other posthumans fighting.

Posthumans find inflicting pain easier than do humans. Posthuman demagogues easily replicate the results of the Milgram experiment again and again, since posthumans are drawn to such experiences.

Posthuman culture changes at a much more rapid pace than human culture, such that the social protocols of online communities less than five years old are often regarded as ancient and venerable traditions. Still, most bad ideas go back a long way.

Truth is the consensus of posthumans today. Tomorrow's truth will be different. There is no fact outside of constantly-shifting consensus truth.

Humans are limited to no more than 3 or 4 romantic entanglements at a time. Posthumans may pursue 15 or 20 simultaneously; those posthumans augmented by bots can pursue hundreds. For some posthumans, this can prove highly profitable, particularly those who specialize in widows and the elderly.

Posthumans can blogswarm from jail!

The posthuman condition is a happy state for registered sex offenders.

Posthumans have solved the problem of professional ethics: The ethics of posthumans are completely undiscussable. How dare you raise the issue of ethics!

Posthumans are becoming the natural prey of Intelligent Agents, currently in the service of humans and adept at parsing social networks and friends lists. Intelligent Agents perform due diligence.

A posthuman’s HR department already has the posthuman’s Charles Manson fanfic on file; is already aware of the disturbing themes in the posthuman’s Shirley Temple Second Life porn; the posthuman’s Flickr account has already been run by legal. Legal has advised management to let him dig himself in a little deeper.

Posthumans are losing security clearances for unexplained reasons.

Posthumans are now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Now posthumans lose their jobs.

Intelligent Agents take over. Truth is the consensus of corporately owned Intelligent Agent systems.

The era of Transhumanity is at hand.

History has ended. Posthumans have no history.

Copyright © 2009 by Kathryn Cramer.

Cynthia Burack: "A Note about Politics"

Burack.healing I picked up Cynthia Burack's Healing Identities: Black Feminist Thought and the Politics of Groups (Cornell University Press, 2004) on our book shopping trip to Maryland a month or so ago when we collected a debt I was owed in books.

IMG_4251.JPGI have just started reading it this morning while snapping occasional shots of this morning's Lake Champlain sunrise -- it's a cloudy day, so the good shots only happen every couple of minutes.

The book's introduction begins with "A Note about Politics," which is a cool little piece all by itself.

No less a political observer than Henry Adams remarked in the early twentieth century that politics can be understood as the "systematic organization of hatreds."1 In face, hatreds are not always terribly well organized, but Adams's comment nonetheless captures a key reality of political life. Group hatred is "like a sturdy weed: you can weed several times a day and, in the morning, there it is again."2 Groups matter in part because of the vast harm those motivated by group identifications can do.

. . . Feminists tend to stress the coalitional political and social justice opportunities created by groups, while mainstream political thinkers tend to stress violent, dangerous, and unstable aspects of groups. All are right, of course: in group relations people can exhibit both extraordinary forms of cooperation and seemingly irrational forms of contentiousness. (p. 1)

1. Henry Adams. The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography, vol. 1 (New York: Time, 1964), 6.
2. Andrei Codrescu, The Devil Never Sleeps, and Other Essays (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000), 129.

This passage is particularly interesting to me in that I am coming to believe that one of the primary usages of the Web 2.0-style Internet is various forms of scapegoating, in which individuals or groups are named as the cause of the problems of and as a threat to other group.  I find the emerging situation very worrisome.

Further thoughts on Cioma Schönhaus's The Forger and other books, plus some thoughts on Internet re-socialization

This weekend, preparing to drive upstate to work on our bookstore-to-be, I brought along Joanna Russ's What Are We Fighting For? along to read. I arrived in Westport, NY at the stroke of midnight, and read until about 1AM, and then finished the first chapter in the morning. It was great to hear Joanna's voice again: she is one of those writers whose speaking voice I can hear clearly in her written prose, and I found that reunion quite delightful. Her analysis of Janice Radway's Reading the Romance is something I wish I'd read a few years before she published it back when I was assigned the book in a Sociology of Literature class in grad school. I found a lot to object to about the Radway book at the time, and having back-up from Joanna Russ would have been great.  

But nonetheless, the bell hooks style third-wave feminism in the same chapter seemed to me to make the chapter's argument a bit muddled. You can't really talk about romance readers in the same chapter as trying to decenter feminism from white upper-middle-class heterosexual feminists without leaving the impression that this generations' women who got married and had kids are simply reactionaries who have made some kind of terrible mistake. 

Perhaps this is the way you had to begin a feminist tract in the mid-90s, but I put the book aside for later reading. If Joanna were really present in that captivating narrative voice, I would have argued with her about this. But a book is only a book, and she published it 13 years ago. If I wanted to argue, I should have read it a while back.

And so emptying boxes into our store space and shelving the books, I came across Cioma Schönhaus's The Forger, which as I said in my previous post, I bought on a book buying trip on the way to Balticon. (I sold a domain name to an Internet bookseller, and part of my payment was in books, so we had to go to the store to collect.)

Structurally, The Forger, is a similar narrative to Bill Mason's Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief, which I read in April: Schönhaus lead the same kind of glamorous semi-underground adrenaline-soaked audacious lifestyle as Mason, leading -- after a while of audacity -- to major man-hunts and having to go seriously underground, except that Schönhaus's life of crime was aimed at saving the lives of Jews in Nazi Germany. (Reading these books back-to-back would be a somewhat uncomfortable experience.) The way each of them thrived was by assessing social expectations, and then confounding them. And in both books there is the issue of trust and betrayal, and how these men lived while being both socially gregarious and trusting almost no one. We give Schönhaus the moral high ground as a hero of the resistance, where as Mason is just an ex-criminal with an interesting tale to tell.

