Psychopathy Feed

Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging

I have decided to come back to blogging. I am returning at a point of happiness and strength with a new book out which is successful in ways I had never imagined an anthology could be. I have been having an amazing time these past few weeks.

I find that I have made my decision to resume just at the moment when Kathy Sierra's blog post Why the Trolls Will Always Win, commemorating ten years of over-the-top harassment, is published in Wired

Continue reading "Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging" »


"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.


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


io9 commenters suggest Paolo Bacigalupi should kill himself; our field should be better than this

I am really bothered by some of the comments posted in the io9 comment section when Charlie Jane Anders  posted part of Paolo Bacigalupi's interview with EcoGreek under the title The Best Green Technology Is Population Control. Never mind the general run of comments that amounted to "Fuck you Paolo," there were multiple comments suggesting that he kill himself.

If he believes less people are the answer, fine…off yourself and save us the trouble of hearing your filth.

. . . and . . .

Yes, let's destroy every single person in the upper, all-polluting, opulent reaches of society.

Hey Paolo, you first fucker.

What is the matter with people? And where was the comment moderation? Io9 is a for-profit adverstising-driven commercial blog. Surely they can afford an experienced moderator.

I would really like to believe that our field is better than this.

(Via Paolo Bacigalupi.)


The mugshot of Joseph A. Cafasso, Jr. aka "Robert Stormer"

Joseph A. Cafasso, Jr. mug shot, 1/22/09

Here is the mug shot of Joseph A. Cafasso, Jr., who in 2006 -- while using the alias "Gerry Blackwood" -- stole my computer and lived on my Amex card for a month without my knowledge or permission. He's in jail in Porter County Indiana, where he has been since 1/22/09. The alias he was using in Indiana was "Robert Stormer," the name under which he also blogged.

There are two new news stories about Cafasso out this morning, both from the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana:

My main page about him is HERE.

Joseph A. Cafasso, Jr. on the front page of the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana


Krugman on Madoff

There is a lovely column from Paul Krugman this morning: The Madoff Economy. Here's my favorite part:

So, how different is what Wall Street in general did from the Madoff affair? Well, Mr. Madoff allegedly skipped a few steps, simply stealing his clients’ money rather than collecting big fees while exposing investors to risks they didn’t understand. And while Mr. Madoff was apparently a self-conscious fraud, many people on Wall Street believed their own hype. Still, the end result was the same (except for the house arrest): the money managers got rich; the investors saw their money disappear.

We’re talking about a lot of money here. In recent years the finance sector accounted for 8 percent of America’s G.D.P., up from less than 5 percent a generation earlier. If that extra 3 percent was money for nothing — and it probably was — we’re talking about $400 billion a year in waste, fraud and abuse.

About ten years ago, I spent a while investing in the stock market. And while, in the end, I think I did make a profit before spending the money on my kids and on computer equipment and such, I noticed one very interesting thing. I had an eye for a certain kind of stock profitability chart. And while it yielded a number of nice jumps in share prices, it also yielded a whole lot of shareholder lawsuit mailings. While many of the companies I invested in were doing good work, a number of them (such as Enron) were cooking the books. Once I realized that the charts I had an eye for had a disproportionate chance of involving cases of fraud, I got much less interested in researching investments and spent my money on karate lessons and summer camp and computers instead.

Madoff isn't the only fraud around, but reading about his investors' misadventures makes me feel fortunate that I lost so little (in comparison to his victims) to the frauds I bought into.


Why hasn't Google/Blogger Pulled the plug on the "Megan Had it Coming" Blog?

There are no two ways about this one: a blog attacking the reputation of a 13-year-old girl who killed herself after a neighborhood online romance scam at least partly instigated by a neighbor girl's mom. In the past 48 hours -- after prosecutor's declined to prosecute the MySpace-savvy neighbor mom, Lori Drew -- the persona on the World's Most Loathsome Blog identified itself as Lori Drew.

I will not pass judgement on whether the blogger really is Lori Drew, but I will pass judgement on the ISP, Blogspot aka Blogger aka "don't be evil" Google: THERE IS NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for Blogspot not to pull the plug. The blog is under investigation by the local cops and the real Lori Drew claims she has nothing to do with it. If she has nothing do do with it, then it is a violation of the Terms of Service. QED.

If we don't believe Lori Drew because of her past history of sockpuppetry (at least as alleged by the media to have been told by Lori Drew to the cops), then she is harassing the surviving members of Megan Meier's family, which has got to be one of the most egregious ToS violations I have ever heard of. QED.

There are no other possibilities.

I link to THE WORLD'S MOST LOATHSOME BLOG so that you can all click on the FLAG BLOG tag in order to flag it for "objectionable content."

Either way you cut it, what's on that blog isn't covered by Free Speech. It's criminal.


"Getting Known Through Anonymity"

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I have come across a fascinating meditation on pseudonymity, originally from Suler, J.R. and Phillips, W. (1998). The Bad Boys of Cyberspace: Deviant Behavior in Multimedia Chat Communities. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 1, 275-294, presented here in what I gather is condensed form.

Getting Known Through Anonymity
Much has been said lately about how anonymity on the internet "disinhibits" people. Feeling relatively safe with their real-world identity hidden, they say and do things they otherwise wouldn't normally say or do in "real life." In some cases, that seems to be a good thing. People may be more honest, open, generous, and helpful. In other cases, however, the nasty side of a person gets unleashed. Hence the snert.

I'd like to give a slightly different spin to this "disinhibition through anonymity" concept. My basic premise is this: NO ONE WANTS TO BE COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS. No one wants to be totally invisible, with no name or identity or presence or interpersonal impact at all. Everyone wants and needs to express some aspect of who they are, to have others acknowledge and react to some aspect of their identity. In some cases, it's a benign feature of who you are. In some cases, not. Anonymity on the internet allows people to set aside some aspects of their identity in order to safely express others. Snerts need someone to react to and affirm their offensive behavior. This need is a bit different than simply catharting their frustrated drives, as the "eros-ridden" idea suggests. Snerts are trying to express some unresolved and warded-off feature of their troubled identity in an (often desperate) attempt to have it acknowledged. Unfortunately, they do it in a way that abuses other people. Under ideal conditions, they may be able to accept and work through those inner feelings and self-concepts that torture them. If not, they will continue to vent that ooze through their online snert identities, while safely dissociating it from their "real world" identity.

Does greater anonymity result in greater deviance? It's an interesting question. Because greater anonymity usually is associated with less accountability for one's actions, the answer would seem to be "yes." In the world of Palace, new users must register (pay) for the software before they can permanently acquire the ability to give themselves names and create custom avatars. Until then, their name is a number ("Guest 232") and their avatar a generic smiley face. The greater anonymity for guests does seem to result in their misbehaving more often than members. But members misbehave too. So there are other factors at work.

The higher prevalence of misbehavior among anonymous users may be more than just a "disinhibiting" effect. Rather than the anonymity simply "releasing" the nasty side of a person, the person may experience the anonymity - the lack of an identity - as toxic. Feeling frustrated about not being known or having a place in the group, the new user acts out that frustration in an antisocial manner. They need to feel that they have SOME kind of impact on others. It's not unlike the ignored child who starts acting "bad" in order to acquire attention from the parent, even if it's scolding and punishment. The squeakiest wheel. Humans, being humans, will almost always choose a connection to others over no connection at all, even if that connection is a negative one. Some snert guests may think (perhaps unconsciously) that their misbehavior is a justified retaliation against a community that they feel has stripped away their identity and alienated them. They reject because they feel rejected.


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.)


"I started reading my Bible and one day, the Lord opened my eyes . . ."

I think this particular piece of spam targets the psychotic/schizophrenic wing of fundamentalist Christianity. My favorite line is These couples were good Christians, they so dedicated to God but they had no child till they died.

Always trust someone you've never met who signs his letters "Yours in Christ"; he's certain to have your best interests at heart:

It is by the grace of God that I received Christ, knowing the truth and the truth has set me free. Having known the truth, I had no choice than to do what is lawful and right in the sight of God for eternal life and in the sight of man for witness of God’s mercy and glory upon my life. I have the pleasure to share my testimony with you, having seen your contact from the Internet. I am Barrister Morris Williams, the legal adviser to late Mr.and Mrs. Dan Emerson, a British couple that lived in my Country for 25years before they both died in the plane crash late last year. These couples were good Christians, they so dedicated to God but they had no child till they died. Throughout their stay in my country, they acquired a lot of properties like lands, house properties, etc.