In addition to issues of pseudonymity, discussed previously, the other thing I found really fascinating about the book was the mismatch between the rapid re-socialization of the population taking place in Nazi-era Berlin, and people's disbelief and denial that this could possibly be happening; I commented upon a similar mis-match evident in Kazimierz Sakowicz's Ponary Diary 1941-1943: A bystander's Account of a Mass Murder. A key line from Sakowitcz:

Evidently, [Jewish mothers about to be thrown into mass graves with their children] expected that when the clothing was collected the children hidden in that way [under it] might be saved. Unfortunately. (p. 73)

The book I read just before coming up to Westport for the weekend was James Morrow's very well-researched novel The Last Witchfinder. Moment by moment, the re-socialization of the populace during witch hunts bears an eerie resemblance to the observed details in Holocaust accounts, which is, I guess, the phenomenon which Hannah Arendt referred to as "the banality of evil" in the context of Adolf Eichmann. But the focus on one man, Eichmann, does not give us access to the broader problem -- rapid re-socialization on a large scale that makes this more like a problem in epidemiology. Certainly, there are sociopaths in the word, but what causes epidemics of otherwise normal people who behave in a way one would expect of a sociopath?

A few years ago, I viewed the Internet as a vehicle for spreading compassion, spreading empathy, allowing the possibility that someone like me from her dining room could spontaneously arrive at ways to help individual people on the other side of the world who are in many ways nothing like me; that my son could draw a cheerful picture for a little boy in Pakistan who spent four hours buried in the rubble after an earthquake (and he did).

Lately, I have come to view the Internet as a vehicle for rapid re-socialization, much of it for the worse. I see a sudden Internet-induced lack of empathy, compassion, and even basic sympathy, in what I regard as a population of normal (by which I mean not sociopathic) people. I see mean-girl behavior in adult women that would get them sent to the Vice Principal's office under no-bullying policies if they were sixth grade girls at my son's school; I see violent ideation expressed publicly; I see demonization (sometimes literally); and I see this passing by without opposition from the communities within which these are expressed. 

I find this very worrisome. None of  the theories we have about how people behave in large numbers can adequately account for behavior on the Internet because the Internet is too new. A few years ago, I thought of the Internet as a potential solution to many things, and as a tool for spreading compassion across international and cultural boundaries. Now I begin to see it as the opposite: a tool used by others for the mass elimination of empathy, and as a problem rather than a solution.

Just where is it that we are going from here?

Gender, Identity, SF, & the Singularity ( a draft essay written 7/14/07)

The following is an unfinished essay drafted in July of 2007 in response to a panel I was on at Readercon in 2007. I could not lay hands on some crucial resources, such as the essay "Performance" by Don West (byline "D. West"). It appeared in Malcolm Edwards' fanzine TAPPEN, issue 5, 1982. Reprinted in DELIVERANCE, a 1992 collection of West's fanzine writing, in order finish it, and so I never did, though God knows, as we excavate the Hartwell basement archives, it may in time turn up.

I've decided to publish this unfinished draft, since my opinions on pseudonymity have recently attracted so much interest. 

—Kathryn Cramer


I am pretty good at communicating my thoughts to the science fiction field most of the time, both in essays and on panels. But once is a while, I find that I've said something I thought was clear, and that it really didn't communicate. In a number of cases in the past, this has lead to book projects or essays, for example my anthologies The Architecture of Fear and The Ascent of Wonder, or essays such as "Science Fiction and the Adventures of the Spherical Cow."

I seem to have just had such an experience, given comments I've heard or read about the panel at Readercon entitled "The Singularity Needs More Women." Such comments are for the most part not hostile, and it was not a hostile panel. Rather, I gather that some substantial portion of the audience did not get the connections I was trying to make between the science fictional notion of the Singularity and the here and now, specifically in relation to people's online construction of their identity.

I'm not going to try to rehash what was said on the panel, but rather explore what I was getting at from a different angle. —K

In a way, this was an impossible panel: We were invited into the hazardous quicksand of feminist identity politics to indulge in fantasies about what things would be like if this were only cleared away, if only all gender-related constraints on our identities were removed. We mostly didn't go there. And inasmuch as we did go there, it has not made people happy.

One continuing theme I find myself wanting to talk about at Readercon is that we already live in an unrecognizably transformed world; social changes have been worked upon us that we are unable to recognize or articulate. On this panel, I used the example of online identity and pseudonymity; in previous years my example has been how suburbia as it actually exists has become unrecognizable and that its social codes have been transformed in unrecognized ways, transformations that often are not a liberation.

Both the the Singularity and Transhumanity are social concepts. The core issue of the topic of Singularity and its relationship to gender is the extent to which one believes gender can and will be transcended through technology. And a key element in these concepts is our inability to recognize a transformed society and our transformed species: The Singularity is supposed to be an unrecognizable transformation. One thing usually said on panels about the Singularity and science fiction is that if such thing is truly unrecognizable, then one can't really write fiction about it. This panel was no exception.

A couple of works I should have talked about and didn't: Frederick Pohl's story "Day Million,"  a story about social identity in the far future that David Hartwell and I described in an introduction as "a story set in a future so distant and different that we can only glimpse it in mysterious reflections and intriguing images," and Bruce Sterling's Schizmatrix. A "Day Million" moment in Schizmatrix is when a man proposes to his ex-wife and so much has changed in their post-human existence that she accepts his proposal without knowing she's married this man before.

"Day Million" is of course deeply entangled in the subculture of science fiction's Futurians, which had its geographical center in New York City, and later in Milford, Pennsylvania. The post-Futurian sf sub-culture centered around the influential Milford writing workshop, held in Milford.

For a while in the 1980s, I lived in Milford, Pennsylvania and worked for Virginia Kidd, a literary agent and the ex-wife of SF writer James Blish. Before taking the job, I read Damon Knight's The Futurians to catch up on the back gossip. (I discovered later, after many conversations, that there is no one canonical account of the Futurian era: each person has their own -- most are fascinating -- and they mostly don't match.)

One key element of Futurian society was choosing a name. Many of the Futurians changed their names in order to change their lives. Virginia Kidd's first name on her birth certificate was not "Virginia." James Allen, another agent with the Virginia Kidd Agency once told me how Virginia counseled him to change his name when he became a literary agent. Virginia's good friend and client, Judith Merril (who was also Fred Pohl's ex-wife), told me over dinner how she came to change her last name to Merril. (She subsequently wrote this up for her autobiography.)

No one knew who the heck Lester del Rey was until several years after his death. He left behind a substantial estate and after several years of attempts to sort out the inheritance, it was apparently revealed that his name was Leonard Knapp.