As their legal adviser, before their death, the husband Mr. Dan Emerson instructed me to write his WILL. Because they had no child, they dedicated their wealth to God. According to the WILL, the properties have to be sold and the money be given out to a ministry for the work of God. As their legal adviser, all the documents for the properties were in my care. He gave me the authority to sell the properties and give out the fund to the Ministries for the work of God.

I sold all the properties after their death, as instructed by Mr. Dan Emerson before his death. And as matter of fact, after I sold all their properties, I realized more than $30,000,000.00 (Thirty million US dollars), and what supposed to be the percentage interest of my right legal fee was firstly deducted by me out of the total amount realized from the sold properties, this was base on the initial agreement between me and the owner of the properties before his death. Therefore the total amount left to be invested into God's work as instructed by the owner, is $30,000,000.00 (Thirty million US dollars) only. But Instead of giving the main fund out for the work of God as instructed by the owner, I converted the fund to myself with the intention of investing the fund abroad for my personal use.

I was afraid of putting the fund in the Bank, because I have to give account to the bank on how I got the money. I then packaged the fund in consignments and deposited the consignments with a security company. I did not want the management of the Security Company to know the content of the consignments; therefore I registered the content of the consignments as Gold Bars. Now, the security company believes that what I deposited with them was Gold Bars. I had an encounter with Christ when Pastor Benny Hinn was preaching on television concerning Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5:1-11, after hearing the word of God, I gave my life to Christ and became a born again Christian. As a born again Christian, I started reading my Bible and one day, the Lord opened my eyes to Ezekiel 33: 18 and 19 where the word of God says: "When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby. But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby". From the scripture, I discovered that the only way I could have peace in my life is to do what is lawful and right by giving out the fund as instructed for the work of God by the owner. I have asked God for forgiveness and I know that God has forgiven me. But I have to do what is lawful and right in the sight of God by giving out the fund to the chosen ministry for the purpose of God's work as instructed by the owner. After fasting and prayers, I asked God to make his choice and direct me to a honest Christian or the chosen ministry that deserves this fund by his Grace. I then came across your address on the Internet as I was browsing through a Christian site, and as a matter of fact, it is not only you or your ministry that I picked on the Christian site initially, but after my fervent prayer over it, then you were nominated to me through divine revelation from God, so this is how I received a divine revelation from the Lord, I got your contact address, and I then decided to contact you for the fund to be used wisely for things that will glorify the name of God.

I have notified the Security Company where I deposited the consignments that contained the fund, that I am moving the consignment abroad and the security company has since been waiting for my authority for the consignment to leave my country and move broad. So if you know that you will use this fund honestly and wisely for things that will glorify God's name, then do contact me back first through this email address: [redacted] for more details.

You should also forward to me your physical contact address were you will like the consignments delivered to you, your direct telephone and fax number for easy communication and to fax you the documents concerning the consignments.
Your prompt response will be highly appreciated.
Yours in Christ,
Barrister Morris Williams.

And always trust a conman who claims to have found Christ.

In Snakes in Suits, there's a lovely anecdote about a fundamentalist Christian DA who was frequently confronted by criminals who had found Christ. Her response? Congratulations. You're going to Heaven. But right now, you're going to jail!


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

Muninder
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?
Vigil


. . . in fact, some psychopaths are very successful members of society . . .

From the Ottawa Sun:

Being a psychopath isn't illegal -- in fact, some psychopaths are very successful members of society, an Ottawa lawyer argued at a dangerous offender hearing yesterday.

Eeeggaaadds! Well, I guess the lawyer is just trying to put the best face on it. I suspect the lawyer did not, however, hold up any specific individuals as paragons of psychopathy.


Hand out the garlic, grab the crosses, and hope for the best: A review of Snakes in Suits

006083772101_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_v54208143_Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work  by Paul Babiak & Robert D. Hare, Regan Books, 2006

I love this book. I read it in one sitting, more or less. I started reading it just after I cleared security at White Plains Airport and finished the last page as I touched down at my destination.

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare is marketed and mostly reviewed as a business book on the problem of psychopathy in the workplace. For example MSNBC’s excerpt, coordinated with the authors’ appearance on the Today Show, is headlined “Snakes in Suits unmasks corporate psychos.” But what the book has to say is much more generally applicable and translates well to the larger context of daily life.

Snakes in Suits takes us beyond the stereotypes about psychopaths that emerge from news coverage focusing on serial killers, and from horror novelists’ attempts to delve into that same material. The psychopaths portrayed and profiled in this book for the most part do not kill people and are not in jail. And this last is one important reason why you should read this book: Most of us in daily life do not have the opportunity to interview cannibals, as do some of those who specialize in the profiling of the criminally insane. If and when we meet a psychopath, it is much more likely to be at a cocktail party than in a death row jail cell. So the literature of the profiling of criminal psychopaths, with its talk of organized vs. disorganized crime scenes and such, is not likely to be all that helpful. In contrast, the psychopaths of Snakes in Suits are presented in much more familiar settings and contexts.

In the book’s preface, the authors explain why psychopaths often excel at talking their way through job interviews: They can be very charming, often possesses a disarming charisma, and tend to be skilled at social manipulation. (xi) Their “appearance of confidence, strength, and calm” makes them seem right for the job and make them stand out among other candidates. (xii) These same traits can also make them shine in other social contexts like parties or conferences or stand out as attractive in context like dating web sites or Internet discussion lists.

Hare is the author of a checklist of indicators of psychopathy, the Hare Psychopath Checklist—Revised (PCL-R), and so the book’s definition of psychopath is quite concise. While the book vividly describes the traits of psychopaths, the authors’ repeatedly emphasize that the term is a diagnostic category to be applied by a professional, and that while we may observe psychopathic traits in others (or in ourselves) this does not mean that the person in question is truly a psychopath, and so they caution against the broad application of the term.

Some of the characteristics of psychopaths I found interesting in this section were these: That the aggression and violence of psychopaths tends to be “instrumental”, i.e. a means toward an end, rather than impulsive (18). That “psychopaths are without conscience and incapable of empathy, guilt, or loyalty to anyone but themselves.” (19) That psychopaths often live a parasitic lifestyle (20) and are often liars who will lie about even the most inconsequential things. (21)

One of the most interesting, from the standpoint of literary characterization of psychopaths, is that they tend to manifest a semantic aphasia:

[Hervey] Cleckly  . . . noted that psychopaths use language somewhat differently than other people; their sentence structure, choice of words and tempo (or beat) were different. (22)

The authors describe this further a little later in the book:

. . . many psychopaths come across as having excellent oral communication skills. In many cases, these skills are more apparent than real because of their readiness to jump right into a conversation without the social inhibitions that hamper most people.  They make use of the fact that for most people the content of the message is less important than the way it is delivered. A confident, aggressive delivery style—often larded with jargon, clichés, and flowery phrases—makes up for the lack of substance and sincerity in their interactions with others. (38)

If this sounds like your new best friend, watch out! As the authors remark further down the page, psychopaths are “social chameleons” (38) which makes them “a near-perfect invisible human predator.” (39)

However, psychopathy is also a type of personality disorder, and so while psychopaths are in many ways very versatile, people with personality disorders tend to have “a limited range of ‘solutions’” to life’s problems. (40) So they also lack flexibility and the ability to change that people without personality disorders have.

A psychopath’s targeting of his victim goes through three phases: the Assessment Phase (43), the Manipulation Phase (48), and the Abandonment Phase (53). There are some interesting remarks along the way as the authors describe these phases. For example, in the discussion of the Assessment Phase:

. . . the psychopath is constantly sizing up the potential usefulness of an individual as a source of money, power, sex, or influence. People who have power, celebrity, or high social status are particularly attractive. (44)

In this section the authors’ also discuss the attractiveness of emergencies and disasters to psychopaths, who can find opportunities in the confusion: “psychopaths remorselessly use other people even when able-bodied and capable of supporting themselves.” (46) They also remark on psychopath’s attraction to life on the edge: “there is evidence that psychopaths need considerable novel stimulation to keep from becoming bored.” And here’s another notable line: “Sometimes their sense of superiority is so great that they say they are conferring a gift by letting their victims support them.” (48)

And so, on to the Manipulation Phase:

Following identification of individuals who may be useful to them, psychopaths begin to create a shroud of charm we have labeled the psychopathic fiction. This is the beginning of the manipulation phase.