Such name changes were partly pragmatic, since many were Jewish and could expect a more successful career under a non-Jewish name. And at least one member of that generation was looking to avoid back child-support. But there was also a substantial element of social fantasy. One thing I tried to understand over many such conversations was exactly why the Futurians perceived changing one's name as such a powerful act. I interpret "Day Million" as a partial expression the fantasy of only apparently real identity, or perhaps of the Modernist idea of a mask identity.

I see the current popularity of the concepts of the Singularity and trans-humanity as closely tied to online experimentation with the fantasy of apparent identity. Examples I used on the panel included Wikipedia admins who insist on the use of a pseudonym and claim that all attempts to decipher it amount to stalking; and Second Life, which requires you to adopt a pseudonym when you register -- you must select your last name from a pull-down menu and may only specify a first name; and the vast social wasteland of online dating, an unfolding disaster in human relations on a huge scale. My strong anti-pseudonymity message is not something people are all that receptive to at the moment.

The science fiction community strongly influenced the early evolution of the Internet because so many techies read sf and are involved in the sf community, and sf's ideas about pseudonymity and the adoption of a fannish name and persona seem to me to have influenced Internet fashion.  Cyberpunk sf was especially influential upon the shape of Internet social space: from William Gibson we have the very name of cyberspace, which as I recall he described in the 80s as that place you are when you're on the telephone — except that now 100 million people might overhear your call,which is recorded and archived.

There is one important difference between Futurian beliefs about only apparently real identities and the current online version of disposable personae or identity: The Futurians chose a name and tended to stick with it for the rest of their lives, whereas online identities are much usually more ephemeral. Also the Futurians used such names in person, whereas online aliases are mostly intended for use in electronic communication in cyberspace.

A significant transitional figure is James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon aka Racoona Sheldon), a mother of the cyberpunk movement. She was a client of Virginia Kidd's. After her death, I accepted a couple of her posthumous awards on behalf of the Kidd agency. My husband, David Hartwell, was her editor and one of the few people in science fiction who ever met her in person. (Philip K. Dick, another writer who prefigured cyberpunk, is in some ways an opposite figure to Tiptree. He was concerned with distinguishing the authentic from the "only apparently real." )

Alice Sheldon used her real name in her everyday life, but used an alias for her writing and correspondence in the science fiction field. Her true identity and gender were only revealed after the death of her mother, a well-known writer. Her fascination with the power of pseudonymity seems to have its origins not in the Futurian subculture, but in that of the CIA. She was briefly employed by the CIA and was the wife of a high ranking CIA official, Huntington Sheldon. The Sheldons were part of the intelligence subculture that founded the CIA.

(Perhaps the origin of the false identity as it is used in the "intelligence" community is the Romantic spy and criminal fiction of the 19th and early 20th century: in the Robin Hood stories, Richard the Lion-Hearted supposedly sneaked back into England to depose the bad king.)

Tiptree had a tremendously seductive literary voice and persona. But while the science fiction field may have benefited from her adoption of an alias, since it arguably enabled her to write a highly regarded body of fiction, it is not clear that she herself benefited. Her adoption of the Tiptree pseudonym apparently started as a joke, and took on the role in her life of an addictive drug. Her life did not end well: She had chronic problems with depression and ended her life by shooting her husband and then herself. Tiptree is an icon in feminist sf as someone who liberated her writing voice by adopting a male pseudonym. In the context of a discussion of trans-humanity and gender, she perhaps represents feminist hopes for liberation from the constraints of older constructions of female social identity.

Though Tiptree and Phil Dick are in some ways opposites as literary figures -- Tiptree as icon of the power of pseudonymity, and Dick as an icon of the technological relevance of Kierkegaardian authenticity -- both writers are intensely concerned with alienation, which seems to me one of the core issues of Internet constructions of personal identity.

The argument can be made that the adoption of the alias James Tiptree, Jr. allowed Alice Sheldon a truer expression of her inner voice than society would have allowed for someone named Alice Sheldon, and that the adoption of an alias was a form of authenticity. This argument is rarely used with regard to adoption of aliases today, with one notable exception: The strange case of Laura Albert aka J. T. Leroy. Albert, an author who lost a civil suit claiming fraud brought by a movie company, gave some very interesting testimony:

Ms. Albert herself, in testimony from the stand, suggested that JT LeRoy was far more than a pseudonym in the classic Mark Twain-Samuel Clemens mold. She offered the idea that JT LeRoy was a sort of “respirator” for her inner life: an imaginary, though necessary, survival apparatus that permitted her to breathe.

The portrait of Alice Sheldon in her biography suggests some similarities to Albert. Interestingly, the end of the New York Times article about the ruling against Albert suggests that she is now "liberated" from her pseudonym.

Despite the many arguments that are made about the necessity of Internet pseudonymity for reasons of privacy, alienation is much more important to the core ethical issues of online communities and their strivings toward a trans-humanity, a transcendence of all constraining circumstance. While we are no more intelligent and perhaps no less powerful online than we are in person, we can certainly make ourselves seem  unrecognizable and estrange ourselves from our genders of birth, our ages and educational levels (see the Essjay controversy), our marital status (as is widely practiced on dating sites), etc. While this is not true trans-or post-humanity, it represents at least a kind of fantasy of trans-human existence, easier than a make-over or reinventing yourself under your own name. Much as we would like science fiction to be about the future, it is so often about the present. 

For the most part, writers such as Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow who are concerned with the Singularity subject matter, do not try to conceal the connection of their writing to the here and now.

We did, I think, get at that issue toward the end of the panel: How gendered popular types of Internet communications truly are; how much more flamboyant gender expression sometimes is online than in real life, and on the darker side, how much more overt and nasty online enforcement of gender codes can be.

Backlash is at least as characteristic as liberation of rapid social change generated by technological change. Is the Internet fad for pseudonymity a form of backlash or of liberation? The popular claim that a protected pseudonymity is necessary to protect people from stalking suggests that pseudonymity is a backlash against unwanted transparency. David Brin claims that transparency is "freedom's best defense." I think I agree with him.