The first goal here is to gain the trust of the individual through ingratiation and various impression-management techniques. (48)

The psychopath’s lack of social anxiety makes him more believable:

Unencumbered by social anxieties, fear of being found out, empathy, remorse, or guilt—some of nature’s brake pedals for anti-social behavior in humans—psychopaths tell a tale so believable, so entertaining, so creative, that many listeners instinctively trust them. (50)

And then comes the Abandonment Phase:

Once the psychopath has drained all the value from a victim—that is, when the victim is no longer useful—they abandon the victim and move on to someone else. (53)

The creepiest section of the book, and one of the most engaging as well, is the description of the “Psychopathic Bond” (pp. 74-79) in which the authors describe how the psychopath convinces his target that he is exactly the friend or lover the target has been looking for, that all secrets are safe with him:

Those who have been in long-term relationships with psychopaths describe them as the supreme psychologist or mind reader. The more they interacted wit the psychopath, the more they felt mesmerized by the facade. Many referred to their psychopathic partners as “soul mates” and reported how much they believed they had in common with the psychopath. It is even more disturbing to hear some victims’ reports—once they have been cut loose during the abandonment phase—that they miss the relationship and want the psychopath back in their lives. It is very difficult to believe that the relationship never really existed. (79)

The author’s describe a number of different roles a psychopath’s targets and victims can fulfill for the psychopath. Particularly memorable is the character of “Dorothy,” a bright young woman who ends up doing all the real work for a corporate psychopath, “Dave,” that gives him the credibility to rise within the organization.

"The whole idea, from concept to action plan, even the executive committee proposal presentation, was Dorothy's work. Dave just tapped into her and took her ideas as his own." (293)

Images_1"Dave." meanwhile, had been complaining about "Dorothy"'s job performance.

Other “Roles in the Psychopath’s Drama” are “Pawns, Patrons, and Patsies.” (Chapter 6)

Later in the book, the various scenarios begun earlier play themselves out, and the authors try to give their business audience practical advice on how to keep psychopaths out of their organizations. Then they give advice to individuals on how to unravel a psychopath’s complex web.

The book is most notable for its description of the problem rather than for its proposed solutions. How many people it will save from the malign influence of psychopaths, I don’t know. But at very least, once people have been through it, it will help them understand what happened to them.

But that is indeed the nature of the beast: The psychopath is our real life nosferatu. Hand out the garlic, grab the crosses, and hope for the best.


Joseph A. Cafasso: A Call for Information

Cafasso in Outfoxed (2004)

Cafasso in Outfoxed (2004) about 34 minutes in.

I am interested in receiving information concerning the life and activities of former Fox News Military & Counterterrorism Editor Joseph A. Cafasso aka Joe Cafasso, Jay Cafasso, Gerry Blackwood, Gerard Pal Blackwood, Jay Mosca, J. Mosca, James Mosca, Joseph Mosca, Jay Anthony, Tom Adams, Jake Adams, Robert Stormer, Robin Storm, Rob Stormer, Bob Stormer.

He stole my computer and owes me about twenty grand.

Of particular interest are:

  • other known aliases
  • information concerning debts & unpaid financial obligations
  • incidents involving computer equipment or credit cards
  • medical conditions
  • employment history
  • documentation such as photographs, videotapes, audiotapes
  • transcripts or other documentation concerning public events he attended
  • documents he presented

Information can be provided to me via the comment section below, or via email to kathryn.cramer@gmail.com.

UPDATE: Many thanks to those of you who have written to me already. Your help is much appreciated.

Cafasso as Jay Mosca

Cafasso as Jay Mosca


Good News! Let's send the reporter flowers!

UPDATE, September 2008: Cafasso's latest known aliases are Robin Storm aka Robert Stormer; he's also on dating sights as Shipdude -- "Sailing into your arms... or is it went aground on your front lawn?" -- and probably another 15 aliases on 10 other sites.

UPDATE, Feburary 1, 2009: I have confirmed reports that Joseph A. Cafasso is in jail in Indiana after failing to show up for a court appearance. There are a number of mostly minor charges against him. The most significant of them is "giving false information" to a cop: My understanding is that it took a while, after Cafasso was pulled over for allegedly speeding, for him to admit to law enforcement that his name was Jospeh Cafasso and not Robert Stormer.

I have some hopes that the various charges will stick and that this information shows up on any future criminal background checks on the man. As far as I know, none of the charges against carry enough heft to put him away for any significant period of time. But one can hope.

UPDATE, Feburary 2, 2009: The Northwest Indiana & Illinois Times' police blotter reports that Cafasso was arrested on Thursday, January 22, 2009. It lists the reason for his arrest as "Failure to appear, theft," but I am so far unable to confirm that a theft charge exists, though I would be delighted if that were the case.

Meanwhile, HERE (via Picasa) is his spiffy logo for his fake corporation "Subsea Marine." (Gotta love the use of clip art!)

For independent visual confimation of Cafasso's appearance, consult Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, available from Amazon: book or DVD.

UPDATE, Feburary 3, 2009: I am please to report that Cafasso is still in jail! (I checked.) After several years of wanting to see him go to jail, I am finding this very uplifting.

UPDATE, Feburary 4, 2009: Cafasso in the news!  The Northwest Indiana & Illinois Newspaper, February 4, 2009.

Woman learns beau is apparent con artist

CHESTERTON | A 63-year-old Tefft, Ind. woman, whose son lives in Chesterton, told Chesterton police on Monday a man she met through an online dating service claimed to be Robert Stormer, but really was Joe Cafasso, a con artist of such renown he is mentioned on a Wikipedia Web page.

Chesterton police are involved in the case because they took possession of a computer the woman and her son wanted to get rid of because one of Cafasso's enemies apparently wants it.

Police reports state Cafasso took over some of the woman's finances. The investigation into Cafasso continues.

And meanwhile -- oh, joy! -- Cafasso is still in jail!

UPDATE, Feburary 7, 2009: The Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana has a new article out on Cafasso's arrest, this one mentioning his rival Jack Idema.

The woman, who resides in Tefft, in northeastern Jasper County, met "Stormer" about a year ago through an online dating service. They later moved in together. According to the police report, he took control over some of the woman's finances before she learned he was a fraud.

According to the Chesterton police report, the woman and her son believe that Cafasso built a case against a man named Jack Idema, who also has a Wikipedia page.

The police report continues: "Idema is allegedly a Special Forces soldier who went rogue and tortured people in Afghanistan without approval from his superiors. He was jailed in a military prison for this and he blames Cafasso for his troubles."

Police say Idema knew about Cafasso's laptop. Idema contacted the Chesterton man through a phone search and told him he wanted the computer.

So he and his mother brought it to Chesterton Police.

(See note on Jack Idema and his cult followers below.)

Meanwhile, I am pleased to report that Cafasso remains in jail.

UPDATE, February 19, 2009: The Chesterton Tribune, in Chesterton, Indiana, has run an article on Cafasso's arrest.

The subject, who identified himself as Robert Stormer, 58, advised Cauffman that he did not have his Rhode Island-issued driver's license with him. Cauffman stated that when he ran the name Robert Stormer, it “came back not on file” in both Indiana and Rhode Island. Cauffman further stated that when he ran the Social Security number provided by Stormer, it returned to a 13-year-old Rhode Island girl.

Although the subject repeatedly insisted that his name is Robert Stormer and that there must be a problem with the computers, he eventually admitted to being Joseph Cafasso, 52, Cauffman stated. A second computer check listed his driver’s license in Rhode Island as suspended.

“During this conversation he stated he was hiding from members of the CIA and FBI along with several other stories,” Cauffman stated.

Always, always tell the cop who has pulled you over that you are hiding from the FBI! Cafasso deserves some kind of prize for that one.

UPDATE, February 20, 2009: New article -- FBI now investigating 'spy' arrested at Dunes, Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana, February 20, 2009.

UPDATE, February 24, 2009: Cafasso is still in jail! They've had him for more than a month now! Yay!

UPDATE, February 27, 2009: Cafasso is still in jail.