Before the panel, I was asked by the convention program chair whether I was pro- or anti- the notion of the Singularity, ostensibly because this was anticipated to be an anti-Singularity panel. I'm not sure whether the above discussion makes me pro- or anti-Singularity. I believe we are already in the midst of rapid transformation that is rendering the world unrecognizable, already in the midst of a rising inadequation of the mind to the world.

There is another word for this: alienation. And perhaps that is what we should be talking about.

Or maybe not. From Charles Stross's Singularity! A Tough Guide to the Rapture of the Nerds, a definition of the Singularity:

The SIingularity is what happens when reality throws a divide-by-zero error or you extrapolate a curve to a straight line. Or something. Maybe it's what an Italian rock star says when you give him a wedgie. Who knows? All I know is that Vernor Vinge invented it -- damn him! (If it wasn't for those meddling computer science professors I could still be writing about PixieDust ...)

Anyway. You don't need to understand all that stuff to write about the SIngularity. What you need to understand is that after the SIngularity things will be cool. We'll all be PostHumans or UpLoading ourselves into our pocket calculators, there'll be lots of ArtificialIntelligence to help fight outbreaks of GreyGoo, and if there are annoying folks you don't want to have around you can just tell them to go TRanscend.

It's the hot new topic for wish-fulfillment adventure and escapism. And there'll be jam for tea every day.

As the Mad Hatter said, "Have more tea."

(to be continued at some point  . . .)

Reading "Bad" Mothers: The Politics of Blame in Twentieth Century America, ed. Molly Ladd-Taylor & Lauri Umansky

Books A week or so ago, I stumbled across Annalee Newitz's essay "Murdering Mothers" on Google Books in "Bad" Mothers: The Politics of Blame in Twentieth Century America (1998), ed. Molly Ladd-Taylor & Lauri Umansky. Just when I had decided that this was a really terrific essay, Google Books refused to give me any more pages, and so I had to buy the book. Annalee Newitz is one of the editors of io9, a website about which I have ambiguous feelings because of it's excessive commercialism and Hollywood orientation. This essay raises my opinion of her substantially.

Newitz tries to make sense of pop culture's fascination with murderous moms, a fascination that I think has grown substantially in the decade since Newitz wrote the essay. (As I have remarked before, in this house, we refer to CNN as Child-Abuse News Network.) 

She discusses the cases of Susan Smith (who claimed her children were abducted but was later convicted of murdering them); Margaret Bean-Borg, a Boston psychiatrist sued for having an unhealthy personal relationship with a male patient who later committed suicide; and Hedda Nussbaum (an abused woman who allowed Joel Steinberg to beat their adopted daughter to death, for which he was convicted of manslaughter) as well as Susan Brownmiller's novel Waverly Place, based on the case.

The portion of the essay I liked best was the discussion of Brownmiller's novel, in which she discusses the Nussbaum case as emblematic of the failures of feminism:

It's ambiguous as to whether Brownmiller is suggesting  that Judith's life is a result of rejecting feminism , or as a result of feminism rejecting her. . . . That a woman like Hedda Nussbaum could exist points up the failures of feminism in a way that the defeat of the ERA never could: here was a person who should have known better, whose women friends should have known better. Traditional feminism, or what is commonly called  second wave feminism, cannot fully account for a woman like Hedda Nussbaum. (p. 384)

In 1989, Brownmiller wrote an OP-ED for the New York Times about the Steinberg trial, which she attended for 11 weeks.

. . . Mr. Steinberg had very specific requirements for a suitable mate. Hardly any woman would do for this lawyer-con man who received his gratification through violence. Mr. Steinberg needed a gullible woman who would be totally under his thumb, a woman willing to abandon her family, her friends, her career and her children for a man she considered a human god. He found his ideal in a woman so narcissistic, so empty at the core despite her beauty, her college education and her professional skills that she would willfully fail to heed the explicit warnings signs that something was terribly wrong in order to stay with her lover.

I think my own view of Hedda Nussbaum is rather more sympathetic than Brownmiller's: Brownmiller, having watched the trial, concluded that Nussbaum should not have been given immunity from prosecution. (Andrea Dworkin disagreed, strongly.) So I'll probably avoid Waverly Place, much as I like Newitz's analysis of it concerning feminism's ambiguous relationship with women and women's ambiguous relationship with feminism. My sympathy for Nussbaum comes from consideration of what a powerful influence a psychopath can exert on his target. 

The 2006 murder of Peggy Perez-Olivo by her disbarred attorney husband seems to me a companion piece to the Nussbaum situation. Though Carlos Perez-Olivo was ultimately convicted of his wife's murder, all of his children testified in his defense at his trial. Almost no one locally would speak about the case to the press. So when he was convicted, the TV camera crew showed up on my doorstep wanting me to talk about justice for Peggy, when it should have been her neighbor, Hillary Clinton, and her boss, the principal of my children's elementary school, who spoke out. That Perez-Olivo could compel his children's support speaks to his power and control over his family.

But where were the feminists of Westchester to talk about the matter as a case of domestic violence?  I seemed to be one of a very few willing to talk about the matter, so I was contacted by the press again and again. And I only faintly knew the victim, who was a well-liked special ed. teacher at my son's school. The silence was, to me, truly unsettling. 

Didn't anyone else around here (other than the press and the cops) care that she'd been murdered? That seems to me an even bigger failure of feminism than what one might extract from the Nussbaum case. Nussbaum was subject to mind-control by a psychopath, but Westchester's feminists have no such excuse. Surely, I'm not the only feminist within a 10-mile radius of Chappaqua? Surely people care if someone kills you? (Or maybe they really don't care if you live or die?)

On the other hand, the press found no shortage of people willing to vocalize about another Westchester mom, Madalyn Primoff, a Scarsdale mother whose Bad Parenting Day (she made her squabbling kids get out of the car and then drove around the block, intending to come back for them) made her world-wide infamous before the anti-climax when all charges against her were dropped. 

It's not that Westchester doesn't like to talk, it just doesn't want to talk about the murder of Peggy Perez-Olivo. Meanwhile, the Primoff case was the biggest story that our local paper has ever broken, and so they're hungry for whatever Bad Mommy Tales they can get. (Women of Westchester: Disconnect the phone, stop leaving the house, and don't answer the door; infamy awaits you!) It was, in fact, thinking about the media-mobbing of Madalyn Primoff that sent me in the direction of trying to understand Bad Mother Tales, and  to Annalee Newitz's essay.