UPDATE, March 1, 2009: There are two new news stories out, both from the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana:

The second one has Cafasso's Indiana mug shot. Enjoy!

Joseph A. Cafasso, Jr. mug shot, 1/22/09

What I found most interesting in the text of the articles is the interview with Cafasso's sometime side-kick, the minister John Johnson:

Cafasso has declined requests for an interview by the Post-Tribune, but he reportedly has talked to Ello, and to John Johnson, a Tucson, Ariz., minister who said he met Cafasso in the early 1990s when [Johnson] was selling marine equipment and Cafasso was working for a marine salvage company in New York.

The two stayed in touch over the years, with Johnson gathering that Cafasso had an engineering degree and may have been in the Delta Force, an elite military unit. Johnson said he never thought to question Cafasso, who attended Johnson's wife's funeral in 1999 and has remained in occasional contact. That year, Johnson had dinner at a Washington, D.C., restaurant, with Cafasso and a man who was a retired CIA officer.

"I don't know anything about his military experience, I don't know how you confirm that," Johnson said. "But it's pretty hard to fool the CIA."

In 2006, [Johnson] said Cafasso was using the name "Jay" and occasionally a last name of "Black or Black-something," to avoid followers of Jonathan Idema. Idema was accused of operating an illegal prison in Afghanistan who also had apparently wildly overstated his military experience, and reportedly believes he was wronged by Cafasso. . . .

Johnson put Cafasso in touch with a church in Mendenhall, Miss., where Cafasso would spend several weeks working with the congregation and even helping the church secure a $250,000 grant.

"He didn't make a dime," said Johnson. "He got roof over his head and what passed for food. And he worked incredibly hard."

But Cafasso clashed with church leaders, who eventually found the Times article and the many anti-Cafasso sites on the Internet. Cafasso left town soon after. Church leaders and Mendenhall Police Chief Bruce Barlow did not return calls from the Post-Tribune.

Johnson said he would not hesitate to recommend Cafasso to another church, and he worries about why DNR officers seemed intent on investigating Cafasso. "Knowing the guy, I just don't want to see him get the shaft," Johnson said.

Just how many of Cafasso's victims does Johnson have to hear from and about before he wouldn't provide Cafasso with a reference? When I tried to talk to him about the man, he hung up on me. 

I certainly hope the FBI is evaluating the finances of Mendenhall Ministries during Cafasso's tenure as Director of Development. As I recall, there were allegations that money had disappeared, and Johnson has done nothing about Cafasso except cover for him. From my brief correspondence with Johnson some time ago, it was my impression that Cafasso borrowed $4,000 $2,000 from him and never paid it back, but Johnson doesn't get that he was ripped off, apparently. I just hope that Johnson doesn't bail him out.

And the Reverend would still recommend even now

UPDATE, March 25, 2009: Cafasso is still in jail.

UPDATE, April 14, 2009: Cafasso is still in jail.


NOTE: For the record, I have no connection with the various Jack Idema-connected attack blogs devoted to the subject of Cafasso. They display an alarming lack of empathy for both Cafasso's targets and his family and have a history of harassment of both. These sites are, to the best of my knowledge, administered and primarily authored by a strange woman named Lynn Thomas aka "Cao" aka "Caoilfhionn" who, by day, works as a Process Re-Engineering Analyst for Allstate Insurance in Northbrook, Illinois, and by night is a far-rightwing blogger & conspiracy theorist. She has harassed me over the Internet for a number of years, including writing endless harassing nonsense about Terry Bisson, an author my husband publishes, because she spotted a photo of him standing next to me. While some of the information on her many interconnected sites is true, I cannot recommend them. 


Flow & Deception

In June, when I was blogging Wolfram Research's New Kind of Science Conference, I did a post on three books which, when read together, lead me in interesting directions. I later used the blog post as a kind of introductory set piece for a one-hour talk I gave at Readercon in July.

Lies Well, I've found another pair of books. I'm just beginning to bounce them off of one another to interesting effect. The books are: Lies! Lies! Lies! The Psychology of Deceit by Charles V. Ford, M.D. and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The first of these two is a delightful journey through the psychological landscapes of salesmen, politicians, and lawyers, hypochondriacs and con men. It treats the subjects of deception good-humoredly, yet rigorously. While there is a fair amount of moralistic fun to be had in this book reading about the exploits of the notorious, the book also makes one conscious of the deception involved in saying "good job" to every picture scrawled in crayon and attempted cartwheel. No one gets away in this book.