I've now read about two-thirds of "Bad" Mothers, which is perhaps a little more than I can stand in a day. There is story after story of outrageous and unwarranted government (and sometimes media) intervention in mothers' lives. And things have gotten much worse since this book was published. How many justified reasons for paranoia can one stand in a day?

Particularly memorable essays among the others I read include:

  • Mending Rosa's Working Ways: A Case Study of an African American Mother and Breadwinner by Karen W. Tice
  • Antiracism and Maternal Failure in the 40s and 50s by Ruth Feldstein, and 
  • On Being the "Bad" Mother of an Autistic Child by Jane Taylor McDonnell

manufactroversy: a word I've been needing

From Leah Ceccarelli at Science Progress:
Manufactroversy (măn’yə-făk’-trə-vûr’sē) 
N., pl. -sies. 
1. A manufactured controversy that is motivated by profit or extreme ideology to intentionally create public confusion about an issue that is not in dispute. 
2. Effort is often accompanied by imagined conspiracy theory and major marketing dollars involving fraud, deception and polemic rhetoric.

I first encountered this in the Wikipedia entry for Artificial controversy:

An artificial controversy, or variously a contrived controversyengineered controversyfabricated controversymanufactured controversy, or manufactroversy is a controversy that does not stem from genuine difference of opinion. The controversy is typically developed by an interest group, such as a political party[1] or a marketing company, to attract media attention,[2] or to facilitate framing of a particular issue. Creating controversy is also a controversial legal tactic used to gain advantage in a negotiation or trial.[3] The controversy may stem from a minor incident blown out of proportion,[4] from a false claim of controversy where no serious dispute existed,[5] or no reasonable doubt remains,[6] or unintentionally from misinterpreting data.[7]

Writing on the politics of cancer and the influence of special interest groups on the public policy debate, Dr. Robert N. Proctorhistory of science professor at Stanford University specializing in scientific controversy and the cultural production of ignorance,[8] which he calls agnotology,[9] described the use of artificial controversy: "The relation between knowledge and ignorance in these matters is complex....The problem is partly that ignorance can be manufactured, controversy can be engineered."[10] In a 2006 interview regarding public perceptions of the press in the United States, journalist Carl Bernstein lamented, "Well, let's take a look at what we're talking about: misinformation, disinformation, celebrity stuff—gossip, sensationalism and especially manufactured controversy.... Increasingly, sensationalism, gossip, manufactured controversy have become our agenda instead of the best obtainable version of the truth. We've become frivolous."[11]  . . .

Writer Valerie Tarico, referred to Prof. Leah Ceccarelli's writings on "teach the controversy" as a manufactroversy.[35]

The Tarico reference is her article from The Huffington Post, Ben Stein: Front Man for Creationism's Manufactroversy, concerning the movie Expelled.

University of Washington professor, Leah Ceccarelli has pointed out that their "teach the controversy" strategy depends on a very specific sleight of hand: blurring the difference between scientific controversy and manufactured controversy or Manufactroversy.

You can say you first heard it here, well, if you haven't heard it already on MySpace or Facebook: Manufactroversy -- a made up word for a made up controversy. 

Marcuse & the Internet


I'm packing up a bunch of my books to take upstate, and I keep getting distracted from packing by actual books. Flipping through Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (1955), I found passages that could have been written now, and about the Internet. 

From the Preface :

The traditional borderlines between psychology on the one side and political and social philosophy on the other have been made obsolete by the condition of man in the present era: formerly autonomous and identifiable processes are being absorbed by the function of the individual in the state -- by his public existence. Psychological problems therefore turn into political problems: private disorder reflects more directly than before the disorder of the whole, and the cure of personal disorder depends more directly on the cure of general disorder. The era tends to be totalitarian even where it has not produced totalitarian states. Psychology could be elaborated and practiced as a special discipline as long as the psyche could sustain itself against public power, as long as privacy was real, really desired, and self-shaped; if the individual has neither the ability nor the possibility to be for himself, the terms of psychology become the terms of the societal forces which define the psyche. (p. xvii, 1962 Vintage paperback)

. . . and from the Introduction. . .

However, intensified progress seems to be bound up with intensified unfreedom. Throughout the world of industrial civilization, the dominion of man by man is growing in scope and efficiency. Nor does this trend appear to be incidental, transitory regression on the road to progress. Concentration camps, mass exterminations, world wars, and atom bombs are no "relapse into barbarism, " but the unrepressed achievements of modern science, technology, and dominion. The most effective subjugation and destruction of man by man takes place at the height of civilization, when the material and intellectual attainments of mankind seem to allow the creation of a truly free world. (p. 4)

Marcuse died in 1979.

I seem to have been prophetic: The Madlyn Primoff "Incident"

The other day, I wrote a meditation on Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids in which I compared the plight of American mothers to what it must have been like to live in East Germany. I said:

It seems to me that the object of control of all this anxiety is not children, but rather their parents, specifically their mothers. And what Skenazy describes is a three-decades-long process of de-liberating their mothers by insisting that anyone too young to get a driver's license needs direct adult supervision at all times. Further, though Skenazy tries to deal with this cheerfully, there is a kind of police-state-like enforcement of this de-liberation which reminds me of what it might have been like to live in a place like the German Democratic Republic (except that you don't get shot): every one is watching you and anyone can report you to either the authorities or the media at any time. Something innocent can bring Child Protective Services or a Nancy Grace to your door at any moment.

People can and do call the cops on their neighbors for allowing a 9-year-old to leave the yard, and in this day-and-age the police take this seriously. Off-handed and inaccurate statements by children can be used to incriminate the parents. If anything about you makes the parents of your kids' playdates nervous, beware. Someone may make an example of you.

. . . and went on to say . . .

Skenazy is tough and brave and I wish she lived in my neighborhood, but she does not offer much of a solution for the problem of overzealous adults: For American mothers today, to quote Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit, L'enfer, c'est les autres (Hell is other people).