Ford has a lovely epilogue that concludes:

In one of those rare instances when intellectual honesty rears its head above the ugly sea of self-deception, I must confess that others have demonstrated at least equal insight and have often communicated with greater style. It seems that we must continually rediscover the truth.

FlowFlow is a foundational book for the contemporary psychological movement that is focused on the study of human happiness and how to attain it. I'm about halfway through. "Flow" is another term for what the author calls "optimal experience."

. . . we have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions when it happens, we feel a deep sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like.

That is what we mean by optimal experience. . . .

Csikszentmikalyi argues in the book that attaining this state tends to involve controlling the focus of one's attention, usually when working toward a self-defined goal, and that in such moments of concentration, one loses awareness of distractions. He argues that the state of flow is a tool by which one can achieve personal liberation. While the author does grant that the flow state can be addictive, that it can be attained in socially unacceptable circumstances, and that well-meaning people attaining a flow state during their work may in fact be working towards our destruction, in general he holds it as above and distinct from all other sources of human pleasure. Also, I think, he essentially argues that the flow state is a more effective way of finding longterm happiness than the usual things that motivate people such as sex and money. The author makes the usual disclaimers about flow in an of itself being value-neutral, but it is clear that he esteems the pursuit of the flow experience much more highly than the pursuit of sex or money.

This is the first time I have read about "flow" directly, though I have seen it referred to in pop-neurology books by others (Howard Gardner. I think?). And while I strongly identify with the author's descriptions of the joy of flow, and am myself strongly motivated to seek out the flow experience, I am not at all sure that he is right to set it apart from and above other sources of pleasure and objects of desire.

Regarding darker sources of pleasure, Csikszentmihalyi remarks:

. . . the underground system of forbidden pleasures run by gamblers, pimps, and drug dealers, which is dialectically linked to the official institutions, promises its own rewards of easy dissipation -- provided we pay. The messages are very different, but their outcome is essentially the same: they make us dependent on a social system that exploits its energies for its own purposes.

Why exactly flow should be expected to be exempt from exploitation by social systems seems to me an interesting question. Is any source of human pleasure exempt from that? It would seem to me that if a reward circuit exists, a way will arise for it to be exploited. Flow may be a better and more reliable source of human happiness that heroin, but why is there any reason to believe that the psychological state of flow cannot be exploited?

And here is where reading these two books together gets interesting. There is a very specific attentional feature to flow states to which Csikszentmihalyi returns again and again: a focused awareness, a narrowed concentration -- what my husband described in me as a "hawk-like focus."

The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions . . .

Now combine that with all the complexities of deceitful human social interaction as described by Ford, and your protagonist is headed for a real George-of-the-Jungle moment, swinging serenely through the jungles of intellectual experience headed straight for that TREEEEEEE. "Optimal" experience carries with it specific vulnerabilities. So perhaps it also carries with it specific opportunities for exploitation.

Secondly, there are moments in these two books when it seems like they could be describing the same person from radically different perspectives. The continuing emphasis on the importance of the feeling of mastery, as explained in Flow, has unsettling resonances with Ford's accounts of the lives of impostors and pathological liars.

Also, mastery, set in the context of the narrowing of perceptions, which could also be framed as a form of self-deception, is an interesting psychological state indeed. Also, it's hard to say that what one person would call "flow" might not be called "hypomania" by someone else. Mastery, as he uses the word, seems to be an inner experience rather than something externally verifiable, the feeling of power, the feeling of control.

I'm only halfway through Flow. We'll see where the second half takes me.

UPDATE 9/1: Well, I had a go at the second half of the book, but I'm having the problem that Csikszentmihalyi seems to be trying to shoehorn most other forms of healthy pleasure into the notion of flow. Or maybe I'm just irritable and suspicious because he doesn't answer my objections. And of course the book was written years ago, so there's no particular reason to expect that he should. So I put it down and instead have been reading Robert Young Pelton's new book Licensed to Kill, which I am quite enjoying so far.