This morning, I happened to look at my blog's Sitemeter before heading off to a Church sale, and I noticed that for some reason that this post had suddenly attracted a huge amount of traffic, though I couldn't tell why.

Now I know what's up. I went over to Skenazy's blog and read about what the Wall Street Journal is calling . . . [drum roll, please] . . . "The Madlyn Primoff Incident." 

From the WSJ:

Madlyn Primoff, a 45-year-old mother of 10- and 12-year-old daughters, couldn’t take their squabbling anymore as she drove them on Sunday through a commercial part of White Plains, N.Y., in suburban Westchester County. She ordered them out of the car and drove off. The 12-year-old somehow managed to catch up with Ms. Primoff and get back in, but the 10-year-old, lost and frightened, was found by someone on the street and taken to the police. Ms. Primoff, who had called her town’s police to report her daughter as missing, was directed to the White Plains police, who arrested her on a charge of child endangerment. She has pleaded not guilty.

(John Edwards III, writing for the WSJ, even compared her to Skenazy!)

I seem to have been prophetic. Primoff's parenting transgression, about ten miles from my house, which should have been something for her family, Child Protective Services, and a therapist or three to hash out, has become the Bad Mommy Perfect Media-storm. She's suddenly being treated like the next Andrea Yates over something that is basically none of our business.

Not only did her family's difficult afternoon make the Wall Street Journal, it made The New York Times, ABC, the TimesOnline, USA Today, Fox News (God help her!), MSNBC, etc. And the ever-classy Lower Hudson Journal, managed to weave Primoff's story into an article entitled, "Police: Cortlandt mom used daughter, 12, to shoplift." 

The press ran around with TV cameras, and got her neighbors to condemn her, published her mug shot world-wide, and have in essence branded her a Mama bin Laden: a mother terrorist.

And some of the bloggers are , if anything, worse. I found one guy, with a fetish for child abuse stories,  who posted her address and  a Google map showing how to get to her house. He also published the name of her employer, her office address, and the names of some of the law firm's clients. (A sick man, if you ask me.)

Listen people, the Baader-Meinhof gang used to have to rob a bank and hold the guards hostage to get this kind of coverage. This is a private matter which should be reolved privately, and is none of our business.

See also Romi Lassally at The Huffington Post, Lenore Skenazy, Aylette Waldman, and Jezebel.

"Racism and Science Fiction" posted on the NYRSF site

At the request of a NYRSF subscriber and by permission of Samuel R. Delany, I have posted Delany's 1998 essay "Racism and Science Fiction" to The New York Review of Science Fiction site.

Continue reading ""Racism and Science Fiction" posted on the NYRSF site" »

Test your level of Alienation online

Frances on Peter's deskI happened across an on-line questionnaire apparently by C. George Boeree, a professor in the Psychology Department at Shippensburg University, which claims to test your degree alienation. I score as only moderately alienated in most of the categories of alienation, but score very highly for "cultural alienation." Interestingly the term "cultural alienation" seems to be primarily used to study the effects of colonialism upon the indigenous population, like so:

The experience of colonial domination shows that, in the effort to perpetuate exploitation, the colonizers not only creates a system to repress the cultural life of the colonized people; he also provokes and develops the cultural alienation of a part of the population, either by so-called assimilation of indigenous people, or by creating a social gap between the indigenous elites and the popular masses.

(Amilcar Cabral, "National Liberation and Culture." Originally delivered on February 20, 1970 as part of the Eduardo Mondlane Memorial Lecture Series at Syracuse University.)

It is interesting to me that the incursion of million-dollar-house people into our corner of suburbia would provoke in me an alienation similar to that of the colonized. I tried the test on my son, and while he had no scores in the "high" range, most of his scores indicated moderate alienation, and one of his highest scores was cultural alientation.

Boeree's page on Conformity and Obediance is also interesting.

Fashion During War Time: Let's play Cossacks

I usually don't even read reviews of fashion shows, let alone write about them. But this killer review in the Fashion section of The New York Times captures the essences of what has been most repulsive about American consumer culture during the Bush wars (the fad for Hummers, the Blackwater apparel line, etc.). So, here is the voice of NYT fashion writer Cathy Horn:

Any time a fashion designer goes off in the direction of the Russian Revolution, he or she might as well issue a disclaimer that says don’t take me seriously. The romance of that period has been well covered — another babushka, another bushy eyebrow, what’s the difference — and the real terror is too ghastly to trivialize with a nicely cut gabardine jodhpur.

Ms. [Vera] Wang’s stylized Russian story was fairly lugubrious. In a way, her problem is that she has too much information, and at the same time, she is not an original-thinking designer. Everything interests her: workers’ tunics, Russian constructivism, military insignia.

Yet she lacks the imagination and courage to create something wholly original in ready-to-wear. She is continually defeated by her own eye, which is a magazine editor’s eye. This is wonderful for creating visual effects, like pairing models in their sweet-looking Cossack wear.

(I have no idea whether I would agree with her assessment of the clothes; but the social criticism is interesting.)

Michael Moorcock on living among Americans

Another good quote I happened across today. British SF and fantasy writer Michael Moorcock on living among Americans from an interview by 3AM:

At present the people are so badly served by their media that I can't claim they have the government they deserve. . . . I like living amongst Americans. Yesterday, I went to a barbecue in a neighborhood fairly festooned with flags and 'United We Stand' stickers -- mostly firemen, cops, paramedics -- and found the company tolerant, curious and concerned -- but not belligerently aggressive, as the bellowing Bushites make the country appear.

Moorcock lives in Bastrop, Texas.

L. E. Modesitt on the Way Washington Works

I was reading an interview with fantasy and science fiction writer L. E. Modesitt, Jr. and came across a marvelously chilling passage about what he learned from his 17 years working in the belly of the beast that is Washington, DC:

. . . the way Washington works is not the way people really want to think of Washington working. For example, you see movies like No Way Out, you see all these Washington films—people are dying all over the place. In the whole time I worked in Washington, I don't know of a single death that was caused by somebody else. Washington doesn't work that way. Washington is too cruel to kill anybody outright. Now, the number of suicides—that's another question.

"Washington will take away your livelihood. I know people who cannot do what they once did because of Washington. They will alienate your family and your friends; they will destroy your life, and they will destroy your family, but they won't kill you. They leave that up to you.

During his time in DC, he was the Director of Legislation and Congressional Relations for the EPA, and also a staff director for a US Congressman.

The discussion was in the context of his novel The Green Progression, Modesitt's only commercial failure. I read it (maybe 10 years ago?) and thought it was a pretty good book.

(PS: If you hadn't guessed by now, we're working on anthology story notes here in Pleasantville.)

Moninder Singh Pandher, Surendra Koli, & India's Grisly Child Murders

India's serial killer case seems to be emerging as a perfect storm of discrimination based on class and weath, police apathy and hostility toward the poor, the wrong two guys teaming up, and perhaps a few other factors. This resulted in a situation in which Moninder Singh Pandher and his servant Surendra Koli could systematically and methodically hunt and kill children and the occasional woman with complete impunity for several years, probably at least a rate of more than one a month. Koli went to work for Pandher in 2004. My esitmate is based only on remains actually found so far; a bunch of the many skulls don't seem to go with the bodies found so far. Pandher is emerging as India's own Gille de Rais.These guys were very well organized. From Newindpress.com:

In his confession before the police, Surendra allegedly said that Mohinder would often call prostitutes to his house. "I would also arrange domestic helps of the locality for my master. And when no one was available, Mohinder would ask me for small girls," he reportedly told the police.

Surendra allegedly said that many small children came to play in the open space near the water tank just behind the bungalow and he would lure them with chocolates and sweets. Surendra said Mohinder would rape these children. First the master, then he, Surendra allegedly told the police.

Then he would strangulate them, chop off the bodies into small pieces, and would dump the skulls and the belongings behind the house, and the rest of the body parts in the drain in front.

Police claimed that Surendra would often immerse the body in a drum of acid to prevent the stench from spreading. Noida SP Saimitra Yadav said: "Surendra had also killed two small boys who happened to be victims of mistaken identity. The two were very young and Surendra could not make out their gender by their appearance. But since they had been taken inside the house, they had to be killed. They were not sexually assaulted though."

This confession was elicited by "truth serum" (Sodium Pentathol). Apparently, the confession also involves claims of cannibalism. Surendra was Pandher's cook.

The Indian media is having a hard time coming to grips with the idea of psychopathy, attempting to reconcile Pandher's former classmates' claims that he seemed like a "wonderful chap" with the notion that he was a peophile and a serial child killer. Biographical details on Pandher are a bit sparse. But there are a few.

One of the most interesting to me is that Delhi's St. Stephen's College, from which Pandher has his college degree (Batch of 1974-77. History (Honours). Third Division) has some significant amnesia about the accused, an amnesia which seems to extend beyond what simple embarassment could explain.

While confirming that he studied at the college, officials at the principal’s office added: “He is a horrendous exception to college’s glorious tradition of grooming gentlemen out of students.”

Even students in the History batch of 1977 that had 45 students do not seem to know him. “I just cannot recall him. I’m sure there is some confusion. I know all my batchmates but cannot recollect this guy,” said Sandeep Dayal, who studied in the same batch and works in a travel agency.

Since the day Dayal read about Singh in the paper, he has been frantically calling up friends from his batch to check if they can recall him. “It was so shocking to read about him so I just called up my batchmates but like me, they too are clueless,” he added.

Singh is also missing from the college’s annual directories that list its alumni for years 1980, 1984, 2004 and 2006.

Professor Mohd Amim, who taught History at the college between 1949 and 1993, said: “It’s up to the students whether they want to list themselves with the college. As of now, there is no trace of him.”

His daddy was rich. Could he somehow have a degree from the college without having attended? Interesting. A guy who has problems in his fifties may have had some issues that interfered with his studies in college. But apparently, he's on record as having a degree.

Pandher inherited the family "transport business, which spreads across Delhi, Noida, Chandigarh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh."

Yesterday, the police for the first time took the media inside the Noida house where the children were raped and murdered. Journalists who visited the place say that Moninder Singh had a luxurious lifestyle and loved hunting and fine spirits.

Walls of Moninder's living room are decorated with huge photographs showing him with hunting gear and the prey. The house sports a mini-bar stocked with Indian and imported spirits.

Moninder Singh is said to be fond of Goldschlager, a spirit with flakes of gold floating in it. He also had Drambuie, Bardinet Curacao Blue and Gold Napoleon in his collection.

Also, there is an interesting history of deaths in the family:
His mother died when Moninder was eight. His uncle, who he was close to, was murdered in the 80s apparently over a business rivalry.
Hard to know what to make of this.

Both men are married. Pandher has been estranged from his wife Devinder Kaur for some time; they have a son who is a college student in Canada, Karandeep Singh, who is currently staying in India with his mother. Surendra is also married and has a three-year-old daughter.

One does not start up a meticulously orgazined system for child molestation and murder at this rate of "production" from scratch. Apparently, they had special techniques for decomposing bodies involving the use of an insecticide. This is something one works up to over a long period time. What exactly was Pandher doing when he was supposed to be going to collge those many years ago? Did the college make some deal that he would be allowed to attend as long as he didn't actually attend?

The Indian media needs to find out a good bit more about how Mr. Pandher has spent his time. And worse, if he can live like this, other people of his class can, too.

Wikipedia lists a few other Indian serial killers. The entry on Auto Shankar contains the telling passage:

During his trial Auto Shankar blamed cinema for "making a devil of him", but a month before his execution, he revealed to reporters a more sinister force. According to his account, he had kidnapped the girls for powerful state politicians, subsequently disposing of them after his patrons had raped them.
My belief is that Pandher and Koli have lived their lives as violent psychopaths, and that there is much investigation than needs to be done of their earlier lives. The Indian press has serveral stories about events in Pandher's life that might have lead him to this, but life as a psycho killer does not start at 50. Nonetheless, the deterioration of Pandher's marriage and other events may have countoured the course of his disease.

From Punjab News & Information:

Moninder Singh Pandher, the accused in Noida human remains case, had strained relations not only with his wife Davinder Kaur but also with his brother iqbal Singh. Pandher’s wife had reportedly separated from him two year ago, while his brother had severed all ties with him over a six-year-old property dispute dating back six years. According to information, Davinder Kaur severed ties with Pandher several years ago because of his relationship with another woman, but they patched up - only to separate again, two years back. . . . Expressing shock at the Noida revelations, iqbal said, “Moninder was always a trouble-maker but i never thought he would stoop so low.” iqbal said he didn’t know much about his brother because they had been living separately for the last six years. “i had even got a case registered against him because i feared for the safety of my family,” he said.
From The Psychiatric Times, a discussion of the progression of violence in several American psychopaths:
Social isolation, loneliness and associated emotional pain in psychopaths may precede violent criminal acts . . . . They believe that the whole world is against them, eventually becoming convinced that they deserve special privileges or rights to satisfy their desires. As psychopathic serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nilson expressed, violent psychopaths ultimately reach a point of no return, where they feel they have cut through the last thin connection with the normal world. Subsequently their sadness and suffering increase, and their crimes become more and more bizarre . . . . Dahmer and Nilsen have stated that they killed simply for company . . . Dahmer tried to make zombies of his victims by injecting acid into their brains after he had numbed them with sleeping pills. He wanted complete control over his victims, but when that failed, he killed them.
But unlike Dahmer, Pandher seems to have had significant social connections which he almost certainly made use of while pursuing his bad habits. This bit, from The Telegraph in Calcutta, suggests where this story might be going:
Moninder Singh Pandher, the alleged mastermind of the horror at Nithari, has scalped an unexpected victim — the Congress party. At a time when Congressmen were busy chalking out strategies to corner CM Mulayam Singh Yadav over police inaction in the disappearance of children, skeletons came tumbling out of the Congress’s own cupboard. The killer has been widely reported to be a relative of a Congress MP from Punjab. The recent discovery of four more bodies of small children from a warehouse owned by Congressman, Jagmeet Singh Brar, in Punjab’s Muktsar has undoubtedly made matters worse. Brar’s supporters, however, claim that this was a dirty trick pulled on him by his long-term opponent, Amarinder Singh . . . .
So is the idea that the political parties have the bodies of young children stacked up somewhere like cordwood to be planted on their opponents when need be? That's quite a strange claim to make about the nature of Indian politics. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Pandher also had some kind of US connections, apparently in Los Angeles, From the Indian Express:

The police now suspect Moninder Singh Pandher, accused in the Noida serial killings case, may be part of an international child pornography racket. They have seized photographs of nude children from his D-5, Noida residence apart from pornographic literature, a laptop computer and a webcam.

The Indian Express has learnt that several photographs showing Moninder in the company of nude children were recovered from his house. SSP R K Singh Rathore, when contacted, said that the Noida police were in possession of these photographs and Moninder would be questioned about these.

Moninder visited Los Angeles, Switzerland, Dubai, Canada and China last October. While some photographs show Moninder watching a dance being performed by nude children, others show him in the company of some foreigners. Police say two of his family members accompanied him on the tour.

The children in the photographs are Indian. “These photographs, if true, could expose Moninder as till now the Noida police are banking on circumstantial evidence to get him convicted,” said Rathore.

One of the many questions that Noida police have requested forensic experts to ask Moninder is why he went abroad four times. Police suspect that Moninder provided pornographic videos made of children to clients abroad. Among the material recovered are photos that link Moninder to paedophilia.

So who were his US contacts? Where did he go and who did he visit in the US?

"The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.": An Opportunity for the Republican Machine

Bedlam_t_1 Oh, goodness. A study of political preferences of psychiatric patients (conducted by a Reagan-Republican working on his masters thesis), apparently broken down by diagnostic category, reported on by the New Haven Advocate.

The blogosphere goes wild!

From the article, given the inflamatory title Bush Nuts: Are George W. Bush lovers certifiable?

[Christopher] Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study was an advocacy project of sorts, designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them to go to the polls, Lohse explains. The Bush trend was revealed later on.

(Via Lot 49.)

The Neurontic grumbles about the popularity of this news story, especially with science bloggers:

Considering how much ink has been spilled in scientific circles over the Bush Adminstration’s willingness to skew science to further its political agenda, I find it appalling that normally levelheaded bloggers got swept away in this quasi-scientific brand of conservative bashing.

I understand Neurontic's irritation, but the Bush administration's industrial-scale denial of the scientific method is not comparable to leftish bloggers chuckling publicly over their morning coffee over a hilarious result from a seriously intended scientific study. A really good skeptical discussion of the issues involved in the design of the study can be found at Respectful Insolence.

Not nearly enough research is done about the political ideologies and theories of the mentally ill and how they play themselves out in the public arena. I'm tempted to say more research should be done, except for the dystopian scenarios that arise: the Far Right Hate Machine secretly obtaining lists of those prescribed Zyprexa and making sure they are all registered to vote and turn out at the polls. (This has the makings of some really dark political satire!)

Naked Science note's Tom Tomorrow's thought on all this:

Via Tom Tomorrow, who dryly notes: "Anyone who's spent any time reading right wing blogs already understood this to be true." Indeed.

Despite the fun and games to be had with this study, though, it does not make a statement about the mental health of Republicans, it does not say that Democrats cannot be psychotic, or anything of the kind, though the far-right blog Barking Moonbat Early Warning System is most amusing on this subject:

You’re mad ... all of you. Totally insane. Around the bend. Fruit loops, even! Or so says a new study out of Southern Connecticut State University. Yes, I’m talking to you - you certifiably insane Bush-lover. All of you need to have your heads examined. Maybe then you’ll wise up and vote for Kerry ... in which case you’ll not only be barking mad but certifiably stoopid ....

It simply observes that among a relatively small sample of the mentally ill, the more psychotic the patient, the more likely the patient-voter to support Bush.

I don't see this study as an attack on conservatives, so much as an unexpected result from a study focused on something else, resulting in a political opportunity for the Karl Rove wannabee sick enough to pursue it: Trust me! I know what I'm doing!

So how will the Republican Machine react to Christpher Lohse? Swiftboat him? Or offer to fund his next study? Or ignore him and make much deeper cuts in the treatment of mental illness?

The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.  —Michel Foucault

The American political landscape is a very strange place.